Best Netflix documentaries for October 2018


Netflix original documentaries and docuseries have been knocking it out of the park lately. Not only did Netflix win Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards this year, it’s also been nominated six times since 2014. So good! Let’s get streaming.

Documentary features


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Quincy is a very enjoyable documentary on the legendary record producer Quincy Jones. Directed by Alan Hicks and Quincy’s daughter, Rashida Jones, the film repeatedly hammers home the fact that none of us will ever be as cool as Quincy. From Quincy’s work with Frank Sinatra, to scoring countless hit films, to producing musical masterpieces like Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, it’s hard not to watch the documentary and wonder how Jones managed to accomplish so much in his career. Hint: He’s incredibly talented. 


The Bleeding Edge

Metacritic score: 74

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Documentary film fans are probably already familiar with director Kirby Dick’s work. From his investigation of the MPAA in This Film Is Not Yet Rated to the Academy Award-nominated The Invisible War, about sexual assault in the US military, Dick doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects. The Bleeding Edge tackles implanted medical devices and the lack of regulation surrounding them. Though I’m squeamish when it comes to medical details, I felt The Bleeding Edge was absolutely worth stomaching. The individuals’ stories were powerful, and the film is eye-opening. 

Mercury 13

Metacritic score: 82 

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This documentary tells the story of the 13 female pilots who were tested, in secret, for the space program in the early ’60s. Sadly, for political reasons, these women would never be sent into space. (Though Russia sent a woman into space in 1963, it would be another 20 years before America followed suit.) But these passionate, eager women were ready to be the first pioneers in space, and the documentary does a wonderful job of recognizing an often overlooked piece of space-race history.

Seeing Allred (2018)

Metacritic score: 68 

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You have to have pretty thick skin to be an activist in the public eye. And even thicker skin if you’re a female lawyer. But Gloria Allred has championed women’s rights for decades, seeming completely immune to the childish taunts thrown her way. This documentary is an utterly fascinating look at the life and motivations of one of America’s best-known attorneys.

Strong Island (2017)

Metacritic score: 86 

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Strong Island is an incredibly moving film about a family’s history, and its struggles with racism in America. The movie is centered on a horrific 1992 tragedy, when William Ford Jr., a 24-year-old black high school teacher on Long Island, was murdered by a white 19-year-old. Yance Ford’s documentary on his brother’s death is a heartrending film that tries to celebrate William’s potential.

Icarus (2017)

Metacritic score: 68 

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Bryan Fogel’s documentary Icarus, about sports doping, may as well be called a thriller; while making the documentary Fogel accidentally uncovered a massive Russian doping scandal after meeting with a Russian scientist. Icarus is an insightful yet scary look at the complex world of sports and the politics surrounding them. Oh, and Icarus won Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards this year.

13th (2016)

Metacritic score: 90 

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Ava DuVernay’s documentary about the mass incarceration and disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the United States gets right to the point. 13th has to cover quite a bit of ground, and DuVernay’s skills as a filmmaker really shine through as she carefully lays out a very complex history of injustice. 13th picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary and won three Emmys and a Peabody Award.

Casting JonBenet (2017)

Metacritic score: 74 

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If you’re a true-crime fan looking for answers on the JonBenet Ramsey case, this isn’t the documentary for you. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of specials, books and podcasts on this case you can sink your teeth into.) Instead, this thought provoking documentary turns the camera onto the actors auditioning for re-enactment roles and makes the viewer wonder about how we might project our own experiences onto sensational cases like JonBenet’s.

Gaga: Five Foot Two (2017)

Metacritic score: 63 

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As someone who casually enjoys Lady Gaga’s music but knew very little about her, I wasn’t expecting much from this documentary. But I found Gaga: Five Foot Two to be an enjoyable, easy watch, perfect for a lazy afternoon. Lady Gaga may be a larger-than-life persona, but the documentary really highlights the dedication and hard work required for the singer to be a superstar and pull off something as grand as a Super Bowl performance.

Virunga (2014)

Metacritic score: 95 

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Virunga was one of the first documentaries to really put Netflix originals on the map. It received a nomination for Best Documentary at the Oscars, the second Academy Award nomination for Netflix. At that point, people began to notice that Netflix was picking some real winners. And Virunga is absolutely a winner. The film focuses on the park rangers at the Virunga National Park in the Congo, and their struggle to protect the mountain gorillas who live there. It’s a powerful film well worth your time. 



Making a Murderer

Part Two premieres Oct.19. Stream on Netflix

When Making a Murderer first premiered almost 3 years ago, it put Netflix docuseries on the map. Like most gripping true crime stories, there’s been an endless internet debate over the murder of Teresa Halbach. Is Steven Avery, the man convicted of her murder, innocent, or did he actually kill her? Was he framed? If you love a good conspiracy theory, check out Part One before Part Two drops Oct. 19. 

Chef’s Table

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This docuseries on the culinary arts is pure visual poetry. Every episode tells the story of a different world-renowned chef. As a generally stoic person, I’ve cried maybe three times over a movie or TV show in my entire life. The first episode of Chef’s Table, which tells the love story of Massimo Bottura and his wife, had me sobbing on my couch. Make of that what you will.

Dark Tourist

Metacritic score: 70

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In this docuseries, journalist David Farrier tackles ‘dark tourism,’ which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: tourists who visit deadly, tragic or violent sites. In the first episode, Farrier spends time with Pablo Escobar’s own hitman and Farrier voices his own moral conflict between finding the murderer charming and reprehensible. I don’t love true crime enough to build my holiday itinerary around a serial killer, but I’m fascinated by the people who actually would. 

The Staircase

Metacritic score: 95 

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Netflix brings us three new episodes of this true-crime docuseries, which first premiered in 2004. The series follows the trial of Michael Peterson, an author accused of murdering his wife Kathleen, after she was found dead at the bottom of their home’s staircase. After binging the entire 13 episodes and reading up on numerous theories, I still have absolutely no idea if Michael Peterson is guilty, innocent or framed by an owl. But as a true-crime fanatic, I’m obsessed with this case. Jump on the hype train!

Evil Genius

Metacritic score: 71 

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Calling all true-crime fans! Netflix has blessed us with another mind-boggling docuseries. Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist is just a roller coaster of emotions. This docuseries dives into the 2003 pizza bomber case, where a pizza delivery driver was forced to rob a bank while wearing a collar bomb. A big sensitivity warning: You’ll see someone blown up in the first 10 minutes. So I highly recommend you put any kids to bed before binging this four-part series in one sitting. 

The Toys That Made Us

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Netflix released only half of the first season back in December, and I spent months constantly checking to see if it had added the other half. Lucky for all of us, Netflix added four new episodes in May. The show is just so fantastically fun to watch. Even the way the He-Man and Barbie teams from Mattel talk about each other across both episodes was delightful. Trust me, you should take a few hours out of your day to watch this docuseries and just feel like a kid again.

Dirty Money

Metacritic score: 80 

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My sincerest apologies, because Dirty Money is definitely not a feel-good docuseries. It’ll probably fill you with rage. But I’m recommending it anyway, because damned if it’s not informative. The show focuses on corrupt corporations, and it had me asking important questions like, How on Earth did they get away with that? while screaming at my TV. You’ve been warned.

Wild Wild Country

Metacritic score: 79 

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Holy bananas. Is that even a saying? Because holy bananas. Wild Wild Country is about the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the utopian city of Rajneeshpuram his followers built in remote Oregon in the early ’80s. The local townspeople of Antelope, right next to Rajneeshpuram, even voted to disband their own town to try and prevent the Rajneesh’s followers from taking over. The story unfolds into utter insanity: from a hotel bombing to an assassination plot to illegal wiretapping to the largest bioterrorism attack in US history. This docuseries had me absolutely hooked in the first 10 minutes. Be prepared to have your mind blown with disbelief that this actually really happened. 

The Keepers

Metacritic score: 78 

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I’m just going to level with you: This docuseries may wreck you emotionally. The Keepers investigates the 1969 unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a Catholic nun and high-school teacher, and how her murder possibly links to a pervasive sexual predator from the school, the priest Joseph Maskill. The seven-part series was nearly impossible for me to turn off, completely and utterly gripping from the onset.

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