When Netflix won its first Oscar in 2017, it unsurprisingly went to a documentary. Granted, it was in the Documentary Short Subject category, but even before Netflix was turning out feature films at a near-weekly pace, its original documentaries were already earning Academy Award nominations and critical acclaim. With that in mind, here are the best Netflix original documentaries to get you started. Catch up on them now, before you get overwhelmed by those 80 other original movies Netflix plans to release in 2018. —Chris Osterndorf
The best Netflix original documentaries
2013 was a breakout year for Tig Notaro—and one of her hardest. During a performance at New York City’s Largo, the lesbian comic came out with her breast cancer diagnosis in a set that became instantly iconic, in part because Notaro only received the news a day before the show—and it closely followed another health scare and the death of her mother. The acclaimed Netflix documentary Tig examines the comedian’s life during her treatment and in recovery—as she and her partner attempt to have their first child. Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York’s film is both as candid and disarmingly intimate as you would expect a film about Notaro to be. The documentary is a testament to human resilience—about finding the courage to go on after enormous hardship. —Nico Lang
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson explores the tragic 1992 death of a legendary gay rights activist, officially ruled suicide but which many suspect to be a murder. Director David France uses the film to explore the larger scope of Johnson’s life and impact on both the landscape of LGBTQ rights and those closest to her. —David Wharton
Director Lucy Cohen’s heart-wrenching Kingdom of Us is a touching and intimate view into the lives of a grieving wife and her seven children, all attempted to understand why patriarch Paul Shanks killed himself in Warwickshire, England’s Crackley Woods. Through old family videos, interviews, recited writings, and even songs, Cohen provides her documentary with precipitous depths to coping with mental illness and extraordinary loss. She goes inside the photographic negative of the supposedly happy family living out an idyllic countryside life and finds what went wrong. —Kahron Spearman
The best kind of journalism takes you on a journey you didn’t expect. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press starts with a wrestler’s sex tape, then pivots into both a celebration of the fourth estate and a stark warning about the ability of a free and independent press to survive the machinations of the billionaire class. It’s shocking, it’s surreal, and it’s easily the most important thing to come out of Hulk Hogan’s career. —D.W.
5) Amanda Knox
If you knew nothing about Amanda Knox going into this documentary, in which she herself appears, you might be surprised by how cut and dry her case seems (spoiler alert: it’s pretty clear she didn’t do it.) Yet the film is also a reminder of the sensationalism that sprung up around her, and how easy it is to twist a narrative to satiate the public’s appetite for blood. As with any good true crime story, there are elements of Knox’s case which are strange. She didn’t always act like a “typical” girl, she didn’t behave as she “should’ve” in certain situations. But under similar circumstances, who’s to say how any of us would react? Perhaps there are details of that night in 2007, when Knox’s roommate Meredith Kercher was murdered, that we’ll never fully understand. Certainly, a lot of people involved jumped to the wrong conclusions initially. But the film argues that the media’s portrait of “Foxy Knoxy” was as much a part of the case’s mishandling as anything else. —C.O.
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Although not as formally inventive as I Am Not Your Negro, nor as narratively ambitious as O.J.: Made in America, 13th is the third in a trifecta of great Oscar-nominated documentaries about race in America we got in 2016. From Selma director Ava DuVernay, this film builds off of works such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow to explore mass incarceration in the U.S. and eventually ask the difficult question: What if slavery in this country never ended, just transformed? Bound to become an instructional text in liberal schools all over, the biggest criticism one can level against 13th is that at an hour and 40 minutes, there might not be enough of it. —C.O.
Screengrab via Netflix US & Canada/YouTube (Fair Use)
The best sports stories aren’t about the numbers on the scoreboard, but rather the human drama behind them. CounterPunch introduces three young boxers at different places in their careers, and through exploring their trials and tribulations, paints a broader picture of the state of boxing as a whole. Whether it’s the promising up-and-comer, the Olympic hopeful, or the pro trying to reclaim past glory, CounterPunch illuminates the choices and challenges facing aspiring boxers in the modern era. —D.W.
