TV & Movies

20 Of The Best Netflix Documentaries That Will Blow Your Mind

By Urban List Writers
31st Mar 2021

Ready for a Netflix binge session? We’ve done the hard yards for you and rounded up the best Netflix documentaries you need to watch right now. From the intriguing to the shocking, it’s all here.

Here are all the best Netflix documentaries to watch right now.

Seaspiracy

From the co-creator who brought you the groundbreaking documentary Cowspiracy comes Seaspiracy, a follow up that illuminates alarming truths about the widespread environmental destruction to our oceans caused by human behavior. Filmmaker Ali Tabrizi examines the harm that humans inflict upon the vulnerable seas—from plastics and fishing gear polluting the waters, to the irreparable damage of bottom trawling, to illegal fishing and devastating hunting practices, humanity is wreaking havoc on marine life. What Tabrizi ultimately uncovered not only challenges notions of sustainable fishing but will shock anyone who cares about the wonders of ocean life, as well as the future of the planet and our place on it.

Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell

In the wake of the Notorious B.I.G.’s landmark induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and ahead of what would have been his 50th birthday, Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell offers a fresh look at one of the greatest, most influential rappers of all time by those who knew him best. Made in collaboration with Biggie’s estate, this doco is an intimate rendering of a man whose rapid ascent and tragic end has been at the centre of rap lore for more than twenty years. Produced by P Diddy, this intimate flick features rare footage filmed and new interviews with his closest friends and family, revealing a side of Christopher Wallace that the world never knew.

Last Chance U: Basketball

From Greg Whiteley (Cheer) and the team behind Emmy-winning Last Chance U comes Last Chance U: Basketball, an honest, gritty look inside the world of community college basketball. Over the course of eight episodes, viewers will follow the East Los Angeles College Huskies (ELAC) in their high stakes chase to an unprecedented California state basketball championship. Led by passionate head coach John Mosley, the ELAC team is made up of former D1 recruits and powerhouse athletes hustling to prove themselves for a last chance to fulfill their dreams of playing at the next level. But the team is tested as the players battle adversity, inner demons, and emotions on and off the court.

My Octopus Teacher

After years spent filming some of the planet’s most dangerous animals, Craig Foster was burned out and depressed, his family relationships in turmoil. He decided to put a halt to his career to reconnect with his own roots—the magical underwater world of the kelp forest off the coast of his hometown—Cape Town, South Africa. For nearly a decade, Craig went diving daily in the icy cold waters, ditching his wetsuit and scuba rig in one of the most predator dense places on earth. The common octopus he met and tracked became first his subject, then his teacher, showing him things no human had ever witnessed. Shot over eight years, with 3000 hours of footage, My Octopus Teacher documents a unique friendship, interaction and animal intelligence never seen before.

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal

An examination that goes beyond the celebrity-driven headlines and dives into the methods used by Rick Singer, the man at the center of the shocking 2019 college admissions scandal, to persuade his wealthy clients to cheat an educational system already designed to benefit the privileged. Using an innovative combination of interviews and narrative recreations of the FBI’s wiretapped conversations between Singer and his clients, Operation Varsity Blues offers a rare glimpse into the enigmatic figure behind a scheme that exposed the lengths wealthy families would go to for admission into elite colleges, and angered a nation already grappling with the effects of widespread inequality. 

The Ripper

For five years, between 1975 to 1980, the Yorkshire Ripper murders cast a dark shadow over the lives of women in the North of England. It was a time of national hysteria—13 women were dead and the police seemed incapable of catching the killer. No one felt safe and every man was a suspect. Chronicling the twists and turns of the largest police manhunt in British police history, this evocative four part docu-series re-examines the crimes within the context of England in the late 1970s: a time of radical change, de-industrialisation, poverty, masculinity and misogyny, all of which contributed to the Ripper evading capture for so long. 

