Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

1-8) The Up Series (Seven Up!, Seven Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up, 56 Up)

1-8) The Up Series (Seven Up!, Seven Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up, 56 Up) - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

The Up Series is one of the most fascinating artistic study of time and change ever created. In 1964 director Michael Apted and others were asked to make a short TV film chronicling the lives of 14 British seven year-olds from all different walks of life. Since then Apted has returned every seven years to chronicle the lives of the subject and see how they have changed since the last film. Apted's brash interview style has made some members of the group leave, but the series retains most of it's cast and keeps being one of the most important documentary series of all time.

9) Exit Through the Gift Shop

9) Exit Through the Gift Shop - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Whether you think this film is real or not, it's undeniably a hilarious and powerful look at the commercialization of street art. The film begins with Thierry Guetta, a terrible amateur videographer obsessed with graffiti artists. When Guetta meets his idol Banksy, the story evolves into Banksy's own concerns with his artwork and Guetta's attempts to become his own icon, Mr. Brainwash.

10) Room 237

10) Room 237 - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Room 237 follows the theories of five obssesed fans of the film The Shining who detail their crackpot ideas that the film is really about subjects ranging from the Native American genocide to Kubrick "faking" the moon landing. Many dislike this film because they feel that the theories are incredibly stupid and poorly explained. To me that's missing the point of Rodney Ascher's intentions, which is to show you what happens to your mind when you try to analyze every little detail of a work of art.

11) Jiro Dreams of Sushi

11) Jiro Dreams of Sushi - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

This film follows the life of Jiro Ono, one of only a handful of Michelin three-star sushi chefs in Japan and Ono's obsession with perfecting the art of sushi. Director David Gelb also focuses on Ono's two sons, one who started a rival sushi restaurant and the other who is set to take over Ono's restaurant. What could have been a mediocre fluff piece is transformed into a fascinating tale of family and a great look at the way order and form make sushi a culinary work of art.

12) Indie Game: The Movie

12) Indie Game: The Movie - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Whether you love video games or never picked up a controller in your life, this unique look at the booming independent video game industry is worth a watch. The film follows the designers of three independent video games (Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez) during different phases of development. It chronicles the frustrations, the joys and the heartbreak of pure artistic process and directors James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot are not shy in delving into the darker moments of it's subjects lives. The film really shines a light on both the freedom and the terror of independent artistic endeavors in the modern age.

13) The Imposter

13) The Imposter  - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

In 1994, 13 year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from San Antonio, TX without a trace. Three years later a con man named Frédéric Bourdin claimed he was Barclay and convinced Barclay's family to take him in for several months. Director Bart Layton chronicles the story of that con and the disturbing implications on all sides of the story. Bourdin's story is told through gorgeously shot reenactments and intimate interviews that hint at a far more sinister plot than the original story detailed. It's a chilling look into the minds of deranged but fragile people who will do anything to conceal the truth.

14) Into the Abyss

14) Into the Abyss - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Werner Herzog is easily one of the finest documentary filmmakers of all time so any Herzog documentary on Netflix is bound to be incredible and this one is no exception. Herzog follows Michael Perry, a man on death row in Texas for triple homicide, and the various family and friends affected by the crime. A deeply anti-capital punishment film. Herzog makes his case not through overwrought sentimentality, but just by simply showing how death row inmates are people. The film was originally intended to be much longer but was rushed to release. Herzog compiled the other interviews into a documentary series called On Death Row which is also streaming on Netflix.

15) Side by Side

15) Side by Side  - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

After almost 90 years of shooting on film stock, the film industry seems poised to completely transition over to digital filming techniques. Interviewer Keanu Reeves hosts surprisingly beautiful in-depth discussion with filmmakers about their preferences and how they see the future of filmmaking. While this documentary is by no means a masterpiece, it is a great look into one of the most important shifts in filmmaking in decades.

16) The Queen of Versailles

16) The Queen of Versailles  - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

This long in production film follows the story of Jackie and David Siegel as they build their dream home, a $100 million recreation of the Versailles Palace. However the film takes a turn when the 2008 US recession hits and the couple loses almost everything. While director Lauren Greenfield is not kind to the Siegel's ludicrous views on wealth, she also give Jackie real sympathy. Some view this as just a shaming story, but it's a rather complicated look at the way the wealth gap has spiraled out of control.

17) Senna

17) Senna - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

One of the most popular documentaries on Netflix, this fascinating story is a great example of documentary minimalism. Featuring no interviews or narration, director Asif Kapadia tells the story of one of the most famous Forumla One racers in history, Ayrton Senna. Home video and news reels chronicle Senna's meteoric rise to fame, his rivalry with Alain Post, the dangers of Formula One and Senna's tragic demise. It's an exhilarating documentary edited beautiful and shows a complicated portrait of a great racer.

