100 Must-See Documentaries Streaming on Netflix This April

Because people say there are no good movies on Netflix anymore.

This month brings a kind of special event to Netflix with the release of the new documentary miniseries Five Came Back. Because it’s about the US propaganda work of Frank Capra, John Huston, John Ford, William Wyler, and George Stevens during World War II, the streaming service has added 13 of the films the program touches on, both shorts and features, including two of Capra’s Why We Fight series (why not all of them?)

Then there are five new releases and new to streaming titles that I think are essential viewing, even if some of them — Tower and the upcoming Casting JonBenet, namely — are films I have issues with. As always, this isn’t a list of the best so much as the most important, particularly for media literacy reasons. I’ve also added to the Netflix 100 another doc by Gianfranco Rosi, Sacra GRA, which had arrived with Fire at Sea and I hadn’t been aware.

Then there’s also the Notes on Blindness and GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. With so many additions, I’ve separated the short film recommendations into their own list, like I did with miniseries (technically this is now the Netflix 113). A few titles also expired recently: Approaching the Elephant, Looking for Richard, and My Prairie Home (the Ken Burns miniseries The War is also gone).

Still, I had to make some difficult choices of what else to remove, at least for the time being. They are: Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids (which I don’t care for), Lo and Behold (the least essential Herzog), Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil (I personally haven’t seen it yet), and Sky Ladder, Holy Hell, Pervert Park, and last month’s highlight, The Lovers and the Despot, all of which will likely be back some day.

One special mention that isn’t nonfiction: the second season of the doc parody series Documentary Now! is now available.

Here is a reminder of how the Netflix 100 titles are numerically arranged:

They are mostly ranked in order of my favor with some objective authority, but there are some clumps throughout the list that obviously fit together. Some are by director, some are by genre or subject matter and some are by series. In fact, I see this whole list as being best watched in order of the rankings.

There are a few double features in the bunch (Super Size Me and Super High Me and GasLand and FrackNation, for two example sets) and some groupings where I truly think the higher ranking title is best watched before a certain title or titles below it (Into the Inferno is sort of a sequel to Encounters at the End of the World and The Look of Silence is sort of a sequel to The Act of Killing, for two example sets).

