The 25 Best Documentaries on Netflix, According to Critics

Documentaries entertain, inform and educate their audience. They can call viewers to action to change the world. They can also raise awareness of issues you may not have given much thought to. They bring out the armchair detective in us, pique our curiosity, and make us hungry to learn more (anyone else keep a Google tab open when watching something captivating?).

There are hundreds of documentary films and series out there to explore, focused on topics ranging from true crime, racism, the environment, and entertainment to social movements, immigration, and simply human life. For those new to the genre, or seasoned documentary fanatics, it can be hard to figure out what to watch next—or where to start. However, consulting what garnered universal appeal among critics is always a good place to start, and there's something out there for everyone (you would be surprised).

Instead of vetting reviews and narrowing down exactly where to start your documentary rabbit hole, we did the legwork for you. According to Metacritic scores out of 100, these are the best documentary films and docuseries you can find on Netflix. Add these to your queue and get started!

Cuba and the Cameraman Documentary Netflix
Still of the Borrego brothers and Jon from the Netflix documentary "Cuba and the Cameraman." Nagamitsu Endo/Netflix

25. Cuba and the Cameraman, 2017

Metacritic rating: 82

IMDb rating: 8.3

Runtime: 114 minutes

This documentary starring, written, directed and produced by Jon Alpert was filmed over the course of 45 years starting in the 1970s when Fidel Castro came to power. It follows three families who live in Havana as they experienced and with the issues facing Cuba for decades with Castro in power, leading up to his death in 2016. Cuba and the Cameraman gives audiences an unfiltered look into the country through the strong bonds of Alpert's subjects.

Khali Muhammad 13th documentary Netflix
Khali Muhammad in a production still from the Netflix original documentary "13th" Courtesy of Netflix

24. 13th, 2016

Metacritic rating: 83

IMDb rating: 8.3

Runtime: 100 minutes

Ana DuVernay's documentary focuses on the Constitution's 13th amendment, which reads: "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." Activists, politicians, historians, and previously incarcerated women and men weigh in on how forms of slavery endured for over 100 years after the Civil War. It was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature at the 2017 Oscars.

Our Planet Netflix Production Still
Production still from Netflix docuseries "Our Planet." Mohan Kumar/Silverback/Netflix

23. Our Planet, 2019

Metacritic rating: 83

IMDb rating: 9.3

Runtime: 8 episodes, 50 minutes each

Narrated by the legendary David Attenborough, this nature docuseries focuses on different climates such as the frozen tundra, desert grasslands, rainforests and marine life. Our Planet is captivating and beautifully shot, while spotlighting the issues of nature conservation and how climate change impacts all forms of life. "[This] series will explore the Earth's most important habitats, and celebrate the life they still support. We will reveal what must be preserved if we are to ensure a future where humans and nature can thrive," Attenborough said in the show's first episode.

Monty Python Almost the Truth Netflix Documentary
Cast members of the Monty Python troupe arrive at the Ziegfeld Theater on October 15, 2009 to celebrate their 40th anniversary, receive a Special Bafta Award, and attend the premier of the IFC documentary "Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut)". From left are: John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Michael Palin. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

22. Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut), 2009

Metacritic rating: 84

IMDb rating: 8.1

Runtime: 6 episodes, 50 minutes each

If you need some belly laughs, look no further than Almost The Truth. British comedy group Monty Python's enduring legacy is explored in this series. John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin and Eric Idle were interviewed and dished about Monty Python's humble beginnings and evolution into television and film icons.

Making a Murderer production still Netflix
Steven Avery in a production still from Netflix docuseries "Making a Murderer." Courtesy of Netflix

21. Making a Murderer, Season 1, 2015

Metacritic rating: 84

IMDb rating: 8.6

Runtime: 10 episodes, 60 minutes each

The addictive and shocking story of Steven Avery, who was arrested and convicted of sexual assault, and exonerated by DNA evidence 18 years later, is brought to light in this Netflix original docuseries. However, not long after he is released from prison and in the midst of suing the Wisconsin County that convicted him, he's the prime suspect of a gruesome murder. Filmed over 10 years, Making A Murderer is a well made, stranger-than-fiction, twisted tale that you'll want to finish in one sitting.

