The Best Netflix Documentaries To Watch Now | sheerluxe.com
No one can deny the power of a good documentary – whether you’re having a lazy Sunday or are ready to pay attention and learn, there’s something for everyone in Netflix’s vast selection. But which ones should you watch first? There’s plenty out there, but we’ve narrowed down our top 20 you need to get to grips with. Get ready to cancel all your plans…
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13th

A powerful introduction to filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle In Time), 13th is named after the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which freed slaves and prohibited slavery, with the exception of slavery as a punishment for a crime. As such, the film looks at race, justice and mass incarceration in America, with DuVernay contending that slavery is still rife in the criminal justice system.

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The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

Though the London Marathon was tough? Try running Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell’s ultramarathon trail race. The Barkley Marathons take place in Wartburg, Tennessee, in spring each year and runners can choose between the full 100-mile track (which sees participants run in a loop five times, with laps three and four run counter-clockwise) or a 60-mile ‘fun run’. With just 60 hours to get across the finish line, this course is sought after and feared at the same time. Cantrell’s weird and wacky race has plenty of eccentric little ticks, and the film really has to be seen to be believed.

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Dark Tourist

For anyone who’s seen David Farrier’s insane 2016 documentary Tickled, which focuses on the dark underbelly of online tickling videos, then you’ll know what you’re in for with his Dark Tourist series. Essentially New Zealand’s answer to Louis Theroux, the series sees Ferrier explore dark tourism around the world, including a tense trip to Tomioka in Japan, which was evacuated during the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and a walking tour of Jeffrey Dahmer’s murder spots in America. But our favourite episode by far sees Ferrier visiting the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat, where a trip to A&E and a strong dose of ketamine as pain relief leaves him high and in awe at the city’s bizarre opening ceremony of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.

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Evil Genius: The Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist

True crime aficionados will no doubt already be aware of the case of the ‘pizza bomber heist’: in 2003, a pizza delivery man named Brian Wells attempted to rob a bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, with a cane that was actually a shotgun and a collar bomb fixed around his neck. He was following the instructions of an elaborate scavenger hunt that claimed the completion of all tasks would see the bomb released. But as soon as Wells left the bank he found himself in a tense stand-off with the police. “I’m not lying,” Wells said to officers. “It’s going to go off.”

What comes next is the hunt for Wells’s killer, narrowed down to jolly local handyman Bill Rothstein and his former girlfriend Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. Were these two the masterminds behind the heist, were there more accomplices and – perhaps the strangest part – was Brian Wells himself in on the plot?

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Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On

Rashida Jones’s unflinching series on women in the sex industry follows the same premise of her 2015 film on the subject, but has more scope. Looking to provide an insight into the women who work in an industry which still garners a large amount of stigma, the series covers female porn directors, cam girls and a female porn film recruiter – plus, its final episode covers a live streaming sex scandal that truly shows the dark side of sex in the internet.

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Icarus

Icarus has to be one of the most surprising documentaries on Netflix. Full of twists and turns, it begins as a doc about filmmaker Bryan Fogel’s exploration of doping to win an amateur cycling race, but soon becomes a different beast entirely as he, along with Russian whistle-blower Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, expose a major state-sponsored doping scandal that goes all the way back to the sixties.

Find out more here.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

Those who remember Jim Carrey playing his idol Andy Kauffman in the 1999 film Man on the Moon likely won’t know the extremes he went to in order to portray the oddball comedian – until now. Carrey stayed in character for the whole time he was making the film, much to the chagrin of the cast and crew, which included Danny DeVito, Courtney Love and Paul Giamatti. Luckily for us, the entire process was caught on camera for us to gasp over nearly 20 years later.

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Casting JonBenet

We’ve heard the infamous story of the 1996 JonBenet Ramsey murder a million times over, but this Netflix documentary thinks of an entirely new way to cover the unsolved murder of the 6-year-old American beauty queen. The film focuses on the casting of a fictional film, where various actors from Colorado (where JonBenet and her family resided) are interviewed and tested for the roles of the real people involved in the case, including JonBenet, her parents John and Patsy Ramsey, and her brother Burke. During the process, the actors reveal their real emotions and feelings on the case, offering their own speculations. If you’ve never heard of the case before, this is a really interesting way to get to grips with it.

