Credit: Mashable composite: Netflix, Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images,
Escapism is bliss, but knowledge is power.
It’s why the humble documentary is more important than ever, unearthing truths, offering different perspectives, and introducing you to stories you might not have come across in your short time on this planet.
Netflix’s documentary offerings are strong stuff, with many of the streaming service’s films and series proving some the most talked about watches of certain times in our lives and others flying under the radar despite their excellence. From Ava DuVernay’s examination of the mass imprisonment of Black people in the U.S. to a Sundance favourite about an inclusive summer camp for young people with disabilities, from a true crime (but not as you know it) essential to the Michael Jordan documentary even non-sports fans will love, there’s something for everyone to learn in this list.
We’ve rounded up the very best documentary films and TV series on Netflix, so you can load up on some of the strangest, most enraging, most uplifting true stories, all crafted by those determined documentary makers who spend hours and hours editing their findings into a compelling path.
Legendary activist and author Angela Davis in “13th.” Credit: Netflix
Ava DuVernay’s 13th should be compulsory viewing, a powerful documentary that examines mass incarceration and wrongful imprisonment of Black people in America and the long, sinister, racist history that has enabled this discriminatory system to continue.
“The documentary, titled to reference the 13th Amendment — the amendment that abolished slavery — not only elevates the voices of those who have fallen victim to the broken justice system, it exposes those who made such a system possible, such as proponents of Jim Crow-era statutes and the multiple former presidents and political leaders that contributed to the Republican Party’s war on drugs (which enlisted Bill Clinton as well),” Tricia Crimmins writes for Mashable. “13th extensively enlightens viewers on how a majority of black Americans unfairly serve time in the prison industrial complex.” — Shannon Connellan, UK Editor
How to watch: 13th is now streaming on Netflix.
“Disclosure” executive producer Laverne Cox. Credit: Ava Benjamin Shorr/Netflix
“For a very long time, the ways in which trans people have been represented onscreen have suggested that we’re not real, have suggested that we’re mentally ill, that we don’t exist,” says Disclosure’s executive producer and Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox. “Yet here I am. And here we are. And we’ve always been here.”
Disclosure takes a hard look at the representation of trans people on screen throughout history, which goes back way further than you might think. And with this disheartening analysis comes a discussion of the offscreen impact of that representation, with transgender people portrayed onscreen more often than not as a joke, someone to be feared, or someone who constantly experiences violence. “For decades, Hollywood has taught people how to react to trans people, and that is with fear,” explains GLAAD’s Nick Adams in the film.
There is hope, however, in how far we’ve come with the likes of Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, and Pose. The documentary, as writer Jen Richards says, gives a sense of a broader history of trans representation onscreen so trans people “can find themselves in it.”* — S.C.
How to watch: Disclosure is now streaming on Netflix.
Robert Downey Sr. and Robert Downey Jr. Credit: Netflix
It turns out that Chris Smith, the director of revered 1999 doc American Movie (with its riotously funny and surprisingly touching take on the indie-indie-indie Milwaukee movie scene), was the perfect filmmaker to tackle a documentary about the last days of legendary indie director Robert Downey Sr. The man behind classic alt-comedies of the ’60s and ’70s like Putney Swope and Greaser’s Palace was a perfect character himself, so much so that Smith sometimes turns the camera over to Downey Sr. so he can tell some of his own story with his signature humor.
But the main focus turns out to be Downey Sr.’s fraught but loving relationship with his son, one Robert Downey Jr. Watching these two gigantic Hollywood personalities sort through their lifetime of difficulties as the elder navigates Parkinson’s disease is as moving and somehow also funny as anything any of these creative forces ever came up with individually. Sadly, Downey Sr. passed away in 2021 before the doc was released. – Jason Adams, Entertainment Reporter
Where to watch: “Sr.” is now streaming on Netflix.
“Icarus” director Bryan Fogel and Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. Credit: Netflix
Director Bryan Fogel took a colossal risk making Icarus, one that steered the filmmaker’s life in ways he and the audience would never suspect. This Best Documentary winner sees Fogel, an amateur racing cyclist, wanting to investigate doping in sports by taking performance enhancing drugs himself — taking steps to evade detection while documenting any changes in his progress.
Along the way, he meets scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a crucial part of Russia’s “anti-doping” program, who helps Fogel on his quest. But suddenly, things take a serious turn. This isn’t even the half of Icarus, as the dangerous truth runs all the way to the top. — S.C.
