Ever been stuck in one of those endless Netflix searches for just the right documentary to watch? We feel for you. Netflix is an endlessly rich resource - and in that endlessness lies precisely the problem. Luckily we've done the hard work for you and - from Formula One to a friendly octopus and New York's most famous drag queen - we have some of the answers. So sit back, open the snacks and binge on our pick of five of the best Netflix documentaries streaming now.
Best Netflix documentaries
My Octopus Teacher
Not just a documentary, an unmissable Oscar-winning life-affirming experience, My Octopus Teacher follows South African film-maker Craig Foster as he spends a year forming an extraordinary bond with a wild common octopus. Like Foster, you'll find yourself becoming part of the octopus's life, understanding where she sleeps, how she finds food - and fends off enemies. We'll not say too much more except that as the documentary progresses you too will find that the dense kelp forest in False Bay near Cape Town where the octopus spends her life, becomes something approaching your home too. Simply mesmerising.
Drive to Survive
Don't like Formula One? We challenge you to resist after viewing even a few episodes of the three-series access-all-areas documentary Drive to Survive. It's brought legions of new fans to Formula One, precisely because drivers are revealed as actual human beings, not just automatons who drive at 200 mph and give anodyne interviews afterwards. An unlikely star is the straight-talking Gunther Steiner, team principal of the tailender Haas team, who wastes no words when it comes to giving a dressing down to his drivers. A must-watch for anyone even slightly interested in motor sport.
The Death and Life of Martha P Johnson
And what a life. Martha P Johnson was a pioneering gay activist in New York City in the late 1960s, a self-described drag queen who was prominent in the Stonewall riots of 1969 in Greenwich Village, a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBT+ rights. Johnson knew everyone and it seems did everything: from working with Andy Warhol and performing onstage with a drag theatre company to becoming a leading AIDS activist as HIV emerged to decimate the gay population of New York in the 1980s. This is essential contemporary history, told with real verve.
First a warning: you may never look at fish and chips in quite the same way again. Seaspiracy examines in often horrifying detail the impact that us humans have on marine life of all kinds, from over-fishing to the amount of plastics we've dumped in the oceans. It's not an optimistic picture. As activist director Ali Tabrizi puts it, "With ocean ecosystems on the verge of collapse, and the human implications that follow, we must ask ourselves what kind of world we wish to live in." This is compelling filmmaking - but it has attracted criticism too, The New York Times saying the documentary's message is sometimes "lost in a sea of murky conspiratorial thinking". Watch it for yourself, and then decide. Probably better to avoid the seafood snacks, though.
If you think a mushroom is just a handy pizza topping, think again. Using often dazzling film-making techniques - including genuinely pioneering time-lapse photography that verges, appropriately, on the psychedelic - director Louie Schwartzberg reveals the frankly astonishing hidden world of fungi in general and mushrooms in particular. There is much about the magic - intelligence even - of fungi, and so persuasive is Fantastic Fungi that it's hard not to get swept away in its message of optimism, hope and enthusiasm for these extraordinary organisms. While some have found the narration - by film star Brie Larson - a little cloying, we're just stunned by those images. One to watch again and again.