20 of the Top Rated Documentaries on Netflix Instant

Top Documentaries on Netflix

Netflix offers a little bit of everything through their online streaming app.  However, their best category, in my opinion, is their selection of documentaries.  Out of the thousands of titles that Netflix instant offers, you won’t find more hidden gems that you will thoroughly enjoy than searching through their documentaries.

However, I don’t think their rating system is the best.  I always tend to turn to Rotten Tomatoes and their Tomatometer to judge if I should give a movie the time of day (besides comedies, because most critics do not have a sense of humor).

So without further ado, here are the top documentaries on Netflix Instant rated by Rotten Tomatoes.


Encounters at the End of the World (94%)

Filmmaker Werner Herzog takes you on a wild and woolly journey to the South Pole in this Oscar contender — from the National Science Foundation’s headquarters on Ross Island to some of Antarctica’s most remote and dangerous terrain.


Cave of Forgotten Dreams (96%)

In this spellbinding documentary, filmmaker Werner Herzog offers an unprecedented examination of the Chauvet Cave, a cavern in southern France that contains the oldest human-painted images yet to be found on Earth.


The Imposter (95%)

A 13-year-old boy who vanished in Texas and shows up three years later in Spain now has the same tattoos, but looks different and speaks with an accent. An investigator sets out to unravel the mystery in this riveting documentary.


Bill Cunningham New York (99%)

Living simply and using a bicycle to get around New York, 80-year-old photographer Bill Cunningham tirelessly records what people are wearing in the city — both out on the sidewalk and in the salons of the wealthy.


Undefeated (96%)

Cinéma vérité tackles football in this inspirational profile of an inner-city Memphis high school football team, whose downtrodden players combine with a dedicated volunteer coach in a valiant effort to reach the school’s first-ever playoff game.


Exit Through the Gift Shop (96%)

Filmmaker Thierry Guetta’s project to chronicle the underground world of street art takes a fascinating twist when he meets elusive stencil artist Banksy, who turns the project around to film Guetta while he reinvents himself as a street artist.


Hoop Dreams (98%)

In this graceful and heartfelt documentary that spans five years, Arthur Agee and William Gates, two young boys from equally rough Chicago neighborhoods, make use of their prodigious basketball talents to aim for a life outside the ghetto.


Brooklyn Castle (98%)

Brooklyn’s I.S. 318 is home to America’s best junior high school chess team, but budget cuts are threatening to undermine the team’s success. This inspiring documentary goes inside the fight to keep chess alive and well at the struggling school.


The Devil Came on Horseback (98%)

In this unflinching documentary chronicling the genocide in Darfur, former Marine Capt. Brian Steidle is forever transformed by the atrocities he witnesses as a military observer for the African Union.


Deep Water (96%)

In 1969, Donald Crowhurst, a former engineer whose bravado outweighed his sailing expertise, entered a London Times-sponsored yacht race around the world. This thrilling documentary highlights the harrowing conditions Crowhurst faced.


Knuckle (95%)

Members of two Irish families continue an ages-old grudge and settle their differences with violence in this documentary. Director Ian Palmer spent years traveling with members of the Quinn McDonagh and Joyce clans to profile their ongoing rivalry.


Side by Side (95%)

Keanu Reeves produced and narrates this engaging documentary about the history of digital cinema technology and its vast impact on the movie industry. Despite the digital takeover, many fans still embrace the unique qualities of celluloid film.


Marwencol (98%)

After a terrible beating left Mark Hogancamp brain damaged, he began creating models of a fictional town, Marwencol, to process the trauma. Jeff Malmberg’s documentary explains how Hogancamp uses the elaborate dioramas as stand-ins for real life.


Chop Shop (96%)

Scrappy street orphan Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco) lives and works amid the mass of auto shops and junkyards known as the Iron Triangle just outside Queens, N.Y. But when his teenage sister (Isamar Gonzales) arrives, the ambitious boy is inspired to make life better for them both. Nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, this sophomore feature from director Ramin Bahrani offers an unflinching look at life on society’s margins.


Client 9 (91%)

Director Alex Gibney turns the spotlight on the life and career of politician Eliot Spitzer, the New York governor whose potential to become the first Jewish president of the United States was thwarted by his indiscretions.


Touching the Void (93%)

This gripping docudrama retells the mountaineering trek gone awry of Simon Yates and Joe Simpson, who falls and breaks his leg while climbing in the Andes. Yates attempts to lower him to safety but fails, forcing him to make a pivotal decision.


After Innocence (91%)

With the emergence of DNA evidence, the justice system is seeing a wave of reversed criminal convictions. But what happens to those who are set free, sometimes decades after being imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit? Jessica Sanders takes a close look at some of these people in this gripping documentary that’s both a harsh criticism of the current judicial system and a touching look at those profoundly affected by it.


Being Elmo (93%)

Beloved by millions of children, Elmo is an international icon. But few people know the soft-spoken man behind the furry red monster: Kevin Clash. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, this documentary follows Clash’s remarkable career as a puppeteer.


Man on Wire (100%)

Philippe Petit captured the world’s attention in 1974 when he walked across a high wire between New York’s Twin Towers. This Oscar winner for Best Documentary explores the preparations that went into the stunt as well as the event and its aftermath.


Restrepo (96%)

Author Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington spent a year embedded with the Second Platoon in Afghanistan, chronicling the hard work, fear and brotherhood that comes with repelling a deadly enemy in this Oscar-nominated documentary.



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