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13 Best Netflix Documentaries To Keep Your Mind Sharp While Staying At Home All Day

Best Netflix documentaries to watch

netflix documentaries
Netflix documentaries
Image adapted from: Netflix, Netflix, Don’t F**K With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

With all this newly found free time we have at home, it’s a good thing Netflix has us covered. But if you’re ever sick of starting a new sitcom or drama series and want something more factual, there are plenty of Netflix documentaries to give your brain a workout.

Covering a wide variety of topics including pandemics, economics, food, sports and tigers, here are 13 of Netflix’s top documentaries to let you learn about all the different facets of the world. 

For more Netflix shows, check out these articles:

1. Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

netflix documentaries
Image credit: Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

This Netflix docuseries was released at an eerily apt timing – January 2020. Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak covers the initial spread of global pandemics, the subsequent efforts to contain it and the stories of those on the frontlines.

With reference to past influenza and ebola outbreaks, you’ll witness not only healthcare workers working tirelessly but also researchers finding vaccines and politicians debating. The series also brings you across the world from India to Congo, from Asia to the USA.  

It’s certainly worth checking out, especially if you want an introspective look at current events.

IMDb Rating: 6.3
Length: 6 episodes of ~47 minutes each (287 minutes total)

2. Don’t F**K With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer

netflix documentaries
Image credit: Don’t F**K With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer

Don’t be fooled by the title, the story behind this documentary is much more gruesome and intriguing than you think. In Don’t F**K With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, two Internet detectives try to unmask the identity of a man who uploaded a video himself killing two cats on Facebook.

An online manhunt ensued with people analysing every little detail of the blurry, grotesque video. It gets even more intense when they try to figure out the killer’s motives, delve into his psyche and realise what he has the potential to become.

IMDb Rating: 8.1
Length: 3 episodes of ~62 minutes each (187 minutes total)

3. American Factory

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In American Factory, many workers rejoice when a Chinese billionaire reopens a factory in Ohio. Featuring both American and Chinese workers, this eye-opening documentary highlights both the blatant and subtle differences between the two nations’ working ethics when they’re together in the same factory.

It won’t merely be a clash of Asian vs. Western values, you’ll still find a camaraderie between these factory workers despite cultural differences. And if you’re still looking for reasons to watch this, it won an Academy Award in 2020!

IMDb Rating: 7.4
Length: 1 hour 50 minutes

4. Dirty Money

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Dirty Money, as the title suggests, is all about money in the billions and even trillions, more than you could possibly imagine. Focusing on corruption, greed and fraud, each episode features a different company, political party or person laundering money.

While most of the episodes across the 2 seasons are US-based, one strikes particularly close to home. Season 2 features the infamous scandal around Malaysia’s previous PM Najib Razak, one that you’ve most certainly heard of in the news. It’s mind-boggling to see where all these near-uncountable amounts of money go.

IMDb Rating: 8.1
Length: 2 seasons, 6 episodes each. Each episode spans ~56 minutes (675 minutes total)

5. Rotten

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Rotten is all about food. Not IG-worthy pics of the food but more on the process of distribution and supply across the world. It’s ideal for those who have always wanted to know exactly where, how, and what their supermarket groceries came from.

Each episode goes in-depth into one type of food such as milk, garlic or avocados and delves into the detailed process from production, packaging, transportation and distribution.

IMDb Rating: 7.1
Length: 2 seasons, 6 episodes each. Each episode spans ~56 minutes (668 minutes total)

6. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

ted bundy
Image credit:
Wikimedia Commons

Ted Bundy was just a regular, charming American guy with a nice smile before he was known worldwide for being a serial killer. Using archived footage as well as interviews from his friends, family and surviving victims, the documentary eerily unmasks the facade of this notorious murderer.

If you thought the murders themselves were chilling enough, his own thinking behind it will send shivers down your spine.

IMDb Rating: 7.8
Length: 4 episodes of ~58 minutes each (total 235 minutes)

7. The Great Hack

netflix documentaries
Image credit: Photostream on Flickr

Quoting from the trailer, “Who has seen an advertisement that has convinced you that your microphone is listening to your conversation?” The Great Hack is all about big data, and if you remember anything about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s still a hot topic.

