Last Updated: July 20th
Streaming video is the best thing that’s ever happened to documentaries. People who would never have paid for a ticket to a theatrical nonfiction film are now, thanks to Netflix’s robust selection, scarfing down the stuff by the barrel. But where to start among the masses? Here’s a ranking of 20 of the best documentaries on Netflix right now to get you going, covering a variety of themes and real stories.
1. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Run Time: 103 min, IMDb: 8/10
Before Making a Murderer, before Serial, before The Jinx, there was Errol Morris’ landmark work of investigative cinema dredged up from the heart of Texas. The true crime documentary famously helped overturn the death row conviction of Randall Dale Adams, thanks in part to the director’s then-unheard-of habit of staging re-enactments of Adams’ alleged crime to see if they squared with available evidence. Its influence has been absorbed to the point where it’s virtually invisible, but The Thin Blue Line still manages several palpable shocks for newcomers to the Adams case. Once you watch it, read this excellent interview with Morris where he reflects on making the film.
2. 13th (2016)
Run Time: 100 min, IMDb: 8.2/10
This 2016 documentary from Ava DuVernay won an Emmy and was nominated for an Oscar during awards season two years ago. The film chronicles the justice system’s abuses against black people, making a case for institutionalized racism being a problem in America that’s only emboldened by the prison cycle. DuVernay boldly explores how prisons and detention centers are making a profit off of free prison labor, most of it done by black men which begs the question, is slavery really dead?