The Best Documentaries on Netflix Canada
From dramatic true-crime fare to acclaimed Oscar winners, these uplifting, provocative and unusual stories are absolute must-sees.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude—except as punishment for a criminal conviction. The Academy Award-nominated 13th examines how this loophole has manifested throughout American history, expanding into the current era of mass incarceration, corporate profiteering from prisons and police brutality. A colossal source for understanding Black Lives Matter and our present moment, 13th is one of the best documentaries on Netflix Canada.
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Casting JonBenét (2017)
Casting JonBenét is worth seeing for sheer novelty alone. Its premise: inexperienced actors attend the casting call for a supposed film about the unsolved 1996 murder of child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey. In reality, there is no film—in between line readings, director Kitty Green chats with the actors and gets them to reveal their own feelings about the case, including who they think really killed JonBenét. By exploring the legacy of the crime rather than the crime itself, Casting JonBenét holds a mirror up to our troubling cultural obsession with grisly crimes.
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Director Bryan Fogel stumbled onto an enormous scoop in Icarus. While making a documentary about cycling, banned performance-enhancing drugs and how to evade positive tests, Fogel became friends with Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia’s anti-doping lab. When Rodchenkov reveals that he’s actually in charge of Russia’s state-sponsored doping program, Fogel shelters him as the two unravel a tyrannical conspiracy. Icarus is an urgent and exhilarating insider look at athletic doping and the Russian government’s Orwellian state-of-being.
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The Keepers (2017)
Almost 50 years after the unsolved murder of nun Catherine Cesnik in Baltimore, Cesnik’s now-retired students investigate the death of their favourite teacher. This seemingly straightforward endeavour, however, unearths terrible revelations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and its subsequent cover-up. The Keepers is a solemn and sensitive portrait of a small community standing up to defend its own when institutions fail to uphold their protective responsibilities.
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Beyoncé brings her iconic 2018 performance at Coachella to Netflix in this thrilling concert film. The renowned singer pays tribute to historically Black colleges and universities while performing her biggest hits alongside an energetic marching band, incredible dancers, Jay-Z, Solange Knowles and Destiny’s Child. Homecoming is an awe-inspiring spectacle where the talent of everyone onscreen will render you speechless.
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Wild Wild Country (2018)
This riveting docuseries goes back to the early 1980s, when the Rajneesh movement—a large, wealthy New Age movement originating in India—sought to establish a commune in rural Oregon. Wild Wild Country follows the vicious feud between the eccentric Rajneeshees and the conservative local townsfolk, which escalates into violence, poisoning and assassination attempts. Featuring interviews with dozens of townspeople, former cult members and infamous Rajneeshee spokesperson Ma Anand Sheela, Wild Wild Country is a tense, nuanced and suitably wild ride.
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Five Came Back (2017)
During the Second World War, iconic American directors William Wyler, Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston and George Stevens each captured footage on the frontlines of the war. In Five Came Back, five modern filmmakers—Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass and Lawrence Kasdan—analyze the impact of the earlier directors’ propaganda films, as narrator Meryl Streep reveals how they fought for their visions while enduring the rigours of military service. This rich and informative docuseries brings a forgotten chapter of film history to life.
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Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
How did the promise of a luxury music festival on a Bahamian island with supermodel influencers turn into a disaster of titanic proportions? Fyre unfolds the story of 2017’s Fyre Festival in tense, sickening fashion, as organizers, attendees and labourers recall their downfall at the hands of con artist Billy McFarland. Fyre shows how social media’s glamorous, egomaniacal appeal can sell a ridiculous fraud.
Crip Camp (2020)
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution explores a time before public buildings were wheelchair-accessible and when many disabled people weren’t allowed in public schools. The documentary starts in the summer of 1971 at Camp Jened, a summer camp for young disabled people in upstate New York. Attendees of Camp Jened regularly found joy and liberation—from there, a handful of campers felt empowered to recreate Jened’s accepting environment in the outside world by spearheading the disability rights movement. Crip Camp is an inspiring saga of togetherness and strength among marginalized people, as well as the power of defiant protest.
