Not only does Netflix make some great dramas and comedies, but it also excels in factual documentaries. There’s plenty of them to choose from on the streaming platform- particularly if you’re into the true crime drama. We’ve rounded up some of the best documentaries that you can watch now, from gripping murder mysteries to intense sports rivalries.
Our Father is one of the weirdest shows to appear on Netflix so far: it tells the story of a woman who discovers that she has dozens of half-siblings across the US without knowing it. Upon investigating further, she uncovers a truly shocking and disturbing secret: a doctor had been secretly using his own sperm to inseminate patients without consent for years, and was not found out. The series features interviews with Ballard and the rest of those caught up in the life changing discovery, and there’s reconstructions portraying Cline’s nefarious deeds. What’s even more shocking is that what the Indianapolis doctor did is not legally considered a crime, and you’ll see the injustice that his victims feel throughout the course of the show. It’s also become a hit for the service, featuring in the top 10 most watched for the UK since release. Distrubing, jaw dropping and groteseuqe, this might be Netflix’s most creepily watchable documentary to date.
A new Colin Firth-starring The Staircase adaptation began airing on Sky Atlantic recently, and has been heavily promoted- but if you want to watch the original documentary it’s based on, then you’ll need to head on over to Netflix instead. Originally made in 2004, this true crime murder case series made in France received huge acclaim upon release, so much so that not only has it now received a dramatic adaptation, but it was also extended later with three extra parts in 2018. It tells the story of Michael Peterson, who was accused of murdering his wife when she was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their home in North Carolina. You’ll get up close and personal with Peterson throughout this riveting documentary that leaves no stone unturned.
Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story
Making a documentary about the most notorious sex offender in Britiain is always going to be difficult and controversial, but this recent Netflix doc is still essential viewing, if only because it sheds light on how such a terrible person was able to get away with his crimes for so long. The almost overnight transformation of Savile from eccentric national treasure to reviled monster is laid bare, as are the frustrations of those victims who wished they could speak out and let the world know. There’s plenty of archive footage that will chill you to the bone, as well as hugely informative interviews with those who were in the same entertainment world and circles as he was. You can also find on Netflix Louis Theroux’s documentaries on Savile, from his When Louis Met… in 2000, before he knew of Savile’s crimes, to the truly hard hitting and saddening retrospective Savile from 2016.
Another quite odd ball entry to this list, Bad Vegan tells the odd, yet sad tale of Sarma Melngaili, a vegan chef whose vegan cooking business empire fell apart due to fraud. Having been successful with her vegan cookery for several years, Melngali began dating Anthony Strangis (using the alias Shane Fox) who defrauded her out of vast sums of money and eventually the control of the entire business. His claims, many of which Melgaili believed, were often absurd, with the promise to make her beloved dog immortal perhaps the most outlandish of all. There’s also plenty of celebrity involvement in this show: Melngali’s creations were endorsed by Bill Clinton and Alicia Silverstone amongst others, and she also formed a friendship with 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin, who became a fan of her restaurant Pure Food and Wine. In fact, it was Baldwin’s nudging of her to join Twitter that ended up connecting her with Strangis in the first place. The docuseries isn’t too long, at four 45-60 minute episodes, and is worth watching for the truly bizarre story it tells.
The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes
Exploring the life of one of the biggest cultural icons in history, The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe is an engrossing yet saddening watch that uncovers the darker truth of the end of her life. It focuses on the events that led to her death; her depression and increasingly dangerous use of drugs, as well as the most infamous scandal that’s associated with her: alleged affairs with both John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy. The clips of tapes and interviews used amass to well over 600, and it’s all put together in a way that sheds new light on her tragic downfall, and that is both unsettling yet insightful into the world of Hollywood and inescapable super stardom. It also addresses the theories and suggestions surrounding her death. Was it accidental? Did she commit suicide? Was she murdered? Everything is explored and sometimes answered, with the documentary weaving in almost all of the tropes of early 1960s America: the Kennedys, the Cold War and nuclear bombs, and the mafia, all of which feel almost unbelievable yet are.
Drive to Survive
One of the hottest documentary series on Netflix, Drive to Survive has had four seasons so far, with the most recent one releasing back in March. The show has proved so popular that it’s generated a renewed interest in Formula 1, particularly in the US, though the documentary has also developed an avid following over here. It gives a behind the scenes view into the drivers, teams and races of the Formula One world, starting with the 2018 World Championship in the first season up to the 2021 Championship in the fourth. Everything is covered in these episodes, from rivalries and controversies to shocking crashes and the effects of the Covid pandemic on the season. Season four covers the intense title battle between British driver Lewis Hamilton and his Dutch rival Max Verstappen, and it makes for seriously entertaining viewing. Even if you’re not normally into sports or cars, you can find something to like here, because Drive to Survive is hugely engrossing and doesn’t let go.
Conversations With A Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes
This riveting but disturbing docuseries is a follow up to The Ted Bundy Tapes, and like that series it deals with the chilling story of a serial killer who terrorised America during the 1970s. Also like it’s predecessor, the format revolves around archive footage and interview tapes that put together the pieces of the life and character of the murderer. The show delves into how Gacy, who infamously became known as the Clown Killer due to his role as a children’s entertainer, was able to evade justice for so long, examining his networking with politicians and staying in the limelight just enough to be thought of as harmless and innocent. It also explores the devastating attitudes toward the gay community during the 70s, with many of his victims being young gay men. Enthralling and gut wrenching, this is a must watch documentary, spread over three episodes.
The Andy Warhol Diaries
Chronicling the life and times of one of the most important figures in modern art, The Andy Warhol Diaries is a six part series on Netflix that’s a must for anyone interested in art. For someone so talked and written about, it makes sense to hear about Warhol’s life from the man himself- this series is based on the diaries that he dictated and were later published in 1989. The aim of the show is to make the enigmatic figure more understandable, even if the show has to mention not to trust fully in Warhol’s version of events. You’ll step into the mind of someone who held a deep dislike of themselves, hating his own appearance and sexuality, and believed himself to be a freak. The story is told through his obsessions and relationships, not just his art, and the series makes for truly great viewing as it paints a very real and human picture of the man who has a unique place in our pop culture.