Netflix loves a documentary. In fact, it's become one of the most prolific producers of new documentaries around, so there's a huge amount of choice.
We have picked the top 52 best Netflix documentaries right now, which we will share with you over the next 5 days in a 5 part series. First up, let's kick start with first 10 of the Netflix documentaries.
Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy
America has spent billions during its ‘war on drugs’ but has it worked? This 90-minute film charts the rise of crack cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s by telling the stories of those who have had their lives ruined by the drug – including the dealers who, at one point, made small fortunes from their work. It covers the drug’s origins, illegal imports into the US, and the ensuing ‘crack babies’ media frenzy. Director Stanley Nelson tackles some of the myths of the crack ‘epidemic’ by using a wide range of scientists and historians who provide cultural context to the chaos that ensued.
American Murder: The Family Next Door
At around 2AM on August 13, 2018, 38-year-old Shanann Watts arrived back at her home in Colorado after a brief business trip. The next day, Shanann, who was pregnant with her third child at the time, was reported missing. Soon, it transpired that Shanann’s two young daughters were also gone from the home she shared with her husband Chris. This shocking true-crime documentary, authorised by the family of Shanann Watts, is unusual in that is it made up almost entirely of archival footage shot by her family, the police, the media covering the story of her murder and Shanann herself. This isn't just the story of her murder, it's the story of her life. Thanks to social media, you get to know her and daughters Celeste and Bella, you watch their birthdays, their holidays, their smiles and laughter, painting them as the perfect American family. It's an expertly executed, at times horrifying account of deceit, betrayal and domestic violence.
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado
During the 80s and 90s, Walter Mercado was a fixture of Latin American life. Every day he would appear, flamboyantly swirling his bejewelled capes and sporting impossibly feathery hair, to read people's horoscopes on TV. Then he suddenly vanished. The androgynous Puerto Rican astrologer, whose personal life was a complete mystery, used the force of his self-conviction to climb his way into millions of people's living rooms. Like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard , he ended up isolated in his mansion, surrounded by paraphernalia of his glory years (including dozens of capes and bizarre paintings of his own face) and guarded by a protective assistant called Willie. Unlike Desmond, his ending isn't tragic. When the 80-year old, once described as "bigger than Jesus Christ" appears on camera for this documentary, he sparkles, but seems smaller and vulnerable. He doesn't want to talk about death ("how depressing") or ageing ("I'm just like Dorian Gray"). But in front of his fans, who he truly loves, he grows larger than life. This loving tribute to Mercado is rather too indulgent at times, but does something unique. It shows that the man under the cape was just the same as the man on screen: wonderful, weird and the real deal.
Tell Me Who I Am
A sometimes verbose but engrossing documentary about brotherhood and trauma – both psychological, and pretty physical. The latter and the former collide when Alex Lewis, a 18-year-old from the home counties, has a motorcycle accident, hits his head and forgets everything about his life; well, not quite everything: he remembers that the young man standing at his bedside is his identical twin, Marcus, and that he can trust him. Back in his family home, Alex asks Marcus to help him reconstruct his past: does he have a girlfriend? How is his relationship with their parents? Why does her mum keep inviting strange people to their home? For over ten years, Alex lives in an idyllic world of Marcus’s making. But after their mother’s death, the amnesiac twin realises that his brother might have sugar-coated the past a little...
This harrowing documentary follows journalists from The Indianapolis Star as they uncover an abuse scandal that goes to the heart of gymnastics in the US. Reporters exposed how elite gymnasts faced abuse from the adults they trusted with their careers and how the sport’s governing body USA Gymnastics covered up what was happening. As an Olympic doctor is sent to jail, the documentary tells the story through the survivors who spoke out against how they were treated.
The Last Dance
Before David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, there was Michael Jordan. The 1990s Chicago Bulls were a force of nature – and Jordan in particular helped create the superstar athlete genre with his skill and grace both on and off the basketball court. The Last Dance is, ostensibly, a look at the final season for that great Bulls team – featuring Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and more players who would become household names. But it’s about more than that. The action jumps back and forth between 1998 and the late 80s and early 90s when Jordan was coming through and dominating, using a mixture of archive clips and never before seen behind-the-scenes footage. It’s genuinely fascinating to see the interactions between some huge characters, and it’s an engrossing watch, even if you know nothing about basketball.
This Netflix documentary is the first in a wave of works focused on the heinous life of mega-rich and powerful business magnate Jeffery Epstein. Epstein is perhaps best known for being accused of raping hundreds of underage girls over the course of decades with impunity. For most of his life, Epstein seemed untouchable. Even after a 2018 investigation sparked renewed interest from prosecutors and led to him being put in custody, his apparent suicide in prison when he was denied bail left victims and the public with more questions than answers. The documentary paints Ghislaine Maxwell as a direct conspirator and co-abuser (which she denies). Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew are also thrown back into the spotlight as people that eye-witnesses had spotted close to Epstein (again, they deny this). This documentary may make you angry, but comes no closer to unravelling the mystery around his life and death than other reports. Instead, it focuses on the women who accused him of abusing them and trafficking them to other powerful men. Again and again, they tell their stories, describing how they were lured to his house in Palm Beach, or to his private island, and abused. It's painful to watch. Their voices become centre stage as they say the trail of monsters goes far beyond Epstein, and that justice has yet to be done.
Louis Theroux: LA Stories
Veteran documentary maker Louis Theroux explores the unseen parts of America's second-biggest city in this three part miniseries. Theroux gets to know sex offenders, delinquent dog owners and people who are quite literally on the very edge of death in this wide-ranging and emotive trio of episodes. As with all of his documentaries, LA Stories is at its best when Theroux lets us step beyond the bizarre or shocking surface of his subjects' stories and invites us into their lives to truly understate their hopes and motivations.
When Shannon Whisnant buys a cut-price barbecue grill at a storage unit auction, he ends up with a little extra in the bargain: a mummified human leg. Whisnant, seizing an opportunity to achieve his dream of making it as a TV personality, rebrands himself as "The Leg Man" and plans to open a roadside attraction to cash in on his discovery. But when the leg's original owner, John Wood, finds out about Whisnant's plans, the pair embark on a bitter battle over the lost limb that stirs up childhood rivalries and ends in a presidential bid. The result is a bizarre, hilarious but also genuinely touching documentary about messy human lives and flawed personalities.
Netflix’s Voyeur reels you in with the promise of a scandalous story of a peeping motel owner – but it’s so much more. When celebrated journalist Gay Talese stumbles upon the story of Gerald Foos – a former motel owner who built a second floor above the motel’s rooms to spy and peep on his guests – he thinks he has the story and character of a lifetime. A book deal and an excerpt in the New Yorker suggest he might be right. But when these two duelling personalities (and their egos) start to unravel, so does the story Talese is trying to tell. The documentary itself very much comes in two halves. It first details Foos and Talese’s decades-long relationship, which includes a particularly galling anecdote about Talese’s first visit to the motel’s secret level and his tie falling through the vent Foos would watch his guests from. In the second, Talese becomes as much of a flawed character as Foos when his journalistic integrity is questioned and reputation is left tainted. What started as a story about one perverted peeper, ended with two oddballs struggling for control of their own narrative.
That's the first 10 documentaries that we've picked out from our favourite Netflix documentaries. And if this isn't enough for you, stay tune for part 2, as we have a list of 42 best documentaries left to share.