The 12 Best Netflix Documentaries of 2016

Joel Lee 11-11-2016

Netflix has really ramped up its production of original TV series 13 New Netflix Originals You'll Be Watching in 2016 Netflix has released a lot of original content -- including House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Narcos, and Master of None -- but 2016 is slated to be Netflix's most exciting year yet. Read More over the past few years, but one could argue that the real cornerstone of Netflix is its massive library of documentaries. Informative, emotional, provocative — you name it, Netflix has it. As this list of the best Netflix documentaries of 2016 proves.


Indeed, Netflix really knows what people want to watch How Netflix Knows Exactly What You Want to Watch Netflix's rise to being the world's primary streaming service was no fluke. It was based on a recipe of data and emotion that means the company always knows what you want to watch. Read More , and high-quality documentaries are surprisingly in demand. And it’s this attention to viewer habits that keeps Netflix ahead of its competitors Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Which Should You Choose? It has been years since we've compared heavy-hitting streaming services, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. And with changes in pricing, content, quality, and interface, we thought it was time to revisit the topic. Read More .

With hundreds of documentaries added to Netflix every year, it can be tough to find time to watch them all. So we’ve picked the 12 best Netflix documentaries of 2016, all to save you the time and trouble of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

1. Floyd Norman: An Animated Life [No Longer Available]

IMDb: 9.0/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Charming original animated sequences blend with interviews and archive footage to chronicle the unique career of Disney animator Floyd Norman.

Hired back in 1956 as the first African-American at Disney, Floyd Norman solidified himself as an animator legend through his work on Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, and The Jungle Book. Despite forced retirement at age 65, Norman still works at Disney without pay out of sheer love for the drawing board.

This wonderful documentary takes you through the ups and downs of Norman’s life, a journey of overcoming struggles and leaving a lasting impact on an entire industry.


2. Keepers of the Game [No Longer Available]

IMDb: 8.6/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

As they set their eyes on a championship, an all-Native American girls’ lacrosse team seeks to change their tribe’s attitudes about gender roles.

Did you know that the sport of lacrosse can be traced back to a Native American tradition among the Iroquois? It began as a ritual symbolic of warfare with heavy spiritual significance — and it was a ritual only for men.

Keepers of the Game explores the story of an all-female team of Native American players and the obstacles they face — both personal and societal — on their road towards winning a Section Championship. Moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking.

3. When Two Worlds Collide

IMDb: 8.2/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 90%


This documentary takes a hard look at how indigenous peoples clashed violently with the Peruvian government over land and economics in the Amazon.

There are those out there who will exploit every last inch of land for personal gain, and the conflicts over the Amazon are prime examples of this. But when your homeland is threatened by invasion, what can you do? Run. Or fight.

Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango chose the latter, standing up to the invasive goals of President Alan Garcia — and in doing so sparked a violent war. The real kicker, though, is how much there is to glean from this film about the state and nature of humanity as a whole.

4. Hooligan Sparrow [No Longer Available]

IMDb: 8.0/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

Indomitable activist Ye Haiyan faces increasingly hostile government harassment as she exposes the case of six schoolgirls raped by their headmaster.

Hooligan Sparrow is another documentary that shows how much power can rest in the hands of activists and protesters. In order to bring justice to a rapist principal, Ye Haiyan must overcome the police, the government, and angry community mobs.


It’s a dark story that’s made palatable by the courage and conviction shown by Ye Haiyan. How much would you be willing to sacrifice and endure to stand your ground against insurmountable odds?

5. Into the Inferno

IMDb: 7.6/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

With stunning views of eruptions and lava flows, Werner Herzog captures the raw power of volcanoes and their ties to indigenous spiritual practices.

Nature documentaries: you either love ’em or hate ’em. But Into the Inferno is a nature documentary like you’ve never seen. Werner Herzog takes you across the world, visiting and exploring the world’s most mythical volcanoes.

And not just the volcanoes, but the indigenous cultures that live around them. We’re talking Indonesia, Ethiopia, and even North Korea. What kind of spiritual connections and relationships have humans developed with these natural wonders?


6. Extremis

IMDb: 7.5/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

Witness the wrenching emotions that accompany end-of-life decisions as doctors, patients, and families in a hospital ICU face harrowing choices.

Extremis has a runtime under 30 minutes, but that’s more than enough time to break your heart into pieces. I’ve never had to deal with a decision as tough as whether a life should be ended or not, but this documentary made me feel like I now have.

How would you react? What would your decisions be? Could you pull the metaphorical trigger? Be warned: this is a heavy and sad watch, but insightful and eye-opening all the same. Keep a few tissues nearby.

7. Audrie & Daisy

IMDb: 7.4/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

In this wrenching documentary, two teens are sexually assaulted by boys they considered friends, humiliated online and harassed by their communities.

The effects of sexual assault reach farther than we tend to realize. It can absolutely shatter the lives of the victims, and by no means am I downplaying their trauma, but they aren’t the only ones who suffer either. Friends, families, communities. We’re all affected, many times in hidden ways.

Audrie & Daisy explores the lives of two underage sexual assault victims and how everything changed for them — not only because of the crime itself, but from the bullying and social pressure that resulted from it.

8. Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang

IMDb: 7.3/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Known for his spectacular pyrotechnic displays, Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang creates his most ambitious project yet in this breathtaking documentary.

What does art look like when gunpowder is the medium of expression? It’s hard to imagine if you’ve never experienced it before, which is why Sky Ladder is such an engrossing watch. Cai Guo-Qiang’s use of fire as art is the perfect kiss of artistry and engineering. Visually stunning and emotionally satisfying.

9. Fastball

IMDb: 7.3/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Scientists and baseball greats analyze what a batter faces when a pitcher hurls a fastball, which takes less than half a second to reach home plate.

I find baseball to be the dullest of all sports — so you can imagine my surprise when a documentary about baseball took hold of my attention and refused to let me go. Fastball is, as you might’ve guessed, an 87-minute exploration of the fastball.

It may not seem that fast on a TV screen, but a fastball only takes 396 milliseconds to leave the pitcher’s mound and arrive at home plate. This documentary not only pays homage to all the greatest fastball pitchers, but shows you all you need to know about the fastball’s history.

10. The Art of Organized Noize [No Longer Available]

IMDb: 7.3/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

The documentary charts the rise of Organized Noize, the influential producers behind megahits from Outkast, Goodie Mob, TLC, and more.

The music industry has a lot of unsung heroes. You think an artist’s or a group’s success depends on the artist’s or group’s performance and image, but there are a lot of hidden details and machinations that go on behind the scenes.

Atlanta-based hip hop production company Organized Noize deserves more credit than they get. Dive into this documentary and find out exactly what they do, how they shaped the entire American hip hop industry, and continue to influence the scene today.

11. My Beautiful Broken Brain

IMDb: 7.2/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

After suffering a stroke at age 34, a woman documents her struggles, setbacks, and eventual breakthrough as she relearns to speak, read, and write.

It’s terrifying to think of how much your life can change with a single brain injury — and worse yet, not a physical injury but one caused by an event as unexpected as a stroke. But practical impact aside, have you ever wondered what a post-stroke life feels like?

Lotje Sodderland helps us experience what she did, at least to the extent that she can express, and this documentary sheds light on her road to recovery. Brain trauma is a dark subject, but this film is hopeful, positive, and ultimately transformative.

12. Amanda Knox

IMDb: 7.0/10 | Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

She was twice convicted and acquitted of murder. Amanda Knox and the people closest to her case speak out in this illuminating documentary.

Don’t go into this one expecting big answers. What you can expect, however, is a compelling and labyrinthine investigation that will make your question the preexisting assumptions you had as you entered the film.

Is it the most exciting documentary? No, but it’s up there, and it has its thrilling and suspenseful moments, all leading to a surprisingly emotional end. If you’re a fan of “true crime” stories Compelling Storytelling: 12 Podcasts to Listen to on SoundCloud SoundCloud isn't all about the music. It also has a robust Storytelling section full of compelling podcasts. Here are 12 of the most compelling storytelling podcasts you can stream right now on SoundCloud. Read More , you’ll enjoy this watch.

Netflix Is the Last Bastion of Documentaries

Netflix is home to some of the best documentaries on the planet, ranging from those about Earth and the universe Watch This Space: 10 Must-See Documentaries About the Universe These are the best space documentaries to help you explore the universe from the comfort of your living room. Read More to more techy topics like hardware and software Geeky Documentaries: 6 Fascinating Films About Hardware, Software & Space [Stuff to Watch] This week’s Stuff to Watch is all about sitting back, letting the power of a well-produced documentary wash over you and engaging your grey matter without even leaving the sofa. What’s more each of these... Read More , and even has a few hacker-related documentaries 5 Must-See Documentaries About Hacking and Hackers What is hacking? Why is hacking simultaneously glamorous and nebulous? How much of the hacking community do we actually understand? Do hackers deserve their reputation? These documentaries will answer all of these questions and more. Read More .

But of course, documentaries aren’t the be-all-end-all of Netflix. Be sure to check out these nifty tools for finding new content to watch 5 Ways to Find Good Movies or TV Shows to Watch Next on Netflix Netflix knows exactly what you want to watch, but its recommendations section isn't always helpful. Get fantastic recommendations with these apps and sites on what to watch next. Read More as well as these key tools for maximizing your Netflix experience 6 Key Tools to Get the Most Out of Netflix Browsing Netflix for the best movies to watch is like a treasure hunt. When finding the perfect streaming title is difficult, use these 6+ tools to make Netflix easier to use. Read More .

What are your favorite documentaries on Netflix? Do you think these documentaries are reason enough to justify a Netflix subscription? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Related topics: Documentary, Media Streaming, Netflix, Online Video.

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  1. Evelyn Axelrad
    January 8, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    "The Queen of Versailles", it will leave you stunned.

  2. Dale Heineman
    November 16, 2016 at 7:42 am

    "Knives and Forks" - an insightful look at todays USA diet on health problems.

  3. Dale Heineman
    November 16, 2016 at 7:40 am

    'Knives and Forks" - deals with health issues with USA's modern diet.

  4. Alayne
    November 13, 2016 at 8:43 am

    You forgot Last Chance U. Perfect binge watch doc series

  5. waicool
    November 12, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    were Audrey and Daisy really raped or were they just Rolling Stone raped?