Five Foot Two documents the months leading up to Lady Gaga‘s record-breaking Super Bowl halftime performance. It does a lot to humanize the pop star, whose meat dress-wearing, hatching-out-of-an-egg-on-the-red-carpet persona admittedly hasn’t been the most accessible over the years. In the doc we get to see her in jorts at her grandma’s house, dealing with chronic body pain, and checking the aisles of a Walmart for her new CD. In other words, she’s ready to be relatable. By the end of the vulnerable, behind-the-music documentary, we’re intimately familiar with our lord and pop savior Stefani Germanotta. —Christine Friar
A portrait of hubris that somehow remains extremely compassionate, Mitt feels like it was made in a different world compared to the political landscape of today. Tracking the run of 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Greg Whiteley’s film is surprisingly humanizing, stripping away the robotic image Romney had as a political candidate and uncovering a guy that folks on either side of the aisle might find something in common with. A scene in which his family chuckles along to an audiobook of David Sedaris while they eat dinner, for instance, is both surreal and disarming. Then there’s the other side of Romney the documentary captures—the side that was so confident he would win, he hadn’t even prepared a concession speech. —C.O.
10) What Happened, Miss Simone?
Did you know her real name was Eunice Kathleen Waymon? “Nina Simone” was a stage name because she didn’t want her mother knowing she was performing in saloons at the start of her career. And this Netflix-produced documentary opens with her less-than-humble start in 1930s North Carolina and progresses through her journey across the country to become a pioneering all-timer. With archived footage and priceless family photos, Simone’s identity as a black political activist during the civil rights era and her struggles with mental illness are brought front and center. (Her alluring, timeless performances? Plenty of that too.) –Nia Wesley
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Filmmaker Bryan Fogel set out to make a film that exposes the drug testing process in cycling but ends up uncovering something much larger than he could’ve anticipated. With the cooperation of Russian doctor Grigory Rodchenkov, Fabel’s film takes the audience inside whistleblowing on Russia’s long-running and highly successful doping scheme. Icarus is a documentary that plays like a top-shelf legal thriller with life or death stakes. It’s also one of the best documentaries, and films, of the year, and another winner for Netflix. —Eddie Strait
12) Casting JonBenét
This documentary looks at the infamous and unsolved murder of JonBenét Ramsey and takes an unusual approach. Director Kitty Green interviews young actresses who are vying for the part of JonBenét. Filtering a case everyone has heard through this meta lens adds a layer of surreality to the story, which is plenty bizarre to begin with. The result is an unsettling doc that examines the impact JonBenét’s murder has had on the local community. —E.S.
Roger Stone is one of those figures who at first glance seems almost too cartoonish to be real. He’s a bodybuilder with a Richard Nixon tattoo on his back whose wardrobe alternates between Clinton-bashing T-shirts and suits that look to have been raided from Leonardo DiCaprio’s spare Django Unchained costumes. But he’s also very good at the dirty tricks and mudslinging that tend to work all too well at winning elections in this country. Get Me Roger Stone explores not only Stone’s involvement with the Trump campaign, but how his nearly 50 years in the Washington trenches shaped the state of modern politics—for good or ill. As Stone says late in the film: “You wouldn’t hate me if I weren’t effective.” —D.W.
14) Strong Island
In April 1992, William Ford Jr. was shot and killed during a dispute. An all-white grand jury did not indict the white man who killed William, a black man. Strong Island, directed and produced by William’s sister Yance Ford, is a searing look at a family’s loss. It’s also a way for Yance to reclaim her brother’s name and dictate the narrative of his life rather than letting the courts have the final say. Strong Island is an intimate, angry documentary that is also one of the year’s best. —E.S.
15) Chasing Coral
Chasing Coral shines a light on the world’s great underwater crisis. Through vivid time-lapse imagery, director Jeff Orlowski exposes the heartbreaking “coral bleaching” phenomenon. “Ninety-three percent of the heat from climate change is trapped in the ocean,” Orlowski told the Daily Dot. “Without a massive moonshot-style approach to solving this problem, we’re going to see such traumatic changes on this planet that we cannot even comprehend.” —Chris Leo Palermino
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.