18) 30 for 30: June 17th, 1994

18) 30 for 30: June 17th, 1994 - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

30 for 30 is a documentary series from ESPN that features great documentary filmmakers telling interesting stories about professional sports. The best one (in my opinion) is June 17th, 1994 a dazzling editing experiment that tells the story of the most crazy day in sport news history. The film follows the day's events in chronological order and focuses on five keys events centering mainly on the famous White Bronco police chase when O.J. Simpson attempted to escape from police. The film only uses archival news footage from the day, taking hours of coverage and turning into a taught hour long drama. The editing from director Brett Morgen and editor Andy Grieve is top notch. This is a great look at the day many say created the entertainment based news we have today. Some other great 30 for 30 titles on Netflix: Broke, Jordan Rides the Bus, The Trial of Allen Iverson, Muhammad and Larry, and King's Ransom

19) Samsara

19) Samsara - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

The spiritual successor to Baraka, this is easily the most gorgeous film you'll ever come across on Netflix. Director Ron Fricke created his own 70mm camera to capture incredible footage from 25 countries around the world. Like Baraka, Samsara focuses on human progress and the way humanity has brought both beauty and horror into the world. While Samsara doesn't quite match up to Baraka, Fricke still delivers some amazing visuals including perhaps the most impressive time lapse photography ever shot.

20) Dear Zachary

20) Dear Zachary  - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

By far one of the most depressing films of all time, this documentary is a harrowing portrait of a family falling apart and the injustices of the law. After the murder of his friend Andrew, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne makes a documentary for Andrew's son Zachary to tell him the story of his father. To describe further is to ruin the emotional impact of the film. It is incredibly painful to watch but thankfully has resulted in a law called The Dear Zachary law that hopefully means the events of the film won't happen again. It's a devastating film but a touching one as well and one of the finest examples of the documentary form.

21) The Thin Blue Line

21) The Thin Blue Line - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Speaking of documentaries that have affected real change, this masterpiece from Errol Morris not only made the great director famous it also got an innocent man out of life in prison. After the murder of a Dallas police officer, Randall Dale Adams was falsely arrested and tried for the murder. Morris interviews Adams and every one else involved in the crime to reveal the truth. Morris pioneered the use of reenactments to tell different sides of the story and point out the inconsistencies in the official report. Not only did this film get Adams out of prison, it also revolutionized documentaries and maintains a place as one of the greatest documentary investigations of all time.

22) Cave of Forgotten Dreams

22) Cave of Forgotten Dreams - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

The other great Werner Herzog documentary on Netflix is Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Herzog takes us into Chauvet Cave which contains the oldest known human paintings that still exists. Because Cauvet has been closed off to the public, Herzog filmed the documentary in 3D allowing viewers the rare opportunity to view the paintings as if they were there. While the film loses some of it's grandeur in 2D, the work is still a monumental success that touches on Herzog's favorite theme of art in the face of the terror of nature and time.

23) How to Survive a Plague

23) How to Survive a Plague - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Using over 700 hours of archival footage, journalist David France delivers one of the best documents of the AIDS epidemic that exists. France focuses on the story of radical protest groups like ACT UP that helped convince the US government to take a drastic stand on AIDS and their efforts to push for faster drug policies to combat the disease. The film works not only as a political rally but also as a historical text on one of the most devastating periods in US history.

24) The Art of the Steal

24) The Art of the Steal - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Director Don Argott tells the story of the Barnes Foundation, a $25 billion collection of famous artwork, that was subsequently taken from the Foundation by various interests groups. The film details the many clauses of Albert C. Barnes's will and the way each clause was broken and manipulated by powerful lobby groups in order to gain control of the paintings. It's a great legal drama and an interesting look at whether art should belong to the collectors or the public.

25) The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

25) The Pruitt-Igoe Myth - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

This film documents the doomed life of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis and it's slow decay and eventual destruction (which was famously captured in the documentary Koyaanisqatsi). Director Chad Freidrichs details the various theories on why the housing complex failed and how it's story is a cautionary tale for future urban planning. An often sad but very informative tale about how corporate interests and greed ruins the good intentions of men.

26) Marwencol

26) Marwencol - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

In 2000 Mark Hogancamp was viscously beaten by five men and suffered severe brain damage. Left with little memory of his former life, Mark began to obsessively build Marwencol, a scale model of a German occupied town populated by action figures. Mark started taking photographs of Marwencol which told an ongoing violent story that often mirrored Mark's own painful past. Director Jeff Malmberg follows Mark's story as he begins to gain popularity in the art world as his private tragedy becomes public. It's an affecting and beautiful story of trauma and the way art can be transformative.

