If the 2016 presidential campaign hasn’t brought you to tears already, here’s a list of 11 best political documentaries on Netflix streaming in 2015. At least, there’s no mention of Donald Trump, which is definitely a plus.
If you are sick of politics, then you might want to take a detour to something more relaxing, like the best nature documentaries on Netflix.
Some of the men featured in these movies have shaped the modern world. Some of them, like Putin, still do. An insight into the world of politics may not always be a pretty one, but is always useful. If anything, it provides us with a view of how people that presume to decide our faith think. Often, we get to see some hidden factors that motivate them and that can be very helpful next time we see their name on a ballot. Some reveal the history behind certain major political decisions and are crucial in understanding our world today.
To rank best political documentaries on Netflix streaming in 2015, we had to devise a system. Going simply by IMDb rating just wouldn’t cut it, although we did include it in our final ranking. We also went over a dozen of lists on most popular sites in order to get an accurate feel for public opinion. We mixed it all together and came up with a genuine Insider Monkey ranking. Let’s see who made it to our list of 11 best political documentaries on Netflix streaming in 2015.
11. Power (Vlast)
Site Score: 1, IMDb Score: 2 Overall Score: 3
Directed by Cathryn Collins
Cathryn Collins tells us a thrilling story of modern Russia and how it doesn’t pay to go against the Kremlin, regardless of who sits in it, be it the Tsar, Stalin or Putin. Mikhail Khodorkovsky experienced that first hand. The moment he tried to go against the wishes (and more importantly, interests) of Vladimir Vladimirovich, he went overnight from the richest man in Russia and one of the richest in the world to a prisoner. At the time of film’s premiere, he was still serving his sentence but was pardoned in 2013, after Hans-Dietrich Genscher pleaded Putin for his release. The film paints a grim picture of today’s Russia and its future under Putin.
10. The Hunt for Bin Laden
Site Score: 3, IMDb Score: 1 Overall Score: 4
Directed by Leslie Woodhead
A pursuit that spanned 20 years and half a globe finally ended when Navy SEALs Team 6 stormed a compound in a little known Pakistani town of Abbottabad. For most people Ossama Bin Laden became a known terrorist in the aftermath of 9/11 attack, but he was on FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list since 1999. The act that placed him firmly on FBI’a and CIA’s radar were 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people. After American intervention in Afghanistan, Bin Laden managed to disappear, after almost being caught in Tora Bora Mountains. The film documents a painstaking process that led to his discovery in Pakistan and the eventual elimination by the Navy SEALs.
9. The Unknown Known
Site Score: 2, IMDb Score: 3 Overall Score: 5
Directed by Errol Morris
Donald Rumsfeld was one of the most controversial figures of the Bush Jr. administration. His career in the executive branch started in 1969, under President Nixon and continued under President Reagan. But it wasn’t until President Bush appointed him Secretary of Defense in 2001 that he truly grasped the reins of power. His actions heavily influenced the decisions that lead to the invasion of Iraq and all the consequences we see today, more than a decade later. The movie was called “maddening” by Forbes and is not recommended for anyone with weak nerves. Some of Rumsfeld answers may make you throw things at your screen.
Site Score: 4, IMDb Score: 5 Overall Score: 9
Directed by Adrian Pennick
Often dubbed the most controversial figure in American politics, Henry Kissinger is the man who shaped the American foreign policy – and thus the world – decisively in the second half of the 20th century. In a two-hour interview, Adrian Pennick tries to get answers about some of his more controversial decisions, like the Vietnam War and his policy on China. Kissinger also speaks about his relationship with the presidents he served, especially Richard Nixon and reveals his activities in his later career, as he served in advisory roles for various politicians and governments across the globe.
Site Score: 9, IMDb Score: 4 Overall Score: 13
Directed by Greg Whiteley
For six years, Greg Whiteley had an exclusive access to Mitt Romney, his family, and his campaigns, following his presidential bids in 2008 and 2012. He managed to boil it down to 90-minute film, in which Romney is shown hugging, high-fiving or tussling exactly 100 toddlers and kids. That’s an impressive 1.11 children per minute. Even for a Republican, it seems a bit excessive. Perhaps unintentionally, the film reveals why Romney lost both his bids, the first to a fellow Republican John McCain and the second to President Obama. His uncertainty and sometimes lack of confidence about his electability have certainly played a large part in his defeats. Despite all its flaws, the film offers an interesting insight into the world of American politics.