  1. Why We Fight: Prelude to War (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1942)
  2. Why We Fight: The Battle of Russia (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1943)
  3. How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines (John Ford, 1943)
  4. Report from the Aleutians (John Huston, 1943)
  5. Tunisian Victory (Frank Capra, Hugh Stewart, and John Huston, 1944)
  6. The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (William Wyler, 1944)
  7. Know Your Enemy (Frank Capra and Joris Ivens, 1945)
  8. Nazi Concentration Camps (George Stevens, 1945)
  9. Let There Be Light (John Huston, 1946)
  10. Sacro GRA (Gianfranco Rosi, 2013)
    Review by Daniel Walber
  11. Notes on Blindness (Peter Middleton and James Spinney, 2016)
    Review by Daniel Walber
  12. Tower (Keith Maitland, 2016)
  13. GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (Brett Whitcomb, 2012)
    Capsule review by Christopher Campbell
  14. Casting JonBenet (Kitty Green, 2017)
  15. The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)
  16. Life Itself (Steve James, 2014)
  17. Stevie (Steve James, 2002)
  18. Brother’s Keeper (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 1992)
  19. Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (Nick Broomfield, 1992)
  20. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (Nick Broomfield, 2003)
  21. Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990)
  22. The Look of Silence (Joshua Opppenheimer, 2014)
  23. Under the Sun (Vitaly Mansky, 2015)
  24. Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock, 2004)
  25. Super High Me (Michael Blieden, 2007)
  26. Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, 2007)
  27. Into the Inferno (Werner Herzog, 2016)
  28. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)
  29. Lessons of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1992)
  30. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
  31. Moana With Sound (Robert J. Flaherty, Frances Hubbard Flaherty and Monica Flaherty, 1926/1980)
  32. Finders Keepers (Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel, 2015)
  33. In the Basement (Ulrich Seidl, 2014)
  34. Rats (Morgan Spurlock, 2016)
  35. The Nightmare (Rodney Ascher, 2015)
  36. My Beautiful Broken Brain (Sophie Robinson and Lotje Sodderland, 2014)
  37. Particle Fever (Mark Levinson, 2013)
  38. Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010)
  39. Casting By (Tom Donahue, 2012)
  40. Lost in La Mancha (Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, 2002)
  41. The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012)
  42. Best of Enemies (Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, 2015)
  43. Stray Dog (Debra Granik, 2014)
  44. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (Werner Herzog, 1997)
  45. Last Days in Vietnam (Rory Kennedy, 2014)
  46. 1971 (Johanna Hamilton, 2014)
  47. The Trials of Muhammad Ali (Bill Siegel, 2013)
  48. 13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016)
  49. The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975 (Goran Olsson, 2011)
  50. Concerning Violence (Goran Olsson, 2014)
  51. God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys of Sudan (Christopher Dillon Quinn and Tommy Walker, 2006)
  52. Virunga (Orlando von Einsiedel, 2014)
  53. The Ivory Game (Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani, 2016)
  54. How to Survive a Plague (David France, 2012)
  55. We Were Here (David Weissman and Bill Weber, 2011)
  56. Touching the Void (Kevin MacDonald, 2003)
  57. Sunshine Superman (Marah Strauch, 2014)
  58. Undefeated (Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, 2011)
  59. Rich Hill (Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos, 2014)
  60. The Overnighters (Jesse Moss, 2014)
  61. Vernon, Florida (Errol Morris, 1981)
  62. The Chinese Mayor (Hao Zhou, 2015)
  63. Street Fight (Marshall Curry, 2005)
  64. Democrats (Camilla Nielsson, 2014)
  65. The Square (Jehane Noujaim, 2013)
  66. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (Evgeny Afineevsky, 2015)
  67. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi, 2016)
  68. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Alex Gibney, 2005)
  69. The Farm: Angola USA (Liz Garbus, 1998)
  70. Evolution of a Criminal (Darius Clark Monroe, 2014)
  71. (T)error (Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe, 2015)
  72. Gasland (Josh Fox, 2010)
  73. FrackNation (Phelim McAleer, Ann McElhinney and Magdalena Segieda, 2013)
  74. Dirty Wars (Rick Rowley, 2013)
  75. Of Men and War (Laurent Becue-Renard, 2014)
  76. Homeland: Iraq Year Zero (Abbas Fahdel, 2016)
  77. Growing Up Coy (Eric Juhola, 2016)
  78. Mala Mala (Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini, 2014)
  79. Presenting Princess Shaw (Ido Haar, 2015)
  80. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (Jon M. Chu, 2011)
  81. What Happened, Miss Simone? (Liz Garbus, 2015)
  82. Miss Sharon Jones! (Barbara Kopple, 2015)
  83. Beware of Mr. Baker (Jay Bulger, 2012)
  84. Kurt & Courtney (Nick Broomfield, 1998)
  85. Kumare (Vikram Gandhi, 2011)
  86. Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, 2006)
  87. Trapped (Dawn Porter, 2016)
  88. Pumping Iron (George Butler and Robert Fiore, 1977)
  89. Bigger, Stronger, Faster (Chris Bell, 2008)
  90. Print the Legend (Luis Lopez and J. Clay Tweel, 2014)
  91. Finding Vivian Maier (John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, 2013)
  92. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)
  93. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Alison Klayman, 2012)
  94. Hooligan Sparrow (Nanfu Wang, 2016)
  95. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011)
  96. More Than Honey (Markus Imhoof, 2012)
  97. Tabloid (Errol Morris, 2010)
  98. Amanda Knox (Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, 2016)
  99. The Witness (James D. Solomon, 2015)
  100. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (Kurt Kuenne, 2008)

And here are the six must-see documentary miniseries and series:

  1. Five Came Back (Laurent Bouzereau, 2017)
  2. The Civil War (Ken Burns, 1990)
  3. Prohibition (Ken Burns, 2011)
  4. The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (Ken Burns, 2014)
  5. Making a Murderer (Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, 2015)
  6. Planet Earth (Alastair Fothergill, 2006)

And here are the seven must-see documentary shorts:

  1. The Battle of Midway (John Ford, 1942)
  2. The Negro Soldier (Stuart Heisler, 1944)
  3. San Pietro (John Ford, 1945)
  4. Thunderbolt (John Sturges and William Wyler, 1947)
  5. White Earth (Christian Jensen, 2014)
  6. The White Helmets (Orlando von Einsiedel, 2016)
  7. Extremis (Dan Krauss, 2016)

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.