27) Hoop Dreams

27) Hoop Dreams - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

What originally started at as a short 30 minute film on a prestigious high school for basketball stars soon morphed into a 6 year project for director Steve James that resulted in the three hour long masterpiece Hoop Dreams. James follows the lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two poor black teenagers aspiring for a career in professional basketball. James follows their entire middle school and high school career and all the different twists and turns along the way. The film is not only a great story of the American dream but also a starling tale about race, poverty, and the education system.

28-29) Aileen Wuornos: Selling of a Serial Killer/Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

28-29) Aileen Wuornos: Selling of a Serial Killer/Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial   Killer - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

While the film inspired by these documentaries, Monster, might be much more famous to you, this series by Nick Broomfield is a fascinating look into the mind of a serial killer. Aileen Wuornos killed 6 men in what she claimed was self-defense and was tried for murder and executed in 2002. The first film focuses on Broomfield's attempts to interview Aileen and the various ways the prosecution manipulated the evidence to make Aileen look more mentally stable than she was. The second film focuses on Aileen's declining mental state and her eventually execution. Whether you deem Aileen guilty or not, it's a harrowing series that focuses on how the death penalty is often more about publicity than justice.

30) Pina

30) Pina  - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Director Wim Wenders also choose to use 3D for his documentary about the work of modern dance choreographer, Pina Bausch. The film cuts between interviewers explaining the importance of Bausch's work to gorgeous recreations of the dances. While again the film loses some of it's visual punch in 2D, the work is still an enrapturing send-up to beauty of the human body. The film also has a touch of melancholy as Bausch died during production. As a memorial to her and her work, this film is a visual splendor that anyone can enjoy.

31) Vernon, Florida

31) Vernon, Florida - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

After the success of his first film Gates of Heaven, Errol Morris decided to begin a project on a town that fascinated him called Vernon, Florida. Vernon had become famous for the highest number of amputations in the country, something many people believed was due to an insurance fraud scheme. However after Morris was threatened, he changed the film to focus on the strange people who lived in the town. Like any great Morris film, the subjects are odd but he treats them with respect and compassion. It's a quick trip into Morris' style and the weird world he exposes to the rest of us.

32) The Rape of Europa

32) The Rape of Europa - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

When the Nazis would invade a foreign nation, one of the first things they would loot was the priceless artwork from the nation's galleries. This film (an adaptation of the great book of the same name) is a fascinating tale about the biggest theft of art in modern history and the extraordinary efforts from various Allied nations in order to retain these artworks. It's a great history lesson and a testament to how far people will go to preserve their culture in the face of injustice.

33) This is Not a Film

33) This is Not a Film - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

When filmmaker Jafar Panahi was jailed in 2010 for creating "propaganda" against the Iranian government, it seemed that his 20 year ban on filmmaking meant the end of the career of one of the best filmmakers in the region. However in 2011 Panahi shot the documentary This is Not a Film in secret, had the film smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive in a birthday cake, and the film was shown in secret at Cannes. What the film entails is a painful portrait of an artist neutered by a country he loves. Panahi takes us through his daily life, his struggles to be freed, and even attempts to enact the film he was trying to make before his arrest. Like many Iranian films, it's hard to know what is real and what has been staged. Either way, Panahi's story is a tragic one that shows the real oppression from totalitarian governments is mental surrender.

34) Bright Leaves

34) Bright Leaves - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Like many Ross McElwee documentaries, what begins as a history of the Bull Durham tobacco company quickly evolves into a meta story about McElwee's personal struggles. McElwee's great-grandfather created Bull Durham and the filmmaker constantly ponders about his family's influence and his own struggles with personal identity. While some hate McElwee's style, it's certain that he is a one of a kind filmmaker who juggles journalism with personal diaries. It's a unique film that may challenge but is unlike anything you've ever seen.

35) Restrepo

35) Restrepo - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger follow the 2nd Platoon of Bravo Company as they are encamped at outpost Restrepo (named after the first man in the company to die during their deployment) in the most dangerous region of Afghanistan. The film is a shocking display of warfare in the region and focuses not only on the soldiers but the effect their presence has on the civilians there. The directors are fearless and capture many incredible moments of battles and death. It's a stunning portrait of war and the effect it has on everyone involved. Sadly one of the directors, Tim Hetherington, died during 2011 Libyan civil war. His life story was told by Sebastian Junger in the HBO documentary Which Way Is the Front Line from Here?.

Bonus) The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Bonus) The Story of Film: An Odyssey - Netflix US Documentary Suggestions

So not really a film, but this wonderful documentary mini-series is a must watch for anyone wanting to learn more about film history. Narrator and film historian Mark Cousins takes us through multiple countries and eras to give us a complete view of film history. The film features many real world locations and great interviews. It's best to approach this series as a lecture from a professor, as Cousins is incredibly opinionated at his voice can be grating for some. Still it's a remarkable series and the best way to learn about film history without going to college to do it.