I get annoyed when people complain about the lack of good content on Netflix Instant. I have over 400 movies in my Instant queue alone, and about 30+ TV shows as well. Not to mention the content I’ve already watched and removed from my queue! Now, I’m not saying that each of those is a two-thumbs-up masterpiece, but the point is there is plenty of good, even great, content available on Netflix Instant.
You would think this would be obvious, considering they have the largest Streaming catalog out of any of the major players, but the complaints persist. While I certainly recommend using some of the great sites and tools out there to peruse Netflix’s vast Instant library, I figured I’d do my part to help out.
Putting my monthly fee where my mouth is, I decided to make some lists. Of course, if you’re the type that doesn’t venture too far out of your comfort zone, this probably won’t do much for you. Regardless, here is the first list: More than 100 highly rated documentaries currently available on Netflix Instant. Every film listed has an IMDb rating of 7.5 or higher. Also, if it had an expiration date I did not include it. Ok, enjoy!
In no particular order (numbered only to keep track):
1. The Art of the Steal – Documentary that follows the struggle for control of Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ 25 billion dollar collection of modern and post-impressionist art.
2. The Corporation – Documentary that looks at the concept of the corporation throughout recent history up to its present-day dominance.
3. Not Quite Hollywood – The story of “Ozploitation” movies – a time when Australian cinema showed an explosion of sex, violence, horror and action.
4. Heavy Metal in Baghdad – The story of the band (Acrassicauda) and its members, young Iraqis whose lives have been distorted and displaced by years of continual warfare in their homeland.
5. Dear Zachary – A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend’s ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son.
6. Still Bill – A portrait of soul legend Bill Withers.
7. American: The Bill Hicks Story – Photo-animated feature documentary, uniquely narrated by the 10 people who knew Bill best.
8. Mugabe and the White African – An intimate and moving account of one family’s extraordinary courage in the face of overwhelming injustice and brutality.
9. Life in a Day – A documentary shot by filmmakers all over the world that serves as a time capsule to show future generations what it was like to be alive on the 24th of July, 2010.
10. A State of Mind – A British documentary that follows two young North Korean girls as they prepare for the Mass Games, the world’s largest choreographed gymnastics performance.
11. Lindsey Vonn: In The Moment – Reveals the world’s fastest and most charismatic downhill skier’s greatest fears, dreams, focus and challenges.
12. Senna – A documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34.
13. Between the Folds – Depicts a cast of fine artists and eccentric scientists (from MIT and NASA) who have devoted their lives to the unlikely medium of modern origami.
14. Gonzo – A portrait of the late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
15. Cocaine Cowboys – The true story of how — in the 1980s — Miami became the drug, murder and cash capital of the United States, told by the people who made it all happen.
16. Imaginary Witness – Examines the treatment of the Holocaust in Hollywood films over a period of sixty years and the impact of the films on public perception and thinking, and vice versa.
17. Armadillo – In February 2009 a group of Danish soldiers accompanied by documentary filmmaker Janus Metz arrived at Armadillo, an army base in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.
18. Crossing the Line – A British documentary about US Army defector James Dresnok currently living in North Korea after having defected during the 60s.
19. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey – Meet the unlikely man behind the puppet – the heart and soul of Elmo – Kevin Clash.
20. Grizzly Man – A devastating and heartrending take on grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who were killed in October of 2003 while living among grizzlies in Alaska.
21. Encounters at the End of the World – Filmmaker Werner Herzog travels to Antarctica to capture its landscape’s rarely seen beauty on film.
22. Reel Injun – A documentary about the evolution of the depiction of First Nations people in film, from the silent era to today.
23. Waste Land – Top-selling contemporary artist Vik Muniz takes us on an emotional journey from Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to the heights of international art stardom.
24. Which Way Home – A feature documentary film that follows unaccompanied child migrants, on their journey through Mexico, as they try to reach the United States.
25. After Innocence – A gripping, emotionally charged film that follows wrongfully convicted men freed by DNA evidence after decades in prison as they struggle to transition back into society.
26. Food Fight – A fascinating look at how American agricultural policy and food culture developed in the 20th century, and how the California food movement rebelled against big agribusiness to launch the local organic food movement.
27. Best Worst Movie – A look at the making of the film Troll 2 and its journey from being crowned the “worst film of all time” to a cherished cult classic.
28. Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains – For the first time ever, survivors of the famous 1972 Andes plane crash tell in their own words their harrowing story of survival.
29. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child – Much can be gleaned from insider interviews and archival footage, but it is Basquiat’s own words and work that powerfully convey the mystique and allure of both the artist and the man.
