30 best Netflix documentaries to watch in 2024

Sarma Melngailis in Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives
(Image credit: Netflix)

The best Netflix documentaries are a great option when fictional TV shows and movies aren't enough. Pulled from actual events, these nonfiction shows and movies give us plenty of pathos and beautiful moments of nature to dive into. 

And, thankfully, Netflix has plenty of documentaries and docuseries to educate and entertain us for hours. Whether you're a fan of true crime and murder mysteries or are more intrigued by the natural world, you're set with options at Netflix. It's one of the reasons why Netflix remains one of the best streaming services — it's got one of the largest documentary selections of any streaming platform.

'My Octopus Teacher'

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2020, “My Octopus Teacher” is a surprisingly heartfelt documentary that explores the deep connections that humans can form with animals. 

The documentary follows disillusioned filmmaker Craig Foster as he looks for meaning in his life. He begins taking daily snorkeling excursions into a South African Kelp Forest where he forms an unlikely bond with an octopus who he sees almost every day on his journeys. 

As Foster delves into the octopus's world, he witnesses her intelligence, resourcefulness, and the challenges of her short life. This newfound friendship becomes a turning point for Foster himself. Witnessing the octopus's resilience chips away at his cynicism, fostering a newfound openness towards both the natural world and those around him. 

Genre: Nature documentary
Rotten Tomatoes score: 93%
Stream now on Netflix

'Night on Earth'

Looking for a new perspective on the natural world? “Night on Earth” is a documentary series all about revealing the hidden lives of animals after dark. While humans might sleep at night, nocturnal animals like lions, bears, owls, frogs, lizards and more navigate the darkness to hunt, find mates, and raise young. 

This series uses state-of-the-art, low-light cameras to capture never-before-seen animal behaviors and includes stunning footage from around the world, from the dark, tree-dense jungle to the moonlit plains.

Genre: Nature documentary
Rotten Tomatoes score: 83%
Stream now on Netflix

Capturing the Killer Nurse

This harrowing documentary finds a brave nurse unearthing a shocking truth within the walls of a local hospital. Teaming up with two determined small-town detectives, she goes undercover to unveil the dark secrets of a colleague she once called a friend. Fellow nurse Charles Cullen soon emerges as one of the most notorious serial killers in American history, linked to a series of inexplicable deaths through mysterious lab results.

Genre: True crime documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 71%
Stream now on Netflix

The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker

Kai, a homeless hitchhiker, catapulted to viral fame after seemingly rescuing a woman from an assailant using a hatchet. Ironically, it was the same man who had given him a lift just moments before. The incident and Kai's raw recounting of the event in a spontaneous interview captured the public's attention, though everything was not as it seemed at first. Kai's interview soon ends up being the key to his imprisonment after details come to light that reveal Kai is not who he appears to be, nor is his version of events the way things actually went down. 

Genre: True crime documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 92%
Stream now on Netflix

American Factory

This documentary explores the dynamics of a Chinese-owned factory in Dayton, Ohio. It works to capture the economic challenges faced by both American workers and Chinese employers at the location while portraying the struggles of American workers adapting to demanding work conditions and lower wages. Meanwhile, their Chinese counterparts deal with the nuances of American culture and work ethics. It offers a fair and balanced look at globalization's impact on the workforce as well as the human beings it affects to pack an emotional punch. - BV

Genre: Economic fly-on-the-wall documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 95%
Stream now on Netflix

Dick Johnson is Dead

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson embarks on a poignant journey with her father, who's battling dementia, to document a series of imaginative scenarios, each depicting her father's fictional deaths. They include everything from a dangerous trip down the stairs to an air conditioner mishap. Far from being macabre, these staged scenes act as more of a unique blend of humor and heartache that celebrates Johnson's life instead of adding dread to the end of it, which helps to make this documentary worth experiencing.  - BV

Genre: Biographical documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 99%
Stream now on Netflix

Pepsi, Where's My Jet?