Where to watch: Icarus is now streaming on Netflix.
5. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Camp Jened left a lasting impact on its attendees. Credit: Netflix
Premiered at Sundance and co-produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, Crip Camp follows the story of Camp Jened, an inclusive summer camp for young people with disabilities in the ’50s and ’60s that left a lasting impact on the lives of those who attended — enough to lead many to steer the disability rights movement in the ’70s.
Crip Camp was created by disability rights activist and Camp Jened attendee James LeBrecht alongside Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Nicole Newnham, and it traces the connection between the campers and the civil rights movement. “It’s a case study in the power of activism,” Alexis Nedd writes for Mashable, “a badly needed history lesson, and an invitation for viewers to assess the impact of spaces like Camp Jened — designed from the start to include.”* — S.C.
Where to watch: Crip Camp is now streaming on Netflix.
6. Dick Johnson Is Dead
“Dick Johnson Is Dead” embraces what the director refers to as “the act of turning toward things that are hard to handle.” Credit: Netflix
“Now it’s upon us. The beginning of his disappearance. And we’re not accepting it. He’s a psychiatrist. I’m a cameraperson. I suggested we make a movie about him dying. He said yes.” Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson makes this bold pitch as her father, Dick, moves toward the end of his life with dementia. In this surreal, darkly comedic, and deeply moving documentary, the Johnsons stage various “deaths” for Dick onscreen to help them cope with the looming, inevitable end.
Together, they test out coffins, mock up elaborate violent accidents with stuntmen, and through some truly stunning slow motion scenes, hypothesize over what heaven might look like for Dick. Essentially, through humour and frank conversations, Dick Johnson Is Dead embraces what the director refers to as “the act of turning toward things that are hard to handle, relinquishing control, and facing what happens at the end of our lives.” It’s unlike any other documentary out there. — S.C.
Where to watch: Dick Johnson Is Dead is now streaming on Netflix.
7. The Last Dance
NBA Commissioner David Stern presents Michael Jordan the championship trophy after Game Six of the 1993 NBA Finals. Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images
Tracking the formidable career of Michael Jordan and particularly his last season with the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98, the 10-part miniseries is compelling viewing even for sports newbies. Directed by Jason Hehir and co-produced by ESPN Films and Netflix, The Last Dance blends footage from an NBA Entertainment crew who was allowed to follow the team around for that season, and interviews with former teammates, coaches, managers, and people close to them.* — S.C.
Where to watch: The Last Dance is now streaming on Netflix.
8. Casting JonBenet
True crime but not as it’s become. Credit: Netflix
If you’ve at all grown tired or suspicious of all the “true crime” documentaries and series out there — if you feel as if too many are exploitative of people’s real tragedies — then director Kitty Green’s 2017 meta-doc might just be the exquisite take that you desire. Quite improbably too, given the decades-long sensationalized subject matter at its heart — six-year-old pageant princess JonBenet Ramsey, whose 1996 murder remains unsolved today.
But Green somehow manages this wild feat, making instead a documentary about the making of the recreations inside her own documentary, interviewing the actors she’s in the process of casting for the roles of JonBenet and her family. We hear their theories and thoughts, and it paints a portrait of our own communal lurid obsessions, and what they say about us. A funhouse mirror view of our tacky American nightmare. Pretty pretty. – J.A.
Where to watch: Casting JonBenet is now streaming on Netflix.
9. Is That Black Enough for You?!?
“The Black filmmakers of that era were hustling, driven cinema-lovers who worked an early version of independent film.” Credit: Netflix
Film historian, culture critic, and writer Elvis Mitchell delves into Black cinema from its early days but focuses on the significant era of 1968 to 1978 and the power of representation in Is That Black Enough for You?!?. Written, narrated, and directed by Mitchell, the documentary is essentially a love letter to Black cinema, the films made during a time when representations of Black people onscreen were often racist stereotypes, and when Black directors, writers, and actors were denied access to Hollywood but still made groundbreaking independent movies.
“The Black filmmakers of that era were hustling, driven cinema-lovers who worked an early version of independent film,” says Mitchell in the doc. “Back in this day, ‘independent film’ didn’t mean being a cool, desirable outsider whose success got you access to incredible resources. It meant you were locked out of the theaters by the studios who owned them. You were left to invent ways to get your product to audiences.
