Best History Documentaries On Netflix: Are you ready to embark on an epic journey through time without even leaving the comfort of your couch? Netflix has got you covered with its incredible selection of history documentaries that will blow your mind and transport you to different eras.
Get ready to be amazed as we present to you the top 20 best history documentaries on Netflix! Prepare yourself for a rollercoaster ride of emotions as these gripping tales unfold before your eyes. From ancient civilizations to world wars, from forgotten heroes to infamous villains, this collection has it all.
With stunning visuals, expert storytelling, and jaw-dropping revelations, these documentaries will leave you in awe of the remarkable events that shaped our world. You’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat as you unravel mysteries and discover hidden truths about our past.
So grab some popcorn, dim the lights, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure through history like never before!
Top 19 Best History Documentaries on Netflix
If you’re a history buff looking for some captivating documentaries on Netflix, you won’t be disappointed.
Start your binge-watching with ’13th’ (2016), which explores the racial inequality in the American criminal justice system.
Then, delve into ‘The Vietnam War’ (2017) and gain a deeper understanding of one of America’s most controversial conflicts.
If you’re more interested in World War II, ‘World War II in Colour’ (2009) offers a vivid portrayal of the war using rare color footage.
For a comprehensive look at the American Civil War, don’t miss ‘The Civil War’ (1990), an award-winning series that delves into its causes and consequences.
Lastly, if you’re intrigued by British history, immerse yourself in ‘The Crown’ (2016-2022), which chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II from her early years to modern times.
#1. 13th (2016)
Tackling the issue of mass incarceration in the United States, Ava DuVernay’s powerful documentary ‘13th‘ on Netflix takes viewers on a thought-provoking journey into the perpetuation of racial inequality through the criminal justice system.
With a runtime of 100 minutes, this documentary provides a comprehensive examination of how racial discrimination continues to plague our society. Through interviews with activists, scholars, and politicians, DuVernay sheds light on the systemic issues that contribute to the overrepresentation of Black Americans in prisons.
The documentary ’13th’ is a must-watch for its compelling content and thorough exploration of the subject matter. It challenges our understanding of progress and forces us to confront uncomfortable truths about race and justice in America.
By highlighting historical events such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the war on drugs, DuVernay effectively illustrates how these factors have shaped our current criminal justice system.
#2. World War II in Colour (2009)
Immerse yourself in the captivating and visually stunning documentary series ‘World War II in Colour‘ as it offers a unique perspective on the global conflict through beautifully restored color footage.
This groundbreaking series takes you back in time to one of the most significant events in history, allowing you to witness the war unfold with unprecedented clarity. By adding color to historical footage, ‘World War II in Colour’ brings a new dimension to our understanding of this pivotal moment in human history.
Through its 13 episodes, each approximately 45 minutes long, the series covers major events and battles from all fronts of World War II.
From the D-Day invasion to the Pacific theater, you’ll be transported to different corners of the globe as you hear firsthand accounts from those who experienced it. The use of color adds depth and realism to these stories, making them even more impactful.
The restoration process is truly remarkable, breathing life into black-and-white footage that has been seen for decades.
As you watch ‘World War II in Colour’, you’ll feel like you’re right there alongside soldiers on the front lines and civilians caught up in the chaos. It’s a visceral experience that will leave you with a profound appreciation for those who lived through this tumultuous period.
#3. The Civil War (1990)
Step into the past and witness the gripping story of ‘The Civil War‘ as Ken Burns brings history alive through archival footage, interviews, and personal accounts. In this documentary, you’ll be transported back to one of the most pivotal moments in American history.
Through a combination of stunning visuals and heartfelt narratives, Burns captures the struggles and sacrifices that defined this era. You’ll feel like you’re right there on the battlefield, experiencing firsthand the intensity and brutality of war.
But ‘The Civil War’ isn’t just about bloodshed and violence. It also delves into the political and social complexities of the time, exploring issues such as slavery, emancipation, and reconstruction. By presenting a comprehensive view of this period, Burns allows us to gain a deeper understanding of how these events shaped our nation.
