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The Best Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

The Best Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

We love documentaries. They educate us about the world we live in, help us empathize with the struggles and share in the triumphs of others, and provide fascinating accounts of history or glimpses into the future. And luckily, Netflix is chock full of the good stuff. There are days worth of documentaries available for streaming and we’re keeping an updated list of the ones we liked the most. Here are the best documentaries streaming on Netflix right now.

Pumping Iron

Pumping Iron, the 1977 documentary that follows the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger on his pursuit of his sixth bodybuilding title, is more than enough motivation to get your ass back in the gym. The film is still considered by many to be one of the best motivational bodybuilding and fitness films in the world, and within the first ten minutes of the film, you’ll understand why. By the end of it, you may even have a contact six-pack. Watch

What Happened, Miss Simone?

What Happened, Miss Simone takes a very intimate look back on the work of the late activist and artist Nina Simone, and explores her emotional and psychological traumas, her anger issues, and her explosive (and brilliant) career. She was one of the world’s most prolific and volatile female artists of the 20th century and her documentary makes sure it communicates every bit of that. Watch

World War II in Colour

We’re pretty big history buffs here at Cool Material, and that’s precisely why World War II in Colour makes this list. This look back on the world’s second global conflict gives a brand new perspective to the age-old ideology that war is hell. See some of the most horrifying and historically important moments in the war that set the course for the rest of the 20th and 21st centuries in newly colorized, rarely seen film. Watch

Hot Girls Wanted

Every month, more people in the U.S. surf porn sites than Twitter, Amazon, and Netflix combined, which, you’ll notice, is a huge number. Hot Girls Wanted explores the emerging “pro-am” porn industry, where real girls-next-door appear on camera for the first time. The documentary features commentary from the industry’s most relevant stars, including Belle Knox and Ava Taylor, and also features lots and lots of boobs. But don’t think this is porn in disguise. It (and its recent sequel series) is much more about education than alone time. Watch

Chelsea Does…

Chelsea Handler is one of those celebrities you either really enjoy or really, really hate, but she’s been adding some gray area lately. Case in point, we’re not big fans, but we really enjoyed this four-part documentary series. Handler takes an in-depth look into four aspects of our society that confuse and frighten her (and a lot of other people): Marriage, technology, racism, and drugs—in that order. Watch

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom

This important piece of documentary film covers, from front to back, the recent political unrest in Ukraine. From a small and peaceful student protest, to a full-on political and cultural revolution, Winter on Fire tells the story as it unfolded. This close to the action, it’ll be hard to get the full picture of what revolution means in the Ukraine, but this documentary lays out the facts in a straightforward enough way that the conversation can have an educated starting point. Watch


Few documentaries hit the raw emotional highs that 13th does, and most of them have some level of artificial manipulation to them. 13th does it by presenting the cold, hard facts about the abhorrent injustice of parts of the incarceration system. The film, which gets its name from the 13th Amendment, is extremely important considering the history of race relations in the United States (while stacking on the added benefit of being directed by Ava DuVernay, the woman who made Selma and one of the best modern directors we’ve ever seen). Watch


Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

If anyone starts to talk to you about the absolute benefits or detriments of modern technology, we’d recommend not listening to too much of what they say. The truth of it is, the Internet’s too young to know what it’s going to do to us, individually and collectively. The only thing we can do right now is start trying to ask the right questions, which is exactly what Werner Herzog sets out to do in Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. He doesn’t take a side, for good or bad. He only aims to make people consider everything about what connectivity does for us and maybe provide some standard questions we can ask going forward. Watch


How to Survive a Plague

History is littered with famines, plagues, and epidemics, but the modern world’s done a decent job of solving those sorts of problems before they can really become problems. One thing it didn’t handle so well was the AIDS epidemic. There was a lot of pseudoscience flying around, a decent serving of homophobia, and the general chaos of the 1980s, all helping create misinformation about the disorder modern medical professionals are still working to overcome. Something that allows this documentary to climb to the top is how much of it comes from firsthand accounts. Not only is the crisis still in living memory, it coincided with an increase in the availability of home video recording, meaning a good chunk of the footage is video shot by people who were directly affected by the crisis. Watch