“For most of the history of the movies, studios have been content to leave Black money on the table, and Black enterprise has responded, creating, as it always has, a de facto underground economy and culture.”
Mitchell includes interviews with a host of Hollywood icons including Samuel L. Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Belafonte, Laurence Fishburne, Charles Burnett, Billy Dee Williams, Mario Van Peebles, and more. — S.C.
How to watch: Is That Black Enough for You?!? is now streaming on Netflix.
10. Chasing Coral
One of the most alarming before-and-after shots you’ll likely see. Credit: Netflix
If you don’t know what coral bleaching actually means, what it looks like, and why it’s an undeniable indicator of climate change, Netflix’s Chasing Coral will leave you in no doubt. (It’s when corals, stressed by temperatures changes, expel algae that live within their tissues, causing them to turn white.) Directed by Chasing Ice’s Jeff Orlowski-Yang, the documentary follows a team of dedicated divers, photographers, and marine and coral reef biologists studying the loss of the world’s reefs.
Human-induced climate change is the biggest threat to coral reefs — more so, even, than pollution and unsustainable fishing. Global warming, rising sea temperatures, and ocean acidification have devastated reefs in the Florida Keys, American Samoa, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Hawaii, New Caledonia, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The film shows not only how these ecosystems are inherently connected to ours, but also how devastating it is for the team who sees the reef close up, diving every day to manually track its ecological collapse. There are plenty of archival comparisons throughout the film illustrating reef demise, but nothing will prepare you for the time lapse revealed at the end.* — S.C.
Where to watch: Chasing Coral is now streaming on Netflix.
11. Strong Island
“Profoundly relatable, and devastatingly sad.” Credit: Netflix
So claustrophobic in its intimacy that it becomes difficult to watch at times, director Yance Ford’s personal memoir film is at its base about the killing of his brother 20 years earlier by a white mechanic who never paid for the crime, and the ways that that event tore apart Ford’s family in the decades since. But that intimacy echoes outward with every step closer — into conversations about race and gender and who even gets to dream in America. Ford shoots his own face in extreme close-up as he painfully retells his family’s story, from the Jim Crow South to the Long Island suburbs, letting us into a world that feels at times too private. But it’s also profoundly relatable, and devastatingly sad. — J.A.
Where to watch: Strong Island is now streaming on Netflix.
12. The Romantics
Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.” Credit: Yash Raj Films.
Bollywood and the romance genre are arguably synonymous, and there’s one storyteller who cemented the fact with his extensive, beloved body of work. Yash Chopra and his eponymous studio, Yash Raj Films, are behind some of the most recognized romantic movies in the last 50 years. These movies have captivated audiences within India and internationally, whether with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (a movie so iconic that it’s still playing in a Mumbai theatre 27 years later), other ’90s classics like Dil To Pagal Hai and Lamhe, or modern hits like Veer-Zaara and Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
In The Romantics, 35 leading Bollywood actors have come together to unpack this legacy, their own roles in Chopra’s films, and the history of the film industry more holistically. The four-part series is directed by Smriti Mundhra, the creator of Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, and amongst the producers is Chopra’s youngest son, Uday Chopra.* — Meera Navlakha, Culture Reporter
How to watch: The Romantics is now streaming on Netflix.
“A puzzling reconstruction of paths not taken, lives not lived…” Credit: Netflix
In 1992, three female friends in Singapore collaborated on making their first movie with help from their teacher, a mysterious man named Georges Cardona. Cardona came into their lives as quickly as he departed, and when he left, he took their film with him. The 19-year-old students — Sandi Tan, Jasmine Ng, and Sophia Siddique — were left with nothing but questions.
Cut to 20 years later: Cardona has died, and his widow contacts Tan, telling her she has their stolen film footage in her possession. What follows is an enthralling portrait of the three now-grown friends, including Shirkers writer/director Sandi Tan, and a puzzling reconstruction of paths not taken, lives not lived, and answers they’ll never get about Cardona and his motivations. — J.A.
Where to watch: Shirkers is now streaming on Netflix.
14. The Great Hack
David Carroll wants his data back in “The Great Hack.” And rightly so. Credit: Netflix
The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal hit the headlines in 2018, as details emerged over the widespread data collection breached user privacy and impacted both the 2016 presidential election and Brexit campaigns. The Great Hack delves into how this happened, the major players, and how we should feel about our own role in this mess.
“In Netflix’s The Great Hack…our complacency is not shamed or vilified. Rather, it exists as a blameless reality of an unsolvable problem of the digital age — presenting unknowing consumers as clear-cut victims of Big Bad Tech,” as Alison Foreman writes for Mashable.
“For those unaware of the 2018 scandal’s intricacies, the documentary plays like an informative thriller, doling out blame to Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, its parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories, and the many culpable individuals therein, while maintaining a well-researched and tense narrative.” — S.C.
Where to watch: The Great Hack is now streaming on Netflix.
15. Take Care of Maya
The story of Maya Kowalski. Credit: Netflix
When Maya Kowalski was nine, she was beset by a sudden and unexplained illness that left her in unbearable pain; the next year, when she was admitted to a Florida ER, CPS was alerted, and it was determined that Maya was being abused by her parents and should be in state custody — in a hospital, away from her parents. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, and every avenue of what was and what wasn’t happening to Maya is chased down by first-time feature filmmaker Henry Roosevelt.
The film leaves us with as many questions as we get answers, especially when it comes to Maya’s mother, a nurse and Polish immigrant named Beata who suffers no fools in a world where only fools seem to be in charge. But the ultimate take-away is one of deep and profound tragedy, as the battle between the medical community meant to keep children safe and healthy and their own parents leaves only devastation in its wake. – J.A.
How to watch: Take Care of Maya is now streaming on Netflix.
16. Knock Down the House
AOC knocks down the whole damn house. Credit: Netflix
While the 2018 midterm elections seem eons ago, Knock Down the House is still an incredibly relevant watch knowing the results and where we are now. Following four determined, hard-working, smart candidates — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Amy Vilela of Nevada, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia — running grassroots campaigns against incumbents, Rachel Lears’ powerful documentary sees each pouring every last hour into talking to voters, building their bases, and in doing so, mobilising a movement.
“What makes Knock Down the House so compelling, though, is that it digs beyond the pretty soundbites and packaged-for-TV narratives to show us not just who and what is happening in American politics right now, but how and why,” Angie Han writes in her Mashable review. — S.C.
Where to watch: Knock Down the House is now streaming on Netflix.
17. Athlete A
Maggie Nichols in “Athlete A.” Credit: Netflix
In January 2018, USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar was charged for decades of abuse against girls and young women after more than 100 women — including athletes Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, and McKayla Maroney — made sexual assault accusations against him. It’s now 500.
One of those athletes, Maggie Nichols, reported the abuse to the national governing body for gymnastics in 2015 and no action was taken. Nothing. Then, she was denied entry to the 2016 Olympic team. Nichols was anonymously dubbed Athlete A at the time, and forms the core of this enraging documentary streaming on Netflix. Centering the stories of the survivors, directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk conducted interviews with gymnasts who came forward against Nassar, including Nichols, Rachael Denhollander, and Jamie Dantzscher, alongside interviews with the investigative reporters and editors from the Indianapolis Star, which broke the story.
Athlete A is a testament to the courage it takes to come forward — the bravery shown by these athletes to revisit their trauma through their testimony, their victim impact statements read in court, and then again on camera for the documentary is nothing short of astounding. But it’s also a truly angering investigation into an organisation who failed to protect children over their own interests, creating an environment of control, dominance, and fear that enabled Nassar to remain in his position and continue to abuse young women.* — S.C.
Where to watch: Athlete A is now streaming on Netflix.
18. Circus of Books
The now-closed Circus of Books. Credit: Netflix
Telling the story of Karen and Barry Mason and their unusual source of income — the infamous West Hollywood gay pornography book and video shop which shares the documentary’s name — Circus of Books becomes so much more than just an oddball family portrait amid surprising circumstances. It expands into a portrait of an under-served community through its brightest and its toughest times, while digging into the family itself, and the way their own religious and cultural shames conflict with the world they find themselves unexpectedly dropped into.
Director Rachel Mason, Karen and Barry’s daughter, captures an intimacy no outsider could, but also sees all the facets of their tale beyond just her parents and siblings and what Circus of Books, now shuttered, really gave to the world — and what we’ve lost ever since. – J.A.
Where to watch: Circus of Books is now streaming on Netflix.
