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Curling up to watch a great documentary is vegging out in a way that feels productive. Sure you’re plopped in front of the TV, but you’re learning something so it’s not a total waste of time, right?
There are so many great Netflix documentaries available to stream right now, and due to the colder weather and the ongoing health crisis, many of us are going to be spending much more time inside than we otherwise would. So with the extra time indoors, why not do a little learning?
Whether you’re looking for something environmental, a cooking-related lesson, a true-crime introspective or a gripping series — here are the best Netflix documentaries to stream right now. And, yes, we’ve added Tiger King, the internet’s newest obsession, to the list.
Tune in, buckle up and don’t forget the snacks.
1. Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat
Samin Nosrat is a chef who’s spent her life in pursuit of deliciousness. She became a star through this documentary which is centered on her quest exploring the four basic tenants of cooking.
Everywhere Nosrat went, she noticed a pattern — the same four things make food delicious. Can you guess what they are?
Dive into this relaxing, intoxicating film all about cooking around the world and watch as Nosrat charms you with her infectiously curious and warm personality.
2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Jiro is one of the world’s greatest sushi chefs, whose renowned $300-a-plate restaurant sits in a subway station in Tokyo. He was declared a national treasure in Japan, is the first sushi chef to receive three Michelin stars, and now has this film which explores his background and his number one desire in life: to make sushi forever.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi explores Jiro’s persistent conquest for “the top,” his training of his son a.k.a his protege and his overall mindset on life, work and the pursuit of perfection.
3. Planet Earth II
If we’re talking about environmental documentaries, Planet Earth has to make the list. This Emmy-award winning series is one of the most stunningly beautiful and breathtaking nature documentary series out there. It explores each of the world’s major ecosystems one by one, taking viewers through unprecedented scenes.
Whether you prefer grasslands, deserts, jungles or the deep sea — every episode is filled with complex narratives, from shots of animals and heartbreak, to stunning imagery. And of course, it’s all told by everyone’s favorite narrator, David Attenborough.
Our world’s oceans dictate our well-being on the planet, and this documentary takes an in-depth look at the role they play. This nature documentary from Disney is an underwater sequel to their film “Earth” which explored the world above ground. This one takes us below the surface of each of the five oceans and reveals to us how much there is, even though we might not be able to see it all the time.
5. The Vietnam War — Ken Burns
If you want a worthwhile documentary, you gotta go Ken Burns. This 10-hour epic series on the Vietnam War is unbelievably in-depth and well done. Each episode is well over an hour and covers a different phase of the war’s history both before and after it happened.
It was a pivotal time in America’s history, both on the battlefield and at home, with protests and social justice movements dividing the nation.
The story is incredibly complex, but Burns and his filmmaker Lynn Novick make it accessible. It goes in-depth, giving a full forensic account of the war, with brilliantly executed visuals and reliable narration.
This film explores the history of the United States through a racial lens, covering everything from the signing of the 13th amendment to modern day. It draws pivotal ties between the amendment to the US Constitution that prohibited slavery and our current criminal justice system. It shows how African Americans are disproportionately affected by the prison industrial complex and how inequality is still very much alive and well.
The film and its director, Ava DuVernay, won a Critic’s Choice award for Best Political documentary.
7. Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
If you haven’t seen this yet, watch it. Just maybe not by yourself. This documentary dives into one of the world’s most infamous killers who went under the radar for years, with relationships, friends, everyone.
Ted Bundy murdered more than 30 women before getting caught in 1978, and was eventually executed in 1989. 30 years later, the world is still exploring his story.
He was a murderer of women mostly, and this documentary explores why that might be the case. It’ll chill you to the bone but you won’t be able to look away. You get an intimate look at who he was, his impact on those around him and what made his revelation so unbelievable for some and so relieving for others.
8. Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
This chilling docu-series takes an in-depth look at Aaron Hernandez — the New England Patriots tight end who was convicted of murdering multiple men. He was given a mandatory life in prison sentence with no possibility of parole, and later died by suicide.
Although the case seems open and shut, this series dives into him as a person — his mental health, background and sexuality among other things. It’s worth a watch especially if you’re a sports fan.
9. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
It came, it crashed, and the world will never forget it. In case you didn’t hear about it at the time, Fyre Festival was an attempted music festival in the Bahamas planned and thrown by the cocky entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule.
It was sold as the most posh, luxuriously exclusive experience to ever hit the music scene, and was located on the remote island of Exuma. Unfortunately for McFarland, Rule and all of its attendees, it turned into a complete disaster. This documentary from Netflix takes you all the way through the catastrophic experience — from the initial planning to the bitter end. You’ll be in disbelief by the end that this festival was even attempted.
10. The Pixar Story
Who doesn’t love a great Pixar film? They’re heart-warming, uniquely witty and accessible for all ages. The origin stories of the animation studio is one of childlike wonder and triumph from a group of adults who sought to combine high-quality filmmaking with children’s entertainment.
Since its origin, Pixar has created some of the world’s best animated movies and most cutting-edge animation technology. And with this documentary, you get an all-access, behind-the-scenes pass to witness just how those movies came together.
You may have already heard about this gripping docu-series from Netflix all about a Texas competitive cheer squad out of Navarro College., If not, you should watch the trailer below. The 40-member Bulldogs are based in Corsicana, Texas and under coach Monica Aldama they train, rehearse and prepare to compete in the National Cheerleading Championship held every year in Daytona, Florida.
These athletes will astound you both in their physical ability and their resilience when it comes to injury. Certain moves are incredible to watch and yet painful at the same time. This team is at the top of their game with five “Grand Nationals” titles behind them and you won’t want to miss everything they’ve got to say about competition, sport and their rival cheer squad just 40 miles away.
12. Tiger King
The best documentaries give us fresh insights into the human condition. Tiger King does that, too, except the main insight here is that human beings can be really, really weird. This viral docu-series follows the tragic adventures of Joe Exotic, a self-described gay redneck who bred tigers and other big cats out of his Oklahoma zoo. Over the course of filming, Joe Exotic was sent to prison after he was accused of hiring a hitman to murder his arch-nemesis Carole Baskin, another subject of the series. And the murder-for-hire story isn’t even the weirdest plotline in this insane story!
Tiger King really has to be seen to be believed. The story is so bizarre and has so many twists and turns that it seems more like a mockumentary at times. If you want to know what all the memes are about, then it’s time to binge-watch this incredible Netflix documentary.