American Murder: The Family Next Door

In 2018, 34-year-old Shanann Watts and her two young daughters went missing in Frederick, Colorado. As heartbreaking details emerged, their story made headlines worldwide. Told entirely through archival footage that includes social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages and never-before-seen home videos, director Jenny Popplewell pieces together a police investigation and a dark marriage falling apart. Will you be able to tear yourself away? Unlikely. Watch American Murder: The Family Next Door here.

The Social Dilemma

It’s one of the best documentaries on Netflix (obviously) and it’s made a whole slew of people ditch the likes of Instagram and Facebook in a mere 94 minutes. This chilling documentary dives into the real-life consequences every time we tweet, like and share online and sports a heap of interviews with actual Silicon Valley insiders. These guys basically drop a bombshell and reveal how social media is reprogramming the world by telling the absolute truth on what’s on the other side of your screen. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty. Watch The Social Dilemma here.

Rising Phoenix

Easily one of the best docos of 2020, put Rising Phoenix at the top of your must-watch list stat. This tear-jerker tells the extraordinary story of the Paralympic Games—from the rubble of World War II to the third biggest sporting event on the planet, it sparked a global movement which continues to change the way the world thinks about disability, diversity and human potential. In Rising Phoenix elite athletes and insiders reflect on the Paralympic Games and examine how they have impacted society’s understanding of disability. Athletes featured in the film include a slew of super inspiring humans like Aussie swimmer Ellie Cole and wheelchair rugby player Ryley Batt. There’s also moving chats with French sprinter Jean-Baptiste Alaize, American archery legend Matt Stutzman and Chinese powerlifter Cui Zhe—so keep the tissues close.

Immigration Nation

In the groundbreaking six-part documentary series Immigration Nation, you’ll get an unprecedented look at the processes, pitfalls and pain of immigration in America. Shot over the course of three years, award-wining filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau capture the daily workings of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, activists, lawmakers, attorneys and a wide swath of undocumented immigrants, from desperate recent arrivals to longtime residents to deported U.S. military combat veterans. With an unrelenting flow of migrant workers continuing across the U.S. border, the pressure on ICE to enforce the administration’s zero-tolerance policies puts immigrants in the crosshairs. This docu-series will see you hugging your loved ones a little tighter tonight.

Anelka: Misunderstood

The Bad boy of French football, arrogant, precocious, misunderstood, scorer, unclassifiable, genius... despite having a career of almost 20 years at the highest level, soccer star Nicolas Anelka is still hard to define. From sporting feats to controversies, he remains a mysterious persona for many observers. It's an image that Anelka himself has cultivated. For seven years, director Franck Nataf has followed Nicolas Anelka in his day-to-day life: from his experiences in China, India, his life far away from France to his children's birthdays and catch ups with friends Paul Pogba and Thierry Henry. Anelka: Misunderstood lifts the veil on one of the world’s most controversial sporting personalities. 

Unsolved Mysteries

Cult classic Unsolved Mysteries is back from the 80s with a slick new reboot. Fusing signature elements from the original series with contemporary immersive, character-driven storytelling, the 12 new episodes are rooted in the experiences of ordinary people who have lived the unthinkable—from the trauma of a loved one’s unexplained disappearance or horrific death, to the shock of a bizarre paranormal encounter. Alongside detectives and journalists, family members offer clues, present theories, and identify suspects, hoping one viewer holds the key to solving the mystery. Put your detective hat on, it's up to you to crack the case.

Becoming

She might not be our former first lady but that doesn't’ diminish the love we have for Michelle Obama. And now you can love on her even more with her epic Netflix documentary Becoming. The flick offers an intimate look into the life of the former First Lady during a moment of profound change, not only for her personally but for the country she and her husband served over eight impactful years in the White House. The film offers a rare and up-close look at her life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour that highlights the power of community to bridge our divides and the spirit of connection that comes when we openly and honestly share our stories.

