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Best Netflix documentaries: from Icarus to The Tinder Swindler

An image of a paper aeroplane made of money from Downfall: The Case Against Boeing
(Image credit: Netflix)

The very best Netflix documentaries entertain, educate and often surprise us in ways we never expect.

You might not think you could ever find yourself invested in the fortunes of a cheerleading squad, a 30-year old basketball team or rich idiots throwing the worst music festival in existence, but we guarantee you that the informative features included in the below list will challenge some (or all) of those presumptions. 

Netflix's array of documentaries is also now as rich its movie offering (opens in new tab). From the gawdy Tiger King to the universally-acclaimed sports saga The Last Dance, there truly is something for just about everyone here.

Excellent new documentaries keep arriving on Netflix, too. We're updating our recommendations with the latest investigative features as and when they arrive on the streamer, and recent additions include Downfall: The Case Against Boeing and Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King.

Below, then, you'll find the best Netflix documentaries to add to your watchlist in 2022 – and to keep things simple, we've just picked Netflix Originals, so you can enjoy them wherever you are in the world and there's no risk of them leaving the service.


Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King

A man with his head bandaged in Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King

(Image credit: Netflix)

The likes of Inventing Anna, The Tinder Swindler (also on this list) and Bad Vegan have all seen Netflix take a microscope to various schemers in recent times – but Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King tells the streamer's most shocking story of potential deception yet. 

We say 'potential deception' because the criminality of its subject, Gerald Cotten, remains unproven to this day. The film charts the rise and fall of Cotten’s cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX, which collapsed – along with $190 million of customer holdings – following its founder's unexplained death in 2018. Was Cotten murdered? Did he fake his own death and steal the money? Does his wife have something to do with the case? These are all questions Trust No One tries (and, ultimately, fails) to answer, which make its mere 90-minute runtime so absorbing.

Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story

A poster for Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story

(Image credit: Netflix)

One of the more harrowing recent documentaries on Netflix, Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story chronicles the heyday of the infamous British TV host and, in particular, examines how the establishment allowed him to get away with sexually abusing hundreds of children throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 

Rowan Deacon’s feature-length film clocks in at just over three hours, but was described as “a welter of devastating detail” by critics upon release in April 2022. In our book, too, Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story is absolutely worth the time investment – just don’t expect to leave this one feeling particularly uplifted. 

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing

Still from inside the cockpit in Downfall: The Case Against Boeing

(Image credit: Netflix)

Adapted from the New Yorker article (opens in new tab) of the same name, Downfall: The Case Against Boeing takes a microscope to two Boeing 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people within the space of five months in March 2019. Experts and investigators reveal how the airline’s alleged priority of profit over safety could have contributed to the incidents, which went relatively under the radar at the time. 

Rory Kennedy’s exposé film is an easy recommendation for those who like their corporate crime documentaries – it’s essentially a high-budget version of Air Crash Investigation. One piece of advice, though: don't watch this one before boarding a flight.

Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy 

Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy poster

(Image credit: Netflix)

Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy is a three-part documentary film focusing on the life of artist, record producer, businessman, fashion designer (and marketing guru? (opens in new tab)) Kanye West. Directed by filmmaking duo and frequent Kanye collaborators Coodie & Chike, Jeen-yuhs charts the rise of one of popular culture's most divisive and alluring figures, using unseen archival footage (in the vein of Asif Kapadia's Diego Maradona) from the past two decades. 

As well as shining a light on the artist's creative process, the film covers West's reaction to the death of his mother, as well as the events of his unsuccessful 2020 presidential campaign. Jeen-yuhs is necessary viewing for die-hard Kanye fans, then, but those interested in documentaries that pick apart controversial characters will find lots to love here, too. 

The Tinder Swindler

Poster for The Tinder Swindler

(Image credit: Netflix)

If you're in the market for romance, The Tinder Swindler may make you think twice about reaching for the dating apps. Based on the months-long investigation by Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (opens in new tab), this feature-length documentary – which comes from the creators of the excellent Don't F**K with Cats – takes a microscope to the extraordinary case of an alleged billionaire playboy who extorted millions from unsuspecting women through Tinder. 

