documentaries have always been great, but in the last year or so it feels like they’ve gone to a new level. Despite this, it can be difficult to find the best stuff, so we’ve made this list.
We’re starting with the the best new documentaries released in the last 12 months. After that we’ve divided the remainder of our picks by genre. We’re up to date for January.
There’s a lot to get through. Good luck and happy watching!
The Best New Documentaries on Netflix
Break Point is the latest in what feels like a zillion documentaries exploring the every day drama of sports. You know the ones I mean — All or Nothing, Drive to Survive. Cricket has one, AFL has one — there’s even a golf one coming on Netflix later this year.
Break Point focuses on Tennis and — thankfully — picks the best athletes to focus on. Watch this for the legendary Nick Kyrgios at the very least.
Pepsi, Where’s My Jet? is one of my favorite types of documentary. It’s an offbeat documentary on a bizarre topic with a cast of truly charismatic and insane people.
The premise: In the mid-’90s Pepsi had a point system designed to inspire people to drink more Pepsi. One ad showed off a Harrier Jet you could buy with 7 million of these points. John Leonard, a 21-year-old business student, found a loophole that allowed him to buy points for 10 cents and tried to force Pepsi to make good on their marketing promise. Chaos ensues.
With the Qatar World Cup literally taking place right now, there couldn’t be a better time to get stuck into FIFA’s murky behind-the-scenes behavior. This is a truly shocking documentary. Be warned: The allegations here are so wild you might even feel compelled to stop watching the World Cup.
Untold is the latest from the folks behind Wild Wild Country.
It’s a sports documentary series, with each episode going in-depth on controversial sports topics. The first episode focuses on Malice at the Palace, the notorious basketball match where Ron Artest waded into the crowd and wailed on fans back in 2004.
Untold is now in its second season, and it is absolute must-watch stuff. The new episodes are arguably better than the stellar first season. Maybe the best sports documentary series on Netflix
As good as Netflix documentaries are, there’s been a tendency to drag out true crime into these bloated multiepisode series. Thankfully Our Father is the opposite of that. It’s a lean, perfectly executed documentary focused on Donald Cline, an Indiana fertility doctor who used his own sperm to inseminate a ridiculous number of women against their will.
This is an incredible piece, one of those stories that just escalates and escalates to the point where your jaw drops in disbelief.
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey (2022)
There are a lot of Netflix documentaries about cults gone mad, but Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey might be the most disturbing of the lot. Unlike Murder Among the Mormons, which almost treated its topic like a screwball comedy, Keep Sweet is a very grim story about a grim human being in Warren Jeffs. It’s a fantastic documentary, and among the best Netflix has produced, but it comes with a very hefty content warning.
Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story (2022)
Skateboarding as a sport makes for a great documentary topic. Dogtown and Z Boys, All That Mayhem — absolutely legendary. Stay on Board: The Leo Baker Story is another in a long line of classics.
It focuses on Leo Baker, the skater who came out as trans and had to quit competing at the Olympics in the process. Amazing, must watch stuff.
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Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story (2022)
It’s almost impossible to overstate how famous Jimmy Savile was in the UK — particularly in the 1980s. He was beyond a household name, in many ways he felt like an eccentric uncle to the nation.
Which made revelations that he had sexually assaulted hundreds of underage girls and boys all the more horrific. This was a person the whole of Britain had invited into their homes.
Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story does a great job of going through the archives, combining footage that is utterly bizarre in hindsight, and adding fantastic interviews with some of the major players in British TV during Savile’s heyday. A fascinating, albeit disturbing documentary. Be warned: This is a difficult watch.
Our Great National Parks (2022)
Barack Obama is making a beeline for David Attenborough’s job. And we don’t hate the idea!
Our Great National Parks is a world-class nature documentary in the style of great BBC shows like Planet Earth. They’ve nailed it here. If you’re a fan of that type of show, this is completely unmissable.
The Most Hated Man on the Internet (2022)
Netflix has been on fire with its documentaries lately, and The Most Hated Man on the Internet is the latest. From the producers of Tinder Swindler and Dont F**k with Cats, it’s a three-part documentary that tells the story of Hunter Moore, one of the most notorious purveyors of “revenge porn.” Definitely worth watching this one.
The Girl in the Picture (2022)
The Girl in the Picture is the latest true crime documentary from Netflix. It’s up there with the service’s absolute best work.
It feels like, after a period of needlessly bloated multiepisode documentaries, Netflix has started trimming the fat, releasing lean, incredibly compelling documentaries again. First Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey and Our Father, now this.
