The 15 Highest-Rated Netflix Documentaries, Ranked According to Rotten Tomatoes

When you think of Netflix documentaries, most would immediately think of some of the more popular releases, such as Making a Murderer (2015) or Tiger King (2020) (one of the best Netflix documentaries of all time). Since Netflix has begun pushing out multiple documentary titles, viewers are regularly finding themselves blown away by Oscar-worthy takes on corruption, murder, mystery, or something in between.



Because of the wealth of content available on the streaming giant, it can be tough to narrow down the good, the bad, and the ugly. Luckily, Rotten Tomatoes has come in clutch, generating the highest-rated Netflix documentaries — helping you decipher exactly what documentaries to watch.

Updated on August 3, 2023, by Hannah Saab:

The lineup for the best new Netflix films this August 2023 isn’t made up exclusively of feature films, as there are upcoming documentaries like Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food that continue to highlight the streaming giant’s preference for the genre. The list of Netflix’s highest-rated documentaries on Rotten Tomatoes rarely changes, though, with only the very best managing to snag a spot.

15 ‘My Octopus Teacher’ (2020)

Screengrab from My Octopus Teacher.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

You’ve seen bonds between people from all different walks of life — now, prepare yourself for the bond between a man and an octopus. My Octopus Teacher, directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, follows filmmaker Craig Foster, as he documents his experiences free diving in South Africa. In time, he meets a young octopus that captured his attention, and their growing bond is documented over many years.

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The film, which was awarded the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards, is a moving examination of the connections that humans have with animals and the natural world. Those who have a soft spot in their hearts for animals won’t want to miss out on the charm that is My Octopus Teacher.

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14 ’13th’ (2016)

Angela Davis in 13th
Image via Netflix

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Ava DuVernay directed the award-winning documentary13th, which tackles the complex connections between racism and mass imprisonment in the United States. The film won several awards for its incisive commentary, as it boldly delves into the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America and the effect that it has had on the continued institutional oppression of Black people in the country.

The documentary doesn’t pull any punches and provides a sobering look at how slavery and institutionalized racism have been ingrained into the social fabric of the country. By showing insightful interviews with academics, activists, and politicians, it seeks not just to better inform viewers but also to push for change and racial justice.

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13 ‘Disclosure’ (2020)

Laverne Cox in Disclosure
Image via Netflix

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Disclosure is an insightful documentary directed by Sam Feder that delves into the history of transgender representation in Hollywood productions. It offers a portrait of a flawed entertainment industry full of obstacles and unfair challenges through the use of archival footage and interviews with renowned transgender actors, activists, and experts.

The thought-provoking documentary brings up concerns about gender, identity, and the influence that media representations may have on how the general population views transgender individuals. It’s just as relevant as ever, and deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

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12 ‘Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé’ (2019)

Beyonce standing on stage at Coachella in 2018
Image via Netflix

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Written, executive produced, and directed by Beyoncé herself, Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé provides fans with a rare and intimate glimpse behind the curtains. Focusing on one of the most influential musicians in the world today, the documentary revolves around Beyoncé’s intense preparation for her now-iconic 2018 Coachella performance.

The documentary highlights Beyoncé’s unbelievable talent, dedication and creativity as a performer. Even viewers who aren’t fans of the Queen B will be able to appreciate the way the concert film displays the power of beauty, resilience and culture in impacting the world.

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11 ‘Circus of Books’ (2019)

Image via Netflix

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Chronicling the legendary story of the family behind Circus of Books, the titular documentary depicts the meteoric rise of an infamous gay porn store and cruising spot in Los Angeles that was in business for over 30 years. By exploring the family’s own journeys within the LGBTQ+ community and juxtaposing these with the evolution of the movement over time, it manages to paint a compelling portrait of the historic location (that’s more than just a place).

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Not only is Circus of Books a moving and thoughtful account of the family’s experiences, but it’s also an informative and entertaining deep dive into a small but significant piece of American cultural history.

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10 ‘Knock Down the House’ (2019)

Still from Knock Down the House

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%

Knock Down the House is a fiery political documentary that follows the daring campaign of four progressive women, one of whom is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (then running for the United States Congress in the 2018 midterm elections). With exclusive interviews and raw behind-the-scenes footage, viewers get an inside look at the intricacies behind planning such campaigns, especially when the odds are stacked against them.

Undoubtedly a polarizing film, with a near-perfect 99% Tomatometer but a shocking 11% audience score, it’s not a documentary for everyone. Those who believe in the power of grassroots campaigns and are interested in how ordinary citizens can achieve great heights should definitely give it a chance.

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9 ‘Shirkers’ (2018)

A screengrab from Shirkers (2018).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%

In 1992, filmmaker Sandi Tan shoots a road movie called Shirkerswith her mentor Georges Cardona. After shooting wrapped, Cardona disappeared with the footage and was never seen by Tan again. When the footage is eventually recovered in 2011, Tan decides to digitize the footage and used it to make a documentary about the process of obtaining, then losing, the footage for the film.