It isn't all doom and gloom, though. After realising that they've all been tricked by the same titular crook, three woman band together to give him a taste of his own medicine. The Tinder Swindler (opens in new tab) has been described by some critics as the best documentary Netflix has ever produced, and while there's plenty more on this list that are equally deserving of that title, we'd agree that it's certainly up there. The film also sat atop the list of the streamer's most popular features for three weeks running, so it's certainly worth the 90-minute investment. 

Icarus

Icarus

(Image credit: Netflix)

For our money, Icarus is still the best Netflix documentary. Even if it hadn't taken home the Oscar for Best Documentary feature in 2018, Bryan Fogel’s exposé of the Russian doping scandal would nevertheless rank among the best whistleblower films ever made. 

What begins as a fairly run-of-the-mill investigation into the effects of performance-enhancing drugs soon becomes an unexpected and downright thrilling journey into the violence, corruption and betrayal surrounding professional athletics – and Icarus expertly combines talking heads, undercover footage and smart animation to ensure it stands out from the documentary crowd. Necessary viewing. 

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness

watch surviving joe exotic online

(Image credit: Netflix)

It had to be here, didn't it? Big cat owners come in all shapes and sizes – well, stripes – but nobody is quite like Joe Exotic, the Tiger King. This polygamist, gun-wielding animal-lover is properly larger-than-life, and for the majority of 2020 he was the most talked about character on Netflix.

In Tiger King, what starts out for Exotic as a humane enterprise descends into cruelty, madness and vanity as he engages in a protracted spat with an animal rights activist who may not be all she seems. Things get pretty crazy, to say the least – Exotic's humble zoo becomes a home for murder planning, electoral runs and suicide. It's unpredictable, seemingly-impossible and it'll have you open-mouthed for all seven of its episodes. 

This is one to watch. Avoid both the sequel and Peacock's tame dramatization of the story.  (opens in new tab)

American Factory

american factory

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American Factory took home Best Documentary Feature at the 2020 Oscars (opens in new tab), and marks the first film from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production studio Higher Ground Productions. It follows the working lives of US and Chinese employees in the Fuyao Glass factory in Ohio. 

While the concept of saving a shuttered General Motors factory and thousands of jobs seems like a Hollywood dream, the reality of the stark differences in attitudes to socializing and day-to-day work becomes a serious challenge for everyone involved. Handled deftly by the directors, the human side of this story is never lost, and American Factory is as eye-opening as it is entertaining. Just mind the culture gap.

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal 

The College Admissions Scandal

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Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal delves into the fraudulent methods used by Rick Singer to get the children of rich and famous families into top US universities. 

The feature-length documentary uses a clever combination of talking heads and acted sequences – headed by Matthew Modine as Singer – to great effect, and provides an insightful account of the very recent, very public scandal in which actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were involved. 

Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami 

Cocaine Cowboys poster

(Image credit: Netflix)

There have been a lot of films called Cocaine Cowboys. There’s the 1979 crime drama directed by Ulli Lommel, a 2006 documentary of the same name and a 2008 sequel documentary called (unsurprisingly) Cocaine Cowboys 2. In 2021, Cowboys: The Kings of Miami arrived on Netflix to continue the trend.

This six-episode series remains one of the best Netflix documentaries and chronicles the rise of Miami drug kingpins Sal Magluta and Willy Falcon, who would become two of the most prolific cocaine dealers in US history. It delivers all the drama we’ve come to expect from the streamer’s exposé documentaries while also adding a layer of tongue-in-cheek humor to paint a boozy picture of two Tony Montana wannabes. Expect jealousy and jet-skis aplenty.

Myth & Mogul: John DeLorean 

Myth & Mogul: John DeLorean poster

(Image credit: Netflix)

Thanks to the Back to the Future franchise, everyone knows the cultural impact of the DMC DeLorean – but what about the man behind the name? This Netflix docuseries charts the rise and fall of automaker John DeLorean, combining interviews and exclusive footage to paint a dark portrait of a man who made it all the way to the top, before it all came crashing down. 

