The 10 Best Documentaries on Netflix Instant

the house i live in

Welcome to The Best of Netflix Top 10 Documentaries list

Updated May 19th 2014: We cleaned up the list for accuracy and added some of our most recent favorites

This list of the best documentaries streaming on Netflix was curated by our editors. While we’ll try to keep it up to date as possible, please reach out to us if any of the below documentaries are no longer streaming instantly.

With this list, we tend to stick to a theme of documentaries that we feel are “important.” — So some of you are likely to see a couple of the docs on the list here and go “huh, really?” And that’s ok — that’s what a great documentary does; it causes debate and stimulates conversation.

What did we miss, anything you think deserves to be on this list? Let us know in the comments!

10) Indie Game

Watching someone’s life work come to completion is motivating, and this movie has some moments like that. But it also shows the turmoil that various game developers encounter when following their life’s work. Indie Game has several shifts in emotion, from happiness, to frustration, to depression, to celebration… You feel deeply involved with the respective projects of each featured team in this fantastic doc.

9) Chasing Ice

This documentary is terrifyingly beautiful. Chasing Ice follows a team of research scientists as they monitor glacier recession over several years. The images on film are stunning, and the team captures one of the most breathtaking moments of glacier calving ever; an absolute must see. But the main point of the documentary is about as scary as it gets… the images of the glacier melt observed in such a short period should scare even the most skeptical of people.

8) Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

This was one of the most harrowing documentaries we have ever seen. It follows the story of a family friend who sets out to make a film detailing out the life of a son’s deceased father for the son to cherish forever. The plot quickly thickens, and this good-intentioned documentary turns quickly into a crime-riddled drama. This doc will leave the strongest of people in tears, no doubt.

7) Exit Through the Gift Shop

Ok… Ok… this probably isn’t even a documentary. We’ve heard all the arguments from both sides, and we tend to err on the side of caution when speaking about Exit Through the Gift Shop. Truthfully, we won’t even bother trying to make a case here. While this is most likely Banksy trying to send a message about his views on modern art, the film is engaging and certainly entertaining. Worthy of a watch, and perhaps a second, more thoughtful one as well.

6) Blackfish

As kids, we all adored Sea World. There was of course no reason to believe that what was actually happening behinds the scenes was unfair to the whales. So when Blackfish came out a few months ago, imagine how shocked we were to learn the history behind this seemingly harmless theme park. A must watch.

5) ESPN’s 30 for 30

This is probably cheating a bit as there are several of the 30 for 30s from ESPN are available on Netflix Instant. But truthfully, these are some of the best sport documentaries ever produced. From the financial struggles of millionaire athletes, to a fan who simply wanted a souvenir, to up and coming athletes who passed far before their prime, and those who just simply disappeared. Each one of these documentaries is spectacular in their own right, thankfully there are many of them to enjoy.

4) Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the equivalent to watching Mozart compose Symphony #40. It would be as of we were watching Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. We watch Jiro, the best sushi chef in the world, compete only with perfection. This film documents his struggles, as well as those of his family, who clearly understand that they will never quite be as good as Jiro himself. It’s a passionate look at a man who accepts nothing less than perfect.

3) Senna

Full disclosure, we have very little interest in Formula One racing. But that is what makes Senna so spectacular; you don’t have to know one thing about cars to appreciate this great film. It’s extremely touching to follow the life and struggle of Ayrton Senna throughout this historical depiction as he steps into fame. It is near impossible to not be in love with him by the end of the film.

2) Restrepo

Named after Pfc. Juan Sebastian Restrepo, this military documentary follows a platoon of soldiers as they are deployed in the Korengal Valley. Their every struggle caught on film, it’s a heartbreaking look into the daily lives of the men and women deployed, away from their families, safety and comfort. It’s been hailed as one of the most realistic looks at deployment, as an overall narrative is mostly non-existent. It just follows along with the natural timeline of these men, displaying every gruesome detail. This is an absolute must watch.

1) The House I Live In

The House I Live In is absolutely terrifying because it clearly outlines one of the biggest missteps the United States has ever taken as a country. According to this documentary, we have completely mishandled drug abuse and crime and at this point we are almost too far removed for a good solution that it might never improve. David Simon, one of the creators of The Wire, has one of the hardest hitting lines ever caught on film, where he discusses the WHY behind a lot of these current policies. The reality of this documentary make it both spectacular and horribly depressing.

Comments

  1. Katherine says

    Excellent Documentary list — thank you! I would add “The Dhamma Brothers” to the list, especially as a companion piece to “The House I Live In” — though “The Dhamma Brothers” also stands up very well on its own. Here’s the description from the film’s Netflix page:

    “Donaldson Correctional Facility — an overcrowded, violent, maximum-security prison, the end of the line in Alabama’s prison system — is dramatically changed by the introduction and influence of an ancient meditation program.”

    Very powerful stuff in this film. I probably watch at least one documentary per week, and this remains a standout.

    Thanks for all you do,
    Katherine

    • Jeremy Atkins says

      I’ll have to check that one out, LOVED The house I live in, so I bet that one will be great too — thanks for the recommendation

  2. Petra says

    I think documentaries are the best thing on Netflix. They have a really good selection and sometimes you find some cool docs.

  3. Tt says

    I was riveted to the documentary “Burzynski Cancer is serious Business.” A must see film of Dr Burzynski’s ability to successfully treat incurable cancer with such consistency has baffled and threatened the industry.

  4. JustSomeDude says

    How the heck did “Pandora’s Promise” not make this list? It is probably the most important documentary (for humanity) on NF right now.

  5. Mika Hakkinen says

    Only one I’ve seen is “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and it was mesmerizing, so I will check out your other recs!

  6. SanDiegoDave says

    Who Killed the Electric Car
    The Revenge of the Electric Car
    Who the F*#k is Arthur Fogel
    History of the Eagles
    Downloaded
    Forks Over Knives

  7. Patty says

    Great list ! some of favorite documentaries.

    “So much, so fast”
    “La Bare”
    “Lost For Life”
    “Documented”
    “talhotblond”
    “Who is Dayani Crystal”
    “family affair”

  8. says

    So far I’ve seen 3 amazing documentaries on netflix:
    “food chains”, “nanking” and “particle fever”. I’ve been a fan of this genre for a long time, and definitely there’s a great variety of content. You should check’em out.

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