Our list of the best documentaries on Netflix will help you simplify your search for what to watch next, if you’re a docu-drama buff like I am. Netflix has an incredibly large warehouse of documentaries, in all different genres that are available for instant streaming at any time.
When trying to define what the best are, I looked at a number of factors. First, how it was received by the public. While Rotten Tomatoes is certainly not a defining source for how good a documentary is, it is the most popular movie review site and does hold some weight. Next, I looked at how unique the subject matter of the documentary was. If it’s a story that’s been told 500 times before, even if told brilliantly, it is not something I want to recommend as one of the best documentaries on Netflix.
Finally, it’s important to look at whether or not the documentary is one that was reviewed higher or lower because of specific visual enhancements. If you’re watching a movie on Netflix, it’s certainly going to be a different experience than the movie theater. With some documentaries (such as ones on nature or animals), they may be great due to the high quality of the visual shots and less because of their plot line. Thus, these documentaries are all ones that are carried by the plot and idea, and not by the level of technology used to shoot the footage.
If you’re like me and like movies that also teach you something, check out The 10 Best Business Movies of the Past 100 Years when you’re done reading about these films, some of which can also be found on Netflix. Now, lets take a look at the best documentaries on Netflix with one that tackles one of the biggest (literally) problems in America and the civilized world today.
5. Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead
In recent years there has been a massive influx of health related documentaries. These seemingly follow the same path, showing the problems with the food industry by looking at the specific health details of different grocery items and using testimonials to carry the plot. I have no problem with this, as they generally are very well done and should be seen by the public, as certain foods really do have terrible, largely unknown consequences. Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, however, provides a different view of the same story, by also providing a solution. The protagonist suffered from a variety of illnesses, some self admittedly due to lifestyle, but others simply as a reaction to certain foods. He got pain in his body when eating different foods and was overweight and experiencing constant fatigue.
So as he’s a very successful businessman, his next move was to take two months off from work in an effort to forever change his life. He drives across America while consuming three meals per day, all being a different juice mixture. He spreads awareness of the benefits of juicing through his own transformation and by the end of the two months has gone through an almost unbelievable transformation. This documentary gives hope to people as opposed to simply pointing out a problem and complaining about it. This makes for a great movie to watch at home as it’s entertaining and informative, making it one of the best documentaries on Netflix.
4. How To Make Money Selling Drugs
If you liked the HBO hit Drama The Wire, than I can almost guarantee that you will love this documentary. Featuring interviews from David Simon (The Wire’s creator) and famous rappers and notorious retired drug dealers, this movie takes an in-depth look at the war on drugs and provides more evidence related to the problems involved with this war. Like The Wire, central themes include institutional racism and corruption, two issues that I feel go overlooked too often and are not explored deeply enough. This documentary does just that.
3. The Iran Job
Not often do we see movies about Iran not involving some sort of military action or foreign policy discussion. This documentary shows a completely different side of the country. It follows an African American basketball player from the United States, not quite good enough to make it in to the NBA, that has been recruited to play in Iran. Each team in Iran is allowed two international players, and when they bring them in from America, they expect them to bring success right away. This documentary is fascinating for multiple reasons. First, it shows a different side of Iran, breaking certain stereotypes that the U.S. media perpetuates.
The player is welcomed into the community and loved by the locals, he is not discriminated against because of his skin (at least as far as we can see) and finally provides a lens into a part of Iran (which I believe to be the large majority of the country) that is not filled with any sort of overt hatred. Moreover, it shows basketball pressure under a different context. The player isn’t worried about losing fans or getting paid less if he doesn’t bring his team success, but rather, fear for his potential safety if he doesn’t perform well. This interesting look at the intersection of sports and politics makes this one of the best documentaries on Netflix.
2. Into The Abyss
Legendary documentarian Walter Herzog wrote and fully produced this film which explores the meaning of life through the minds of two men on death row and mere days away from their scheduled executions. Herzog calls this exploration a “gaze into the abyss of the human soul,’ and I can’t disagree. While some parts may be hard to watch as you know the protagonists’ impending fate, their thoughts on life are incredibly insightful as the situation they’re in can’t be replicated through fiction.
1. The Act Of Killing
This documentary achieves a rare feat, being both aesthetically impressive while retaining a captivating story line throughout. While hard to watch at times due to the subject matter and gore, this film truly tells an incredible story. The film tells the story of how Indonesian gangsters were promoted to an absolute death squad following a government overthrow in 1965. They killed thousands of government dissenters that were supposedly communists and people of other fanatical beliefs.
The film focuses on Anwar Congo, who himself said he killed over 1,000 people through strangulation. The film examines whether Anwar and his cohorts feel remorse and think over whether or not what they did was wrong, and how they cope with meeting some of the families of their victims. This story doesn’t have an especially happy conclusion, but it’s sure to bring some type of emotion out of you while providing a ton of previously unknown information. The incredible journey that this story shows along with the mesmerizing visuals, to me, makes this the best documentary on Netflix.