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Netflix: The best documentaries to watch in 2021


House of Secrets is one of the best new true crime documentaries on Netflix.


Netflix

Say what you like about Netflix, but when it comes to documentaries, it’s selection is about as good as it gets. True crime, history, sports… it’s got it all.

Almost too much. To the point where it’s overwhelming. you don’t want to get caught in the endless scroll we’ve created the following list. Broken down by genre, here are our favourite documentaries on Netflix. Good luck and happy watching! 

True Crime

House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths

Netflix

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

Netflix

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 pay off. 

Sophie: A Murder in West Cork

Netflix

Another Netflix true crime documentary series, Sophie: A Murder In West Cork follows the case of Sophie Toscan Du Plantier, a French artist and TV producer who was killed in 1996, in West Cork, Ireland. Justice for her murder took decades to enact and this series follows the case. 

Murder Among the Mormons

Netflix

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. 

American Murder: The Family Next Door

Netflix

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.

The Staircase

Netflix

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. 

Who Killed Little Gregory

Netflix

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 her own son’s murder. 

Making A Murderer

Netflix

With the swathe 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.

The Keepers

Netflix

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 cover up of sex abuse allegations.

Nature/Science

Seaspiracy

Netflix

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

Netflix

My Octopus Teacher follows Craig Foster, a filmmaker who spent a year snorkelling 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, octopi 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.

Our Planet

Netflix

David Attenborough nature documentaries are so ubiquitous they’re vulnerable to self parody, but Our Planet is — I believe — the high watermark. Only Planet Earth, another Attenborough docu, comes close. But I prefer this one.

Tiger King

Netflix

Time may dull its impact, but when Tiger King was first released on Netflix, the entire world couldn’t stop talking about it. 

It’s a show that moves rapidly from the bizarre to the downright unbelievable. 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. Completely unforgettable.

Sports 

Bad Sport

Netflix

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 sub category, 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

Netflix

The River Runner is sorta like Free Solo for kayaking. Consider that a compliment.

Focusing on Scott Lindgren, a kayaking legend who was an early 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 tumour and his own personal demons, Lindgren is a compelling case study. Must watch stuff.

Untold

Netflix

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.

The second episode focuses on Christie Martin, the female boxer from the 80s who became famous after fighting on Mike Tyson’s undercard. 

It’s released weekly and, so far so good. It’s very 30 for 30 — which is a good thing.

The Last Dance

Netflix

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. 

Naomi Osaka

Netflix

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.

Athlete A

Netflix

Athlete A is a great feature length expose on Larry Nassar, the team doc of US Gymnastics, who had been sexually abusing female athletes for decades.

Be warned: This one is harrowing.

Icarus

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.

The Speed Cubers

Netflix

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 rubix… cubers? It’s short, but packs an incredible emotional punch. Prepare yourself, this one might break you.

Politics/History 

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal

Netflix

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 docu, 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

Sundance

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.

Wild Wild Country

Netflix

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 Rajnees, 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.

13th

Netflix

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.

Five Came Back

Netflix

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.

American Factory

Netflix

Another 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

Netflix

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. 

The rest…

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

The Cinemart/Hulu

Hulu also has a great Fyre festival documentary, but I prefer this Netflix one. Unlike many Netflix documentaries, which are stretched and bloated into multi-part episodes, this documentary is sharp, direct and solid gold the entire way through.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Netflix

Not gonna say much here. Nina Simone is a legend and this is maybe one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. 

The Great Hack

Netflix

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.

Read more: Best streaming deals: Save on Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Hulu, Spotify and more



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