Immigration Nation production still Netflix
Production still from "Immigration Nation" documentary on Netflix. Courtesy of Netflix

20. Immigration Nation, 2020

Metacritic rating: 84

IMDb rating: 7.4

Runtime: 6 episodes, 60 minutes each

Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau's series gives folks an objective look at the daily lives of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, activists, lawmakers, attorneys, along with undocumented immigrants facing challenges entering the country. Immigration Nation contemplates how we can fix a flawed system, and aims to bring attention and action to these issues immigrants face in America.

Flint Town production still Netflix
Production still from Netflix docuseries "Flint Town" Courtesy of Netflix

19. Flint Town, 2018

Metacritic rating: 84

IMDb rating: 7.9

Runtime: 8 episodes, 45 minutes each

This docuseries focuses on the Flint Police Department's response to the Flint, Michigan water contamination crisis, and how folks began to distrust the law enforcement officials as things worsen. In one of the country's most violent cities, the FPD tries to gain the support of its citizens while risking their lives to protect the 100,000 citizens as resources decrease rapidly. Filmed over two years, Flint Town gives viewers a mesmerizing yet troubling look at the city's harsh conditions.

Production still Athlete A Netflix Documentary
Production still of Maggie Nichols in Netflix documentary "ATHLETE A" Courtesy of Netflix

18. Athlete A, 2020

Metacritic rating: 85

IMDb rating: 7.7

Runtime: 103 minutes

This documentary focuses on the claims of abuse from Dr. Larry Nassar surrounding the USA Gymnastics team through the eyes of the journalists from the Indianapolis Star. Brave athletes, such as Maggie Nichol, spoke out against Nassar's sexual abuse. Hundreds of survivors spoke out against Nassar, who is now behind bars serving a 175-year prison sentence. It's a harrowing yet inspiring tale about the athletes who spoke out against their abuse, fought the system, and prevailed.

Production Still from Crip Camp Netflix Documentary
Production still from Netflix documentary "Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution." Courtesy of Netflix

17. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, 2020

Metacritic rating: 86

IMDb rating: 7.8

Runtime: 106 minutes

Camp Jened, a camp for the disabled located in the Catskills, is the focus of this inspiring documentary film. In 1971, campers Larry Allison, Judith Heumann, James LeBrecht, Denise Sherer Jacobson, and Stephen Hofmann become activists for people with disabilities in the film and fight for equality and accessibility legislation. Their actions were some of the many during the disability rights movement, which gave equal rights and equal opportunities for those with disabilities.

American Factory still Netflix Documentary
Yuzhu Yang (left) and Lori Cochran (right) in production still for Netflix documentary "American Factory."

16. American Factory, 2019

Metacritic rating: 86

IMDb rating: 7.4

Runtime: 110 minutes

This Academy-Award winning documentary gives viewers a view of post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire hires 2,000 blue-collar workers to work in his new factory, located at an old General Motors location. American Factory highlights the struggle and resilience of the employees.

Production Still from Strong Island Netflix
Production still from Netflix documentary "Strong Island" Courtesy of Netflix

15. Strong Island, 2017

Metacritic score: 86

IMDb rating: 6.4

Runtime: 107 minutes

The Ford family's lives were changed forever when William Ford Jr, a Black teacher, was killed in 1992 by a white mechanic. Strong Island zeroes in on how this tragic event shaped their views of racism in America and examine grief in the face of racial injustice.

