Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s frequently more entertaining. Thanks to the Netflix acquisition team, the streaming service offers hundreds of documentaries that chronicle everything from riveting tales of true crime to stories about sports scandals. To help you sort through their formidable selection, we’ve selected 16 films currently streaming that will either make your jaw drop, bring a tear to your eye, or both.
The life of actress and EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) winner Rita Moreno (West Side Story) is chronicled in this winning documentary narrated by Moreno herself, who has spent more than 70 years in show business. (Her two Emmys came by way of appearances on The Muppet Show.)
2. The Alpinist (2020)
Extreme mountain climber Marc-André Leclerc tries to express his love of freestyle climbing on ice-covered terrain in this tense and moving documentary. Leclerc has traded climbing speed records with Alex Honnold of Free Solo (2018) fame; Honnold also appears in this film, seemingly astonished by the lengths to which Leclerc is willing to go.
3. The Last Blockbuster (2020)
The rise, fall, and resurgence of video rental giant Blockbuster Video is chronicled in this documentary, which takes a closer look at the nostalgic charm of the chain's sole remaining location in Bend, Oregon. If you're intrigued, Netflix has more on the way: Randall Park is set to star in a workplace sitcom based on the last Blockbuster in the country.
4. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020)
You'll be won over by this insightful and moving portrait of Camp Jened, a summer camp in New York that welcomed kids with disabilities and helped forge a movement in the 1970s to achieve equal rights for those with physical challenges. Barack and Michelle Obama are the executive producers.
5. Tread (2020)
In 2004, Granby, Colorado, resident Marvin Heemeyer decided to strike back against a local bureaucracy he felt was targeting his automotive shop by modifying a bulldozer to become a bulletproof machine of destruction. Heemeyer's subsequent rampage, which was captured on film by local news cameras, is given context by audio recordings Heemeyer made prior to laying waste to the town. The total damage was estimated to be more than $7 million.
Prepare for a twist-laden tale of a cryptocurrency czar named Gerry Cotten that takes some dark and surprising turns. The case was pored over by Reddit users before getting national media attention.
Sun. Models. Booze. Would-be mogul Billy McFarland promised a lot and delivered little more than cold cheese sandwiches at his 2017 music festival debacle, which collected a small fortune in admission and ancillary profits and then wound up leaving hundreds of guests stranded on an island to fend for themselves. Pairing Netflix’s examination of the debacle and its fallout with Hulu’s makes for a fine double feature (even if you might be left with more questions than answers).
8. Mercury 13 (2018)
At the height of the 1960s “space race,” a private program was implemented to train women to be astronauts. Even though women often performed better than men in cardiopulmonary and sensory deprivation tests, it wasn't to be: The chauvinistic attitudes of the era had different ideas. This documentary takes a close look at this little-known chapter in space history.
9. Screwball (2018)
The steroid scandal that has long plagued Major League Baseball is explained in this comic-tinged documentary by director Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys). Dealers and dubious doctors in the orbit of players like Alex Rodriguez narrate their rise and fall while being portrayed in reenactments by adolescents. Corben said he was inspired to go this route by Drunk History, the Comedy Central series in which inebriated people imagine how historical events went down.
10. Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy (2021)
The devastating consequences of the urban crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s are recounted in detail from the dealers, users, cops, and community leaders who lived it. So did director Stanley Nelson, who was a Harlem resident and had first-hand memories of the emerging crisis.
11. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
When Jim Carrey stepped into the role of the late comedian Andy Kaufman for director Miloš Forman’s 1999 biopic Man on the Moon, he didn’t so much as imitate Kaufman as become him. That process was documented in behind-the-scenes footage that was buried in studio vaults for years and revealed here for the first time. Executives feared people would consider Carrey—who alternately charms and antagonizes people on the set by never behaving as “Jim”—as being exceptionally difficult to work with. Perhaps, but Carrey’s modern-day reflections on inhabiting the eccentric Kaufman, even when the film cameras weren’t rolling, are a fascinating study of both the performer’s commitment and the nature of identity.
12. Perfect Bid (2017)
Theodore Slauson had a dream to come on down and be the next contestant on The Price Is Right. When that finally happens, he finds himself under fire for being a little too good at the game.
13. This Changes Everything (2019)
The issue of gender disparity in Hollywood is explored in this provocative documentary featuring Geena Davis, Reese Witherspoon, and Meryl Streep, among others. Amid some startling statistics—like the fact just 15 percent of the highest-grossing movies in 2018 were written by women—the film aims to encourage change in the industry.
14. Icarus (2017)
The cat-and-mouse game between drug testing agencies and cheating athletes is put under a microscope in director Bryan Fogel’s Oscar-winning documentary, which uncovers the lengths competitors will go to in order to push past their physical limits. As Fogel digs deeper into the world of pro cycling and its high-ranking political influences, you may discover that drugs are so pervasive that athletes aren’t necessarily looking to cheat—they’re simply looking to even the playing field.
15. Team Foxcatcher (2016)
John du Pont, heir to the du Pont fortune, spent much of his time and some of his wealth on his passion for amateur wrestling. But when he feels betrayed by standout Olympian Dave Schultz, DuPont's obsession with the sport and its athletes turns fatal. (Channing Tatum starred in Foxcatcher, a 2014 dramatization of the story; Steve Carell portrayed du Pont, while Mark Ruffalo co-starred as Dave Schultz.)
16. 13th (2016)
Director Ava DuVernay delivers a powerful (and Oscar-nominated) indictment of the U.S. justice system and takes a closer look at how incarceration and sentencing feeds into widespread inequality. Peering through DuVernay’s lens, viewers may feel the scales of justice are tipped in favor of privatized and profiteering prisons.
This story was originally published in 2019; it has been updated for 2022.