24 Amazing Recent Documentaries on Netflix You Have to See

"When I watch a doc, at least once, I want my head to explode and my heart to feel. I want to see the world differently. Know something I didn’t know before. Engage me but most of all surprise me. Let there be an image, a person or a moment that never leaves.” Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon on the beauty of documentaries.

For most of us when we hear the word ‘documentary’ we almost always think of one film – that one time we gave the genre a chance. More often than not that one time turned out to be great, but it didn’t refer us to any other ones. That is because we believe that documentaries would only suit a particular mood, one we are almost never in.

Not only is this wrong given the variety of approaches to documentaries, but it is making us miss on some of the best films out there.

Make the decision to watch a documentary, and trust us, what follows will not disappoint. Below are the best documentaries available to stream on Netflix, like all other movies on agoodmovietowatch.com they are handpicked, highly-rated on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, and little-known.

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Stars: Aran Bell, Joan Sebastian Zamora, Rebecca Houseknecht
Directed by: Bess Kargman

Producer/Director Beth Kargman has put together a wonderful documentary that follows six young ballet dancers to the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most important of all ballet competitions worldwide. The prizes at the competition include awards of recognition, scholarships, and work with major dance companies. The dancers are in several age ranges and ethnicities. Michaela and her sister were adopted from Sierra Leone, where there was nothing but death and poverty waiting for them. Michaela has been told that blacks make unsuitable ballet dancers — bad feet, too muscular, wrong build, etc. Zamora lives in New York, far away from his family, but his father tells him there is nothing for him in Colombia and he has to go after his dream. Rebecca is a cheerleader and a ‘normal’ kid whose passion is dance, and Aaron doesn’t tell other kids he’s a dancer. All of them have great talents, obvious from their dance routines at the Grand Prix. First Position is a very inspiring documentary about youngsters from different backgrounds and social status with the dream of dancing professionally, and the sacrifices they have made to achieve their goal. The dancing is heavenly; I only wish there had been more of it.

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Directed by: Christopher K. Walker, Michael Beach Nichols

At first glance, one may think that Welcome to Leith is a well thought-out fictional thriller of people’s most unwarranted night terrors. But if you squint real hard, you will come to realize that it portrays a scary reality in which violence, fear, and isolation is prevalent and that it could happen to possibly any town with little to no effort, especially these days. Nichols and Walker aim to capture this frightening message in hopes of bringing awareness, using white supremacist Craig Cobb’s attempt at taking over the small North Dakotan town to display objectivity in an otherwise touchy subject.

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Stars: Jay Reinke, Keegan Edwards
Directed by: Jesse Moss

On one side, this is a look at the real-life efforts of local North Dakota Pastor Jay Reinke to provide shelter for Oil-working migrants in his Church for the course of well over two years – he ends up calling this The Overnighters Program. On another, it is the story of more than a thousand people living the broken American Dream, the pastor’s concerned, sensible neighbors, his well-meaning attempts backfiring, and all that’s in between. The Overnighters is an engaging, if not highly-aware, award-winning documentary that feeds on altruism, hope of redemption, and their ideal truth about the nature of human existence.

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Stars: Alyssa Jewell, Andrew Jewell, Elizabeth Jewell
Directed by: Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos

A documentary highlighting the challenged lives of three boys living in a small town in the heartland of America. The film follows the boys and their families, honestly portraying them and their dreams–dreams constrained by the realities of a mother in prison, or a father who can’t keep a job, or no father at all. If you liked Boyhood then you’ll love this film. If you grew up in a small town, then you’ll see parts of yourself here. And, at the end of it all, you’ll remember the struggles portrayed and realize that poverty is not solely an inner-city problem.

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Each episode of Abstract is a look into an art discipline through the lens of a selected contemporary pioneer. From illustration to footwear design, the show follows how the artists create and live, how they got started, etc. The documentary itself is really aesthetically pleasing, which kind of taps into your own creativity. The designers in the series are unknowingly well-known. Does that make sense? You will instantly recognize their work even though you’ve never heard of them before. A light, easy-going and inspirational documentary.