6. Let the Fire Burn
Site Score: 5, IMDb Score: 8 Overall Score: 13
Directed by Jason Osder
Jason Osder’s film deals with the events leading to the siege of Black liberation organization MOVE by the Philadelphia police in 1985. Police made a highly controversial decision to subdue MOVE members by using explosives, which caused a fire. Police officials decided to “let the fire burn”, a decision that caused more than 60 surrounding homes to be destroyed and deaths of 5 children and 6 adults. All this mayhem was caused by a dispute about local politics and enforcing city codes about health and hygiene if you believe Philadelphia city officials. Osder shows us the underlying reasons for police intervention that left 11 people dead and half of a city block in smoldering ruins.
Site Score: 6, IMDb Score: 7 Overall Score: 13
Directed by Pete McGrain
Our society has reached a point where everything is in service of profit. The people we depend on to perform basic public functions, the politicians, and elected officials are not exempt from this, in fact they are the ones that are leading the charge. Narrated by Woody Harrelson, Ethos tries to show us another way, the one which doesn’t include political corruption and the destruction of our planet, all in the name of capitalism. According to Pete McGrain, the answer is ethical consumerism and our transformation from mere observers and consumers to active participants in the political process. Ethos takes 5th place among 11 best political documentaries on Netflix streaming in 2015.
4. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
Site Score: 7, IMDb Score: 6 Overall Score: 13
Directed by Alex Gibney
In 2008, Eliot Spitzer resigned his office of the Governor of New York in the midst of a prostitution scandal. Most folks write the incident off as just another example of how power corrupts and pay no more attention to it. Alex Gibney decided to dig a bit deeper and try to discover if everything was as straightforward as we are led to believe. Without even trying to defend Spitzer – in a way, he did dig his own grave – Gibney reveals the events that led to the investigation and uncovering of an elite prostitution ring former Governor was a part of. The secret deals between Wall Street executive, who Spitzer rubbed the wrong way during his tenure as the Attorney General and New York politicians, who feared new Governor’s agenda, have led the police in the right way. And with Spitzer out of the picture, it was back to business as usual. The only question is who really benefited from Spitzer’s resignation.
3. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
Site Score: 8, IMDb Score: 10 Overall Score: 18
Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky
It started as a protest against government’s decision to stop Ukraine’s European integration. 93 days later, in ended in a revolution and a de facto war with Russia. The bloody struggle that overthrew the entire government structure mostly took place in now famous Kiev’s Maidan square, where more than a million people from all over Ukraine protested the corruption of Victor Yanukovych’s regime. In the midst of gunfire, tear gas and police beatings, they manage to oust Yanukovych, who promptly fled the country and sought refuge in Moscow. Evgeny Afineevsky’s film illustrates those 93 days and the events that led to it.
2. Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia
Site Score: 11, IMDb Score: 9 Overall Score: 20
Directed by Nicholas D. Wrathall
Constantly torn apart between his two passions, politics, and writing, Gore Vidal remained one of the fiercest critics of 20th century America and its departure from the path Founding Fathers had in mind. Described as the last lion of American Liberalism, Vidal fought against the right wing turn America has taken and warned of the consequences of its imperialistic politics. The movie, featuring several interviews, is his final homage.
1. The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
Site Score: 10, IMDb Score: 11 Overall Score: 21
Directed by Ken Burns
Ken Burns shows us the lives of one of the most important political dynasties in the America’s history, the Roosevelts. Theodore (the 26th President of the United States), Franklin (the 34th President of the United States) and Eleanor Roosevelt are his main focus, although several other family members are mentioned. The Roosevelts: An Intimate History discovers how the Roosevelts managed to influence the USA and set the foundations for many of the things we now take for granted in this country. It deservedly takes the top spot on our list of 11 best political documentaries on Netflix streaming in 2015.