The Girl in the Picture tells the story of a young girl, murdered at age 20. To say too much would spoil the impact, but this is a layered, brutal documentary with endless twists. It needs to be seen to be believed.
The Tinder Swindler (2022)
A documentary focused on Shimon Hayut, aka the “Tinder Swindler,” a conman who used dating apps to defraud multiple women across Europe to fund a lavish lifestyle.
A slightly different topic compared to most true crime documentaries on Netflix. Definitely worth a gander.
I’ve watched plenty of true crime documentaries on Netflix, but nothing has come close to The Keepers. A staggering story, told across generations, that’s respectful of the victims, yet compelling throughout.
It’s a story about the unsolved murder of Catherine Cesnik, a nun who taught at a Catholic school in Baltimore, but The Keepers goes further than you might expect and exposes a potential coverup of sex abuse allegations.
The true crime documentary genre is utterly saturated at this point, but The Staircase stands out.
Focusing on Michael Peterson and the death of his wife Kathleen, The Staircase is more than just a murder mystery. It’s a drawn-out epic that takes place over literal decades, a documentary that follows Peterson and examines his every move, but somehow still remains objective.
It’s a good time to watch or revisit this one, since HBO Max has just launched a drama miniseries based on it.
House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths (2021)
One of the more recent true crime documentaries from Netflix, this is a good one.
Focusing on the bizarre deaths of 11 family members in one house in Burari, Delhi, India in 2018, House of Secrets delves into the theories behind of the strangest suicide/murder cases in recent memory. Unmissable stuff.
This Is a Robbery is about Netflix as it gets. A four-part series focusing on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, this is essentially a documentary about an art heist. Remember Evil Genius? (Which is also on this list.) This Is a Robbery is very much in that style. The first episode takes a while to get going, but be patient — this one has a payoff.
Murder Among the Mormons (2021)
Some of Netflix’s more recent true crime documentaries have been a bit bloated and… sorta bad?
Thankfully Murder Among the Mormons is a return to form. Definitely watch this one.
Who Killed Little Gregory (2019)
Who Killed Little Gregory is a documentary focused on the horrific murder of Grégory Villemin. It’s arguably the best true crime documentary on Netflix. It’s about a murder, and attempts to solve that murder, but it’s also a lesson in media representation and the horrific sexism Grégory’s mother had to face in the wake of her son’s murder.
American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020)
There are a lot of true crime documentaries out there (and on this list) but American Murder: The Family Next Door sticks out.
It tells the story of Chris Watts, a seemingly regular guy who murdered his wife and children. The access to footage is staggering and it’s edited and produced in a unique way, using text messages and social media posts to tell the story. It’s a horrific reminder of the banal, incredibly common existence of domestic violence.
Making a Murderer (2015-2018)
With the swath of true crime documentaries and podcasts that came in its wake, it’s easy to forget that the world once lost its collective mind over Making a Murderer. In a lot of ways it created the template that many Netflix documentaries now follow. A real original.
In 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, Netflix dropped this piece of sports doc perfection.
The Last Dance focuses on the Chicago Bulls during their ’97-’98 NBA title-winning season, but really it’s a jumping off point for a documentary that tells the life story of its central star, Michael Jordan.
As a result, many criticized it for being a little too Jordan-focused, but The Last Dance was an event documentary that lived up to the hype.
This Oscar-winning documentary is an absolute belter.
Icarus starts out as an expose on the impact performance-enhancing drugs have on sports performance, but a sequence of events drags director Bryan Fogel into a web of geopolitics and conspiracies. To say more would spoil it, but Fogel ultimately has created a documentary that had a very real impact on our perception of sports as a whole. In that respect, Icarus is a literal game changer.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive (2019)
The absolute gold standard for long-running sports documentaries. Drive to Survive is so good, and so popular, that it’s inspired a whole new level of interest in Formula 1, especially in the US. This show is great at elevating the characters that occupy the sport. More shows like this, please.
Athlete A is a great feature length expose on Larry Nassar, the team doctor of USA Gymnastics, who had been sexually abusing female athletes for decades.
Be warned: This one is harrowing.
14 Peaks tells the story of the Nepalese mountaineer Nimsdai Purja and his goal of climbing all 14 mountains above the height of 8,000 meters (26,000 feet) in one year. It’s incredible. Must-watch stuff.
Netflix might have burned the true crime documentary into the ground, but it’s on fire when it comes to sports. Bad Sport is the latest entry into this burgeoning subcategory, and it’s awesome. Focusing on strange controversies in sports history, Bad Sport is less about major players doing major things, it’s about what happens when sport goes bad, gets down in the dirt. All of these episodes are great. Hoping for a season 2.