19. Challenger: The Final Flight
The Challenger 7 flight crew: Ellison S. Onizuka; Mike Smith; Christa McAuliffe; Dick Scobee; Gregory Jarvis; Judith Resnik; and Ronald McNair. Credit: Public Domain / NASA
On January 28, 1986, NASA’s Challenger space shuttle exploded, killing all seven crew members on board. Executive produced by J.J. Abrams and Glen Zipper, four-part documentary Challenger: The Final Flight reminds us of those lost in the tragedy, and examines the technical process that led up to the moment of disaster.
“At its core, The Final Flight presents a moving legacy for the brave crew members who died in the U.S.’s most notable space tragedy,” Brooke Bajgrowicz writes for Mashable. “Whether you remember where you were when the Challenger disaster occurred or simply want to look back upon it, The Final Flight is there to fill you in on all the details — even those that are more commonly overlooked.” — S.C.
Where to watch: Challenger: The Final Flight is now streaming on Netflix.
20. American Factory
Wong He (left) working with Kenny Taylor (center) and Jarred Gibson (right) in the Fuyao factory in Dayton, Ohio. Credit: Netflix
Another one backed by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, and directed by Julia Reichert and Steven Bogner, American Factory is a sobering, compelling look at relations between the U.S. and China through the lens of the General Motors plant closure in Dayton, Ohio. Chinese company Fuyao moved in, rehired many of the American middle class workers who had lost their jobs, and the documentary captures the result.
“When a Chinese business owner reopens the plant and hires back many of the former employees, both Chinese and American workers must reckon with their opposing manufacturing styles and practices,” Tricia Crimmins writes for Mashable. “American Factory presents globalization in a localized context, putting real faces to those affected by large-scale issues.” — S.C.
Where to watch: American Factory is now streaming on Netflix.
21. Our Planet
Narwhal waiting for a crack in the ice to appear, to access their summering grounds, Nunuvut, Canada. Credit: Netflix
Sir David Attenborough’s absolutely stunning two-season Netflix series, Our Planet, explores Earth’s important habitats and the life they support, and shows how they’re being affected by rising temperatures and sea levels, ocean acidification, and subsequent wildlife population decline. In the series, you’ll wander through frozen landscapes, jungles, forests, coastal areas and reefs, deserts, grasslands, and down into the dark depths of the ocean to see the devastatingly real impact climate change is having on the animals and plants who live in these places.
Directed by Adam Chapman, Our Planet channels classic Attenborough, artfully and thoughtfully communicating a spectacular sense of how everything is connected, from food chains to weather patterns — and how climate change is affecting it all. “All across our planet, crucial connections are being disrupted,” Attenborough narrates. “The stability that we and all life relies upon is being lost. What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on Earth.”
Every moment in this series will make you gasp out loud. You won’t unsee the walruses.* — S.C.
Where to watch: Our Planet is now streaming on Netflix.
“Procession” goes beyond mere documentation. Credit: Netflix
It’s a lofty aim of art to make the world a better place than it found it, even if only by entertaining other human beings for a couple of hours. But director Robert Greene’s Procession takes that objective and expands it to the degree where it seems almost like a holy act — one of divine getting-the-good-work-done. Procession introduces us to six men who suffered sexual abuse from the Catholic Church, and documents them turning their pain and confusion into art.
But it goes beyond mere documentation, making the film itself the product of their creative energies; we become witnesses and participants in their reclamations, and it’s a profound experience. Greene, one of the great documentarians of our moment, has made a career out of finding ways to structure his films — which also include Kate Plays Christine, Actress, and Bisbee ’17 (another masterpiece) — to reshape the world in their wake. But Procession is his most keenly felt and moving work to date, actively transforming its subjects and its audience by its end. – J.A.
Where to watch: Procession is now streaming on Netflix.
23. What Happened, Miss Simone?
Nina Simone’s story is complex. Credit: Netflix
What do you know about Nina Simone? You’re about to learn a lot in this exceptional documentary about the singer, classical pianist, and Black Power activist, whose life was no easy path.
Directed by Liz Garbus and tightly woven with Simone’s music, What Happened, Miss Simone? examines the star’s public career and private life, her childhood in segregated North Carolina, her survival of domestic abuse, her struggle with addiction, the experience of living with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, revelations of abuse against her daughter, and her role in the Civil Rights movement and its impact on her career. This Best Documentary nominee will leave you with a complex picture of Miss Simone, and a thorough understanding of the impact of a song like “Mississippi Goddamn” on the music industry, on society, and on the artist herself.* — S.C.