Rolling Thunder Review Netflix Documentary Scorsese Dylan
Production still from Netflix documentary "Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese." Courtesy of Netflix

14. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Metacritic rating: 86

IMDb rating: 7.6

Runtime: 142 minutes

Two legends unite, as Martin Scorsese and Bob Dylan celebrate America and the music Dylan performed during his Rolling Thunder Revue tour. The concert film/documentary mixes fantasy with fact and will have you hungry to learn more about Dylan's 1975 tour.

Chasing Coral Still from Netflix Documentary
Production still from Netflix Documentary "Chasing Coral." XL Catlin Seaview Survey / The Ocean Agency/Christophe Bailhache

13. Chasing Coral, 2017

Metacritic rating: 86

IMDb rating: 8.1

Runtime: 93 minutes

The beautifully shot documentary records the tragic disappearance of the world's coral reefs. Divers, scientists and photographers in Chasing Coral asks why these bleaching events are occurring, and encourages audiences to take better care of our oceans.

The Innocence Files
Production still for Netflix series "The Innocence Files" Courtesy of Netflix

12. The Innocence Files, 2020

Metacritic rating: 86

IMDb rating: 8.0

Runtime: 9 episodes, 60 minutes each

Eight wrongful convictions and the battles to overturn them through the nonprofit Innocence Project is at the heart of The Innocence Files. The show is broken up into three parts (The Evidence, The Witness and The Prosecution) to reveal the flaws within the American justice system and ultimately expose the damage done to individuals and their families.

Still from Lenox Hill Docuseries Netlix
Dr. David Langer in episode 103 of Netflix documentary series "Lenox Hill" Courtesy of Netflix

11. Lenox Hill, 2020

Metacritic rating: 88

IMDb rating: 87.

Runtime: 9 episodes, 50 minutes each

This moving nine-part show gives viewers an intimate look at four doctors who work at the Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. The subjects, two brain surgeons, an emergency room physician, and a Chief Resident OBGYN, balance their personal and professional lives throughout the series. Lenox Hill ultimately shows that the world of medicine and science can be an emotional one at its core.

Shirkers Netflix Production Still
Production still from Netflix documentary "Shirkers" Courtesy of Netflix

10. Shirkers, 2018

Metacritic rating: 88

IMDb rating: 7.4

Runtime: 97 minutes

After the footage of a 1992 Singapore film of the same name went missing, writer Sandi Tan recovers it two decades later. However, she's desperate to know what happened to American collaborator Georges Cardona, who originally stole the footage from her and her friends years before. The hunt for Shirkers turns into a personal journey for Tan herself, as she revisits the events surrounding when they originally made the film.

Time: The Kalief Browder Story
Producers Michael Gasparro, David Glasser, Nick Sandow, Julia Nason, director Jenner Furst and Nicole Browder of the documentary series 'Time: The Kalief Browder Story' speak onstage during the Spike TV portion of the 2017 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on January 13, 2017, in Pasadena, California. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

9. Time: The Kalief Browder Story, 2017

Metacritic rating: 88

IMDb rating: 8.5

Runtime: 6 episodes, 43 minutes each

The miniseries tells the tale of 16-year-old Kalief Browder, who was wrongfully arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack and spent three years at Rikers Island. Ultimately, he fought the system and came out victorious. Produced by JAY-Z, Time: The Kalief Browder Story calls for reform in New York City's criminal justice system.

Dick Johnson is Dead Netflix
Still from Netflix documentary "Dick Johnson is Dead" Courtesy of Netflix

8. Dick Johnson is Dead, 2020

Metacritic rating: 89

IMDb rating: 7.5

Runtime: 89 minutes

The darkly funny documentary focuses on filmmaker Kirsten Johnson and her attempt to prepare her father, Dick, for the end of his life and to discuss mortality. Mixed in with family photos and home videos, Dick Johnson is Dead offers a light-hearted view on an otherwise dark topic as Kerstin invents creative and hilarious ways that Dick could die.