Right now, there is data-tracking going on by trillion-dollar companies who use the same data against you. With every digital action we take being collectable, it’s no wonder big data has surpassed oil in value.

IMDb Rating: 7.0
Length: 1 hour 54 minutes

8. Our Planet

netflix documentaries
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Our Planet puts our planet in stunning 4K HD with breathtaking cinematography. Different from the beloved National Geographic nature films, this docuseries puts a greater emphasis on the human aspect, especially our impact on the environment. 

From jungles and glaciers to tigers in the savannah and turtles in the ocean, marvel at the beauty of it all. And then, shudder at the human’s touch on them.

PSA: For those of us who don’t have a Netflix account, you can catch this series for free on Youtube!

IMDb Rating: 9.3
Length: 8 episodes of ~50 minutes each (403 minutes total)

9. Ugly Delicious

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Food in of itself is a whole culture, with history and a backstory behind every dish and cuisine. In Ugly Delicious, host David Chang combines food, history and travel with mouth-watering enthusiasm. His open attitude towards new foods as well as appreciation for traditional meals keeps you hooked.

Every episode features a dish or concept like fried chicken or BBQ and goes into its culinary and social history. Have food ready or watch on a full stomach because each episode will leave you salivating.

IMDb Rating: 7.8
Length: 12 episodes across 2 seasons with each episode spanning ~51 minutes (609 minutes total)

10. Icarus

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Icarus veers among the more serious Netflix documentaries, discussing the Russian doping scandal that managed to cheat even the Olympics. Through interviews with whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of Russia’s national anti-doping agency, he reveals the truth while in protective custody, fearing for his life.

You’ll never hear about doping in sports until someone actually gets caught. And this Academy Award-winning documentary shows you how some athletes managed to avoid detection for years.

IMDb Rating: 7.9
Length: 2 hours 1 minute

11. The Devil Next Door

the devil next door - netflix documentaries
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When a retired American man is suddenly accused of being a Nazi concentration camp guard, drama unfolds. The Devil Next Door tells the tale of John Demjanjuk who is accused of being an evil Nazi extermination camp guard nicknamed “Ivan the Terrible”. 

You’ll hear the Holocaust survivors testifying against him and think that he might have really been a camp guard, yet you’ll also see his family vouching for him and his innocence. Demjanjuk was taken to Israel and Germany, away from his family in the US for trials. Whether the outcome was fair, it’s up to you to make a call.

IMDb Rating: 7.6
Length: 5 episodes of ~46 minutes each (232 minutes total)

12. Explained

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Produced by Vox, Explained is a series on, well, anything. With relevant topics anywhere from KPop to the wealth gap and even a whole episode on the punctuation mark “!”, it’s perfect for the average viewer to get some sort of knowledge in these sometimes complicated fields. Its depth is also condensed into 20-minute episodes so you won’t lose attention.

There are a few spin-offs to this documentary series such as The Mind, Explained, focusing on the human brain, as well as Sex, Explained (SFW, don’t worry!), that revolves around the topic of sex. Coming up there is Coronavirus, Explained that tackles the global pandemic affecting the world.

IMDb Rating: 8.0
Length: 2 seasons with 30 episodes of ~20 minutes each

13. Tiger King

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Tiger King is all sorts of bizarre, but it’s this bizarre-ness that lures you in. It’s a true series about captive tigers in sanctuaries that also involves feuds with animal rights activists, polygamy, a bid for President, music videos, legal battles and murder – talk about action-packed. 

As you watch Joe Exotic’s life unfold as well as his feud with Carole Baskin escalate, you soon realise that there is no “hero” in this story. It’s a perspective from an elusive tiger-capturing ring that’s too good not to share.

IMDb Rating: 7.7
Length: 8 episodes of ~45 minutes each (358 minutes total)

Netflix documentaries to watch at home

Hopefully, these Netflix documentaries will keep you entertained and educated while we ride out Covid-19. Some of them may even change your outlook on the world. Share them with your friends too, or even watch it together through apps like Netflix Party. Stay safe and happy binging!

If you’d like to watch more Netflix documentaries for free, Netflix released a few of their titles on their YouTube channel. You can read more about it here.

For more activities during the circuit breaker period: