One of the great things about Netflix is that it has brought thoughtful, compelling documentaries to a much wider audience that filmmakers could only dream of a decade ago.And with binge-worthy titles like “Making a Murderer” and the vast ESPN “30 for 30” library being just a click away, you can get a lot of great nonfiction viewing any night of the week. You’ll learn a lot more about the world, but don’t worry — you’ll also be entertained.
Here are 23 documentaries we think you should stream right away on Netflix:
Director Ava DuVernay looks at the history of the American prison system and shows how it relates to the nation’s history of racial inequality.
2. “30 for 30” ESPN movies
Pretty much any “30 for 30” title is worth your time. The documentaries that highlight moments in sports that you may or may not be aware of are both entertaining and filled with emotion. A few we highly recommend: “No Crossover: The Tale of Allen Iverson”; “June 17th, 1994,” which looks at everything that happened in the world of sports at the time of O.J. Simpson’s Bronco chase; “I Hate Christian Laettner”; and likely available in 2017 will be ESPN’s new masterwork, “O.J.: Made in America.”
3. “The Act of Killing”
Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated doc looks at the Indonesian genocide by having death-squad leaders reenact their mass killings. The results are both comical and heart-wrenching.
4. “Amanda Knox”
The murder trial of American exchange student Amanda Knox (now free) in Italy captivated the world in the early 2000s. Now this Netflix original looks back at the case and gets the perspective of Knox and others closely involved.
Why is Sea World going to end killer-whale shows? It’s because of this incredible movie that looks at the abuse these magnificent creatures have endured for decades.
6. “Cocaine Cowboys”
In the late 1980s, cocaine invaded Miami and the world has never been the same. This documentary looks at the blood-soaked era and the people who were responsible.
7. “Food, Inc.”
This powerful look at how the food we put into our mouths is really produced is shocking and scary. You’ll probably want to change your eating habits after watching it.
8. “Hell and Back Again”
There has been no more honest look at what it feels like to be a solider who has come home from war than this visually stunning work by director Danfund Dennis.
9. “Indie Game: The Movie”
There’s a world of gamers outside of those who play “Call of Duty” and the “Madden” NFL games. Here we look at the creators behind indie games and the struggles they go through to make work that’s different but also profitable.
10. “Into the Inferno”
Director Werner Herzog travels to the corners of the world (including North Korea) to examine the beauty and danger of active volcanoes.
11. “Janis: Little Girl Blue”
The legendary singer Janis Joplin is examined with help from the many letters she wrote over her sudden rise to fame.
12. “Killing Them Safely”
A movie that gets more topical as the months pass, director Nick Berardini’s doc examines the excessive use of the TAZER gun by US police.
13. “Last Days in Vietnam”
This Oscar-nominated doc by director Rory Kennedy looks at the final weeks of the Vietnam War and the exodus of Saigon by not just American soldiers and diplomats, but the South Vietnamese who helped the US during the war.
14. “Life Itself”
Steve James gives a touching look at the life and work of film critic Roger Ebert as well as capturing his final months alive.
15. “Lost in La Mancha”
Terry Gilliam’s doomed attempt to make “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” makes for an incredible all-access look at filmmaking at its most chaotic.
16. “Making a Murderer”
This true-crime tale about the murder case of Steven Avery became an instant Netflix binge when it hit the streaming service. Filmed over a 10-year period, it will no doubt prompt your own theory about what’s really true.
17. “Man on Wire”
Winner of the best documentary Oscar in 2009, it gives a powerful retelling of Philippe Petit’s illegal high-wire walk across the Twin Towers in 1974.
18. “What Happened Miss Simone?”
This Oscar-nominated doc by Liz Garbus looks at the powerful career of Nina Simone, who went from chart-topping singer to rights activist.
19. “The Overnighters”
Jesse Moss explores the modern-day gold rush: Men desperate for work who head to the North Dakota oil fields to find it. Many come with just the clothes on their backs and troubled pasts. A local pastor is the only one who will take them in, but he has demons of his own.
20. “Room 237”
You think you know everything about Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”? Once you see this incredible look at almost every theory that’s been devised about the movie, you’ll sing a different tune — and appreciate the original masterpiece even more.
21. “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine”
If the biopic “Steve Jobs” didn’t give you the insight you wanted, give this Alex Gibney doc a try. Gibney uses archival footage and interviews with those who knew Jobs best to examine his life (which was in many ways his work).
22. “Super Size Me”
Morgan Spurlock’s directorial debut that looks at the dangers of fast food, in which he eats only McDonald’s for a month, didn’t just make him an instant star. It also caused the fast-food chain to eliminate its supersize menu.
23. “The Thin Blue Line”
Before “The Jinx” and “Making a Murderer,” there was Errol Morris’ groundbreaking investigation of a man wrongly convicted for the murder of a police officer in Texas. The new findings in the movie led to the release of the man.