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Planet Earth

Perfect Sunday hangover TV, Planet Earth is available in all its two-season glory, ready for David Attenborough to lull us into a comatose state on the sofa while we learn all about animals in the Galapagos.

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Time: The Kalief Browder Story

This devastating six-part series on the tragic story of black American teen Kalief Browder expands on what we saw of Browder in Ava DuVenray’s 13th, covering the pure injustice of his case, after he was imprisoned for three years in Rikers Island prison – two of which he spent in solitary confinement – without ever being convicted of a crime. The series compiles conversations with Browder, his mother, his siblings and his best friends to show just what the American justice system can do to a person – particularly a person of colour.

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Strong Island

Directed by transgender filmmaker Yance Ford, this film centres on the 1992 murder of Ford’s brother William, a 24-year-old African-American teacher in New York, who was killed by Mark Reilly, a 19-year-old white shop mechanic. Reilly claimed self-defense during the trail, and an all-white jury refused to indict him for murder. Now, Ford wants answers as to why Reilly walked free.

Find out more here.

Tales by Light

The ideal series for people who are obsessed with photography, Tales by Light follows travel photographers across the world, through the ups and downs of their job, in their journey to get the perfect shot. From deep sea divers to mountain climbers to salt pan scalers, this is a fascinating look at what makes a great photograph.

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The Defiant Ones

This four-part doc brings together the stories of two musical prodigies, Dr Dre and Jimmy Lovine, as we see how their long-term partnership came to fruition. We see the roles they played in huge moments in contemporary music history through interviews with the two moguls themselves, as well as others who were involved, including Bruce Springsteen, Eminem and Nas.

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The Keepers

Disturbing to the very core, The Keepers takes a horrifying look into the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a teacher at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School, starting with her former students’ belief that her murder was covered up by police after Cesnik suspected a priest at the school was guilty of sexually abusing students.

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The Staircase

In 2001, well-known novelist Michael Peterson found his wife Kathleen dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs in their home. He says that she’d taken a couple of Valium, been drinking champagne and wine, and must have slipped in the stairwell. The North Carolina state police claim that she suffered a brutal death at the hands of her husband. These opposing views form the premise of The Staircase: is Michael Peterson guilty or innocent?

Filmed in 2003, the original eight-hour miniseries predates the likes of Making A Murderer, The Jinx and The Keepers, but the rights were acquired by Netflix, which airs the original episodes, alongside two follow-up episodes that aired in 2013 and three brand-new episodes.

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The Witness

Kitty Genovese’s murder is a notorious one: in the early hours of 13th March 1964, she was brutally murdered outside her apartment building in Queens, New York. Two weeks later, The New York Times published an article that claimed 38 people saw or heard Kitty being murdered, but did nothing to help her, creating what became known as the ‘bystander effect’. Fifty years later, her brother Bill sets out to discover what really happened that night – and examines how his life would have been different if he’d know the truth earlier.

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Weiner

Some will already be aware of the scandal that rocked Antony Weiner’s bid for New York Mayor in 2013, but even if you haven’t heard of it, this is still a great documentary. The film follows Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, starting with his time in Congress and chronicling his 2011 resignation after sexually suggestive selfies he had taken of himself in his underwear appeared on Twitter. The film mostly goes on to explore his 2013 mayoral attempts, where voters seemed to be warming to his campaign – until more examples of his sexual promiscuity appeared online, including sexually explicit messages he shared with random women, that took place after his 2011 resignation. It is both a painful and compelling watch.

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White Helmets

In this powerful short film, we follow three Syrian Defence Force volunteers as they train in Turkey, and subsequently work across Aleppo and Syria to help those affected by daily airstrikes aimed at civilians, risking their lives to save others. Bring your tissues for this one.

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Wild Wild Country

In 1981 a handful of people, dressed in orange, arrived in the tiny town of Antelope. The ‘orange people’ had purchased an uninhabitable, 64,000-acre ranch on the outskirts of town, and in the following months more worshippers descended in their hundreds. Local residents – many of whom were retired – were perturbed. Just a year later, the ranch – now known as the city of Rajneeshpuram – had taken control of Antelope’s government, installed their own mayor, and morphed into an expansive commune that, at its height, housed almost 7,000 followers.

Through a series of in-depth interviews with the residents, law enforcement officers and high-level Rajneeshees, the documentary tells the tale of guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and how his controversial community came to clash with the US government, with violent results.

Find out more here.

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