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The best documentaries hiding on Netflix, according to Rotten Tomatoes

The White Helmets
Netflix has a thriving library of documentaries.
  • Ashley Rodriguez
By Ashley Rodriguez


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Netflix won its first Oscar this year, not for a feature film, but for a documentary short about Syrian first responders called The White Helmets. Another Netflix documentary, Ava DuVernay’s 13th was also nominated for an Academy Award.

The streaming-video service, which is still establishing itself in film, has cultivated a thriving library of documentaries on history, crime, politics, nature, art, and other subjects that are worth checking out this holiday season while you’re digesting on the couch.

These are the best of the best, according to Rotten Tomatoes:

TitleTomatometer scoreAudience score
The Square (2013)10090
Tower (2016)10090
Man On Wire (2008)10087
We Were Here (2011)10086
Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2011)9992
How To Survive A Plague (2012)9983
Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (2008)9890
Blackfish (2013)9890
Iris (2014)9890
Beware Of Mr. Baker (2012)9887
The Overnighters (2014)9885
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2013)9879
Surfwise (2007)9865

Data: Rotten Tomatoes, Netflix

That’s from a Quartz analysis of documentary films streaming on Netflix in the US that earned positive reviews from at least 98% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes and were “certified fresh” on the Tomatometer—meaning they consistently scored well in at least 80 reviews for wide-releases and 40 for limited-releases, including five reviews from top critics. The movies were sorted based on the share of the audience on the site that liked them, too.

Documentaries that didn’t meet that threshold but scored with 100% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes include Paris Is Burning, an award-winning documentary about New York’s drag scene in the 1980s; The White Helmets; and Street Fight, which chronicles Cory Booker’s failed 2002 bid to become mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

About 40% of the 60 best movies hiding on Netflix are documentaries, Quartz found in an earlier analysis.

And that’s just movies. Netflix also has more than 350 documentary series. Quite a few are BBC, PBS, and National Geographic titles that don’t appear on Rotten Tomatoes. And others like Abstract, Chef’s Table, Planet Earth, and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, were well-liked by audiences who reviewed them, but weren’t rated by critics on the site.

Here’s a short list that’s worth your time:

  • Ken Burns: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
  • Night Will Fall (TV movie)
  • Making a Murderer
  • Five Came Back
  • Oklahoma City
  • The Keepers
  • Maya Angelou: And I Still Rise (TV movie)

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