The River Runner is sorta like Free Solo for kayaking. Consider that a compliment.
Focusing on Scott Lindgren, a kayaking legend who was a pioneer of the sport, this is a traditional story of an extreme sports star overcoming odds, but it runs a little deeper than that. Fighting against a brain tumor and his own personal demons, Lindgren is a compelling case study. Must watch stuff.
Naomi Osaka has become one of the most famous and talked-about athletes on the planet. This fascinating documentary explores different phases of her career and offers incredible access into the life of a young woman struggling with the pressures of sport and fame. A must-watch.
If you’re looking for a slightly more uplifting documentary, you could do far worse than The Speed Cubers, a look at the world of competitive… Rubik’s Cubers? It’s short, but packs an incredible emotional punch. Prepare yourself, this one might break you.
Seaspiracy follows in the footsteps of multiple documentaries focused on the impact of meat eating on the environment. This time the global fishing industry is in the crosshairs. As expected this one has stirred up a bit of controversy from all stakeholders — PETA, Greenpeace and conservation groups can’t seem to agree if Seaspiracy is accurate or fair. Watch it and make up your own mind.
My Octopus Teacher (2020)
My Octopus Teacher follows Craig Foster, a filmmaker who spent a year snorkeling and interacting with an octopus off the coast of South Africa. It’s a nature film, sure, but it’s simultaneously a documentary designed to inspire awe in the viewer. In short, octopuses are incredible. Little aliens on Earth, essentially. This is the story of a relationship between humans and nature, but it’s also an inspiring call to action: Don’t ignore the wonder that exists all around you.
David Attenborough nature documentaries are so pervasive, they’re vulnerable to self parody, but Our Planet is — I believe — the high watermark. Only Planet Earth, another Attenborough doc, comes close. But I prefer this one.
Time may dull its impact, but when Tiger King was first released on Netflix, the entire world couldn’t stop talking about it.
Tiger King explores the strange underbelly of big cat breeding, focusing on a cast of unforgettable (and ultimately dangerous) characters. It drags its audience to weird places. Season 2 is now available and while the show has lost a lot of its bite, it’s intriguing to catch up with this cast of wild human beings doing wild, completely outlandish things.
13th by Ava Duvernay is a staggering documentary that tells the story of American slavery and its long-lasting impacts, many of which still resonate today.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, this should be mandatory viewing.
In the wake of the Capitol siege, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica controversy almost feels like ancient history, but that doesn’t make this documentary any less important. If you haven’t seen it, then watch it.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (2021)
Recently released, Operations Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal has a name as long as some of Netflix’s recent documentaries. Thankfully, this isn’t as bloated as, say, the recent Cecil Hotel doc, but it could still use some trimming.
Operation Varsity Blues focused on the FBI investigation into college admissions that put actress Felicity Huffman into jail. Its director, Chris Smith, previously worked on the Fyre Festival documentary. This isn’t quite as compelling, but is still well worth watching.
Knock Down the House (2019)
Regardless of your views on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Knock Down the House is an incredible underdog story that cannot be missed. Focusing on progressive female candidates during the 2018 congressional primary campaigns, it’s an insightful look at the democratic process. It’s an inspiring reminder that we need to fight in order to make the voices of ordinary people count.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Not gonna say much here. Nina Simone is a legend and this is maybe one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.
Overlong and bloated, Wild Wild Country is nevertheless one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve ever watched on Netflix.
It tells the story of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who attempted to build a gigantic sprawling commune, for what was essentially a sex cult, in the United States. It’s a strange story that somehow becomes stranger with age. Much like Tiger King, the story plumbs depths you won’t believe. At times it’s a slog, but Wild Wild Country is absolutely worthwhile.
I absolutely adore this documentary. Five current acclaimed directors (including Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola) help tell the story of five famous movie directors from the ’30s and ’40s who did frontline work during the Second World War. It wraps their legacies alongside the impact of the war itself into a truly compelling story of Hollywood’s golden age.
An Oscar winner for Netflix, this documentary is the first produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions team.
American Factory tells the story of Fuyao, a Chinese company that built a factory in Ohio that inhabits a now-closed General Motors plant. You have to watch this movie.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (2020)
By this point we all have some sort of understanding of Jeffrey Epstein’s story but Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich does itself a great service by focusing on the stories of the survivors of his abuse.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
Hulu also has a great Fyre festival documentary, but I prefer this Netflix one. Unlike many Netflix documentaries, which are stretched and bloated into multipart episodes, this documentary is sharp, direct and solid gold the entire way through.
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