ByElise Jost, writer at
"It's a UNIX system! I know this!"
Elise Jost

How wonderful is it that you can be lazy and learning at the same time? You can put on your best couch potato outfit, pile up the snacks, turn off the lights, and let your mind gasp in wonder at all the things you didn't know yet about the world. Whether a documentary will make you laugh or cry — or make you really, really hungry — you'll always come out feeling just a little bit wiser.

Because you don't want to spend more time choosing than watching, though, we'll help you navigate your way through some of the best on Netflix right now. You'll find the most recent additions to at the top, while the rest of the list is a (far from exhaustive) roundup of some of the best documentaries the streaming platform currently has to offer, spanning the most popular categories of the genre. One thing's for sure, you won't ever see the world in the same light again, so check out our best documentaries on Netflix below.

16. 'Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On' (2017)

  • Category: Society
  • Effect: Surprise, shock and emotion

Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On is a six part-series that follows Netflix's documentary Hot Girls Wanted, and dives into the mostly unexplored world of online porn. In particular, it focuses on the young girls who turn to porn as an easy means of making money and connections, and looks at how sex on the internet reshapes our way of building relationships.

15. 'Fire At Sea' (2016)

  • Category: Society
  • Effect: Shock

This Oscar-nominated documentary won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival in 2016. Set on the island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean sea, the film follows the refugees attempting to enter Europe, making their first stop on this island at the south of Italy. A deep dive into the daily struggles of refugees and the global crisis that unfolds around them, it's a poignant documentary that has never been more timely.

14. 'Notes On Blindness' (2015)

  • Category: Health
  • Effect: Wonder and melancholy

What if you were to lose your sight tomorrow? In the '80s, academic John Hull had to come to terms with the fact that he was going blind soon — and in an attempt to understand better what was happening to him, he started recording audio clips, describing what his journey into blindness felt like. It's a fascinating exploration of the senses, and a deeply touching and personal story.

13. 'Paris Is Burning' (1990)

  • Category: Society and sexuality
  • Effect: Love and understanding

One of the most iconic movies about drag culture, Paris Is Burning dives into the New York drag scene of the '80s, from the many balls to the most popular queens. It's a riveting visual feast and deeply personal tale that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1991 and Best Documentary at the Berlin Film Festival in 1991.

12. '13th' (2016)

  • Category: Society
  • Effect: Revolt

Ava DuVernay's 13th has been nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars, and for good reason. This eye-opening look at the American prison system highlights just how many flaws it's built on, denouncing in particular the injustice that African-American prisoners fall victim to.

11. 'The Ivory Game' (2016)

  • Category: Nature and society
  • Effect: Outrage

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, The Ivory Game dives into the cruel world of the ivory trade, from the Savannah to the streets of China, where the precious material is sold. The creators of the documentary went undercover for months to take a hard look at the ivory network, and remind us how close elephants actually are to being entirely wiped off the Earth.

10. 'Audrie And Daisy' (2016)

  • Category: Society
  • Effect: Eye-opening shock

With sexual assault cases getting more and more media attention, understanding the nightmare that the victims are going through is more relevant than ever. This sharp documentary on sexual assault sees two teenage girls in different American towns who both found themselves assaulted at high school parties.

9. 'Amanda Knox' (2016)

  • Category: Crime
  • Effect: Tension and intrigue

An American student living in Italy, Knox was accused and tried for the 2007 murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. The case lasted for years, with investigations in Italy and the US coming to different conclusions — exactly the kind of legal situation that could be dissected and analyzed all over again. It could be one of the many documentaries to follow the highly successful Making a Murderer.

8. 'Making A Murderer' (2015)

  • Category: Crime
  • Effect: Intense desire to become a detective

Arguably one of the most fascinating documentaries of last year, follows the story of Steven Avery, who was tried for the murder of a young photograph not long after serving a prison sentence that he'd ended up being exonerated for. Not to spoil the ending of the documentary, his case was actually reviewed earlier this year following the Netflix release. This investigation like no other will leave you on the edge of your seat.

7. 'Cartel Land' (2015)

  • Category: Society & crime
  • Effect: Gut-wrenching

Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Cartel Land is a gripping insight into the drug wars plaguing the American-Mexican border. On each side, teams are assembling to fight the Mexican drug cartels, building up a tension that you'll find hard to forget — and to add to the unnerving effect of the movie, director Matthew Heineman inserted himself into the narrative.

6. 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' (2015)

  • Category: Music
  • Effect: Sudden urge to buy a really nice set of speakers

If you were disappointed by the controversy surrounding the Nina Simone biopic Nina, but would still love to learn more about the music icon, Netflix has the right documentary for you. What Happened, Miss Simone? is an intimate look at the singer's work and personal life that shows her struggle with her art as much as the extent of her genius.

5. 'Blackfish' (2013)

  • Category: Nature
  • Effect: Sadness and shock

You've probably already experienced that uneasy feeling at a zoo where animals just seem sad and trapped and just not where they should be. Blackfish focuses on killer whales and the tricky debate surrounding their captivity: While we catch them for biodiversity preservation as much as entertainment purposes, how safe is it for us — and for them?

4. 'Jiro Dreams Of Sushi' (2011)

  • Category: Food
  • Effect: Intense hunger

Another documentary about fish, but that'll make you feel better about eating some, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a tale of hard work, passion, and dedication to being the very best. Jiro is a sushi chef in a tiny restaurant hidden in the Tokyo subway, but the modesty of the place hasn't prevented him from earning three Michelin stars. As Jiro gets older, his son starts facing the prospect of taking over his business and his legacy.

3. 'The True Cost' (2015)

  • Category: Fashion
  • Effect: Questioning every clothing habit you've ever had

If you usually head to the likes of H&M to stock up on cheap clothes, get ready to say goodbye to your shopping habits. The True Cost casts an unforgiving look on the fashion industry, pointing out extremely grave issues in the production chain that might be known, but are so often ignored. How can we wear clothes that were made by children or underpaid workers risking their lives every day? There are many other Netflix documentaries about fashion, but if you're going to watch one, it should be this one.

2. 'Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father' (2008)

  • Category: Society
  • Effect: Lots and lots of emotion

Dear Zachary usually makes its way into rankings of the best Netflix documentaries, and for good reason. When a man gets murdered before the birth of his son, his friend realizes the young boy won't have any memory of his father — and decides to make a film about him. As he dives into the family history and the circumstances of the murder, however, he discovers much more than he expected. It's a poignant, intimate and gripping film that will tug at every heartstring.

1. 'Planet Earth' (2006)

  • Category: Nature
  • Effect: Pure and utter amazement

While it's impossible to pick a clear winner among the best Netflix documentaries out there, the BBC's nature documentaries will never cease to amaze. Whether you're eager to learn or just want to look at really pretty scenery, this series will make you drop your jaw in wonder — and probably have you hooked for hours. is one of the must-watches because the shots are so rare and impressive you'll find it hard to believe it was filmed in 2006, and we can't wait for Planet Earth II to land on the streaming platform!

What are your top documentaries on Netflix?

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