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The 34 Most Chilling Documentaries On Netflix

From piercing exposés to haunting true crime stories, these movies are sure to keep you up at night.

First Run Features
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The great thing about Netflix is there's always something to watch. Whether you want to marathon a TV show or check out a movie, you're almost guaranteed to find something that interests you. This is especially true of the streaming service’s documentary selection; there are myriad documentaries available to stream on the platform, but probably the most popular are those that tell tales of the macabre. The most chilling documentaries on Netflix are frightening enough to keep you up all night — and potentially much longer.

The films listed here cover a wide range of subjects, from murder, to missing persons cases, sex crimes, climate change, the food industry, politics, and animal abuse. But they all have one thing in common: they’re sure to get under your skin. And unlike with a standard scary movie, you can’t soothe yourself with the words, “It's only a movie.” From Amanda Knox, which details the events of a widely-publicized murder case in Italy, to 13th, Ava DuVernay’s incisive critique of the racism built into the U.S. justice system, these films all trace real events — making them even more frightening than anything even the most twisted minds in Hollywood can come up with. So if you're feeling brave, check out the 34 most chilling documentaries on Netflix below.

1

‘13th’

In director Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary, she shines a light on the ways in which the U.S. justice system was engineered to effectively keep high numbers of Black Americans enslaved following the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

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2

‘A Plastic Ocean’

You’ve probably heard about the world’s oceans filling with plastic. You may have even chosen a paper straw for your smoothie now and then. But after seeing the devastating effect that plastic is having on our environment, you might just never touch the stuff again.

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3

‘Amanda Knox’

Getting the chance to live in Italy as a 20-year-old sounds like a dream, but it became a nightmare for Amanda Knox. Before being acquitted, Knox was convicted of murder and spent four years in an Italian prison — and her plight shows that the same thing could happen to anyone.

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4

‘Abducted in Plain Sight’

In this terrifying true crime doc, a 12-year-old girl is abducted by her next-door neighbor, a trusted family friend. She is soon returned, only to be abducted again at the age of 14 by the same man. After watching this, you’ll never trust your neighbors again.

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5

‘Interview with a Serial Killer’

Most true crime docs about killers tend to let investigators, experts, and acquaintances do all the talking. But not this one. Arthur Shawcross murdered at least 14 people in his lifetime, and in this doc, he calmly details his life’s work. It will chill you to the bone.

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6

‘Alt-Right: Age Of Rage’

Released in 2018, this documentary looks at the rising alt-right terrorist movement in the lead-up to the deadly 2016 Charlottesville riot. It was shocking at the time, and now it’s even more relevant following the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol, which was planned executed by some of these same terrorists.

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7

‘American Murder: The Family Next Door’

In one of Netflix’s hardest-to-watch documentaries, a mother and her two children vanish from a well-to-do suburban neighborhood early one morning. As the mystery behind their disappearance unfolds, new levels of evil and depravity are revealed.

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8

‘Athlete A’

One of the biggest scandals to hit the sports world in recent years took place when Larry Nassar — the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor — was revealed to have sexually assaulted hundreds of his patients over three decades. This doc focuses on the survivors.

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9

‘Audrie & Daisy’

One of the most tragic and infuriating films on Netflix, Audrie & Daisy tells the story of its titular teen girls, who were raped on camera and then relentlessly cyberbullied. It’s truly gutting to witness just how cruel and vicious humans can be to each other.

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10

‘Belief: The Possession Of Janet Moses’

Was Janet Moses possessed by a demon? Her family certainly thought so, but their misguided attempts to heal her with a Māori ritual, called mākutu lifting, ended up killing her. It’s a shocking story about a family trying to help a loved one, and instead hurting her beyond repair.

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11

‘Bikram’

You’ve no doubt heard the name “Bikram” before, referring to a particularly challenging type of hot yoga. But the founder of that form of exercise, Bikram Choudhury, allegedly has a very dark side. This doc looks at the plethora of sexual abuse allegations that have been levied against him.

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12

‘Blackfish’

This infamous doc takes a look at the practice of keeping killer whales in captivity and forcing them to perform for the public in theme parks like Sea World, examining the detrimental effect that it has on the whales. The man focus of the doc is Tilikum, a captive orca who was involved with three human deaths.

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13

‘The Bleeding Edge’

The medical industry is ostensibly working to save lives, but that’s not always the way things work out. This enlightening and frightening doc takes a look at the fast-paced medical device industry, where the constant push for the next big thing sometimes hurts patients.

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14

‘Team Foxcatcher’

If you thought Foxcatcher, the movie starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo was scary, just wait until you learn the real story that inspired it: how John du Pont, a wealthy heir with an affinity for wrestling, came to murder Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz.

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15

‘The Fear Of 13’

And you thought Amanda Knox had it bad. This film features Nick Yarris explaining how he came to spend 22 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit.

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16

‘Fire in Paradise’

Imagine losing not only your home and all of your possessions but also your entire community — and possibly even some loved ones. That’s what happened to the residents of Paradise, California. In this doc, the survivors of the state’s deadliest wildfire tell their harrowing story.

