Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” And boy was he right. A lot of times, stories just begin to sound much more interesting when you’re told that they’re true. It is so much easier to be invested in the stories that actually happened. Have you ever found yourself pouring over a real-life murder mystery hours after having finished the documentary? No? Just me? Probably not. There’s a reason everybody loves documentaries, and it is the actual, palpable bond of humanity that connects us all. It is only natural to feel more intensely about things that actually happened. This is why we have cherry picked the 10 best documentaries on Netflix that you must watch right away!
1. Operation Varsity Blues
In the year 2019, a major college admissions scandal in the USA came to the fore when college counselor Rick Singer was apprehended for bribing college officials, fraudulently inflating exam scores, and falsifying medical reports for students to get into prestigious colleges – all for a certain amount of money. Named after the code name of the investigation of the case, Netflix’s documentary, Operation Varsity Blues, taps into the story as it happened, using actual phone calls that took place between Singer and his clients, which the FBI accessed with a wiretap. The case was one of the most high-profile ones of its time, due to the involvement of celebrities and business tycoons in the conspiracy. But more than incriminating Singer or his clients, Netflix’s documentary intends to make a comment on the culture of education that drives parents and students to desperation. Operation Varsity Blues presents a thrilling insight into the psyche of parents, which makes it one of the best documentaries on Netflix you must not miss.
2. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
In 2017, Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre Media Inc, and rapper Ja Rule were put on the blast after they failed to deliver on their promise of organizing a “Luxury” music festival, duping people of thousands of dollars in the process. The event was promoted on social media by A-list influencers like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, and Hailey Baldwin among others. Despite their tall claims of housing guests in luxury tents and the VIP guests in villas, McFarland’s team’s final offering was a total disaster, with guests having to wait for hours without accommodation, receiving a cheese sandwich for a meal as opposed to the advertised gourmet food, and having no way to get out of the remote island the festival was held at.
3. Period. End of Sentence.
Period. End of Sentence. This follows the story of Arunachalam Murugantham, an Indian man who, after finding out that his wife was using rags during her menstrual cycle due to the unaffordability of commercial sanitary napkins, decides to design inexpensive sanitary napkins for underprivileged women. The documentary shows the journey of Arunachalam along with four women – Shabana, Gouri, Ajeya, and Anita – who begin learning how to operate a machine that produces low-cost biodegradable sanitary napkins. The film also tries to address the vicious stigma attached to menstruation in Indian society. Period. End of Sentence. Won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 91st Academy Awards and is one of the best documentaries on Netflix without a doubt.
4. American Murder: The Family Next Door
American Murder: The Family Next Door follows the investigation of the disappearance of the Watts Family, who lived in Colorado. When Shanann Watts, 34, and her two daughters: Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, disappeared on the morning of 13th August 2018, the whole community was in for a shock. Shanann’s husband and the children’s father, Chris Watts, appeared before the media, requesting the people of his community to help him find his family. The police began investigating the various aspects of Watts’ marriage, which seemed perfect on the surface. The documentary juxtaposes the social media presence of the Watts’ lives as seen on Shanann’s Facebook account, who was an avid social media user, in comparison to what was really going on in their marriage behind the scenes. Without a doubt, American Murder is one of the best documentaries on Netflix you can watch. It uses real footage released by the police, including the conversations between law enforcement and Chris Watts; this will stay with you for a long time.
5. Wild Wild Country
Wild Wild Country follows Rajneesh, also known as Osho, an Indian Godman who decided in the 1980s to settle in the US after facing controversy in India due to his ideas. Once in the US, he bought over 65,000 acres of property to build his own city, dubbed Rajneespuram. However, his “cult” was met with dislike in the US as well. The documentary covers the various incidents that took place once Rajneesh moved to the US, including the attempted murder of his physicist and the first bio-terror attack in the US.
6. Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator follows Indian born Bikram Chaudhary who moved to the US in the 70s, starting his own brand of yoga, popularised as Bikram Yoga or Hot Yoga. Right from the beginning, Bikram built an empire on lies and deception, he made tall claims that were not true, he pretended to know famous people he did not know, and he mistreated his juniors severely. The film also represents the cult-like environment that Bikram seemed to have made around himself, with his followers looking up to him in an almost reverential manner. And while Bikram could have gotten away with all of this, he couldn’t get away with having sexually assaulted several women, who came forward starting 2014. The film is a post Me-Too era documentary that sheds light on the toxic system that let Bikram abuse the women around him.
7. Long Shot
It’s the year 2003, and a man named Juan goes to a baseball game with his six-year-old daughter and a few friends. Unbeknownst to him, a sixteen-year-old girl is shot in her head the same day by a man; the murder is witnessed by one of the girl’s friends, who describes the murderer’s appearance to the police. After looking at the sketch, the police arrests 24-year-old Juan, whose claims of innocence are rejected. To his luck, he finds himself an attorney who is convinced that Juan, in fact, is innocent. What follows is a wild goose chase, and Juan’s lawyer, Todd Melnik, goes above and beyond to exonerate his client. We wouldn’t go into any more details, because Long Shot has an extremely surprising twist for the viewers, and is undeniably one of the best documentaries on Netflix that you cannot miss.
8. Tiger King
Tiger King follows the decades long rivalry between eccentric zoo owner Joe Exotic and cat conservationist Carol Baskin. It shows the two engage in heated exchanges, arguments, threats, and harassment campaigns. The documentary is strange, to say the least, but interest in the film piqued during the lockdown, particularly due to the dearth of fresh content. However, viewers who tuned into this true crime docu-series were gripped by the story and were instantly obsessed. Tiger King has received acclaim from critics and viewers, but conservationists have criticized it for its inaccurate depiction of breeding and wildlife issues.
9. Knock Down The House
Knock Down The House follows four female Democrats who decided to run for office during the 2018 US Elections. These include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Amy Vilea, and Paula Jean Swearengin. The women, who come from unusual backgrounds and are without pedigree, run grassroots campaigns against long-time incumbents. The documentary throws light on the journey of these women from being everyday people to becoming internationally recognizable faces.
10. Athlete A
Athlete A follows the events that unfolded following the publication of a report by The Indianapolis Star which discovered discrepancies in how the USA Gymnastics handled sexual abuse allegations. It was found that USA Gymnastics let several personnel continue to work under its hood despite being accused of sexual abuse by minor girls who trained as gymnasts. The report brought forward a culture of systemic child abuse and off-handedness, one that protected predators and dismissed the young girls who trained there for the Olympics. Additionally, it was discovered that a prominent figure in the organization, Larry Nassar, had been assaulting hundreds of minor girls over a career spanning two decades. This Netflix documentary presents a harrowing account of several sexual assault victims who were abused by Nassar. While haunting and even triggering, Athlete A is an important movie, and it must not be missed. It is one of the best documentaries on Netflix in terms of satisfaction, at least.
Did you like our list of the best documentaries on Netflix? Did we miss your favourite one? Comment below to tell us which one you like the best!