#4. The Crown (2016-2022)
Indulge in the captivating world of ‘The Crown‘ as you’re transported into the intricacies of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and the profound historical events that unfolded during her time.
From the first episode, you’ll be drawn into a meticulously crafted narrative that takes you behind palace doors and offers a glimpse into the private lives of royalty. As you witness Queen Elizabeth II’s journey from a young princess to a formidable monarch, you’ll also be immersed in the political intrigues and challenges she faced throughout her reign.
‘The Crown’ is more than just a TV series; it’s an immersive experience that brings history to life. The performances by the cast, including Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II and Matt Smith as Prince Philip, are exceptional, capturing the nuances and complexities of their characters with great depth.
The production values are truly top-notch, with stunning costumes, elaborate sets, and breathtaking cinematography that transport you back in time.
This critically acclaimed series not only entertains but also educates viewers about significant events that shaped the second half of the 20th century.
You’ll gain insights into pivotal moments such as Winston Churchill’s leadership during World War II, Princess Margaret’s scandalous love affairs, and Prince Charles’ struggles with his royal duties. ‘The Crown’ seamlessly weaves together personal drama with historical context to create a compelling narrative that keeps viewers hooked.
#5. The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco (2018)
Embark on an exhilarating journey through post-war San Francisco as ‘The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco‘ reveals the hidden secrets of crime-solving codebreakers with a twist of historical flair.
In this gripping crime drama, two female codebreakers from Bletchley Park bring their exceptional skills to solve murder mysteries in the bustling city.
Set against the backdrop of a war-torn world, this captivating series takes you on a thrilling ride as these extraordinary women use their intelligence and expertise to unravel complex puzzles and catch killers.
‘The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco’ skillfully blends historical elements with intriguing crime-solving plots, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats. The show not only showcases the incredible talents of these brilliant women but also provides a fascinating glimpse into post-war America.
With its compelling storytelling and well-developed characters, it keeps you hooked from start to finish. Fans of historical mysteries will find themselves fully immersed in this enthralling series that brings together history, suspense, and unforgettable performances.
#6. The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (2017)
Uncover the profound and lasting impact of the Vietnam War with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s gripping documentary series. With a runtime of 18 hours, this comprehensive exploration delves deep into the complexities of the conflict, providing a multi-faceted perspective that is both powerful and emotional.
Through interviews and archival footage, Burns and Novick bring to light the historical and human dimensions of the war, allowing viewers to truly understand its significance.
From start to finish, ‘The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’ captivates audiences with its thought-provoking storytelling. It sheds light on not only the military strategies employed during the war but also on the social, political, and cultural aspects that shaped this tumultuous period in history.
The documentary offers a nuanced portrayal of all those involved – from soldiers on both sides to anti-war activists – giving voice to their experiences and perspectives.
This gripping documentary series is a must-watch for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of one of America’s most controversial conflicts. It provides an engaging narrative style that draws viewers in while offering valuable insights into both the historical context and human impact of the Vietnam War.
#7. Making a Murderer (2015-2018)
Get ready to dive into the gripping true crime series ‘Making a Murderer‘ and immerse yourself in the captivating case of Steven Avery, a man who went from being wrongfully convicted to facing another accusation. Directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, this documentary series takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the criminal justice system as it explores Avery’s journey.
In 1985, Steven Avery was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and spent 18 years behind bars. Just when he thought justice had finally been served and he was exonerated, Avery found himself at the center of another shocking crime. The series delves deep into the investigation, trial, and subsequent conviction of Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach.
With its compelling storytelling and meticulous attention to detail, ‘Making a Murderer’ keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout its runtime. As you watch each episode unfold, you can’t help but question the flaws in our criminal justice system and wonder if there has been a grave miscarriage of justice.
#8. The Staircase (2004-2018)
The Staircase, directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Denis Poncet, offers a thought-provoking exploration of the complexities within the legal system and human psychology as it follows the riveting trial of Michael Peterson accused of murdering his wife.
This true crime series delves deep into the intricacies of the case, providing viewers with an in-depth look at the legal proceedings and the various factors that come into play during a high-stakes trial.
Through its meticulous storytelling and compelling interviews, The Staircase keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, questioning their own assumptions about guilt and innocence.
The documentary not only provides a captivating narrative but also sheds light on larger themes surrounding our justice system. It raises questions about bias, forensic evidence, and how our preconceived notions can influence our perception of truth.
As we follow Michael Peterson’s journey through the justice system, we’re forced to confront our own beliefs about what constitutes justice and how it’s achieved.
#9. The Last Czars (2019)
Now that you’ve explored the captivating story of ‘The Staircase’, get ready to delve into another gripping historical documentary: ‘The Last Czars‘.
This six-episode series takes you back in time to witness the tragic downfall of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. With its combination of scripted scenes and expert interviews, ‘The Last Czars’ brings the events of the Russian Revolution to life like never before.
Prepare to be transported into a world of opulence, power, and ultimately, tragedy. As you watch ‘The Last Czars’, you’ll be captivated by its visually stunning reenactments and engrossing storytelling. From the grandeur of the Russian royal court to the turmoil on the streets of Petrograd, this series vividly portrays the final days of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
But what truly sets ‘The Last Czars’ apart is its ability to humanize these historical figures. By exploring their personal lives and motivations, it allows us to empathize with their struggles amidst a rapidly changing political landscape. Through its compelling narrative, this documentary sheds light on one of history’s most significant moments while also reminding us of our shared humanity.
#10. The Keepers (2017)
Immerse yourself in the chilling depths of a decades-old murder case as ‘The Keepers‘ uncovers the dark secrets and potential involvement of the Church in the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik. Directed by Ryan White, this true crime documentary series takes you on a haunting and thought-provoking journey into the heart of Baltimore’s Catholic community.
Through seven gripping episodes, each approximately an hour long, ‘The Keepers’ delves into the twisted web of abuse, corruption, and cover-ups that surrounded Sister Cathy’s tragic death.
With its meticulous investigation and compelling storytelling, ‘The Keepers’ shines a light on the abuse of power within religious institutions and raises important questions about justice and accountability.
As you watch this captivating series, you’ll find yourself drawn deeper into the mystery surrounding Sister Cathy’s murder. The documentary unearths shocking revelations while giving voice to those who have long been silenced.
#11. The Devil Next Door (2019)
Get ready to travel back in time and uncover the shocking truth behind John Demjanjuk’s identity as ‘Ivan the Terrible’ in this gripping true crime series, ‘The Devil Next Door.’ Directed by Yossi Bloch and Daniel Sivan, this five-episode documentary delves deep into the complex and controversial trial of a retired Ukrainian-American autoworker.
Accused of being a notorious Nazi concentration camp guard, Demjanjuk’s case raises profound questions about identity, justice, and the enduring scars of history.
‘The Devil Next Door’ offers an in-depth exploration of Demjanjuk’s story, presenting evidence from both sides while leaving viewers with their own conclusions. The series takes you on a suspenseful journey through his trial, shedding light on the weighty moral dilemmas faced by those involved.
As you watch each episode unfold, you’ll find yourself immersed not only in the courtroom drama but also in the personal stories that reveal the impact of World War II atrocities on individuals and societies.
#12. The War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (2007)
Experience the monumental and deeply moving documentary series, ‘The War‘ by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, as it takes you on a gripping journey through the experiences of soldiers and civilians during World War II.
This 15-hour masterpiece provides a comprehensive and emotional portrayal of the war’s impact on ordinary people. Through impeccable storytelling, Burns and Novick bring to life the struggles, sacrifices, and triumphs of those who lived through this historic period.
From the battlefield to the home front, ‘The War’ captures humanity at its core. It sheds light on the courage displayed by soldiers facing unimaginable horrors while also highlighting the resilience exhibited by families left behind.
The series allows viewers to witness firsthand accounts from veterans, widows, children, and other individuals whose lives were forever changed by this global conflict.
With its meticulous attention to detail and careful curation of archival footage, ‘The War’ immerses you in an era filled with fear, hope, loss, and determination. As you watch each episode unfold, you will feel a deep connection with these individuals who faced extraordinary challenges.
Prepare yourself for a powerful experience that will leave you with a renewed appreciation for both the heroism of those who fought and the strength of humanity in times of adversity.
#13. The Search for General Tso (2014)
This delightful and eye-opening documentary, ‘The Search for General Tso’, takes you on a mouthwatering journey to uncover the fascinating origins and cultural significance of the beloved Chinese-American dish, General Tso’s chicken.
Directed by Ian Cheney, this 1-hour 12-minute film explores the history and impact of Chinese cuisine in America with a lighthearted and entertaining approach.
Through interviews with historians, chefs, and food enthusiasts, ‘The Search for General Tso’ reveals the surprising story behind this popular dish. From its humble beginnings in China to its rise to fame in American Chinese restaurants across the nation, this documentary uncovers how General Tso’s chicken became an iconic symbol of Chinese cuisine in America.
With its blend of humor, history, and mouthwatering visuals, it offers a captivating exploration into the cultural fusion that occurs when traditions are brought from one country to another.
Not only does ‘The Search for General Tso’ educate viewers about the origins of a beloved dish, but it also sheds light on larger themes of immigration, assimilation, and cultural exchange.
By examining how a simple chicken dish can become a symbol of identity and belonging for generations of immigrants and their descendants, this documentary provides an engaging perspective on the power of food to bring people together.
#14. The Great Hack (2019)
If you thought ‘The Search for General Tso’ was a fascinating exploration of history and culture, then get ready to be blown away by ‘The Great Hack.’ This documentary takes a deep dive into one of the most controversial events in recent history – the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, it exposes the manipulation of personal data and its profound impact on our lives.
‘The Great Hack’ is not just another run-of-the-mill documentary; it’s an eye-opening experience that will make you question everything you thought you knew about privacy, democracy, and social media.
In just under two hours, it skillfully weaves together interviews with whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and political strategists to paint a vivid picture of how our personal data can be weaponized to shape public opinion.
What sets this documentary apart is its ability to distill complex concepts into easily digestible information. It doesn’t shy away from delving into the technical aspects of data mining and analysis but presents them in a way that even those who aren’t tech-savvy can understand. The filmmakers have managed to strike a perfect balance between informative content and engaging storytelling.
One of the best things about ‘The Great Hack’ is its relevance in today’s digital age. We live in an era where our every move online leaves behind a digital footprint, which can be harnessed by companies like Cambridge Analytica for their own gain. This documentary serves as a wake-up call for anyone concerned about their privacy in this interconnected world.
#15. Five Came Back (2017)
Immerse yourself in the wartime journeys of five renowned Hollywood filmmakers who paused their careers to serve their country during World War II in the captivating documentary series ‘Five Came Back‘. Directed by Laurent Bouzereau, this three-episode series takes you on a compelling exploration of how these filmmakers contributed to the war effort through their art.
As you delve into ‘Five Came Back’, you’ll witness the impact of war on these talented individuals and gain a deeper understanding of the power of storytelling during times of conflict.
The series highlights the sacrifices made by directors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens as they put aside their personal ambitions to contribute to something greater than themselves.
Through interviews with modern-day filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro, ‘Five Came Back’ paints a vivid picture of how these Hollywood legends shaped both cinema and history.
This gripping documentary not only showcases the bravery and creativity of these filmmakers but also provides an insightful commentary on the role that art plays in society during times of crisis.
By shedding light on their experiences, ‘Five Came Back’ reminds us that even in our darkest hours, stories have the power to inspire hope and bring people together.
#16. The Two Popes (2019)
Now that we’ve explored the intriguing story of ‘Five Came Back,’ let’s dive into another captivating documentary on Netflix: ‘The Two Popes.’ Directed by Fernando Meirelles, this biographical drama takes us on a thought-provoking journey as it delves into the conversations between Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis.
In ‘The Two Popes,’ Meirelles skillfully tackles the complexities of faith, tradition, and change within the Catholic Church. The film provides a unique perspective by imagining these intimate discussions before Pope Benedict’s resignation in 2013.
As we witness the powerful performances of Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergoglio (later Pope Francis), we are drawn into their personal struggles and conflicting ideologies.
Meirelles expertly navigates the nuanced dialogue between these two religious figures, allowing viewers to gain insight into their contrasting perspectives. The film beautifully captures the essence of their relationship, highlighting both moments of tension and instances where they find common ground.
Through its engaging storytelling and compelling performances, ‘The Two Popes’ offers a profound exploration of faith, humanity, and the power of change.
#17. 13 Minutes (2015)
‘13 Minutes‘ (2015) is a gripping historical drama that delves into the courageous act of Georg Elser, a German carpenter who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1939. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, this film offers a compelling portrayal of an overlooked historical figure and his audacious act of resistance.
The movie takes you on a suspenseful journey as it explores the meticulous planning and execution of Elser’s assassination attempt. The attention to detail in recreating the era and setting adds to the authenticity of the story, immersing you in the tense atmosphere of Nazi Germany.
As you watch Elser navigate through various obstacles and face personal sacrifices, you can’t help but admire his bravery and determination.
Not only does ‘Thirteen Minutes’ shed light on an important part of history, but it also serves as a reminder of how one individual can make a significant impact. It’s a thought-provoking film that leaves you contemplating the power of resilience and standing up for what is right, even against seemingly insurmountable odds.
#18. Oklahoma City (2017)
Experience the chilling and eye-opening documentary ‘Oklahoma City’ as it takes you on a journey through the events that led to one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history.
Directed by Barak Goodman, this 1 hour 41-minute film provides a comprehensive look at the circumstances and motivations behind the devastating bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Through interviews, archival footage, and expert analysis, ‘Oklahoma City’ dives deep into the dark underbelly of domestic terrorism, exploring how individuals can be radicalized and driven to commit acts of violence. The documentary paints a somber picture of a nation grappling with extremism within its own borders.
As you watch ‘Oklahoma City,’ you’ll gain valuable insights into the factors that contributed to this tragic event, ultimately leading to a better understanding of how such acts can occur even within our own communities. It’s an informative exploration that will leave you with a renewed appreciation for safety and security.
#19. Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial (2006)
Immerse yourself in the harrowing journey of justice as ‘Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial‘ unearths the dark chapters of history, leaving viewers with a poignant reminder of the atrocities committed during World War II. Directed by Paul Bradshaw, this historical docudrama recreates the Nuremberg Trials, where top Nazi officials were prosecuted for their war crimes.
Through a combination of historical footage and dramatic reenactments, the series offers an insightful look into one of the most significant trials in history.
With a runtime of approximately 49 minutes per episode, ‘Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial’ effectively captures the gravity and complexity of these historic proceedings. The director skillfully weaves together real-life testimonies, archival materials, and powerful performances to create a compelling narrative that leaves a lasting impact.
As you watch this docudrama unfold, you’ll find yourself drawn into the courtroom drama and engrossed by the moral dilemmas faced by both prosecutors and defendants.
To truly appreciate the depth of history and gain a new perspective, you simply can’t miss out on these incredible documentaries.
As you delve into the world of Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial, your understanding of the events that unfolded during World War II will be forever changed. The gripping storytelling and powerful interviews with survivors and key figures involved in the trial will transport you back in time, allowing you to witness firsthand the horrors committed by the Nazis.
Through this documentary, you’ll come face to face with the dark side of humanity but also find solace in knowing that justice was served. It’s a reminder that even in our darkest moments, there is always hope for redemption and a better future.
So sit back, relax, and let these documentaries take you on a journey through history while providing a sense of safety as you observe from a distance.