Back in 1996, Pepsi launched its "Pepsi Stuff" campaign and made some bold claims. Their commercials seemed to suggest that collecting enough "Pepsi Points" could nab you rewards from jackets to water bottles and, confoundingly, a Harrier jet. John Leonard and Todd Hoffman are two men who made an outrageous plan to secure that very jet. But after fulfilling the requirements and finding that Pepsi didn't deliver, Leonard's quest for his jet carried over to the courtroom. It's a bizarre story but a lighthearted watch that ultimately reveals that, sometimes, advertising is just that — advertising. - BV

Genre: Docuseries w/ dramatic reenactments
Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%
Stream now on Netflix

Miss Americana

This is one of the best movies for Taylor Swift fans and anyone curious about Taylor behind the scenes. Directed by Lana Wilson, Miss Americana pulls back the curtain on some of the secrecy surrounding Taylor Swift, tracing her journey from her Lover album release to her philanthropy and political stances. It's a touching exploration of Swift's world that also dives deep into her tours and the craft behind her music. It's an unfiltered look at one of the world's biggest superstars, and the perfect viewing companion for the Eras Tour movie. - BV

Genre: Music documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%
Stream now on Netflix

Girl in the Picture

Skye Borgman's gripping Girl in the Picture tells the harrowing tale of Sharon Marshall, a woman found dying on the roadside, leaving behind a young son and a man claiming to be her spouse. The twists don't stop coming as it's soon revealed a man named Franklin Floyd not only kidnapped Sharon but raised and wedded her, all while hiding in plain sight. The story, perfect for true crime sleuths, is equal parts maddening and perplexing, as it exposes Floyd's web of deception and exploitation -- and the young woman at the center of it all who, in the end, never lived the life she was supposed to live. - BV

Genre: True crime documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 96%
Stream now on Netflix

Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.

This jaw-dropping documentary brings you into the world of Sarma Melngailis, a popular restaurant owner beguiled by the enigmatic Shane Fox. As he promises to expand her prosperous New York restaurant empire while swindling her out of millions, Melngailis finds herself embroiled in one of the most infamous scams the restaurant business has ever seen. From Shane promising Sarma and her pug immortality to globe-hopping trips shrouded in secrecy, every moment is so much more unbelievable than the last. It's difficult to see how Sarma could ever have found herself under Shane's spell, but sometimes, we do the unimaginable in the name of love. - BV

Genre: Crime docuseries
Rotten Tomatoes score: 88%
Stream now on Netflix

The Deepest Breath

Alessia Zecchini is one of the self-selecting athletes who take all the risks in the world of free-diving. She's looking to break records, and she's accompanied by safety diver Stephen Keenan. Unfortunately, there's little true safety when the body goes deep into the ocean, where pressure on the human body is highly risky. 

This makes for a perfectly riveting documentary, as the underwater footage is as beautiful as the situation is dangerous. Draws comparisons to Free Solo. - JS

Genre: Sports documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 84%
Stream now on Netflix

Wham!

For four years, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley hit the charts so hard that there was only one correct name for their band: Wham! Now, the duo are the latest subjects of Netflix's glossy-for-the-fans documentaries.

Without George Michael here with us anymore, Wham! relies on archival footage and new interviews with his bandmate Andrew Ridgeley. Still, it wins points for offering the band's insider point of view on their rise to stardom. - JS

Genre: Music documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 89%
Stream now on Netflix

Take Care of Maya

One of those stories that demand to be the center of Netflix's documentaries about broken systems and industries, Take Care of Maya tries to explain the hell faced by the Kowalski family when their daughter Maya faced a confusing set of symptoms that were difficult to diagnose. 

Applauded for explaining one quite broken aspect of the U.S. healthcare system in a powerful way, Take Care of Maya is as important as it is upsetting. - JS

Genre: Biographical documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 90%
Stream now on Netflix

Arnold

If you want something more fun and less exhausting, Netflix's three-part docuseries about Arnold Schwarzenegger's life is worth checking out. Arnold breaks down his life into three chapters: body-builder, actor and politician. And it's not just Arnold that you're hearing from, but folks such as James Cameron, Sylvester Stallone and politician Willie Brown.

Just know that Arnold isn't exactly your average documentary. Like Pamela, A Love Story, it is a glossy documentary series that's more about enjoying stories of a life well-lived than challenging the person at the center. - JS

Genre: Biographical docuseries
Rotten Tomatoes score: 70%
Stream now on Netflix

Waco: American Apocalypse

The disastrous standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX was permanently etched into the memories of those old enough to have watched it take place in real time in 1993. Over a little under two months, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and the FBI were on one side, and David Koresh's apocalyptic Branch Davidians were on the other — and then it ended in flames.

