The Best Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

Stuck on the couch? Get your real-world fix with a little inspiration mixed in

A documentary can open our eyes to the wonders and atrocities of the real world. There are so many these days that we decided to watch as many as we could for you and select our favorites to help you learn more about what's happening beyond the couches we're all stuck on these days. Get ready to be inspired, horrified, amused, and entertained.

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Worn Stories (2021): Examining the Relationship We Have With Our Clothes

A stained yellow sweater in the documentary series 'Worn Stories'

Netflix

IMDb Rating: 7.1

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Spirit Avedon, Timmy Cappello

Producer: Jenji Kohan

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 8

This limited documentary series from producer Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange Is the New Black) examines the relationship we have with the clothes we choose to wear. Based on the New York Times Bestselling book by Emily Spivack, it collects stories from a wide variety of people about certain pieces of clothing and the memories they hold.

A blue dress has meaning to a woman who just lost her husband, for example, while an astronaut reveals why he brought an old college sweatshirt with him into Space. Our clothes say a lot about our personalities, and this series is a fascinating look into the human psyche.

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This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist (2021): A Daring Unsolved Crime

Title screen for 'This Is a Robbery: The World's Biggest Art Heist'

Netflix

IMDb Rating: 6.7

Genre: True Crime

Starring: n/a

Director: Colin Barnicle

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 4

In 1990, two men dressed as cops stole 13 works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Over thirty years later, the crime remains unsolved. This new limited docu-series from brothers Colin Barnicle and Nick Barnicle (The Deal) examines the audacious robbery. Known mostly for their sports documentaries, this series is the Barnicle brothers' first foray into true crime.

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Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell (2021): A New Look at One of Rap's Biggest Icons

Photo of NOTORIOUS BIG
Redferns / Getty Images

IMDb Rating: 6.9/10

Genre: Biography, Music

Starring: Sean 'Diddy' Combs, Faith Evans, Lil' Cease

Director: Emmett Malloy

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Biggie Smalls, a.k.a The Notorious B.I.G., is one of rap's most influential figures. Recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he would've turned 50 this year if he hadn't been killed in 1997. This new documentary examines his life and career by showing rare video footage and in-depth interviews with his closest friends and family.

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Audrey (2020): A Celebration of the Actress, Fashion Icon, and Humanitarian

Portrait of Audrey Hepburn For 'Sabrina,' 1954.
Getty Images / Getty Images

IMDb Rating: 7.4/10

Genre: Biography

Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Robin Ager, Michael Avedon

Director: Helena Coan

Rating: n/a

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Audrey Hepburn is one of Hollywood's most iconic actresses and this new effusive documentary from director Helena Coan points a magnifying glass at her life and career. While it doesn't have a lot of new insights, film and fashion buffs will enjoy this loving look at a woman who quietly suffered a ton of insecurities even at the height of her success. And that's something most of us can relate to.

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Amend: The Fight for America (2020): Examining America's Civil Rights Movement

Will Smith stars in 'Amend: The Fight for America'

Netflix

IMDb Rating: 7.8/10

Genre: History

Starring: Will Smith, Mahershala Ali, Laverne Cox

Director: Robe Imbriano, Tom Yellin

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 6

Amend: The Fight for America is a documentary that examines the American Civil Rights movement through the lens of the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to Black Americans post-slavery. The series features a cadre of celebrities (Will Smith, Mahershala Ali, Laverne Cox, Samuel L. Jackson, Pedro Pascal, and more) reading speeches and other writing from the 14th Amendment's proponents and opponents, as well as interviews with modern-day experts. While the subject matter can be dry at times, Amend does a good job of breaking it all down and making it easily digestible for the audience.

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The Last Dance (2020): A Biography of Basketball's Greatest

WASHINGTON, USA - APRIL 14: Michael Jordan of the Washington Wizards in action against Shandon Anderson of the New York Knicks at the MCI Center on April 14th 2003 in Washington DC.

 (Photo by Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images)

IMDb Rating: 9.2/10

Genre: Biography

Starring: Michael Jordan, Scotty Pippin, Dennis Rodman

Director: Jason Hehir

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 10

The Last Dance is a compelling look at arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. The 10-episode docuseries charts his career with the Chicago Bulls and interviews 90 family members, friends, teammates, and more. Even if you're not a sports fan, you likely know who Michael Jordan is, and watching his meteoric rise from mere athlete to pop culture icon is thrilling.

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Spycraft (2021): For Anyone Who Ever Dreamed of Being James Bond

An agent monitors surveillance feeds in the documentary 'Spycraft.'

Netflix

IMDb Rating: 6.7/10

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Gerald B. Richards, Hamet Yousef, Natalia Bartova

Directors: Maria Berry, Jan Spindler, Marek Bures

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 8

Spycraft is a documentary series all about the tools and technologies agents use in their subterfuge. It covers satellites, deadly poisons, code-breaking, so-called "sexpionage," and more. If you're a fan of James Bond films, John Le Carre novels, or the TV show The Americans, this is a fascinating glimpse into the work of real-life intelligence experts.

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Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art (2020): America's Biggest Art Scandal

American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock (1912 - 1956) holds a cigarette above and behind one of his paintings in his studio at 'The Springs,' East Hampton, New York, August 23, 1953.