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer

don't fuck with cats

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There is, apparently, one rule on the Dark Web. You can show whatever you want – murder, violence – just don’t f*ck with cats. This controversial and disturbing three-part documentary (which comes from the same production team as the aforementioned The Tinder Swindler) is what happened when someone flouted that rule and a group of armchair detectives got together to take them down. Built from the visual internet lexicon of Google Maps images and notifications, this is smart storytelling with a purposeful sting in its tail. 

The Last Dance

The Last Dance

(Image credit: Netflix)

Like Tiger King before it, The Last Dance arrived on Netflix just in time to abate our lockdown-induced blues. In fact, it probably got millions more people into basketball, too. The ten-part docuseries chronicles the rise of the Chicago Bulls throughout the 1990s and, in particular, superstar Michael Jordan as he traverses fortune and fame. 

Never-before-seen footage makes this one a must-watch for basketball fans, and for everyone else, The Last Dance (opens in new tab) is a case study in how to present sport as the thrilling, emotional business that it is. The soundtrack is pretty great, too. 

Formula One: Drive to Survive

Formula One: Drive to Survive

(Image credit: Netflix)

Sticking with the sports theme, Formula One: Drive to Survive (opens in new tab)can probably claim to have done more for the publicity of F1 than any driver before it. Seriously, it makes the idea of 20 race cars driving around a track for 60 laps seem like a Hollywood movie – it’s genuinely thrilling to behold. 

Across four seasons, Drive to Survive focuses on the plight and politics of all 10 teams competing on the grid, and will leave you yearning for the next instalment of burning rubber and aggressively-shaken champagne. Or, if you wanted, you could just watch F1. 

Nail Bomber: Manhunt 

Nail Bomber: Manhunt

(Image credit: Netflix)

If you’re looking to add some doom and gloom to your watchlist, Nail Bomber: Manhunt tells the story of how one right-wing extremist held London to ransom for 13 days in 1999. It's thought that 150 people suffered injuries at the hands of David Copeland, who targeted minority groups using heinous nail bombs.

If you’ve got true crime fatigue, though, don’t despair – this documentary is a refreshing take on the genre, and an insightful look at how a city came together to take action against a mindless killer. An inspiring story. 

Cheer

cheer

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As much as Cheer can be viewed as the incredible achievements of an elite cheerleading squad, it can also easily be seen through the lens of a horror movie. Here, in this impressive six-part series from the director of the equally compelling Last Chance U, young men and women risk life and limb as they are tossed skyward, leaving their trust in those left on the ground. Whether you're watching through your fingers or punching the air in victory, Cheer is emotional viewing, and season 2 is also now available on Netflix for those looking to continue the drama. 

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

fyre: the greatest party that never happened

(Image credit: Netflix)

If you followed the Fyre Festival hashtag back in 2017 like that popcorn gif you've now put in the bad taste bin, then it's time to settle down for a reality check. The true story from those on the ground of the car crash influencer fest, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is just as astounding as those shots of sad cheese sandwiches offered in place of luxurious party food. 

One of two documentaries covering the tropical island holiday from hell, this is an expertly woven tale of entrepreneurial villainy, 21st century indulgence and the very real – not to mention dire – consequences faced by Bahamian workers. 

Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

evil genius

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It sounds like the plot of a Saw movie. A pizza delivery man robs a bank with a pipe bomb strapped around his neck, and the subsequent deadly explosion is televised globally as he desperately pleads for surrounding police to remove it. 

Evil Genius is the investigation into exactly why Brian Wells did what he did, and the involvement of a woman called Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and her friend William Rothstein. There's no concrete answer here, but the filmmaker's discussions with the convicted Diehl-Armstrong remain fascinating, if infuriating. 

13th

The 13th

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Plenty of the documentaries on this list will, quite rightfully, make you angry. Nowhere, though, is this feeling more potent than in Ava DuVernay's Oscar-nominated investigation into the mass incarceration of black Americans. 13th is a devastating look at the invention of the modern prison system in the US, and the misaligned scales of justice when it comes to race. The mirroring of 21st century politics to the attitudes of pre-American Civil War society is a sobering wake up call.  

The Great Hack

The Great Hack

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The Cambridge Analytica scandal and the widespread use of our data for nefarious purposes isn't huge news anymore, but The Great Hack's informative breakdown of 21st century power and technology is still provocative viewing. 