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Stars: James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite
Directed by: Liz Garbus

“As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?”. What Happened, Miss Simone? will teach you and surprise you no matter how much you think you know the soul singer, not only in its exploration of Nina Simone’s personal life and complexities, but by being both a personal and political documentary. As you get to discover an original singer with talents that reach all the way to performance art, you will also learn about a Civil Rights activist’s journey and an unstable woman’s struggle. The documentary is not about answering the question of what happened, Miss Simone? – it’s an exploration of why that question is so important.

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A look into the interesting lives and magnificent plates made in the kitchens of some of the best chefs in the world (including an episode with the best). Each episode dives deep into their worlds, providing an intimate and ultimately inspiring look at their life both inside the kitchen and out; with all of them having lived unique lives to say the least. Their perspectives on everything from family life to entrepreneurship will dazzle you almost as much as the colorful and spectacular dishes they produce.

 

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Stars: Anaïs Bordier, Kanoa Goo, Samantha Futerman
Directed by: Ryan Miyamoto, Samantha Futerman

Twinsters is a documentary about a young Asian American actress, Samantha Futerman (also co-director), who is contacted over the internet by a young French-Asian woman, Anaïs Bordier, who has been shown a video of Samantha on the internet — and cannot believe their remarkably similar physical appearance. After initial perplexity and uncertaintiy, Samantha and Anaïs are soon embroiled in excited correspondence and travel to meet one another in their respective countries — eventually confirming via DNA testing that they are in fact long-lost twin sisters given up for adoption 25 years earlier in South Korea. A remarkable true story with a wonderfully beating heart, Twinsters does a lovely job of not just spelling out the amazing story of the sisters’ unlikely connection, but also finding and exploring the growing love and affection between both the two girls, as well as their extended families and groups of friends. A truly touching and humanistic film-viewing experience.

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Stars: Brendan Mackey, Joe Simpson, Simon Yates
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

A documentary about two “climbing” friends who attempt to summit Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. I say climbing friends because they are both somewhat egotistical, yuppie risk takers and seem to be the type who are only friends when their interests align. Nevertheless, they are truly ambitious, driven adventurers. A storm hits and one of the climbers gets injured. They both know that this is a death sentence, and events go on from there. The story is epic and nearly unbelievable, but for the fact that it actually happened. I am not a climber, but the plot and story will speak to any adventurer who must accept inherent risks, including death, in their outdoor endeavors.

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Stars: Barbara Boxer, John Beard, Tim Belden
Directed by: Alex Gibney

A documentary about the rise and fall of the Enron Corporation, the energy-trading and utilities conglomerate that gained worldwide attention in 2001 upon its headline-grabbing bankruptcy. Detailing the massive amount of fraud and malfeasance committed by the organization’s top executives, the film delves into the many intricate strategies and “special purpose” entities that were manufactured in order to hide enormous losses and debt from shareholders and the general public. It’s a fascinating and distressing examination of hubris and greed, with so many ethical considerations laid aside in the pursuit of financial gain. The film is as pertinent today as it was when it was released in 2005—perhaps even more so in this post-financial collapse era of increased distrust in corporate agendas.

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Stars: Martin Aleksa, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Savas Dimopoulos
Directed by: Mark Levinson

An absolutely delightful documentary about the first round of testing on the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. Who knew that watching a roomful of scientists waiting for a blip on a screen could be so riveting? The science is explained in layman-friendly, easy-to-follow language, and the movie lends a fascinating and entertaining look behind the scenes at one of the world’s largest scientific collaborations.

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Stars: Jiro Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Yoshikazu Ono
Directed by: David Gelb

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the oft-fraught relationships between fathers and sons. Truly a must-watch.

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Stars: Clive Oppenheimer, Katia Krafft, Werner Herzog
Directed by: Werner Herzog

From countries like Finland to North Korea, this amazing documentary explores the most fascinating active volcanoes on our planet. But as it unfolds you realize that Into the Inferno is a movie as much about volcanoes as it is about the people obsessed with them, and the general fascination we all have towards them. And who can be called obsessive more than the film’s own director, Werner Herzog, who, with such an explosive career had to eventually make a film about volcanos (bad pun intended). Beautiful scenery, interesting interviews, and Werner’s majestic delivery all make Into the Inferno both an interesting and satisfying documentary.

