The Absolute Best Documentaries of All Time
Time to dig into the absolute best documentaries of all time! There are so many great documentaries spanning so many different categories, but when it’s one of the best, it doesn’t matter what it’s about…because you’ll be totally hooked.
From true crime and cults to the hidden truth about our food and clothing…no matter what you think you know, you’ll learn something new from each of these amazing documentaries.
Time to fill up your queue and clear your schedule! These are the absolute best documentaries out there.
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Searching for Sugar Man
Without a doubt, Searching for Sugar Man is one of the best documentaries of all time…and one that so many people have yet to see.
Set in both Detroit and South Africa, Searching for Sugar Man tells the story of Rodriguez, a struggling musician in Detroit who tries everything to hit it big.
His talent is unquestioned and for many, his big break seems inevitable…yet it never comes.
At least, not to his knowledge.
The entire population of South Africa, on the other hand, has deemed Rodriquez their own Elvis…but they are never able to find him to deliver the news that he has, in fact, made it.
This documentary is absolutely mind-blowing, with twists around every corner, great music and a story that is so insane you won’t believe it’s true. Add it to your queue pronto!
13th is one of those amazing documentaries that you’ll never forget. It paved the way for documentaries to rise to the top and is definitely one of the best documentaries Netflix has ever put out.
Produced by Ava DuVernay, this documentary looks at the stark racial inequality in our prison system. The numbers alone aren’t even the worst part…as DuVernay lays out, this inequity destroys communities and has ties to slavery.
This is a truly eye-opening documentary that absolutely everyone should watch. If you haven’t seen it yet, add it to your queue! And if you’ve already watched it, it might be time for a rewatch.
Few things are more captivating than a good cult documentary and The Vow delivers spectacularly.
This documentary follows the decade-long journey of a group of ex-NXIVM members, from their years of dedication to their years of desperation.
No matter how much you think you know about NXIVM, until you’ve seen this documentary, you don’t know it all.
What is truly phenomenal about this film though is the sheer amount of footage that has been taken through the years. What was intended for pro-NXIVM purposes is ultimately used against the modern-day cult.
It’s hard to understand why someone would join a cult in the first place, but The Vow certainly gets close to a plausible explanation. This is a great docuseries worthy of a good binge-watch. Definitely add it to your list.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel
A bizarre and shocking true crime case in a notoriously mysterious location…it’s all you need for an amazing documentary with an ending you probably won’t see coming.
Set at LA’s infamous Cecil Hotel, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel follows the disappearance of Elisa Lam, a young Canadian that seemed to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Among the twists and turns of the case, you get a glimpse into LA’s problematic Skid Row and the unfortunate history of the famed hotel.
This is a great true crime documentary that will absolutely keep you glued to the screen from start to finish. Add it to your queue!
Mommy Dead and Dearest
Two crimes don’t make a right…but with Mommy Dead and Dearest, you may start questioning that.
This shocking and mind-boggling documentary chronicles the devastating life of Gypsy Rose, a young child afflicted with a never-ending list of ailments that keep her confined to a wheelchair, losing her hair, going through painful procedures and otherwise missing out on all the things children usually enjoy.
Her mother is by her side this entire time…even after it is discovered that she may be causing more issues than she’s actually helping to resolve.
Sadly, the extent of Gypsy’s abuse is realized far too late.
You’ll never forget this documentary once you’ve watched it. It is definitely one of the craziest stories you’ll ever come across.
Forks over Knives
There’s a special place in the world of documentaries for films about food and Forks over Knives is the king of that world.
What makes this documentary stand out among the rest is the astonishing amount of actual data and studies that support all of their claims.
Fruits and veggies always reign supreme…but what exactly do we have to lose or gain from meat, chicken and dairy?
This film will absolutely make you second guess what you’re feeding yourself…and that’s probably a good thing. This is without a doubt one of the best documentaries of all time, so add it to your queue and get ready to change your life!
Time: The Kalief Browder Story
An absolute must-watch for every single person, Time: The Kalief Browder Story offers an unforgettable glimpse into the atrocious injustices that occur every single day…at the hands of our own justice system.
This shocking documentary follows Kalief Browder, a child falsely accused of a crime and sent to jail to await trial.
But the trial never comes. And Kalief is forced to spend 3 years being beaten, tortured and starved until he is finally released…with no charge and no crime.
This heartbreaking documentary is one that you will never, ever forget. Not only is Kalief’s story unimaginable, but the twisted loopholes of our justice system will completely blow your mind.
The Last Czars
The Last Czars is one of those spectacular can-you-believe-this-is-true historic stories that Netflix worked its magic on to create one of the best documentaries of all time.
Telling the story of Nicholas II – Russia’s last czar – this documentary is full of real-life plot twists and infamous characters, like Rasputin, that enter the Romanov circle.
One thing that makes this documentary so enjoyable is that Netflix has successfully intertwined dramatic reenactments, professional historian accounts and even real-life photos and footage from the time.
You’ll love this documentary from start to finish…and it’s a great way to build up your knowledge of history!
Powerful and eye-opening, Living Undocumented provides an incredible look inside the immigation crisis spreading across the US…but this crisis is so much more than we think.
This documentary follows different families from all over the country as their lives begin to unravel, victims of unintended (and sadly, sometimes intentional) consequences of policy change. Some families are fleeing horrendous conditions, others have been living in the US for decades. Many are separated from their children…and for some, the result is even worse.
This is one of those documentaries that you’ll never forget – and it might just change how you think about immigration.
Humboldt County has a notorious reputation…but I bet you didn’t realize it was for murder, and not just marajuana. Murder Mountain reveals the hidden side of this beautiful area and how its dual reputations intertwine.
The mysterious murder of Garrett Rodriguez takes center stage in this documentary, but as the mystery unfolds, you learn about the unique history of marajuana and how it has affected this entire mountain.
And as the country’s view on marajuana changes, so do the stakes for Murder Mountain residents.
This is such an amazing documentary that manages to pull in true crime, history, current events and the allure of the drug trade. If you haven’t seen it, add it to your queue!
The True Cost
Disturbing and mind-blowing, The True Cost reveals the side of fashion and clothing that you wish you never knew about.
And it isn’t just sweat shops and child labor (though shouldn’t that be enough?). The unintended consequences of donating mass amounts of used clothing has nearly destroyed certain areas.
A $5 shirt may seem like a good deal, but there’s a massive cost we’re not taking into account.
This is one of those documentaries that absolutely everyone needs to see. It will completely change the way you shop and look at clothing. Add it to your queue!
You probably think nothing could ever get you to confess to a crime you didn’t commit…but Confession Tapes is about to prove you wrong.
This documentary follows multiple true life cases of people that were coerced into a confession for something they never did…and getting out of that predicament is just as difficult as you’d think.
The scariest part is that torture isn’t the only way to coerce something out of someone. Sometimes it’s subtle manipulation, other times it’s sleep deprivation, confusion, or twisting someone’s words in just the right way.
This could happen to you or me…and that’s the part of this film that will keep you up at night. It’s definitely one of Netflix’s best documentaries, so add it to your queue and cozy up.
If Forks over Knives is the king of food documentaries, then Food Inc. is the queen…and this is a queen you’ll want to see.
Food Inc. dives into pretty much every single area of food production in the US – from its effects on us and food workers to the treatment of animals and the immense weight it holds with politics.
There is so much that we don’t know…and for something as important as food, you’ll be shocked by what goes into hiding so much from us.
This is definitely one of the best documentaries of all time and absolutely one that everyone needs to see. Add it to your queue!
The Fear of 13
Another story that’s almost too crazy to be true (but it is!), The Fear of 13 chronicles the life of Nick Yarris…and it’s told entirely from his point of view.
Nick’s life is full of crime and bad luck, but his real claim to fame was his notorious petition to the courts while on death row to execute him within 60 days of his request.
The twists and turns of his life that lead up to that moment are shocking and this documentary does an amazing job of keeping your eyes glued to the screen…all with an ending you won’t believe.
If you like prison and true crime documentaries, this is the choice for you!
Making a Murderer
At what point do the good guys become the bad guys? And what happens when those good guys are technically in charge?
You’ll be pondering this the entire time you watch Making a Murderer. This documentary follows Steven Avery’s life of wrongful convictions and strained relationship with the police. This relationship is so strained that it puts him behind bars more than once…and it’s entirely possible that he never should have been there.
One thing is for sure – you don’t want to be hated by the cops…at least not Steven Avery’s hometown cops.
Planted evidence, lifelong disputes and crimes that need to be solved – this documentary has it all! If you haven’t seen it yet, move it to the top of your list.
If you’re looking for a food documentary that actually makes you want to eat more, Chef’s Table is it!
This feel-good, mesmerizing and addicting documentary series follows the world’s most renowned chefs to find out what they’re making, how they do it and how it all began.
You’ll get to know chefs you follow on social media and ones you’ve never heard of, restaurants that you may have visited and others that will quickly move to the top of your list.
This series is perfect for when you just need something light and soothing…it’s one of the best documentaries for a reason!
There are some really great documentaries that you just can’t believe are actually true…and Tiger King is one of them. This film manages to be bizarre, suspenseful, shocking and sometimes humorous all at the same time.
The series follows the lifelong battle between famed zoo owner Joe Exotic and large cat rescue advocate Carole Baskin.
If you tried your best to find two more bizarre characters to lead this show, you wouldn’t be able to. In Tiger King, the truth is absolutely stranger than fiction.
This documentary will keep you hooked with more plots than just one – and twists at the end of each episode. Definitely add it to your queue!
While technically not a true documentary, Dirty John does such a good job re-enacting some of the country’s most notorious true crime cases that it really should be considered one.
With two addicting seasons, you follow John Meehan and Betty Broderick – the center of two true crime cases that rocked the country during their respective times.
John Meehan was a world-class con artist with a terrifying ability to terrorize anyone that entered his orbit. What starts out as disturbing just keeps getting worse.
Betty Broderick’s story is even more difficult to watch and will have you flip-flopping back and forth between who’s at fault and who’s the ultimate victim. Her case garnered a ridiculous amount of media attention and has been hotly debated ever since.
Both of these seasons are amazing documentary stories. Definitely add them to your queue! They’re the perfect cure to a rainy weekend.
I hope you get a chance to watch every single one of these films. They’re definitely the best documentaries out there. Stay tuned for more to come!
You may also be interested in:
- The Best True Crime Documentaries of All Time
- Bizarre Documentaries that are Truly Stranger than Fiction
- The Best HBO Documentaries that You Can Stream Right Now