Documentaries exploded in popularity after the success of several high-profile titles in the 2000s, including Fahrenheit 9/11, Super Size Me, and An Inconvenient Truth.
In 2015, Netflix foresaw just how popular documentaries would become and began churning out their own original productions: My Own Man, Hot Girls Wanted, My Beautiful Broken Brain, etc. Some even went viral, like Amanda Knox, which spurred documentary fever further.
Netflix now has hundreds of original documentaries—but not all of them are worth watching. The worst ones are poorly made snoozefests with heavy-handed agendas. The best ones know how to toe the line just enough to change how you think about things.
Here are some good Netflix documentaries that are really interesting, eye-opening, and may even alter your outlook on life.
Extremis follows Dr. Jessica Zitter, a physician who specializes in ICU and palliative care, as she helps families make end-of-life decisions for patients dealing with terminal illnesses.
Extremis only has a 24-minute runtime, but it packs a lot of emotional content in that short time as it invites you into the final moments of three patients. You may be surprised by how your own views of end-of-life decisions change—or don’t.
As if we all didn’t hate Facebook enough already, The Great Hack will really make you want to delete your account.
Remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal that came to light in 2018? The one where Cambridge Analytica collected the personal data of millions of Facebook users to influence the US election?
The Great Hack is a thorough examination of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the experiences of people who were affected by it. The fact that tech giants have been taking advantage of your personal information is a tough realization to swallow.
8. The Push
Derren Brown is a performer who specializes in mentalism and often “tricks” people into believing things that aren’t real via hypnosis, illusions, persuasion, suggestion, misdirection, etc.
The Push (also titled Pushed to the Edge) is an intricate and complex social experiment that he devised, where he and his team of actors set up a complete Truman Show-esque scenario to see whether or not a person can be manipulated into pushing someone off a building.
I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that The Push may disturb you—if for no other reason than the realization that humans are extremely susceptible to psychological influences, and we aren’t always acting within our full control.
The Social Dilemma is a hard-hitting exploration of social media and its effects on people and society. In particular, it looks at the design of social media and how it’s optimized for addictiveness, how it can create echo chambers, and how it can poison one’s thinking.
Between all the different interviews with employees and executives from high-profile social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, you’ll have the scales peeled from your eyes as the realities of social media engineering come to light.
The Bleeding Edge is a documentary that dives into the medical device industry and all the nightmarish activity that happens behind the scenes as far as testing, regulations, corporate cover-ups, and greed-driven decisions are concerned.
Several medical devices with horrific stories are investigated in the film, supplemented by interviews with victims and insiders. Spotlighted devices include the birth control implant Essure, the da Vinci Surgical System, and chrome-cobalt hip replacements.
The most chilling scene in The Bleeding Edge comes right at the end, where we’re reminded that nobody from the FDA or any of the companies in the documentary agreed to be interviewed.
Diagnosis is a seven-episode mini-series based on a medical column in The New York Times Magazine by Dr. Lisa Sanders.
In the episodes of Diagnosis, Dr. Sanders helps take care of real patients who have truly unknown illnesses and tries to find diagnoses for their issues. She just wants to get them answers.
And she does so by writing about her patients in her medical column in order to get feedback from her readers. Using their responses, Dr. Sanders can look into leads—and solve these medical mysteries.
It’s real evidence that we can help each other by working together.
Icarus is an incredible (and frightening) documentary that came about by sheer happenstance.
Bryan Fogel originally wanted to record his personal experiences with performance doping in order to win an amateur cycling race. But then he’s pulled down the rabbit hole and ends up uncovering Russia’s state-sponsored doping program for the Olympics.
It starts off a bit slow, but by the end Icarus ends up being one of the most thrilling documentaries ever made—because this is serious stuff, and Fogel’s life is actually on the line when he goes too deep.
My Octopus Teacher is one of the most eye-opening documentaries you’ll ever watch. Even if you already knew that octopuses were smart, this documentary will blow your mind.
Filmmaker Craig Foster spends a year in South Africa developing a relationship with a wild octopus. The octopus plays with him, eats with him, and lets him study her as she lives and sleeps.
It’s incredible to see this relationship develop, and Foster allows us to see how this octopus taught him so many different things about life.
13th is a deep dive into the structures, institutes, and systems of United States prisons. More specifically, it explores how modern prisons are used to suppress, disenfranchise, and enslave black Americans—despite slavery abolishment by the 13th Amendment.
Most Americans aren’t aware of how the country’s prison-industrial complex operates, and 13th will open your eyes in ways you’d never expect. Then again, by how things have been going since 2020, perhaps the details of this documentary won’t be so unexpected.
Seaspiracy is a much-needed wake-up call for the world, bringing to our attention the far-reaching environmental impact of commercial fishing and widespread fish consumption.
The documentary explores several topics that all tie into marine life and the ocean: plastic debris, ghost nets, overfishing, and more. It takes a hard stance—some might even call it extreme—and outright rejects the modern concept of sustainable fishing.
Even if you don’t agree with everything presented, Seaspiracy is an important documentary to watch as it sheds light in areas unseen up until now. It’s certainly worth chewing on.
Expanding Worldviews With Documentaries
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All of these documentaries are well-made, touch on topics that are really interesting, and invite you to change your perspective by presenting eye-opening facts that you may not have known.
Netflix’s documentaries—when they’re done well—are a great way to expand your own worldview and start seeing the world from different viewpoints. New perspectives can help you grow as a person.
If you’re looking for even more eye-opening content, dive into these amazing conspiracy theory documentaries on Netflix: