'West Cork' and 8 Other Gripping New Documentaries to Watch on Netflix Right Now
True stories can sometimes be stranger than fiction. Netflix knows this, which is why the streaming platform has commissioned so many original documentaries and docuseries over the years, all of which have captured our imaginations. Remember Tiger King? Remember Wild Wild Country? Remember Making a Murderer? Netflix knows that a real-life narrative is occasionally the most fascinating and gripping thing.
2021 has proven to be a year of great and new documentaries on Netflix. From Sophie: A Murder in West Cork to Murder Among the Mormons, here are the best releases so far.
9 Best New Documentaries to Watch on Netflix in 2021
1. Sophie: A Murder in West Cork
West Cork was the biggest talk of 2021 when it was re-released as a podcast (it was originally released as an Audible exclusive in 2018), with critics labelling it a masterpiece and even claiming it was "the new Serial". Now, Netflix has turned it into a docuseries - and really, could we have asked for a better gift?
Based in West Cork, Ireland, the true-crime documentary investigates the murder of French documentary producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier, whose broken body was discovered at the edge of her property just days before Christmas in 1996. Nothing else is known and the rest remains a mystery. Over three chilling episodes, the docuseries takes you on a real-life hunt for answers to this unsolved murder and unravel the tangled web behind the murder's questionable investigation.
2. Murder Among The Mormons
This three episode true crime docuseries does exactly what it says on the tin. This is a documentary about murder among the Mormon community in the US.
For those who consume true-crime podcasts and series obsessively, there’s a lot to love here. But it’s also just a thrilling watch for anyone who loves a good yarn. There are so many twists and turns in this docuseries that it’s hard to keep up. Murder Among The Mormons is evidence that real life really is stranger than fiction.
3. Pretend It’s A City
For film fans, there’s absolutely nothing more exciting than this seven episode documentary featuring conversations between director Martin Scorsese and leading cultural commentator Fran Lebowitz. Nothing is off the table as these two talk about art, film, life, New York and more, and you’ll be in awe of them both as they share insights into their creative process, their love of New York and their relationship to work. It’s a treat.
4. Headspace: Guide To Meditation
Through docuseries such as The Goop Lab, Netflix has dipped its toes into the world of wellness, and Headspace: Guide To Meditation is its latest offering. This isn’t so much as a documentary as a workshop, available to stream through your Netflix app, that helps walk you step by step through the process of learning to meditate.
It’s a great tool for anyone who has felt overwhelmed by meditation in the past, and given it is being housed on Netflix, it’s now very easy to incorporate a meditation practice into your home, your relationship and your family.
5. The Lost Pirate Kingdom
Imagine Pirates of the Caribbean… but real. The Lost Pirate Kingdom is a consuming docuseries that shows just how wild the so-called “golden” era of piracy really was, combining interviews with experts and short clips that recreate historical moments. The goal is to dig deep into the real lives of the men and women who lived in this era and consider it achieved.
6. Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell
Music fans will love this documentary, which chronicles the life of the iconic rapper Biggie Smalls. Praised by rap critics as a definitive work on the musician, this documentary features some rare footage and in-depth interviews with those who knew him best in order to uncover the ‘real’ Biggie.
Everybody loves a sporting hero, and everybody loves a documentary about a sporting hero. Nothing quite captures the imagination like the rise and fall (and, quite often, rise again) of our great athletes, which is why sporting documentaries like The Last Dance, which debuted on Netflix last year, have proven so enduring.
Pelé is another great example: just a really gripping tale of a preternaturally gifted football player, who became a national hero against a backdrop of political turmoil in Brazil. A must-watch for sports fans.
The documentary, released in March, follows an investigation into the threat facing the world’s oceans from overfishing, modern slavery and marine destruction. Filmmaker, narrator and environmentalist Ali Tabrizi, travels to Japan, Thailand, Scotland and the Faroe Islands to find out what it means for fishing to be sustainable. Through disturbing footage and bold claims, Tabrizi advocates for an end to fishing subsidies and for no-catch zones to be established to protect a third of oceans by 2030, and pleads with viewers to give up seafood and take up a plant-based diet instead.
Since its debut, the 90-minute film has received plenty of backlash from NGOs, sustainability labels and experts who have accused the filmmakers of presenting “misleading claims” and inaccurate statistics. Negative talk aside, it has definitely prompted a critical discussion on the true cost of seafood and what our planet would look like if we all became a bit more mindful of our seafood consumption.
9. Operation Varsity Blues
Yes, there’s already a documentary about the college admissions scandal, which saw celebrities including Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin not only implicated, but charged and imprisoned. And of course, that documentary is on Netflix. The streaming platform has done an incredible job piecing this whole thing together, through recreations from the real FBI wiretaps, of exactly how the rich and famous reportedly tried to buy college places for their children.
Sometimes, these recreations can be strange to watch, but mostly they’re fascinating – a window into the psychology of those involved at the time.
Looking for something else to binge-watch? Here are 12 TV shows with five or more seasons, so prepared to be glued to the couch.