One of the great things about Netflix is that it has brought thoughtful, compelling documentaries to a much wider audience that filmmakers could only dream of a decade ago.
And with binge-worthy titles like “Making a Murderer” and the vast ESPN “30 for 30” library being just a click away, you can get a lot of great nonfiction viewing any night of the week. You’ll learn a lot more about the world, but don’t worry – you’ll also be entertained.
Here are 15 documentaries we think you should stream right away on Netflix.
1. “30 for 30” ESPN movies
Pretty much any “30 for 30” title is worth your time. The documentaries that highlight moments in sports that you may or may not be aware of are both entertaining and filled with emotion. A few we highly recommend: “No Crossover: The Tale of Allen Iverson”; “June 17th, 1994,” which looks at everything that happened in the world of sports at the time of O.J. Simpson’s Bronco chase; “I Hate Christian Laettner”; and likely available in 2017 will be ESPN’s new masterwork, “O.J.: Made in America.”
2. “The Act of Killing”
- Drafthouse Films/”The Act of Killing”
Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated doc looks at the Indonesian genocide by having death-squad leaders reenact their mass killings. The results are both comical and heart-wrenching.
- Magnolia Pictures
Why is Sea World going to end killer-whale shows? It’s because of this incredible movie that looks at the abuse these magnificent creatures have endured for decades.
4. “Cocaine Cowboys”
- Magnolia Pictures
In the late 1980s, cocaine invaded Miami and the world has never been the same. This documentary looks at the blood-soaked era and the people who were responsible.
5. “Food, Inc.”
- Magnolia Pictures
This powerful look at how the food we put into our mouths is really produced is shocking and scary. You’ll probably want to change your eating habits after watching it.
6. “Hell and Back Again”
- New Video
There has been no more honest look at what it feels like to be a solider who has come home from war than this visually stunning work by director Danfund Dennis.
7. “Hoop Dreams”
- Fine Line
In one of the greatest documentaries ever made, director Steve James follows two Chicago inner-city high-school teens as they try to live out their dreams to become pro-basketball players one day. What the two quickly learn is that life and family are more important.
8. “Indie Game: The Movie”
There’s a world of gamers outside of those who play “Call of Duty” and the “Madden” NFL games. Here we look at the creators behind indie games and the struggles they go through to make work that’s different but also profitable.
9. “Killing Them Safely”
- Courtesy of Nick Berardini
A movie that gets more topical as the months pass, director Nick Berardini’s doc examines the excessive use of the TAZER gun by US police.
10. “Last Days in Vietnam”
This Oscar-nominated doc by director Rory Kennedy looks at the final weeks of the Vietnam War and the exodus of Saigon by not just American soldiers and diplomats, but the South Vietnamese who helped the US during the war.
11. “Lost in La Mancha”
- IFC Films/”Lost in La Mancha”
Terry Gilliam’s doomed attempt to make “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is an incredible all-access look at filmmaking at its most chaotic.
12. “Making a Murderer”
This true-crime tale about the murder case of Steven Avery became an instant Netflix binge when it hit the streaming service. Filmed over a 10-year period, it will no doubt prompt your own theory about what’s really true.
13. “The Overnighters”
- Drafthouse Films
Jesse Moss explores the current-day gold rush: Men desperate for work who head to the North Dakota oil fields to find it. Many come with just the clothes on their backs and troubled pasts. A local pastor is the only one who will take them in, but he has demons of his own.
14. “Room 237”
You think you know everything about Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”? Once you see this incredible look at almost every theory that’s been devised about the movie, you’ll sing a different tune – and appreciate the original masterpiece even more.
15. “The Thin Blue Line”
- The Criterion Collection
Before “The Jinx” and “Making a Murderer,” there was Errol Morris’ groundbreaking investigation of a man wrongly convicted for the murder of a police officer in Texas. The new findings in the movie led to the release of the man.
Still want more? Here are others to check out.
- Roxy Releasing
“Actress” – Robert Green’s portrayal of an actor who attempts to reclaim her glory after spending years raising a child is a powerful look at responsibility versus vanity.
“Biggie and Tupac” – A look back at the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop rivalry that resulted in the deaths of two icons.
“Happy Valley” – A look inside the crumbling of the Penn State football program and the legacy of head coach Joe Paterno following the child-sexual-abuse charges against a former assistant coach.
“The Hunting Ground” – An emotionally powerful account of rape crimes on US campuses and the despicable cover-ups that take place so the schools can save face.
“Kumaré” – Before becoming a Vice correspondent, Vikram Gandhi made this documentary in which he impersonates an Indian Guru and builds a following in Arizona. The reveal at the end is something the best screenwriter couldn’t come up with.
“Meet the Patels” – Actor Ravi Patel is through with the “American” way of finding a wife, so he turns to his family who put him through the traditional Indian way.
“The Wolfpack” – Confined to their apartment for most of their childhood, six brothers learn everything they know about the outside world through the movies they watch and then reenact with homemade costumes.