30. God Grew Tired of Us – Four boys from Sudan embark on a journey to America after years of wandering Sub-Saharan Africa in search of safety.
31. The Blue Planet – Mammoth series, five years in the making, taking a look at the rich tapestry of life in the world’s oceans; narrated by David Attenborough.
32. GasLand – It is happening all across America-rural landowners wake up one day to find a lucrative offer from an energy company wanting to lease their property. Reason? The company hopes to tap into a reservoir dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”
33. Ballets Russes – An intimate portrait of a group of pioneering artists — now in their 70s, 80s and 90s — who gave birth to modern ballet.
34. Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders – In the war-zones of Liberia and Congo, four volunteers with Doctors Without Borders struggle to provide emergency medical care under extreme conditions.
35. Deliver Us from Evil – Documentary about Father Oliver O’Grady, a Catholic priest who was relocated to various parishes around the United States during the 1970s in an attempt by the Catholic Church to cover up his rape of dozens of children.
36. Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff – In 2001 Jack Cardiff (1914-2009) became the first director of photography in the history of the Academy Awards to win an Honorary Oscar.
37. Anvil! The Story of Anvil – Since 1978, Anvil has become one of heavy metal’s most influential yet commercially unsuccessful acts. In 2006, after a fledging European tour Anvil sets out to record their thirteenth album and continue to follow their dreams.
38. Food, Inc. – An unflattering look inside America’s corporate controlled food industry.
39. This Film Is Not Yet Rated – Kirby Dick’s exposé about the American movie ratings board.
40. The Thin Blue Line – A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.
41. The Devil Came on Horseback – A documentary that exposes the genocide raging in Darfur, Sudan as seen through the eyes of a former U.S. marine who returns home to make the story public.
42. Man on Wire – A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City’s World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974, what some consider, “the artistic crime of the century.”
43. Exit Through the Gift Shop – The story of how an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur film maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner.
44. How Does the Brain Work? – Nova ScienceNow examines how the brain works. It looks at magicians tricking the brain, engineers who are building an A.I. capable of playing Jeopardy, and scientists who are modifying behavior by electronic stimulation of the brain. It also profiles neuroscientist David Eagleman.
45. Food Matters – Food Matter examines how the food we eat can help or hurt our health. Nutritionists, naturopaths, doctors, and journalists weigh in on topics organic food, food safety, raw foodism, and nutritional therapy.
46. Restrepo – A year with one platoon in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan.
47. Copyright Criminals – A documentary that examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling.
48. Waiting for ‘Superman’ – As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying “drop-out factories” and “academic sinkholes,” methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems.
49. Bill Cunningham New York – A cinematic profile of the noted veteran New York City fashion photographer.
50. Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead – An inspiring film that chronicles Joe’s personal mission to regain his health. With doctors and conventional medicines unable to help long-term, Joe turns to the only option left, the body’s ability to heal itself.
51. Zeitgeist: The Movie – Mythology and belief in society today, presenting uncommon perspectives of common cultural issues.
52. Religulous – Bill Maher’s take on the current state of world religion.
53. 180° South – The film follows adventurer Jeff Johnson as he retraces the epic 1968 journey of his heroes Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia.
54. Nirvana: Nevermind – In this rockumentary, Nirvana band mates Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl shed light on the group’s brief meteoric career, the recording of Nirvana’s groundbreaking 1991 album “Nevermind” and the late Kurt Cobain’s legacy.
55. The Buddha – Through a visual tapestry of evocative paintings and sculptures, this compelling Emmy-nominated documentary from filmmaker David Grubin explores the life of the Buddha, his quest for serenity and his eventual enlightenment.
56. How Beer Saved the World – This show traces the important role that beer has played in human history from the probable origins of the first beer at the dawn of history to the development of a special beer for use in zero gravity space missions.
57. We Were Here – A deep and reflective look at the arrival and impact of AIDS in San Francisco and how individuals rose to the occasion during the first years of this unimaginable crisis.
58. My Perestroika – Tells the story of five people from the last generation of Soviet children who were brought up behind the Iron Curtain.
59. Killer Stress: A National Geographic Special – Investigates the root causes and eventual effects of stress.
60. Shadows of a Leader: Qaddafi’s Female Bodyguards – The documentary investigates the phenomenon of Qaddafi’s elite female bodyguard corps and the tensions these women embody: tensions between Islam, modernisation in a nomadic society, a militarist feminism and an urban dictatorship.
61. For the Bible Tells Me So – An exploration of the intersection between religion and homosexuality in the U.S. and how the religious right has used its interpretation of the Bible to stigmatize the gay community.
62. Burzynski – This true story follows a biochemist who challenged the Food and Drug Administration for his right to begin clinical trials on a new cancer treatment.
63. I Ain’t Scared of You: A Tribute to Bernie Mac – Get a behind-the-scenes look at comedian Bernie Mac’s life and career with this documentary packed with footage of his early performances, a look at his more well-known work, and interviews with dozens of his celebrity friends.
64. 49 Up – In 1964, British filmmaker Michael Apted interviewed a diverse group of 7-year-olds living in England and vowed to track how their lives progressed every seven years. Now, those “kids” are 49 years old.
65. DMT: The Spirit Molecule - An investigation into the long-obscured mystery of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a molecule found in nearly every living organism and considered the most potent psychedelic on Earth.
66. The War on Kids – Examines the appalling condition of America’s public schools, which often resemble high-security prisons more than places of learning.
67. A Program About Unusual Buildings & Other Roadside Stuff – A travelogue featuring oddly-shaped buildings (and the folks who live in, work in, own and admire them) located along USA highways.
68. The Endless Summer – The crown jewel to ten years of Bruce Brown surfing documentaries. Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters.
69. Deep Water – A documentary about the disastrous 1968 round-the-world yacht race.
70. Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians – Holy Rollers follows the rise of arguably the largest and most well-funded blackjack team in America-made up entirely of churchgoing Christians.
71. Witness to Jonestown – Rare footage shot inside the People’s Temple gives an insider’s look at the tragic Jonestown Massacre that occurred in Guyana in 1978.
72. Herb & Dorothy – He was a postal clerk. She was a librarian. With their modest means, the couple managed to build one of the most important contemporary art collections in history.
73. Collapse – A documentary on Michael Ruppert, a police officer turned independent reporter who predicted the current financial crisis in his self-published newsletter, From the Wilderness.
74. The Union: The Business Behind Getting High – Explores the illegal marijuana industry in British Columbia, revealing how the international business is most likely more profitable than it would be if it was lawful.
75. Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone – Good-time specialists Fishbone get the spotlight in this lively documentary about the all-black punk-funk band that sprang out of South Central Los Angeles in 1979, signing a record deal before their principals were out of high school.
76. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill – A homeless musician finds meaning to his life when he starts a friendship with dozens of parrots.
77. Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) – Brilliant, mysterious singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson cut an indefinable path across the 1960s pop-cultural landscape, garnering such fans as John Lennon and Randy Newman.
78. Gotta Dance – Chronicles the first-ever, senior citizen hip-hop dance team for the New Jersey Nets Basketball team, 12 women and man – all dance team newbies, from auditions through to center court stardom.
79. The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience – More than 150 of the world’s top electronic music artists and 200,000 festival-goers gathered for two amazing nights in Southern California.
80. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth – Destroyed in a dramatic and highly-publicized implosion, the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex has become a widespread symbol of failure amongst architects, politicians and policy makers.
81. Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 – A feature-length independent documentary that follows the creation of a Steinway concert grand, #L1037- from forest floor to concert hall.
82. They Came to Play – Profiles the devoted musicians entered in the 2007 International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs in Fort Worth, Texas, where any nonprofessional pianist over the age of 35 can fulfill their dreams by shining onstage.
83. Bhutto – Following in her father’s footsteps as a pillar for democracy, Bhutto was expected to dominate Pakistan’s 2008 elections but the assassination sent Pakistan politics into turmoil.
84. The Botany of Desire – While visiting places like Peru, Kazakhstan and Amsterdam, learn from author Michael Pollan as he explains the natural history of apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes and describes how common plants such as these deftly manipulate human desires.
85. Loving Lampposts – From conferences where vendors offer myriad natural remedies and therapies to “neurodiversity” advocates, this documentary explores diverse perspectives on the condition and the families who cope with autism.
86. Janis – Biographical film about Janis Joplin, from her Texas origins to Woodstock, and super-stardom, featuring performances by Big Brother and The Holding Company.
87. Dark Days – A cinematic portrait of the homeless population who live permanently in the underground tunnels of New York City.
88. Takedowns & Falls – This documentary follows the relationships of a group of teen wrestlers in Pennsylvania. Inspired by their love of the sport and their cancer-stricken coach, they grow up before our eyes in an attempt to do the impossible … win a state title.
89. Brother’s Keeper – This acclaimed documentary from filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky explores the odd world of the four elderly Ward brothers — illiterate farmers who have lived their entire lives in a dilapidated two-room shack.
90. A Man Named Pearl – Angered by white residents’ racist comments that he wouldn’t “keep up his yard,” Pearl Fryar teaches himself topiary sculpture and becomes the first African American in his Bishopville, S.C., neighborhood to win the coveted “yard of the month” award.
91. Chosin – After 60 years of silence, the survivors of the Chosin Reservoir Campaign of the Korean War take us on an emotional and heart-pounding journey through one of the most savage battles in American history.
92. Beyond the Gates of Splendor – About five young missionaries who were martyred by a savage tribe of Indians in the mid 1950s and the heroic effort of reconciliation that has followed.
93. Future by Design – Chronicling the life and work of self-taught futurist Jacque Fresco, a Florida-based engineer, designer and inventor who’s built his life around forward thinking.
94. Two Days in April – Follows the story of 4 college football players signed by the sports agency IMG, as they bring them to a training facility in Florida and both physically and mentally prepare them for the NFL draft.
95. The Street Stops Here – In this inspiring cinematic portrait, filmmaker Kevin Shaw profiles high school basketball coach Bob Hurley Sr., a man who’s racked up a staggering 900-victory record for his inner-city Catholic school — and changed the lives of countless students.
96. The Cats of Mirikitani – Jimmy Mirikitani, a feisty painter working and living on the street, near the World Trade Center, when 9/11 devastates the neighborhood. A nearby film editor, Linda Hattendorf, persuades elderly Jimmy to move in with her, while seeking a permanent home for him.
97. Rivers and Tides – Portrait of Andy Goldsworthy, an artist whose specialty is ephemeral sculptures made from elements of nature.
98. Hoop Dreams – A film following the lives of two African American boys who struggle to become college basketball players on the road to going professional.
99. Kicking It – The lives of homeless people are changed forever through an international soccer competition. This film follows six players as they set off for Cape Town, South Africa to play in the Homeless World Cup.
100. Chops – Each year, Jazz at Lincoln Center and its artistic director Wynton Marsalis host the Essentially Ellington Festival, a competition of high school jazz bands from across the country.
101. The Goebbels Experiment – Reading from the diaries kept by Third Reich propagandist Joseph Goebbels between 1924 and 1945, Kenneth Branagh brings the infamous Nazi spin doctor to life, all the way up to his suicide at the end of World War II.
102. I.O.U.S.A. – Few are aware that America may be on the brink of a financial meltdown. I.O.U.S.A. explores the country’s shocking current fiscal condition and ways to avoid a national economic disaster.
103. The Rape of Europa – The story of Nazi Germany’s plundering of Europe’s great works of art during World War II and Allied efforts to minimize the damage.
104. The Ritchie Boys – During WWII, the U.S. formed an elite intelligence unit — mostly German Jewish academics — at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. Tasked with devising ways to break the morale of the SS, these men are often credited with bringing an early end to the war.
105. Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project – Renowned director John Landis offers up a portrait of legendary comedian Don Rickles (in an Emmy-winning role) by blending clips of Rickles’s appearances at the Dean Martin celebrity roasts and on “The Tonight Show” with footage from his stand-up routine and interviews.
106. Last Train Home – Follows a couple who, like 130 million other Chinese peasants, left their rural village for work in the city, leaving their children to be raised by grandparents, returning only once a year on an arduous 1,000-mile journey.
107. Sound and Fury – Takes an unexpected approach to the “medical miracle” film by examining the political and emotional turmoil that erupts between brothers over the cochlear implant that might allow their deaf children to hear.
108. Under Our Skin – Exposes the hidden epidemic of Lyme disease and reveals how our corrupt health care system is failing to address one of the most serious illnesses of our time.
109. Inheritance – Monika Hertwig grapples with her father Amon Goeth’s appalling legacy as a Nazi responsible for killing thousands of Jews.
Whew! Done. Now, here is the kicker: that was only looking through less than half of Netflix’s documentary titles! I’m confident that the results would be similar if you took the time to look through the rest. Additionally, there were many great documentaries that I did not include simply because they had an IMDb rating of 7.4 or lower. Here are some that just missed the cut, just to drive the point home:
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel
Casino Jack and the United States of Money
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Page One: Inside the New York Times
These Amazing Shadows
The People vs. George Lucas
Smash His Camera
An Unlikely Weapon
Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
Forks Over Knives
Into the Abyss
The Elephant in the Living Room
Confessions of a Superhero
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Tales from the Script
Step Into Liquid
Hell on Wheels
…anyway, I think you get the idea. If you appreciated this list, please let me know! Feel free to suggest other genres for future lists, or recommend other great documentaries on Netflix Instant in the comments below.