12 Classic Documentaries You Didn't Know Were On Netflix

Because sometimes reality is more powerful than fiction

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1 | The Thin Blue Line (1988)


Errol Morris’ documentary retells the story of Texan Randall Dale Adams, sentenced to life for the murder of a police officer. It was the accuracy of the film’s testimonial re-enactments that caused authorities to review Adams’ case – which groundbreakingly led to his release a year later.

2 | Hoop Dreams (1994)


What started out as a 30-minute short became a 171-minute documentary following eight years in the lives of schoolkids William Gates and Arthur Agee as they follow their dream of reaching the NBA. It's the Boyhood of sports documentaries.

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3 | The Bridge (2006)


Inspired by a 2003 New Yorker article titled ‘Jumpers’, Eric Steel’s controversial documentary spans 365 days of filming at one of the world’s most notorious suicide spots: San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Cameras captured 23 suicides that took place that year and the doc also features Kevin Hines who survived a jump back in 2000.

4 | Food, Inc. (2008)

 
Emmy award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner’s (The American Experience) graphic exploration into America's food industry exposes the damage done by corporate farming. Despite Kenner encouraging on-screen rebuttals from several of the criticised companies (Smithfield Foods, Perude Farms, etc.), all tellingly declined the invitation. You won't look at that burger the same again.

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5 | Religulous (2008)

 
Religulous (a merging of the words ‘religious’ and ‘ridiculous’) finds American comedian Bill Maher exposing the holes and contradictions in religions the world over. A recent Twitter photo with the film’s director Larry Charles (Curb Your Enthusiam, Borat) teased the potential of a Religulous II.

6 | Bobby Fischer Against The World (2011)


The life of the late chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer was anything but black and white, and this documentary puts the man – considered the greatest player there was – under the microscope. Filmmaker Liz Garbus memorably interweaves interviews with current chess pros (Sam Sloan, Garry Kasparov, etc.) and never-before-seen footage from 1972's match against the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky – a showdown which ended 24 years of Soviet chess domination.

7 | Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012)


Documentarian Alex Gibney (EnronThe Armstrong Lie) tells the story of four deaf men (the vocal translations of which are provided by actors including Ethan Hawke and Mad Men's John Slattery) whose case against a priest who abused them in the Sixties unravels a clerical cover-up which finds its way back to the Vatican. Back in 2010, we described Gibney as "...becoming the most important director of our time." Amen to that.

8 | McCullin (2012)


A BAFTA-nominated biopic of British influential photojournalist Don McCullin – most renowned for his war photography – in which the man himself speaks candidly for the first time about his three-decade career.  

9 | Where The Trail Ends (2012)


This adventure documentary follows the world's top freeride mountain bikers on their global search for untravelled terrain around the globe. Think 127 Hours, minus the severed arm.

10 | Stories We Tell (2012)


Canadian actress Sarah Polley (Dawn of the Dead, Take this Waltz) turns documentarian with Stories We Tell, a mystery which excavates layers of family myth related to the actress's very own ancestry. Filmmaking rarely comes this personal.  

11 | The Square (2013)


This Egyptian-American documentary film from Jehane Noujaim – which premiered on Netflix – explores the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 from its beginnings in Tahrir Square. An Oscar nomination has since boosted The Square’s popularity.

12 | A Year In Burgundy (2013)


A Year in Burgundy isn’t the porno counterpart to Anchorman, but a documentary feature in which several families discuss the creative process of wine-making in the historical region of France. Best digested with a nice glass of Chablis.

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