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Stars: Bill Courtney, Montrail 'Money' Brown, O.C. Brown
Directed by: Daniel Lindsay, T. J. Martin

Undefeated won an Oscar but since it’s a documentary, few sadly paid attention to it. It tells the story of a football team in a poor area in Tennessee. Kids without a bright future, until the new coach arrives. Yes, that sounds like a very old, cliché tale. But keep in mind it is a documentary, and the story it tells is so powerful, so gripping, that any familiarity quickly becomes irrelevant. Even if you have no interest in American football, or in sports in general, you will love it and more than likely find yourself reaching for the Kleenex at least a few times before the credits roll.

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Stars: Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Philippe Petit
Directed by: James Marsh

Man on Wire is a true technical masterpiece. You can almost feel the director telling the cameraman what angle to choose, or thinking about the questions that will generate the most resounding answers. However, this does not diminish the story this documentary tells one bit. It’s one that is glorious, riveting,  and fun. It’s one where you feel like an insider to a world lived on and below wires, with high-stake risks. Hopefully the edge of your seat is comfortable, because this is where the movie will keep you at all times.

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Stars: Ai Weiwei
Directed by: Alison Klayman

An inspiring documentary about famed artist Ai Weiwei who has been the source of arguably the biggest public confrontation with the Chinese government by any artist. His straightforward attitude is made to provoke and to defend the people of China against the totalitarian regime. The film portrays Weiwei’s very visible struggle for redemption and invoke a sense of accountability from the government. The documentary is also about him as a person, his intimate relationships and his interactions with his family as he prepares for a big exhibition. A rare insight into a fascinating mind.

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Stars: Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, Space Invader
Directed by: Banksy

What happens when Banksy, one of the most famous ambassadors of street art, meets Mr. Brainwash, an egocentric aspiring French artist? Well, one of the funniest, most interesting and most exciting documentaries ever made about art, commercialism and the apparent gulf between them. But is it really a documentary? This confident and zany film will leave you guessing.

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This is an amazing mini-series of 7 episodes marketed as being the same as the Netflix hit show Making a Murderer. While the two share some of the defining tones, The Keepers is a much more interesting show. It trades cliffhangers for substance, without compromising at all on the mystery of the murder addressed. It gives the bigger picture on what was going on in Baltimore at the time of the murder, and then heavily focuses on the victims from after the murder. It’s a riveting tale of injustice, sexual abuse, and corruption. If you so much as like true crime shows (or movies like Spotlight), you’re going to not only love The Keepers, but you will find it inspiring in how it addresses the uncovering of secrets.

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Stars: Amie Huguenard, Timothy Treadwell, Werner Herzog
Directed by: Werner Herzog

Arguably Werner Herzog’s most renowned film, Grizzly Man is a thought-provoking documentary about Tim Treadwell, a man who, as the title suggests, lived among bears. While he remained only known for how his story ended, by one of the bears turning on him, Grizzly Man is the exploration of the man’s complex mind, unlimited energy and love for nature. It could be because of the subject matter or because of Herzog’s mesmerizing monotone narration, and maybe it is because of both – but Grizzly Man becomes a supremely beautiful look at psychology and how it collides nature. Also like most of Herzog’s other work it’s a hunt for the peculiar, so expect many funny, absurd, and charming moments.

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Stars: Adam O'Brian, Carey Gibson, Nicholas Barclay
Directed by: Bart Layton

The impossibly true story of a mysterious Frenchman who claims to be the 16 year old son of a family from Texas that went missing three years prior. This movie is shot so well with a story so unbelievable that I had to look it up to believe that it was a real documentary instead of a fiction film played as true. Expect twists and turns at every corner, with brilliant storytelling from the real life people that lived through the whole thing. If Christopher Nolan created a 48 hour story, it would pale in comparison to this film.

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Stars: George Harrison
Directed by: Martin Scorsese

The story of one of the most influential musicians of recent history, George Harrison, told through the eyes of one of the most prominent filmmakers, Martin Scorsese. Directing and producing, Scorsese offers one of the most complete documentaries on any artist – ever. And What an artist he was. Successful and talented, yes, but also incredibly inspired and very spiritual. Through interviews, home movies, and concert footage, this long and intimate film will allow you to travel the world of The Beatles and their time, and explore the incredible mind of George Harrison. Such a heartfelt documentary.