With fascinating talking heads and a truthfully bleak outlook, this documentary explores the insidious nature of the use of data for voter manipulation, marketing and – essentially – global domination. That places The Great Hack firmly in the 'true crimes against humanity' sub-genre. 

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

(Image credit: Netflix)

The #MeToo movement is not relegated to one industry. This profile of the phenomenally successful yoga teacher Bikram Choudhury is a devastating breakdown of the alleged psychological and sexual abuse from those he worked with. Speaking directly with his accusers, this difficult documentary shows exactly how he managed to leave the country without incident. 

Making A Murderer

Making A Murderer

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Our obsession with the true crime genre isn’t new, but Making A Murderer was the first series to make it socially acceptable to have watercooler discussions over diabolical interview techniques, potential police cover ups and the identity of the murderer who killed young photographer Teresa Halbach in Wisconsin. 

The story of the guilt or innocence of convicted man Steven Avery and, somehow more tragically, his nephew Brendan Dassey has now had two seasons, with the second seeing high-flying attorney Kathleen Zellner take his case. Combine it with some follow-up reading for further context on the case, and Making A Murderer remains essential viewing. 

Our Planet 

Our Planet

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When it comes to the best reasons to buy a new OLED TV, nothing can come close to the David Attenborough-narrated Our Planet. Taking four years to film across 50 countries, this eight-part wonder of a nature series is led by the brains behind the BBC's Planet Earth. 

Just take note that, while it might seem like audiovisual Listerine after the blood and grime of the rest of the entries on this list, nature's plight on a globe that humans have been systematically destroying is as hard-hitting as any true crime documentary.   

Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox

(Image credit: Netflix)

Not that the world actually needs a reminder of just how villainous the tabloid press can be, but here's another one anyway. In her own words, straight down the lens and into your soul, Amanda Knox, the woman convicted and subsequently cleared of the murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher in Italy in 2007, explains exactly how she was painted as a nefarious psychopath. Thanks to interviews with key press players and the individuals involved, this remains an absorbing, not to mention infuriating, film.      

Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

Pandemic: How To Prevent an Outbreak

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The release of Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak was horribly timely, but that doesn't stop this five-part doc from being a fascinating glimpse into the science behind the spread of disease, and a look behind the curtain at those working tirelessly to prevent global outbreaks of influenza. Oh, and prepare to get very, very angry about the anti-vaccine debate. Like, furious.  

The Keepers

The Keepers

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Who killed Sister Cathy? This might be the simple crux at the heart of this investigation, but The Keepers is so much more than the re-opening of a cold case. This galling and honest seven-parter follows the previous students of Cathy Cesnik who, decades on, have come forward with their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of a Baltimore priest who taught at the same high school. It's not an easy story to hear, but the friendships between these women and their drive for justice is truly inspirational.  

Wild Wild Country

Wild Wild Country

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The thing about cults is that, first of all, no one ever thinks they are in one, and secondly, the people who aren't in a cult never think they would join. Wild Wild Country, a frankly astonishing dive into the Oregon desert commune of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, does a brilliant job of humanizing those who thought they had found the answer. It also has more violent twists and turns than a Tarantino movie, and creates a masterful profile of the controversial figures at the heart of a supposedly peaceful community.  

Knock Down the House

Knock Down The House

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Anyone with a vague knowledge of the American political landscape won't be surprised by the denouement of this triumphant doc, but that doesn't take away from its power. Director Rachel Lear's depiction of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow Justice Democrats in their respective races for election is an utterly human underdog story. 

Flicking between their professional and personal lives, Lear channels the genuine elation of trusting in hope and the true power of fighting on even when the odds are against you.

Long Shot

Long Shot

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If the idea of the eight-hour documentary sagas scattered across this feature fill your to-do list with dread, Long Shot is (ironically) a short hit of a true crime documentary. When Juan Catalan is arrested for a murder he claims he didn't commit, the source of proof of his innocence comes from an entirely unpredictable place. Yes, Larry David is involved in one of the most unexpected cameos of all time. Just watch it. It's shorter than the time you'll spend on social media today.    