How to watch: What Happened, Miss Simone? is now streaming on Netflix.
24. Wild Wild Country
You won’t be able to predict where “Wild Wild Country” goes next. Credit: Netflix
When Wild Wild Country dropped on Netflix in 2018, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with the streaming service who wasn’t chomping at the bit to talk about it. Created by Chapman Way and Maclain Way, the six-part documentary follows the true tale of Rajneeshpuram, a commune built in Oregon by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the ’80s, and how its followers’ clash with the local nearby town (steered by formidable spokesperson Ma Anand Sheela) provides just the beginning of a tale that ends in, well, biological warfare.
As Proma Khosla writes for Mashable, “Instead of telling you the story of a forgotten cult, Wild Wild Country takes you right into it. You’ll start out wondering how anyone could get pulled into such a scheme, then find yourself intrigued by the sannyasins’ world and lifestyle. For something that seems far removed from today’s society, the series is deeply immersive and appropriately paced. It’s nothing if not a wild ride – and a perfect binge.” — S.C.
Where to watch: Wild Wild Country is now streaming on Netflix.
25. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Every time you think it can’t get worse…it does. Credit: Netflix
It was the cheese sandwich seen ’round the world, and the beginning of the end of aspiring impresario’s Billy McFarland’s biggest scheme. If you believed the sponsored content posted by celebs on Instagram, the first Fyre Festival was poised to be a party paradise, full of kick-ass music, haute cuisine, and bikini-clad models frolicking on gorgeous beaches. Then guests, who shelled out big bucks for an island oasis vacation, arrived to find rusty buses and urine-soaked tents. The backlash and schadenfreude came fast and hilarious.
Director Chris Smith takes audiences behind the scenes of this fraud-filled festival, speaking not only to the stiffed guests but also to the former McFarland employees, who smelled smoke but couldn’t stop the Fyre.* — Kristy Puchko, Film Editor
Where to watch: Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is now streaming on Netflix.
26. Miss Americana
Miss Americana Credit: Netflix
Whether you’re a fan of Taylor Swift or just curious about her meteoric rise to fame, Miss Americana allows you a rare peek into the pop superstar’s life. Director Lana Wilson crafts an intimate portrait of Swift, through plenty of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, taking you into the songwriting sessions of her album Lover, backstage on the spectacular Reputation tour, through her relatively short journey from teen country singer to global superstar, through the sexual assault lawsuit she won against radio host David Mueller, and the breaking of her political silence.
But more than anything, this excellent music documentary makes plain that our loud opinion is the last thing that matters to Swift. As Angie Han writes for Mashable, “Maybe it’s not the movie everyone wanted. Maybe this latest reinvention of Taylor Swift, this time as a woman who’s comfortable enough in her power to wield it fully, isn’t for everyone, either. But maybe, also, that’s the idea: Swift, Miss Americana tells us, is done worrying about what everyone else thinks.”* — S.C.
Where to watch: Miss Americana is now streaming on Netflix.
27. Last Chance U
Dior Walker Scott in episode 5 of “Last Chance U: Laney.” Credit: Netflix
You don’t have to be a football fan — or even have any real knowledge of the sport — to enjoy Last Chance U. Greg Whitely’s hugely successful docuseries is as much an in-depth character study as it is a chronicle of America’s most popular sport, following junior college players as they try to balance difficult home lives with their final shot of making it in the big leagues.
Now on its fifth season and third college, Last Chance U is beautifully made, consistently entertaining, and often incredibly poignant, offering an insight into the tense dynamic of the coaches while delving into the underlying issues that motivate (and sometimes hold back) their young players. It’s one of the few shows that’s hugely ambitious scope is matched by its execution, and you’ll probably find yourself binge-watching the entire thing in a matter of days. If you do, though, there’s good news — Whitely’s new sporting docuseries, Cheer, is now also available to stream. — Sam Haysom, UK Deputy Editor
Where to watch: Last Chance U is now streaming on Netflix.
“Quincy” moves through the decades of music alongside Jones’s own life story. Credit: Arnold Turner/Getty Images for Netflix
Quincy Jones has been busy for the last 70 years. Co-directed by his daughter Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks, Quincy examines the immense impact the record producer, arranger, and musician has had on music over the last seven decades. It’s mostly narrated by Quincy himself, with archival audio from famous friends like Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra, alongside a treasure trove of home footage and new material.