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Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer

The Look of Silence is an incredible documentary from Director Joshua Oppenheimer, a follow-up/companion piece to his award-winning documentary The Act of Killing. Both films focus on The Indonesian Genocide of 1965-66, where the military government systematically killed up to one million communists in a purge of opposing ideologues. In this film an optician named Adi Rukun meets with various members of the death squad that murdered his brother, under the guise of providing them eye examinations. As he questions them about their participation in the killings, they show little remorse and in fact provide lurid details to the many executions. It’s a stunning and provocative look at the legacy of historical violence, along with the insidious propaganda that provoked it then and continues to justify it to younger generations.

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Stars: Andrew Bagby, David Bagby, Kurt Kuenne
Directed by: Kurt Kuenne

You will not come out of this movie the same person you were going into it. Get ready to cry your eyes out, scream in anger, and rejoice that such a powerful love can exist in our world. DO NOT READ ANY SPOILERS OR SUMMARIES BEFORE VIEWING! This loving documentary about the father of a young boy is one of the best movies of this decade! We can’t recommend this film enough!

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Directed by: Bryan Fogel

An insane documentary. Absolutely insane. It starts with its director Bryan Fogel deciding to inject himself with doping substances and participate in a biking race undetected. By accident, he ends up in contact with a Russian scientist which transforms the movie from a personal experiment to a highly relevant political thriller. This scientist, called Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, seems to be at the center of accusations to Russia of a virtually impossible state-sponsored doping scheme. With links to the Russian president Putin himself, the movie keeps getting more and more interesting as the relationship between Fogel and Rodchenkov develops. And aside from all the madness that unfolds,  Rodchenkov’s likeable personality makes the story more relatable and humane, and gives an insight into the pressures of working in the regulatory body in a country like Russia. You will be astonished by how much material this movie has. A must-watch.

Need more good movies to watch?

You can find all our suggestions across streaming services here, or find more documentaries to watch on Netflix below.

Directed by: Stephanie Soechtig,

Fed Up is an American Documentary film of sorts that will make you realize at least one of two things: sugar is a different form of evil, or, the food the mass consumes, no matter what it may be, likely contains high amounts of sugar – and to be quite honest, there’s nothing scarier. Dubbed as the earthshaking truth the food industry doesn’t want you to see, this chronicled news report is an exploration of the implications and repercussions of careless food consumption and production that eventually lead to America’s most dangerous statistics, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ill-health outcomes.

Directed by: Rory Kennedy,

Last Days in Vietnam is a 2014 documentary that recounts the final weeks of the Vietnam conflict in 1975, as North Vietnamese forces surged toward Saigon and U.S personnel anxiously awaited word of an evacuation plan. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin was reluctant to accept defeat, and delayed a U.S. withdrawal in his (rapidly diminishing) hopes that a solution could be reached. Once the fall of Saigon became imminent and Congress denied emergency funding for the evacuation, however, U.S. diplomatic, military and intelligence personnel were left piecing together a bare bones plan to escape via military helicopter support. The moral dilemma they soon faced was the harsh reality of leaving behind so many South Vietnamese citizens who had supported the American effort—many of whom faced likely imprisonment and/or death. Featuring remarkable archival film footage and first-hand accounts from many involved, the film recounts those final days of chaos and confusion in stunningly dramatic fashion. Director Rory Kennedy has put together a gripping and emotionally compelling film that balances broad historical exposition with concise detail related to the evacuation’s complexities—all of it punctuated by remarkable examples of bravery and heroism. Not to be missed. 

Directed by: Jared P. Scott,

On par with the best documentaries of the 21st Century thus far, “Requiem for the American Dream” is essential viewing for the discerning viewer in search of a more complete understanding of how American society has evolved to such a dramatic point of polarization, and how both politics and big business have played such an inextricably role in this process. In his introductory remarks to the film, celebrated intellectual and linguistics professor Noam Chomsky expounds: “Inequality has highly negative consequences on society as a whole, because the very fact of inequality has a corrosive, harmful effect on democracy.” At his rational and coherent best, Chomsky spells out his perspective regarding the modern political machine and the downfall of democracy, with a keen eye to the historical decisions and influences that have sabotaged the “common good” and shaped America’s current political, financial and social landscape.

