Netflix has an impressive list of TV shows and films in the fiction genre, but their non-fiction documentary section is full of gems that are worth exploring. Here’s our Top 10 list of the best documentaries on Netflix.
Winner of the Best Documentary Feature at the 90th Academy Awards, Icarus investigates the furtive world of illegal doping in sports. Director Bryan Fogel teams up with Russian Scientist and Director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, to prove that the current way athletes are tested for drugs is insufficient. He does this by taking performance-enhancing drugs himself in a manner devised by Dr. Rodchenkov that will evade detection from drug-testing. He goes on to make some shocking revelations and statements about the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Filled with unbelievable revelations and twists, this documentary can give even the best fiction thrillers a run for their money and makes for an extremely entertaining and shocking watch.
Wild Wild Country
Ever witnessed the formation of a cult from the ground up? Wild Wild Country gives viewers front row seats to the creation of one of the greatest cults/parallel religions of the 1970s and 80s. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a spiritual guru who rose to prominence in India collapsed into infamy a decade later in Wasco County, Oregon USA, where he built Rajneeshpuram, a township for his followers (known as Rajneeshees). Soon after, conflicts started between the Rajneeshees and the Oregon State Government, leading the Rajneeshees to commit a series of crimes such as the assassination plot of US Attorney Charles H. Turner and a mass food poisoning attack using Salmonella bacteria. The crimes were attributed to Rajneesh’s personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, and her close aides, following which Rajneesh, later known as OSHO, was deported from USA. A chilling look into actual footage from Rajneeshpuram and OSHO’s teachings, combined with a handful of Rajneeshees recollecting their experience and journey at the time makes this documentary binge-worthy.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
Jim Carrey has become something of an enigma today and a part of that enigma can be unlocked through this documentary. The film talks about Jim Carrey’s life-changing performance as Andy Kaufman in the 1999 film Man On The Moon, intercut with a present day interview of Carrey where he recollects his experience of playing the character, staying in the character, taking a joke too far and ponders about the meaning of life, reality, identity and career. With first hand behind-the-scenes footage of the making of Man On The Moon released 20 years later, we see a man who has taken his character way too seriously and doesn’t know when and where to stop acting. Not only does this film shed light on the life of Carrey, it also gives us a glimpse of the kind of fragile identity actors have and their quest of making their characters believable.
He Named Me Malala
Based on the life and work of the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, He Named Me Malala is one of the most inspiring and emotionally cathartic documentaries out there. The film recounts her miraculous survival after being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as part of the organisation’s violent and outspoken opposition to women’s education in Pakistan. The film follows Malala’s daily life, her interactions with her family, her family’s opinions and offers a fresh perspective of the female activist. A quote from the film beautifully summarises Malala Yousafzai, when the interviewer asks her, “who would you have been if you were just an ordinary girl from the Swat Valley”, to which she replies, “I’m still an ordinary girl, but if I had an ordinary father and an ordinary mother, then I would have two children now.”
When 20-year-old American Amanda Knox went to Perugia, Italy on a student exchange program, little did she know that she would be the centerpiece of one of the most high-profile, controversial, sensational murder trials of all time. On the night of November 1, Amanda Knox spent the night at her boyfriend’s place and upon returning to her apartment on November 2, she discovered the dead body of her flatmate, Meredith Kercher. After four days of questioning by the Italian police, Amanda Knox and her boyfriend were convicted for the murder of Meredith Kercher and were sentenced to a term of 26 years. Shortly after, police found the fingerprints of a third person, Rudy Guede, on Kercher’s possessions and arrested him. Pre-trial publicity in the Italian media portrayed Knox in a negative light, with a guilty verdict at her initial trial and a 26-year sentence sparking an international controversy, as U.S. crime and forensic experts argued that evidence at the crime scene was incompatible with her involvement. After a prolonged legal battle and a successful prosecution appeal against her acquittal at a second-level trial, Knox was freed in 2011. Today, Knox is an author, activist and journalist and has devoted her life towards fighting the cause of the wrongfully accused.
Nominated for the Best Documentary Feature at the 87th Academy Awards, Virunga explores the story of Virunga National Park in Congo, home to the world’s last mountain gorillas, and the conservation work carried out by the park rangers amidst the rise of the violent M23 Rebellion in 2012. The film follows gorilla caregiver André Bauma, central sector warden Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, chief warden Emmanuel de Merode, and the French investigative journalist Mélanie Gouby, as they fight to protect Virunga National Park against the threats of war, poaching and oil exploration. With stunning visuals of the landscape, natural biodiversity of the region and deep insights of the complex political and economic issues in the region, this one’s a must-watch.
The Defiant Ones
For all the music, especially rap and hip-hop fans out there, this is a must-watch. The four-part documentary focuses on the life and work of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. Featuring interviews from prominent people whose careers were influenced by Dre and Iovine, such as Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube and others, The Defiant Ones tells the remarkable journey of Interscope Records, N.W.A., and Beats Electronics. Dr. Dre and Iovine became a part of history as they sold their creation, Beats Electronics to Apple Inc. in an all cash and stock deal for $3 Billion, the largest acquisition in Apple’s history.
The White Helmets
This heart-wrenching documentary revolves around the operations and activities of The White Helmets group, a volunteer organisation in the war-torn rebel-controlled parts of Syria and Turkey performing medical evacuations, search and rescue operations in response to bombings, evacuation of civilians from danger areas, and essential service deliveries. As of April 2018, they have claimed to save over 114,000 lives with 204 White Helmet volunteers losing their lives in the process. With explicit war, bombing and rescue visuals, this documentary shows the spoils of war and the destruction that comes with it. In such miserable conditions filled with despair, The White Helmets act as the beacon of hope and follow their motto – “To save one life is to save all of humanity”.
This critically acclaimed documentary captures the efforts of environmental photographer James Balog and director Jeff Orlowski as they camp through Greenland, Iceland and Alaska in order to capture images that will help to convey the effects of global warming. Operating in areas with extreme weather with a hostile environment for technology and human health, the two witness and capture the changing environment in the North Pole that will make even the non-believers believe in the effects of global warming as glaciers melt away and the landscape of large areas changes drastically within weeks. They successfully capture scenes from a glacier calving event that took place at Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland, lasting 75 minutes, the longest such event ever captured on film. Balog puts it across in the best way possible when he says, “that landscape is gone and will never be seen in the history of civilisation and it is stored right here (pointing to the camera’s memory card).”
Another one for the music fans, Hired Gun showcases some of the world’s unsung heroes of the music industry through exclusive interviews and performances. You may not have heard of them individually but you have definitely heard them perform. They are the session musicians who have played with legends such as Alice Cooper, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, P!NK, and Michael Jackson, to name a few. For the ‘Hired Gun’ community, music is their life and for the first time they have a platform to share their experience of sharing the stage with some of rock’s most iconic musicians, showcasing their talent and recounting the details of touring life, demands of session schedules and their dedication to the art.