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Amanda Knox (2016)
In 2007, Amanda Knox, an American exchange student living in Italy, was charged with the murder of her roommate, leading to a heated trial and an international media fiasco. This documentary takes Knox’s side—it’s an easy side to take based on the facts, especially when tabloid journalist Nick Pisa admits to shoving ethics aside when he called “Foxy Knoxy” a bloodthirsty sex addict. Amanda Knox is a concise and sympathetic portrait of a murder and a young woman’s brutal public smearing.
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American Factory (2019)
Maybe the cleverest doc in this list, American Factory follows a Chinese company as it reopens an abandoned auto plant in Ohio, observing the cultural and economic clash between Chinese managers and American labourers. It’s at once a humanistic yet haunting film about what it means to work in a globalizing capitalist world, with the filmmakers leaving it up to viewers to answer questions on exploitation, unionization and automation.
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The Innocence Files (2020)
In this diligent docuseries, lawyers and investigators from the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, revisit their past cases and document the painful costs of wrongful convictions. The series explores faulty forensics, false eyewitness testimony and prosecutorial misconduct—some are convicted based on mistaken bite marks or prosecutors withholding evidence. The Innocence Files is a searing and necessary check against a system that prioritizes speedy punishment over truth and justice.
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Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)
In this tragicomic doc, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson and her elderly dementia-diagnosed father ruminate on his inevitable death by staging it over and over again. (Imagine old-fashioned stunts, like Dick “dying” after tumbling down the stairs or having a falling AC unit land on his head.) It might sound morbid, but Dick Johnson Is Dead is actually rather intimate and reflective. The conversations on memory, family and abandonment are insightful, while Dick Johnson’s mock deaths give the film a humorous edge. That, and Dick just seems like the sweetest guy.
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Strong Island (2017)
In 1992, Yance Ford’s brother, William, was shot and murdered by a white man who was subsequently acquitted after claiming self-defence. Ford revisits this injustice, documenting his and his family’s ongoing grief as he investigates what exactly happened. Strong Island captures the trauma of injustice—and Ford’s distress that this one crime is part of a centuries-long pattern.
Athlete A (2020)
Perhaps the most enraging documentary on Netflix Canada, Athlete A spotlights the gymnasts and journalists that exposed the hundreds of sexual assaults USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar committed over the decades. Aided by brave interviews, Athlete A is a powerful testament to survivors.
The Pharmacist (2020)
After his son is murdered in a drug deal gone bad, small-town Louisiana pharmacist Dan Schneider takes it upon himself to investigate. His obsession leads him to an OxyContin pill mill and the beginnings of the opioid epidemic. The Pharmacist is a timely and suspenseful look at a terrifying crisis—and one man’s quest for retribution and accountability.
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In the fall of 2021, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos said “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, however, proves him wrong. In this insightful documentary (executive produced by Laverne Cox), trans performers, filmmakers and critics articulate why representations of trans people throughout film and television history have been harmful. Disclosure is a smart, eye-opening and gracious exploration of why positive and authentic representation matters.
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The Devil Next Door (2019)
In the 1980s, retired autoworker and family man John Demjanjuk is extradited to Israel from Cleveland after he’s identified as Ivan the Terrible: a sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp. Demjanjuk, however, maintains his innocence and claims it’s a case of mistaken identity. Unsurprisingly, his trial becomes a global media sensation, as prosecutors rely on the testimonies of Holocaust survivors to establish their case. Gripping but often difficult to watch, The Devil Next Door proves that achieving justice is a complex journey.
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My Octopus Teacher (2020)
Disillusioned filmmaker Craig Foster discovers a new appreciation for life as he dives along South Africa’s rugged coasts and spends a year filming a single octopus. While Foster’s commentary can be self-absorbed at times, My Octopus Teacher is nevertheless a majestic and moving portrait of a creature hunting for food, evading dangerous sharks and thriving in its environment.
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From acclaimed filmmaker Errol Morris comes one of the strangest documentaries on Netflix Canada. In 1953, biochemist Frank Olson died after mysteriously falling from a 13th-storey hotel window in New York City. Alongside revealing interviews with Eric, Olson’s son, Morris fuses fact and speculation in the form of stylized re-enactments (think: a paranoid psychological thriller). Over the course of six episodes, Wormwood uncovers Olson’s involvement in a CIA mind control experiment, Project MKUltra, concocting a fascinating tale of grief and corruption.
Next, check out the best movies on Netflix Canada.