Cartel Land

People are going to be analyzing Mexican cartels role in foreign and domestic relations for a long time. Of the responses they’ve provoked, Cartel Land explores one of the most interesting, vigilantism. In spite of its illegality, it enjoys support on both side of the Mexico/U.S. border and enables the people to take back some of the control they’ve lost to the cartels. Cartel Land dives deeper into every side of the issue than we would have thought possible, spending time with the American and Mexican vigilantes as well as members of the cartel. Not that this is going to be a groundbreaking statement, but from what we’ve learned, this isn’t a problem that’s going to fade away. Watch


The Battered Bastards of Baseball

Professional sports can be an alienating subject. Plenty of people get lost in the constant importing of players, the exporting of players, the multimillion dollar contracts, the constant drug enhancement allegations, injury controversies, and everything else ESPN loves to complicate, so they just stop watching. But the vast majority of those people could be won back, if only more teams could be like the Portland Mavericks. They were a team of guys who truly loved the game, not in the way modern athletes say they do at press conferences before getting their agent to demand more money. The Mavericks were guys who could’ve been your next door neighbor before they drove to Oregon to play baseball and damned if the people didn’t love them for it. Watch


Five Came Back

Five Came Back is a series, not a traditional feature length documentary, although you could also argue they just wanted to split up an especially long documentary into more manageable chunks. However you feel, there’s no denying the subject matter. It follows five of early cinema’s greatest directors as they attempt to capture and convey the full WWII experience to American audiences. They make the same sacrifice as their fellow countrymen, leaving families and careers behind to fight the war the best way they know. They way they know just happens to be using their cinematic mastery to capture the most devastating war the world’s ever seen. The series doubles down on cinematic greatness too, enlisting the help of Steven Spielberg, Paul Greengrass, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, and Lawrence Kasdan to tell the WWII directors’ story. Watch

The Vietnam War

Only watch The Vietnam War if you’re prepared to block out a solid chunk of time for being depressed. It does an excellent job conveying the raw emotions the war brought out. It features interviews from both major sides of the conflict, with US Marines, ARVN soldiers, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese regulars featuring heavily throughout. What all these interviews teach you is just how devastating and violent the war was for everyone involved. It’s everything we should have learned in school and then some, and finally gives the Cold War’s hottest conflict the airtime it requires. Watch

Into the Inferno

Tossing people into volcanoes is more than a cheap punchline. It was a legitimate religious ceremony practiced by aboriginal people around the world (as long as they happened to be aboriginal to places with volcanoes). Werner Herzog uses Into the Inferno to explore both the inherent power of the world’s volcanoes and the spiritual fascination humans have with them. When you’re dealing with a subject like this, you’re already going to get some great footage. When you’re Werner Herzog, you end up with footage that pretty much convinced us volcanoes are the gods indigenous people believe them to be. Watch

The Square

We won’t know the full effects of the Arab Spring for years to come, but The Square can at least get us started in trying to pick it apart. It gives a visceral, up close look at the Egyptian revolution in 2011 that ended up overturning two separate governments. The revolution started peacefully enough, with no bloodshed bringing the first governmental change. It wasn’t until the Egyptian army got involved that the violence began. The Square shows how dangerous and nuanced a modern revolution can be, with different factions vying for different types of power within the larger structure. Watch


It’s always fun to find out more about when the federal government used Americans as guinea pigs for its mind-altering drug experiments, also known as MK-Ultra. This particular story is about one of the scientists involved in the program and the circumstances surrounding his death. Obviously, very little of it was above board, so indulge your inner conspiracy theorist. Chances are you won’t trust your government again for a long time. Watch

Amanda Knox

We try to be fairly discerning about the true crime media we consume. There are so many podcasts, books, shows, and movies about people murdering other people that we just don’t have the time to watch them all. But we made the time for Amanda Knox. Knox was the main suspect in a roller coaster of a murder investigation and trial, and reliving it through this documentary just reminded us of how important it is that we not get murdered or do any murders. People rip your life apart before you’re even convicted and good luck shedding the reputation if your conviction is overturned. Watch