Netflix: the 23 best documentaries to stream now

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From Becoming to Shirkers, these are the Netflix documentaries you need to add to your watchlist, stat. 

When it comes to documentaries, there are a lot – and we mean a lot – available to stream on Netflix. And, while the likes of Tiger King and Unsolved Mysteries may have you convinced that every single docuseries and documentary film is hooked on a true crime case, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In a bid to help you source the streaming platform’s best documentaries, we’ve compiled a list of our own personal favourites. From nature documentaries to sweeping biopics, every single docuseries on this list will do one of three things: inspire you, uplift you, or make you think.

Each, though, is guaranteed to educate you on a topic you’d like to know more about. 

We promise.

A poignant scene from Michelle Obama’s Becoming
A poignant scene from Michelle Obama’s Becoming

Becoming

This critically-acclaimed documentary sees former first lady Michelle Obama discuss her life, hopes, and connections with others. And you better believe we’re putting it in the ‘inspire’ category.

The Bleeding Edge

This documentary has a 100% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and for good reason. In it, filmmaker Kirby Dick examines the $400 billion medical device industry and the profit-driven mind-set that rushes implanted devices into the marketplace without proper clinical trials.

Cheer

Cheer, which focuses on the cheerleading squad at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, follows the team throughout their cheerleading season as they prepare for the national championships. With so much to lose, only one thing’s for certain: this team – and their coach Monica – does not play around when it comes to winning.

Tell Me Who I Am

Fancy something completely different? In Tell Me Who I Am, we meet Alex, who is desperate to relive his past after losing his memory. He turns to his twin, Marcus, for help, but it soon transpires that Marcus is hiding a dark family secret.

Laverne Cox opens up in Netflix’s Disclosure.
Laverne Cox opens up in Netflix’s Disclosure.

Disclosure

Directed by Sam Feder, and executive produced by Laverne Cox, Disclosure focuses on the evolution of transgender representation in film and TV shows.

Three Identical Strangers

In this compelling documentary, we meet three identical triplets who were separated at birth and adopted by three different families. Years later, their amazing reunion becomes a global sensation, but it also unearths an unimaginable secret that has radical repercussions.

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend Of Walter Mercado

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado is all about the life and career of Walter Mercado, one of the most influential and important astrologists in Latin America and the world. 

Fyre

Remember that festival that never happened? Well, Fyre charts the history of the Fyre Music Festival, from its creation right through to its disastrous unravelling.

Blackfish

It’s the documentary that shattered hearts all over the world.  And that’s because the story of Tilikum, the captive killer whale at the centre of Blackfish, underscores problems not just within the sea-park industry, but with humanity’s relationship to nature.

A scene from Netflix’s The Last Dance.
A scene from Netflix’s The Last Dance.

The Last Dance

In the fall of 1997, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls allowed a film crew to follow them as they went for their sixth NBA title in eight seasons. The result? A positively stunning portrait of one of the NBA’s most iconic athletes, and one of the most talked-about documentaries ever.

Mercury 13

13 female pilots dreamed of becoming astronauts. These same 13 female pilots, though, were denied the opportunity by NASA. And, in this Netflix documentary, their stories are finally brought to light.

The Great Hack

As timely as it is frightening, this documentary takes an in-depth look at the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal. And, in doing so, it exposes the dark side of social media.

Everybody’s Everything

This documentary works hard to help us better understand Gustav Elijah Åhr, aka Lil Peep, who was poised to bring a new musical genre to the mainstream when he died of a drug overdose at just 21 years old.

Homecoming

Written, directed and executive produced by Beyoncé herself, Homecoming presents an intimate look at the singer’s historic 2018 Coachella performance.

Knock Down the House
Knock Down the House: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez features in the new Netflix documentary

Knock Down The House

This brilliant documentary follows four female nominees running for office in the 2018 midterms, with behind-the-scenes footage on the campaign trail and in the lead up to the elections. One of these young women, a bartender, is none other than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who became the youngest woman ever to be elected to the United States Congress in November 2018. No wonder it’s one of the platform’s most talked-about documentaries to date, eh?

A Secret Love

A Secret Love tells an incredible love story between Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, whose relationship spans nearly seven decades and inspired the hit movie A League Of Their Own. But the film did not tell the real-life story of the women who remained closeted for most of their lives, and so this documentary follows Terry and Pat back to when they met for the first time, through their professional lives in Chicago, coming out to their conservative families and grappling with whether or not to get married. 

Miss Americana

In Miss Americana, Taylor Swift reveals intimate details of her life while showcasing backstage and onstage concert footage.

A Suitable Girl

A Suitable Girl follows three young women in India as they fight to maintain their independence in the face of increasing pressure to marry.

A still from Netflix’s Crip Camp.
A still from Netflix’s Crip Camp.

Crip Camp

This documentary, released through the Obamas’ own production company, tells the story of a summer camp for teenagers with disabilities that took place in the early 1970s and laid the backdrop for the disabilities rights movement and eventual Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990.

Circus Of Books

In 1976, a couple took over an adult book store. What was expected to be a brief sideline led to their becoming fully immersed in the LGBTQ+ community. and the store quickly became the biggest distributor of gay porn in the United States. 

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Think you know Lady Gaga? Think again. In Gaga: Five Foot Two, filmmaker Chris Moukarbel introduces the woman behind the performer, the costumes, the glitz and the glamour.

The White Helmets

Another documentary with a 100% ‘fresh’ ration on Rotten Tomatoes, this short film follows volunteer rescue workers as they put their lives on the line to save civilians amidst the turmoil and violence in Syria and Turkey.

Shirkers

Shirkers was a Singapore-made 1992 cult classic from teenage friends Sandi Tan, Jasmine Ng, and Sophie Siddique. At least, it would have been, had their enigmatic mentor, Georges, not absconded with all of the footage. This documentary looks at what happens when the 16mm film is recovered 20 years later, sending Tan, who is now a novelist living in Los Angeles, on a personal odyssey in search of Georges’ footprints.

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Images: Netflix

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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