Directed by: Jeff Orlowski,

Incredible footage combined with an incredible soundtrack will keep you frozen in your seat until global warming melts you off (so to speak). Chasing Ice is about a National Geographic photographer who tries to capture a complete overview of what climate change is doing to our planet. Consequently this movie took years to make and countless technical issues had to be dealt with in order to record amazing time-lapse videos. The result is mesmerizing, and something that has never been caught on camera before. This movie is evidence of what our planet is going through that everyone will understand. Be prepared to be charmed and saddened at the same time.

Directed by: ,

The White Helmets, the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject, is a concise but riveting documentation of the titular rescue organization that formed in Syria in 2012. Set primarily in the war-torn city of Aleppo, the film captures the day-to-day efforts of the White Helmet volunteers as they respond to the sites of airstrikes and bombings in order to remove survivors and victims from demolished buildings. Director Orlando von Einsiedel (Virunga) clearly put himself in harms way in order to capture remarkable footage of war and ruination, illuminating the unimaginable destruction and death beset upon the Syrian people over the course of nearly 6 years of civil war. It’s a remarkable effort, highlighted in particular by profound one-on-one interviews with members of The White Helmets. They each express their heartfelt desire to save the lives of other human beings, even as they yearn for peace and the safety of their own families and friends. Indeed their official credo from The Quran, as explained in the film, reads “Whoever saves one life, saves all of humanity.”

Directed by: Chris Temple,

An earnest, simple documentary with an equally as simple premise: four friends travel to Guatemala for 8 weeks and try to live on one dollar a day each. What starts as an experiment for them quickly becomes an illustration of levels of poverty some of us will luckily never experience. More than 1.1 billion people (almost four times the population of the U.S.) do live on less than one dollar a day, and this film is a journey to their world – a journey to what it takes to live a life in poverty and exactly what that entails. Other than making you realize the luxury you live in, this film will leave you wanting to do more for your fellow humans.

Directed by: Alex Gibney,

A documentary about the rise and fall of the Enron Corporation, the energy-trading and utilities conglomerate that gained worldwide attention in 2001 upon its headline-grabbing bankruptcy. Detailing the massive amount of fraud and malfeasance committed by the organization’s top executives, the film delves into the many intricate strategies and “special purpose” entities that were manufactured in order to hide enormous losses and debt from shareholders and the general public. It’s a fascinating and distressing examination of hubris and greed, with so many ethical considerations laid aside in the pursuit of financial gain. The film is as pertinent today as it was when it was released in 2005—perhaps even more so in this post-financial collapse era of increased distrust in corporate agendas.

Directed by: Ava DuVernay,

From Selma director Ava DuVernay, 13th addresses the second clause of the amendement of the same name: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” A clause that was immediately exploited and for which the consequences and interpretations explain a significant part of the current American societal landscape. What also unfolds is a highly instructive and thought-provoking film that deals with the idea of progress, and justly pays tribute to the horrifying number of lives mass criminalization ruined.

Directed by: Werner Herzog,

A film by legendary director Werner Herzog where he travels to Antarctica, or rather you travel with him to study the people, the places, and the wild life of the South Pole. And when I say people I mean scientists and researchers but also truck drivers, plummers, and basically everyone with an interesting dream. This is a film for all curious minds, whether suit-trapped in a big city or out there in contact with nature every day. It’s a combination so deep of unbelievable scenery and tangible sequences, that it almost becomes intangible, almost a religious experience.

Directed by: James Swirsky,

An insightful documentary that profiles several video game developers who have eschewed mainstream opportunities in order to pursue their dreams of self-employment and independent game production. The film follows four developers over the months, days and hours leading up to looming launch dates for their creations, and captures many of the difficulties and anxieties therein. It’s an incisive peek inside the minds and hearts of four incredibly talented individuals, providing a unique perspective on their creative processes as well as their individual motivations, vulnerabilities and aspirations. You don’t need to be a gamer or have ever purchased a game console in order to enjoy this one — it’s a far more universal depiction of hard work, resiliency and accomplishment that virtually any viewer is bound to appreciate.

Directed by: Robert Kenner,

An equally interesting and terrifying must-watch documentary about the state of food in the United States, Food Inc is a sobering tour of where the stuff you eat comes from. Spoiler alert: it’s gross, and should be illegal but that shouldn’t stop you from watching this film, which zealously showcases the food industry’s corruption and vile practices. Don’t worry though, even at its most muckraking, Food Inc manages to mix entertainment with its information.