It’s fascinating to watch just how much of the history of modern music Jones has been a part of, and how many “firsts” he achieved as a Black musician and producer in America. Quincy moves through the decades of music alongside Jones’s own life story. Keep an eye out for the short but powerful heart-to-heart between Quincy and Kendrick Lamar.* — S.C.
How to watch: Quincy is now streaming on Netflix.
29. My Octopus Teacher
Shot over eight years, with 3000 hours of footage. Credit: Netflix
Dive into one of South Africa’s bustling kelp forests with documentarian Craig Foster in the Oscar-winning My Octopus Teacher. Following Foster’s relationship with a wild octopus he befriended while swimming in a kelp forest off the coast of his hometown of Cape Town, South Africa, this captivating movie examines humans’ connection to and responsibility for nature.* — Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: My Octopus Teacher is now streaming on Netflix.
30. Fantastic Fungi Showcasing gorgeous timelapse nature photography of toadstools and their brethren rising and shrinking like the living beings they very much are, Louie Schwartzberg’s 2019 documentary is the ultimate veg-out trip. Over a phantasmagoria of fungi footage (narrated by Brie Larson), environmentalists, scientists, and other experts are interviewed about the medicinal and (you know) extracurricular properties of these little alien creatures that dot our world’s dirt. By its end, this doc will truly convince you there be magic in them there ‘shrooms. — J.A.
How to watch: Fantastic Fungi is now streaming on Netflix.
‘Beckham’ isn’t just for football fans. Credit: Netflix
You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate the cultural impact of David Beckham, especially after watching Succession star Fisher Stevens’ documentary on him. Over four parts, this limited series delves into Beckham’s football career all while scrutinising the toxic media obsession with the sports star. Spice Girls fans will relish how much of Victoria Beckham’s story is interwoven here, and how much this celebrity couple has weathered from the press and football fans. But beyond anything, you might come away from this documentary shocked at the incessant harassment and hate from fans and the British media after the 1998 World Cup.
As Mashable’s Sam Haysom writes in his review, “The genius of the Beckham documentary — directed, somewhat surprisingly, by Succession star Fisher Stevens — is that it caters perfectly to all those groups. Like Welcome to Wrexham and Last Chance U, Beckham transcends the label of sports doc, and in doing so it wins fans in every corner.” — S.C.
How to watch: Beckham is now streaming on Netflix.
Mermaid Izriella in “MerPeople”. Credit: Netflix
A documentary as whimsical, unique, and fun as its subjects, MerPeople spends time with professional mermaids in order to dive into what swimming into the industry actually entails — spoiler, it’s a lot of training. Directed by Cynthia Wade, the series aims to debunk public perceptions of mermaiding, a profession that’s described in the series as a “danger art.” Its also a half-billion-dollar industry of pageants, competitions, modelling photoshoots, performances, and conventions, not to mention one often requiring you to be able to hold your breath for long periods of time while making it look as easy as breathing.
Director of photography Boaz Freund gives mermaiding the gorgeous slow-motion underwater shots it deserves, and spending time in the pool with each mermaid becomes a joyous, genuinely magical personal experience. The series covers a huge range of what’s involved in being a mermaid from tailmaking tailors like Eric Ducharme to mermaids like Mermaid Chè Monique championing inclusivity in the industry. Boasting one of the most stunning title sequences you’ll see in a Netflix series, MerPeople will have you wanting to dive into a lesson. — S.C.
How to watch: MerPeople is now streaming on Netflix.
Shannon Connellan is Mashable’s UK Editor based in London, formerly Mashable’s Australia Editor, but emotionally, she lives in the Creel House. A Tomatometer-approved critic, Shannon writes about everything (but not anything) across entertainment, tech, social good, science, and culture.
Jason Adams is a freelance entertainment writer at Mashable. He lives in New York City and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic who also writes for Pajiba, The Film Experience, AwardsWatch, and his own personal site My New Plaid Pants. He’s extensively covered several film festivals including Sundance, Toronto, New York, SXSW, Fantasia, and Tribeca. He’s a member of the LGBTQ critics guild GALECA. He loves slasher movies and Fassbinder and you can follow him on Twitter at @JAMNPP.