The Staircase

The Staircase

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Let’s get it out of the way first. No, it wasn't an owl that killed Kathleen Peterson in her North Carolina home in 2001. Whether it was her husband Michael, though, is another matter. This is exactly what The Staircase aims to help you decide. Originally a 2004 series from Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, Netflix released new episodes in 2018 following Peterson’s long fight with the law. Whether you believe he is guilty or not, this is a veritable roller coaster through the modern justice system with a family at its heart. 

Shirkers

Shirkers

(Image credit: Netflix)

In 1992, when she was 19, filmmaker, critic and novelist Sandi Tan made a movie with her friends in Singapore. Then all of the footage disappeared. For 20 years. 

Shirkers is an entirely unique documentary about a movie that never was, an enigma in the shape of the mysterious man who shot the film and then disappeared, who lived with the trauma of pouring your heart, soul, money and friendships into a project that would never come to light. Shot and edited with the wild creativity of a movie-obsessed youth, Shirkers is a heartfelt and joyous experience. 

Penguin Town 

Penguin Town

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Perhaps out-muscling even Shirkers for dopamine-inducing warmth, Penguin Town follows a colony of endangered African penguins as they wander the beaches and city streets of Cape Town, South Africa.

Patton Oswalt narrates the eight-episode series, which has been praised for its use of humor to tell the stories of its black and white subjects. Like David Attenborough’s best nature docs before it, expect beach bust-ups, flamboyant displays of courtship and a lesson or two in Penguin behavior. It’s free of gore, easy on the mind and a hefty helping of virtual comfort food.

The Devil Next Door

The Devil Next Door

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This thought-provoking mini series follows John Demjanjuk, a quiet, simple grandfather living out his retirement in Cleveland, whose life is turned upside-down. That's because he may also be Ivan the Terrible, a notorious Nazi death camp guard. Naturally, it can be a difficult watch, but The Devil Next Door dramatizes the overriding importance of truth amid a whirlwind of emotion and pain.

Shot in the Dark

shot in the dark

(Image credit: Netflix)

When it comes to morals, Shot in the Dark has more shades of grey than an AllSaints window display, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling viewing. Following three of Los Angeles’ most successful so-called 'stringers,' the cameramen responsible for finding footage of accidents and tragedies for the rolling 24-hour news cycle, this is a dark look at the seedy underbelly of modern journalism. There’s more humanity at work here than Jake Gyllenhaal’s cold gaze in Nightcrawler, but it's not easy to watch those running in the direction of the blood on the tarmac.

The Pharmacist

the pharmacist

(Image credit: Netflix)

With its unassuming title, The Pharmacist sits quietly as one of the most riveting true crime documentaries on Netflix. This is the story of Dan Schneider, a pharmacist whose son Danny was addicted to crack cocaine and murdered in 1999. Schneider not only took on the investigation when he didn't feel like the police were doing enough, but followed up with a damning look at America’s opioid crisis as a whole. To divulge more would spoil it, but The Pharmacist is just what the doctor ordered.

Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story

A poster for Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story

(Image credit: Netflix)

One of the more harrowing documentaries on Netflix, Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story chronicles the heyday of the infamous British TV host and, in particular, examines how the establishment allowed him to get away with sexually abusing hundreds of children throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 

Rowan Deacon’s documentary is just over three hours long, but has been described as “a welter of devastating detail” by critics. In our book, then, Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story is worth the time investment – just don’t expect to leave it feeling particularly uplifted. 

Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story

A poster for Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story

(Image credit: Netflix)

One of the more harrowing documentaries on Netflix, Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story chronicles the heyday of the infamous British TV host and, in particular, examines how the establishment allowed him to get away with sexually abusing hundreds of children throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 

Rowan Deacon’s documentary is just over three hours long, but has been described as “a welter of devastating detail” by critics. In our book, then, Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story is worth the time investment – just don’t expect to leave it feeling particularly uplifted. 

Axel is a London-based staff writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Tesla models to newest movies as part of the site's daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and a degree in English Literature means he can occasionally be spotted slipping Hemingway quotes into stories about electric sports cars.


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