World’s Most Wanted

True crime buffs will want to dive into this one stat. The docu-series follows heinous criminals who have avoided capture despite massive rewards and global investigations. Each ep will profile five of the world’s most wanted, including Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada Garcia, the head of the Sinaloa Cartel; Félicien Kabuga who was accused of financing the Rwandan genocide of the 90s; Samantha Lewthwaite aka the White Widow who was suspected of masterminding acts of terror causing the deaths of more than 400 people; Russian mob boss Semion Mogilevich and Sicilian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro. Yep, you’ll dive headfirst into active investigations of the world's most evil. This is not one for the faint-hearted. 

The Last Dance

You don’t have to be a sports fan to devour this binge-worthy docu-series trust us. The Last Dance goes like this: in the fall of 1997, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls began their quest to win a sixth NBA title in eight years. But despite all Jordan had achieved since his sensational debut 13 years earlier, “The Last Dance,” as coach Phil Jackson called it, would be shadowed by tension with the club’s front office and the overwhelming sense that this was the last time the world would ever see the greatest player of all time, and his extraordinary teammates, in full flight. Expect incredible never before seen footage and interviews with the likes of Jordan himself, as well as Scottie Pippen and Denis Rodman. 

Athlete A 

Athlete A follows a team of reporters from The Indianapolis Star as they investigate claims of abuse at USA Gymnastics, one of America’s most prominent Olympic organisations. Two years later, Olympic doctor Larry Nassar is behind bars, the US Congress is demanding answers and hundreds of survivors are speaking out. Equal parts devastating and inspiring, the doco reveals the culture of cruelty that was allowed to thrive within elite-level gymnastics, the attorney fighting the institutions, and most importantly, the brave athletes who refuse to be silenced, fought the system and triumphed. Keep the tissues close for this one. 

Disclosure 

This doco delivers an unprecedented and eye-opening look at transgender depictions in film and television, revealing how Hollywood simultaneously reflects and manufactures our deepest anxieties about gender. Leading trans thinkers and creatives, including Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, MJ Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, and Chaz Bono, share their reactions and resistance to some of Hollywood’s most beloved moments. Reframing familiar scenes and iconic characters in a new light, director Sam Feder invites viewers to confront unexamined assumptions, and shows how what once captured the public’s imagination now elicit new feelings. This one is an absolute must watch. 

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

This could be one of the scariest documentaries of the year and if you’re in the mood for some really messed up stuff, this is the one for you. We all know the horrendous circumstances surrounding the mysterious tycoon Jeffery Epstein, his name made headlines last year after he was accused of abusing women and underage girls for decades, assembling a network of faithful enablers (all in great positions of power) to help carry out and cover up his crimes. He managed to lie and manipulate his way to the top of the financial world, eventually gaining tremendous wealth while running an international sex trafficking ring. 

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness

It’s the seriously whack docuseries that has taken 2020 by storm. If you haven’t already watched this one and you’re wondering what all the big fuss is about, let us enlighten you. Among the eccentrics and cult personalities in the stranger-than-fiction world of big cat owners in the US, few stand out more than Joe Exotic, a mulleted, gun-toting polygamist who presides over an Oklahoma roadside zoo. Charismatic but misguided, Joe and an unbelievable cast of characters including drug kingpins, conmen, and cult leaders all share a passion for big cats, and the status and attention their dangerous menageries garner. But things take a dark turn when Carole Baskin, an animal activist and owner of a big cat sanctuary, threatens to put them out of business, stoking a rivalry that eventually leads to Joe’s arrest for a murder-for-hire plot.

Miss Americana

There’s no denying it, Taylor Swift has had a rough old time with the media and her fellow celebs—we’re looking at you Kayne. In an effort for the public to see what life is like behind the microphone, Swift has teamed up with Netflix to produce Miss Americana. This raw and emotionally revealing look at Swift dives deep into a transformational period in her life. The film tells the story of Swift navigating the difference between who the world wants her to be, and who she wants to be. Regardless of whether you're team Swift or not, this doco will make you realise there's a person behind all the tabloids. 

Still got time to spare? Here are all the best movies to watch on Netflix right now.

Image credit: Netflix

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