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17

‘Casting JonBenet’

This documentary takes a very unique approach to the true crime formula. Rather than retell the well-known story of JonBenet Ramsey’s murder, the films lets kids from her hometown do it — while they’re auditioning to play her in the documentary’s reenactments.

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18

‘Cowspiracy’

If you want to continue enjoying a hamburger every now and then, you should steer clear of this doc. Cowspiracy isn’t so much about how red meat is bad for you — it’s about how it’s bad for the planet. The cattle industry is one of the largest contributors to global warming, and no one seems prepared to do anything about it.

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19

‘The Ivory Game’

Elephants are some of Earth’s greatest creatures. They’re intelligent, majestic, soulful... and their time is running out. Due to our insatiable hunger for ivory, elephants continue to be poached at an alarming rate, as this documentary exposes.

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20

‘The Devil & Father Amorth’

In this documentary, The Exorcist director William Friedkin follows a 91-year-old Roman Catholic priest as he performs a real demonic exorcism in small-town Italy. It’s guaranteed to send a few shivers down your spine.

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21

‘The Great Hack’

How did American society become so politically polarized? How did conspiracy theories become mainstream? How did a grossly incompetent, unqualified, and racist reality show host win the presidency? The dark manipulation of social media had a lot to do with all of those things, and this doc looks at one of the entities most associated with that: Cambridge Analytica.

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22

‘Hasta Los Dientes’

As the U.S. continues to struggle with reforming its trigger-happy police force, other countries are dealing with other types of corruption within the criminal justice system. This doc focuses in on Mexico, centering on a 2010 case in which two teenagers were framed for crimes they didn’t commit and then murdered by the nation’s military.

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23

‘Long Shot’

By now, you’ve seen that innocent people get convicted of murder at a pretty alarming rate. But what you didn’t know is that, once in a while, Larry David will come to your rescue if you find yourself in such a predicament. At least that’s what happened to Juan Catalan, who escaped facing the death penalty after to an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm — which showed in the background at an L.A. Dodgers game — confirmed his alibi.

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24

‘Out of Thin Air’

False confessions are another issue, and they often go hand-in-hand with false accusations. Innocent people will sometimes confess to crimes they didn’t commit due to aggressive interrogation tactics, and that’s likely what happened in the infamous Icelandic murder case at the heart of this doc.

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25

‘Roll Red Roll’

This horrific doc looks at the Steubenville, Ohio Rape Case, in which an intoxicated and incapacitated 16-year-old girl was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her classmates, who filmed and shared their actions on social media. It also looks at how the community helped shield the perpetrators, and how the crime fits into the larger issue of rape culture.

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26

‘Seaspiracy’

After watching Cowspiracy, you decided to swear off beef and only eat fish. Good for you! Oh, wait, sorry, that’s no good either. From the makers of Cowspiracy comes this new doc about how overfishing is destroying the planet.

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27

‘Strong Island’

In this more personal and heartfelt take on a true crime doc, director Yance Ford investigates the 1992 murder of his own brother, William Ford. The Fords are Black, and William’s killer was white — just like the all-white grand jury who declined to indict him. The case is but one of many examples of American racial injustice.

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28

‘The Social Dilemma’

Social media is bad. It’s bad for our mental health, it’s destroying our society, and it’s killing our kids. This doc looks at just how big and how serious the problem has gotten, and why there’s no clear way out of it. Anyway, don’t forget to like and share this story on Facebook!

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29

‘Tell Me Who I Am’

Losing one’s memory is definitely one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person. When Alex Lewis lost his in a motorcycle accident, he relied on his twin brother Marcus to fill in the blanks — but there was a dark and traumatic family secret that Marcus left out.

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30

‘Tread’

Oftentimes, when someone commits a horrific crime, the first people we hear from are the neighbors who often describe how unassuming and quiet the perpetrator was. That wasn’t the case for Marvin Heemeyer, who feuded with his neighbors to the point where he secretly built fortified bulldozer and attempted to destroy the town with it. This doc investigates why he did it.

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31

‘Voyeur’

Journalist Gay Talese published a New Yorker article in 2016 accusing a motelier, Gerald Foos, of spying on his guests through vents in the ceiling. This doc examines both that act and the aftermath — and the lesson here is to always check your motel ceiling for strange openings.

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32

‘What the Health’

You’ve already learned that beef and fish are off the table. Now, along comes this doc to inform you that basically everything you put in your body is poison. The film looks at the food, health, and pharmaceutical industries — and how they all can work together to keep us unwell.

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33

‘Why Did You Kill Me?’

In this true crime doc, a devastated mother takes matters into her own hands following the murder of her daughter. After the police fail to deliver justice, she sets out to find the killer herself by setting up a series of fake social media pages.

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34

‘One of Us’

This Netflix documentary takes a look at three people who, after experiencing abuse, struggle to leave the Hasidic Jewish community.

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