For a documentary fan like me, Netflix has had one of its strongest years in recent year memory in 2023 — a year that’s given us everything from Gunther’s Millions to Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street, Longest Third Date, and Waco: American Apocalypse, as well as new releases including Wham! and Take Care of Maya. The upcoming week’s new releases, meanwhile, include another Netflix documentary that I can’t wait for: The incredibly timely Unknown: Killer Robots, a ChatGPT-era exploration of the use of AI in the military.
Given that this year has so successfully expanded the already fantastic lineup of Netflix documentary titles, I thought it would be interesting to now just take a moment to stop and assess the performance of the genre to date — specifically, by using IMDb data to identify the best Netflix documentaries of them all. If nothing else, here’s one way to figure out which one you might want to watch next.
The titles below encompass everything from nature to true crime as well as simply one-of-a-kind stories that have captivated Netflix audiences around the world. So without further ado, here are 20 of the best such Netflix documentaries, below, along with their current IMDb scores. We’ll be updating this list on an ongoing basis, by the way, since the IMDb scores change somewhat regularly — and top-tier new Netflix documentaries are also constantly being released, which will knock existing titles down the list.
- Our Planet (9.3/10): Narrated by broadcaster David Attenborough, this Netflix documentary series will make you fall in love with the beauty and majesty of Planet Earth.
- The Last Dance (9.1/10): A docuseries chronicling the rise of Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls.
- David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet (8.9/10): Per Netflix, in this documentary film the broadcaster “recounts his life, and the evolutionary history of life on Earth, to grieve the loss of wild places and offer a vision for the future.”
- Making a Murderer (8.6/10): This shocking Netflix documentary series, filmed over 13 years, tells the story of two men accused of a murder we come to realize they might not have committed.
- Formula 1: Drive to Survive (8.5/10): A documentary for the racing and Formula 1 fans among you, following the sport’s drivers, managers, and team owners.
- Five Came Back (8.3/10): In this docuseries, five current Hollywood directors tell the stories of filmmakers who enlisted in the military to document World War II.
- 13th: (8.2/10): Director Ava Duvernay’s exploration of the boom in the US prison population.
- My Octopus Teacher (8.1/10): A Netflix documentary about the unusual bond between a filmmaker and an octopus that lives in a kelp forest in South Africa.
- Cheer (8.1/10): The docuseries about the cutthroat world of competitive cheerleading in Texas that we were all watching during the pandemic year of 2020.
- Dirty Money (8.1/10): Per Netflix — “From crippling payday loans to cars that cheat emissions tests, this investigative series explores brazen acts of corporate greed and corruption.”
- The Keepers (8.0/10): Here’s another for the true-crime fans, an examination of the murder of a nun and its link to a priest suspected of abuse.
- Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer: 8.0/10: From Netflix’s official synopsis, “A twisted criminal’s gruesome videos drive a group of amateur online sleuths to launch a risky manhunt that pulls them into a dark underworld.”
- The Toys That Made Us (7.9/10): A docuseries that introduces to the minds behind the creation of iconic toy franchises like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony, and much more.
- Icarus (7.9/10): Bryan Fogel is one of the most important documentarians working today, and his 2017 Oscar-winning film shows why. In it, he introduces viewers to a Russian scientist who becomes Putin’s most-wanted whistleblower.
- Take Care of Maya (7.9/10): This is one of the most profoundly sad Netflix documentary releases I think I’ve ever seen. It tells the story of a Florida couple fighting against an unjust healthcare system for custody of their child (after the parents are wrongly accused of abuse).
- Ugly Delicious (7.8/10): Per Netflix, in this docuseries “star chef David Chang leads friends on a mouthwatering, cross-cultural hunt for the world’s most satisfying grub.”
- The Game Changers (7.8/10): A UFC fighter talks with scientists and top athletes in search of the optimal diet for both health and performance.
- Crip Camp (7.7/10): From the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions, this is the story of how “a groundbreaking summer camp galvanizes a group of teens with disabilities to help build a movement.”
- Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (7.7/10): A limited series that presents a portrait of serial killer Ted Bundy, using archival footage, audio interviews, and more.
- Athlete A (7.6/10): A Netflix documentary about the gymnasts who survived abuse at the hands of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.