Decades later, director Tiller Russell's three-part docuseries analyzes the catastrophe from all angles. It includes interviews with many involved, including those who lived on the compound, as well as never-before-seen footage of FBI negotiations during the standoff. And as you learn about how the dual FBI teams on the scene had different goals, you'll start to question everything you knew about Waco. - JS

Genre: True crime docuseries
Rotten Tomatoes score: 81%
Stream now on Netflix

Money Shot: The Pornhub Story

Pornhub, a highly-popular adult film website — basically the YouTube of erotica — has been at the center of scandals for years. Accusations of how PornHub platformed non-consensual content, including child pornography, have swirled for years. And so Netflix — home to both documentaries and steamy content — is the perfect home for director Suzanne Hillinger's film about the company.

Through interviews with adult film actors and advocates, as well as employees of parent company MindGeek, 'Money Shot' educates audiences on the troubles of a site they may have dismissed as a simple purveyor of smut. - JS

Genre: Interview documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 83%
Stream now on Netflix

Descendant

Descendant is one of the best Netflix documentaries because it's a bit different from the field. While Netflix has become known for its true crime documentaries — of which we have plenty below — Descendant is a history lesson that will open eyes to an untold and secret story.

Director Margaret Brown's focus here is on an untold part of the history of the slave trade, as the Clotilda — the last known ship to carry stolen Africans to America — was burned to hide the evidence that it existed. Now, in a region called Africatown (found near Mobile, Alabama), the descendants of those slaves are telling their ancestor's stories. 

Utterly captivating as it peels back an untold part of American history, Descendant is a Netflix documentary that needed to be made. - JS

Genre: Historical documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 100%
Stream now on Netflix

Pamela, A Love Story

Far from your average doc, and arguably something of an auto-biography, Pamela Anderson's Netflix documentary dives into her past from a new vantage point: her own. Up until now (a matching book was released), Ms. Anderson's tale of fame has mostly been told by others, including a recent Hulu drama series that she refused to watch.

Instead, she'd suggest you watch this documentary that features archival footage from her past. If you're surprised this film is on this list, note that critics call it a riveting and thoughtful analysis of an incredibly public life. - JS

Genre: Biographical documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 98%
Stream now on Netflix

The Tinder Swindler

If you've watched Inventing Anna, where Anna Sorokin was lying her way through the NYC elites (it's more of a guilty pleasure than one of the best shows on Netflix), but wanted something even more real than that true crime drama? Look no further than The Tindler Swindler, which shows us (we don't need a reminder) that men are just as manipulative as anyone else.

The Tinder Swindler is a must-watch documentary, revealing the havoc left by Simon Leviev, a man who took outrageous sums of money from women as he traveled across Europe. All it took was getting them to fall in love with him, and these women were practically handing over their checkbooks. - JS

Genre: True crime documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score:
96%
Stream now on Netflix

Athlete A

While there's no repairing the damage done on dozens if not hundreds of athletes over the years by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, Athlete A offers many of those he victimized an opportunity to tell their story and expose the truth depths of his horrific crimes. It's a heartbreaking watch at times but an important one, empowering the women previously in his care and proving that the truth will always come out. - JS

Genre: Crime documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 100%
Stream now on Netflix

Seaspiracy

You’ve probably heard loads of people saying they’ll never eat seafood again after watching Seaspiracy, and with good reason. This 2021 documentary delves into the environmental impact of mass fishing and highlights the damage and destruction caused to marine life by human beings.

While there's obviously a certain level of propaganda involved — Seaspiracy's underlying message is about ending fish consumption — it makes some convincing arguments for why doing so might be a very good idea. - JS

Genre: Environmental documentary movie
Rotten Tomatoes score: 75% 
Stream now on Netflix

American Murder: The Family Next Door

Sadly, domestic violence and even murder between romantic partners isn’t all that uncommon, so the fact that Chris Watts killed his wife Shannan believing it would enable him to move on with his mistress is depressing but not all that surprising.

Where this story does take a turn for the incredible, however, is when we learn that not only was Shannan pregnant, meaning Chris killed his unborn child but that he also killed his two young daughters as well. American Murder: The Family Next Door tells the story of their tragic deaths as well as the web of lies and deceit Chris Watts weaved in an attempt to get away with it. It’s harrowing, to say the least. - JS

Genre: True crime documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 86%
Stream now on Netflix

The Social Dilemma 

With a seeming majority of society spending more time on phones than connecting with people face-to-face, it’s important to take a critical look at modern socio-interactive implications. The Social Dilemma interviews a variety of tech experts who expose plenty of industry secrets, many of which aren’t all that well-kept, to begin with.