 (Photo by Tony Vaccaro/Getty Images)

IMDb Rating: 7.9/10

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Patty Cohen, Domenico De Sole, José Carlos Bergantiños Díaz 

Director: Barry Avrich

Rating: TV-14

Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art chronicles one of the largest cases of art fraud in American history. Knoedler & Company, a prestigious art gallery in New York City, allegedly made millions selling fraudulent copies of "previously unseen" works by artists like Jackson Pollock, de Koonings, and Rothkos. But they were all fakes that were sold to the gallery by a Long Island crook named Glafira Rosales. The documentary includes interviews from former Knoedler & Company president Ann Freedman and other figures involved in the scandal.

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Pelé (2021): Celebrating One of Soccer's Greatest Players

A black and white photo of soccer star Pele during a match
Pele and Soccer. Credit: Pictorial Parade / Stringer/Getty Images

IMDb Rating: 7.1/10

Genre: Sport

Starring: Pelé

Director: Ben Nicholas, David Tryhorn

Rating: TV-14

Runtime: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Brazilian footballer Pelé is one of the most iconic figures in the sports world, and he's the subject of a new Netflix documentary. The film tracks his career during the 12-year period where he was the only athlete to win three World Cup titles. His rise to superstardom came during a turbulent time in his country's history when the military took over the government in a coup d'etat and enacted new laws stifling freedom of speech and political opposition.

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History of Swear Words (2021): An Education in Your Favorite Expletives

Nicolas Cage in 'History of Swear Words'

Netflix

IMDb Rating: 6.5/10

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Nicolas Cage

Director: Christopher D'Elia

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 6

Join actor Nicolas Cage for a deep dive into the history behind some of your favorite cuss words. The series spends each of its six episodes exploring the etymology and modern-day usage of a particular swear. There are interviews with both historians and comedians, so the series is bound to be both educational and light-hearted. Fans of irreverent shows like Drunk History will want to check this out.

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Alien Worlds (2020): Combining Science Fact With Science Fiction

An alien sits on a strange planet in the Netflix documentary 'Alien Worlds.'

Netflix

IMDb Rating: 6.5/10

Genre: Documentary Series

Starring: Sophie Okonedo

Directors: Suzie Boyles, Daniel M. Smith

Rating: TV-PG

Episodes: 4

The Netflix documentary series Alien Worlds tries to imagine what life is like on other planets by extrapolating new life forms based on what we know about the ones on Earth. By studying birds, we can make some educated guesses on how a flying alien species would act, for example. How would alien life adapt to other planets? Is a species on its way to Earth now? This speculative series tries to answer those questions and more.

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The Surgeon’s Cut (2020): A Unique Window into the World of Surgery

A surgeon operates on a patient in 'The Surgeon's Cut'

BBC Studios

IMDb Rating: 8.5/10

Genre: Documentary Series

Starring: Professor Kypros Nicolaides, Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, Dr. Nancy Ascher, Dr. Devi Shetty

Director: James Newton, Lucy Blakstad, Sophie Robinson, Stephen Cooter

Rating: TV-14

Episodes: 4

This documentary series from the BBC follows four ground-breaking surgeons as they practice their respective crafts around the world. The first episode focuses on a pioneer of fetal surgery. Subsequent episodes tell stories about a neurosurgeon who operates on more than 250 brains a year, a doctor who specializes in organ transplants, and a renowned cardiac surgeon. The BBC calls this series a "profoundly touching insight into surgery in the 21st century." It's probably not for the squeamish, though.

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My Octopus Teacher (2020): Best Heartstring-Tugging Underwater Friendship Adventure

My Octopus Teacher

IMDb Rating: 8.3/10

Genre: Science and Nature

Starring: Craig Foster, Tom Foster

Director: Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed

Rating: TV-G

Runtime: 1 hour, 25 minutes

If you're looking for a deep, emotional connection to wildlife, particularly sea life, then this is the film you've been waiting for. The narrator begins the journey by searching for external validation and winds up discovering it internally through his connection to a curious octopus who changes his outlook on life.

The film is beautifully shot, and the message is hands-down inspirational; if you've been feeling burned out between the pandemic and life in general, My Octopus Teacher will remind you that we have far more to learn and discover beyond our own limited worlds.

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Fear City (New York vs. The Mafia) (2020): Best Game of Cat and Mouse

Fear City
 

IMDb Rating: 7.1/10

Genre: Investigative, Crime

Starring: Multiple government agents and former Mafia members

Director: Sam Hobkinson

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 3

Whether or not you remember the bloody nightly news headlines of American Mafia killings in New York City in the 1970s and 80s, this docu-series will have you on the edge of your seat for all three episodes. NYC was effectively under the complete control of five "families" in those days; this documentary unveils how the organizations gained control and explores how law enforcement and government agencies combined forces to finally bring down the Mob.

While reenactments are sometimes a bit messy, the interviews with both law enforcement and former Mob members are as entertaining as they are illuminating at times. "Here, hold my flashlight" will make you laugh out loud until you realize later that the man holding the flashlight would be willing to squash you with the flick of a wrist. It's a cat-and-mouse game played over decades that will sometimes have you wondering which side is which.

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The Social Dilemma (2020): Best Reminder of the Dangers of Social Media

The Social Dilemma

IMDb Rating: 7.7/10

Genre: Science

Starring: Skyler Gisondo, Kara Hayward, Vincent Kartheiser

Director: Jeff Orlowski

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Whether you've been hanging around a real or virtual water cooler lately, someone's been wound up about The Social Dilemma. That social media can be addictive is not a new topic; what separates this documentary from the pack is its unflinching behind-the-scenes look at exactly how social media companies manipulate human behavior for profit.

While a bit heavy-handed in some ways, the film does a good job of helping viewers see how social media influences today's world and how destructive it can be when it runs unchecked. The alarm has sounded; will anyone really raise their eyes from the smartphone screen to listen?

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