Michael Jordan The Last Dance Netflix Documentary
Michael Jordan #23 of the Washington Wizards on the court during the final NBA game of his career, played against the Philadelphia 76ers at First Union Center on March 30, 2003, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Sixers won 107-87. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

7. The Last Dance, 2020

Metacritic rating: 90

IMDb rating: 9.2

Runtime: 10 episodes, 60 minutes each

Michael Jordan's time on the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls while they chase another NBA title is spotlighted in this intimate 10-episode docuseries. The Last Dance features never-before-seen footage of the legendary player and his celebrated team, along with dozens of interviews from politicians, athletes and sportswriters focused on Jordan and his legacy. It won an Emmy for Most Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.

Lee Morgan documentary Netflix
Lee Morgan, 1961. Artist Brian Foskett. National Jazz Archive/Heritage Images via Getty Images

6. I Called Him Morgan, 2017

Metacritic rating: 90

IMDb rating: 7.3

Runtime: 92 minutes

I Called Him Morgan zeroes in on the relationship between jazz musician Lee Morgan and his wife Helen, who was incriminated for Lee's murder in 1972. The jazz world was horrified by his sudden death, and folks who were there the night he was killed in New York City can still vividly remember the harrowing events.

Production Still The Staircase Netflix Docuseries
Michael Peterson and Mary Jude Darrow in a still from Netflix docuseries "The Staircase" Courtesy of Netflix

5. The Staircase, 2018

Metacritic rating: 92

IMDb rating: 7.9

Runtime: 13 episodes, 50 minutes each

The mysterious death of author Michael Peterson's wife, Kathleen, in 2001, who allegedly tripped down the stairs is the focal point of this true-crime series. The investigation and trial are packed with many twists, and viewers get a rare and intimate look at how the high-profile case unfolded.

"Let it Fall" Documentary John Ridley Netflix
Director John Ridley arrives at the premiere of 'Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992' at California African American Museum on April 18, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. Tara Ziemba/Getty Images

4. Let It Fall: LA 1982-1992, 2017

Metacritic rating: 92

IMDb rating: 7.8

Runtime: 144 minutes

The tension between the Black community and the Los Angeles police department in the 1980s and early 1990s is the intense setting for this deep-seated documentary. These tensions peaked in 1992 with the Rodney King riots. Mixed with archival footage and interviews of witnesses, Let It Fall exposes the complexity and tumult of this time period.

Still from Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé
Still from Netflix documentary "Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé" Courtesy of Netflix

3. Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé, 2019

Metacritic rating: 93

IMDb rating: 7.4

Runtime: 137 minutes

Queen Bey's documentary film about her 2018 performance at Coachella takes fans on a journey from her creative process all the way to what we see on stage and screen. It's intimate, full of spectacle, and received universal acclaim from music and film critics.

"I Am Not Your Negro" Netflix Documentary
Director Raoul Peck and actor Samuel L. Jackson arrive to the premiere of Magnolia Pictures' "I Am Not Your Negro" at LACMA on January 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Tara Ziemba/FilmMagic

2. I Am Not Your Negro, 2016

Metacritic rating: 95

IMDb rating: 7.9

Runtime: 93 minutes

Based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript of Remember This House, I Am Not Your Negro tells the story about race in modern America. It connects the Civil Rights Movement with the Black Lives Matter movement, and is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. Director Raoul Peck envisions what Baldwin meant to finish in this moving film.

Production still Virunga Netflix
Production still from Netflix documentary "Virunga" Courtesy of Netflix

1. Virunga, 2014

Metacritc rating: 95

IMDb rating: 8.2

Runtime: 110 minute

The true story of people fighting to save the last gorillas in the Virunga National Park. The park rangers fight tirelessly to protect the species from armed militia, poachers and others trying to destroy the Congo where they thrive. The cinematography will make viewers feel like they're in the beautiful and diverse ecosystem with the rangers, and will hit close to home for any animal lover and conservationist.

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