However, this is one of the best Netflix documentaries because its discussion about the harm social media is doing to us as individuals and as a collective human race is posed with nuance and will certainly leave viewers with food for thought. - JS

Genre: Documentary drama film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 86%
Stream now on Netflix

Abducted in Plain Sight

When 12-year-old Jan Broberg was abducted in 1974 by a close family friend, her family and wider community were incredibly relieved when she was eventually returned safely. Then the same man, Robert Berchtold, kidnapped Broberg again, leaving many wondering how on earth such a crime could have been allowed to happen once, let alone twice. Abducted in Plain Sight has many moments that will make you wonder what on earth people are thinking, as much of the story beggars belief. However, that’s part of what makes this one one of the best Netflix documentaries. - JS

Genre: True crime documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 74%
Stream now on Netflix

Sophie: A Murder In West Cork

If you’re a fan of dark, moody murder mysteries, this one is for you. A French woman who visited her holiday home in West Cork, Ireland over the Christmas holidays in 1996 was murdered, her dead body left on the rocky path leading to her secluded property. To this day, no one has been convicted for the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. That is unless you count Ian Bailey, a local journalist who was sentenced to 25 years for the crime in France but has avoided extradition. Bailey is an active part of the documentary, making the whole story that much more bizarre and entrancing. - JS

Genre: True crime docuseries
Rotten Tomatoes score: 89%
Stream now on Netflix

Fantastic Fungi

Nature lovers won’t be able to resist Fantastic Fungi, an incredibly immersive time-lapse journey into the growth of mushrooms and an in-depth look at their medical and recreational usage. It's hard to believe that such humble fungi played a huge part in the regeneration of life on Earth more than 3.5 million years ago. But watching this documentary will give viewers a whole new appreciation for those little fungi. - JS

Genre: Nature documentary film
Rotten Tomatoes score: 100%
Stream now on Netflix

Beckham

David Beckham has been a polarizing figure throughout his career. A larger-than-life footballer in a celebrity relationship, some loved him and others despised him.

And your opinion on Beckham could change at any point. He was initially loved by the Manchester United faithful for being a local success story, but essentially left the club in shame — albeit to join the biggest football club in the world. Similarly, his shortcomings at the international level had England fans who once loved him turn on him after a red card at the 1998 World Cup. But after watching this documentary, you'll hopefully view him as a complicated human who didn't always get things right, for better or worse. - MM

Genre: Sports docuseries
Rotten Tomatoes score: 88%
Stream now on Netflix 

'World War II: From the Front Lines'

This comprehensive look at the global conflict of World War II through rare colorized footage and firsthand accounts is a harrowing watch. Giving voice to multiple perspectives from all sides of the war, this documentary finds soldiers recounting the brutal realities of combat and life on the front lines, while civilians describe the struggles they faced on the home front. The filmmakers colorized archival clips to bring an extra dimension of realism to the black-and-white images for a complete look back at the war that changed the world. 

Genre: War documentary
Rotten Tomatoes score: 69%
Stream now on Netflix

'Our Father'

 This eerie exposé unravels the disturbing revelations surrounding a former fertility doctor accused of impregnating multiple women with his own sperm. It centers on a woman who discovers she has multiple half-siblings after taking a DNA test. This triggers an investigation uncovering the unethical practices of the reproductive specialist who treated her mother decades earlier. As more siblings come forward, patterns emerge suggesting the doctor secretly used his own sperm to artificially inseminate scores of patients without their knowledge or consent. 

Genre: True crime documentary
Rotten Tomatoes score: 79%
Stream now on Netflix

'The Innocence Project'

This powerful series shines a light on the important work of The Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions through DNA evidence. By cexamining several cases taken up by the Innocence Project, it exposes flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system that can lead to innocent people being wrongly imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit. With several in-depth interviews and case files, the show highlights the efforts of Innocence Project lawyers and investigators fighting to set the innocent free.

Genre: True crime documentary
Rotten Tomatoes score: 100%
Stream now on Netflix

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Kelly Woo
Streaming Editor

Kelly is the streaming channel editor for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.