The documentary of the same name premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, winning the World Cinema Documentary Directing Awards. Achieving a 99% score on the Tomatometer, it’s clear that Tan’s transformation of old footage into a digitized documentary is highly regarded, making it a true pleasure to watch.

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8 ‘Dick Johnson Is Dead’ (2020)

A screengrab from Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%

Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson takes a deep dive into her father nearing the end of his life in Dick Johnson is Dead. Using inventive and comical ways to stage his death, the film takes black humor to a whole other level, after a dream of her father in a casket inspired the work.

Premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, they won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling. With a perfect Tomatometer score, Johnson manages to take the painful loss of a parent and turn it into an incredible life-affirming documentary that will go down in cinematic history as one of the greats.

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7 ‘Giving Voice’ (2020)

A screengrab from Giving Voice (2020).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Glee club meets dramatic performance in Giving Voice, in which students from across the United States audition for a spot in the August Wilson Monologue Competition. Inspiration and dedication culminate in one final round on Broadway, where the stakes are high, and the odds are low.

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Premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and winning the Festival Favorite award, it’s no surprise that this great Netflix documentary is a fan favorite. Giving Voice, directed by James D. Stern and Fernando Villena, has a perfect Tomatometer score and the ability to move you all at once.

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6 ‘The Battered Bastards of Baseball’ (2014)

A screengrab from The Battered Bastards of Baseball.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

An A-team composed of players based in Oregon that no one wanted – this shapes the story of the sports documentaryThe Battered Bastards of Baseball. The Portland Mavericks were an independent team – without a parent team in the major leagues, and this documentary details their story – a treat for baseball fans far and wide.

The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival with a standing ovation – a testament to its feel-good underdog premise. Directed by Chapman & Maclain Way, its perfect Tomatometer rating speaks for itself.

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5 ‘Chasing Coral’ (2017)

A screengrab from Chasing Coral (2017).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable right now as a result of climate change, which is something that everyone is thinking about. The documentary Chasing Coral premiered at a time when coral reefs throughout the world seem to be disappearing at alarming rates. This documentary, which was directed by Jeff Orlowski, follows a group of people – including divers, biologists, and photographers – as they work together to solve the puzzle of why coral reefs are dying out and reveal their findings to the rest of the world.

The environmental mystery that is shown in the Netflix original filmChasing Coral, which had its world debut at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win the Audience Award for US Documentary, has captivated people all over the world.

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4 ‘A Secret Love’ (2020)

A screengrab from A Secret Love (2020).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

There are no denying times are a-changing – but for a long time, secrets had to be kept. Amid shifting times, a former baseball player. Terry Donahue keeps her lesbian relationship secret for seven decades as she and her partner, Pat Henschel, run a successful interior design business.

Based on the true story of the great aunts of director Chris Bolan, the film captivated audiences whilst telling a beautiful story of love and resilience. The film sheds light on the challenges of LGBTQ+ people during a period when their relationships were often ostracized and concealed from society, and it serves as a homage to their bravery and resilience in the face of adversity.

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3 ‘Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend Of Walter Mercado’ (2020)

A screengrab from Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (2020). 

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

The career and life of Walter Mercado have been followed for years. Mercado was an astrologist, and one of the most influential at that – in both Latin America and the world. Directed by Cristina Constantini and Kareem Tabsch, Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado follows Mercado’s early life as a gifted child, as well as his chronicles with dance, acting, and eventually, performative astrology using elaborate costumes, colors, and capes.

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With a nomination at the 93rd Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature and a perfect Tomatometer score, it’s safe to say that his story makes for an entertaining and intriguing watch.

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2 ‘Athlete A’ (2020)

A screengrab from Athlete A (2020).
Image via Netflix.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Everyone remembers the investigation surrounding USA Gymnastics and various sexual assault allegations that were made – this is documented by Athlete A. Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, the sports documentary tackles deep issues and follows a team of journalists from The Indianapolis Star as they broke the story that gripped the nation by its throat.

The phrase “Athlete A” is a nickname that was given to gymnast Maggie Nichols so that her identity might be protected while police investigations were being conducted. Athlete A is a riveting depiction of a period in USA Gymnastics’ history that was fraught with difficulty.

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1 ‘Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution’ (2020)

A screengrab from Crip Camp (2020).
Image via Netflix

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

In 1971, Camp Jened took place – a summer camp in New York that was supposedly a carefree, happy camp created for teens with disabilities. The film, directed by Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, has a focus on campers who turned themselves into activists for the disability rights movement, following their fight for accessibility legislation.

With its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and the winner of the Sundance Award, it’s no wonder that this Netflix documentary tops the list. Thought-provoking and oftentimes shocking, Crip Camp tops the list of the highest-rated documentaries on Netflix and is definitely a solid watch.

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NEXT: The Best Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

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