21 Important Documentaries to Watch on Netflix Instant


February 27, 2012

If you subscribe to Netflix and have the ability to stream movies to your computer or television, there are many environmental and cultural documentaries I highly recommend you check out. A few weeks ago I mentioned that Revenge of the Electric Car was available on Netflix, and after looking through my own movie queue I thought it would be a good idea to let you guys know about many more that you can watch right now via streaming video.

Should you not subscribe to Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” option you should definitely consider it, if only so you can watch these documentaries whenever you want without having to wait for the discs to arrive. On to the list:

  • No Impact Man: The Documentary A Fifth Avenue family goes green when writer Colin Beavan leads his wife, Michelle Conlin, and their baby daughter on a yearlong crusade to generate no trash and otherwise make no net impact on the environment.
  • Food, Inc. Drawing on Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, director Robert Kenner’s provocative, Oscar-nominated documentary explores the food industry’s detrimental effects on our health and environment.
  • Gashole An unsettling wake-up call to all Americans, this documentary dissects the country’s dependence on foreign pipelines, exposes rich oil companies’ devious dealings, and explores alternative fuels as a viable solution to our global energy crisis.
  • The Garden Filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s politically charged, Oscar-nominated documentary follows a group of low-income families struggling to protect a 14-acre urban farm in the middle of South Central Los Angeles from bureaucratic real estate developers.
  • Tapped The high cost – to both the environment and our health – of bottled water is the subject of this documentary that enlists activists, environmentalists, community leaders and others to expose the dark side of the bottled water industry.
  • The Last Mountain This gripping documentary follows ordinary citizens in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley as they wage a campaign to prevent the infamous Massey Energy Company from expanding ruinous mountaintop removal mining operations in their community.
  • Waiting For Superman Dynamic documentarian Davis Guggenheim weaves together stories about students, families, educators and reformers to shed light on the failing public school system and its consequences for the future of the United States.
  • Vanishing of the Bees This documentary details the economic, political and ecological consequences of a dwindling world honeybee population. It’s a phenomenon with a name – Colony Collapse Disorder – but no explanation or solution exists.
  • Big River As a follow-up to their 2007 documentary King Corn, friends Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney want to discover what impact the acre of corn they grew in Iowa has had on the Mississippi River. Hopping into a canoe, the boys head downriver to find out. As they travel toward the Gulf of Mexico, they talk to scientists, farmers, fishermen and regular folks about how fertilizers and pesticides have transformed this vital waterway’s delicate ecosystem.
  • Blue Gold: World Water Wars As water becomes an increasingly precious commodity, corrupt governments, corporations and even private investors are scrambling to control it … which leaves everyday citizens fighting for a substance they need to survive.

fuel documentary

  • Fuel With America so dependent on oil, filmmaker Joshua Tickell sets out to prove that biodiesel, made from vegetable oil, is a viable alternative. Although politicians and energy execs have done their best to quell it, the benefits of biodiesel are real.
  • A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash In this straight-from-the-headlines documentary, award-winning filmmakers Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack examine the world’s dependency on oil and the impending chaos that’s sure to follow when the resource finally runs dry.
  • The Future of Food By examining the effects of biotechnology on the nation’s smallest farmers, the film reveals the unappetizing truth about genetically modified foods: You could unknowingly be serving them for dinner.
  • Carbon Nation Bypassing politics and fingerpointing, this forward-thinking documentary zeroes in on enterprising individuals — from a wind farmer to a solar-panel retrofitter — who are devising business-minded ways to avert the looming climate crisis.
  • Colony Colony collapse disorder is the subject of this environmental documentary. As bee colonies around the United States disappear, scientists and beekeepers struggle to find the reason why and ascertain the impact on humans and the planet.
  • Flow: For the Love of Water From both local and global perspectives, this documentary examines the harsh realities behind the mounting water crisis. Learn how politics, pollution and human rights are intertwined in this important issue that affects every being on Earth.
  • King Corn Friends Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis move back to America’s Corn Belt to plant an acre of the nation’s most-grown and most-subsidized grain and follow their crop into the U.S. food supply. What they learn about genetically modified seeds, powerful herbicides and the realities of modern farming calls into question government subsidies, the fast-food lifestyle and the quality of what we eat.
  • Dirt! The Movie Dirt takes center stage in this entertaining yet poignant documentary from Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow, which unearths our cosmic connection to soil and explores how diverse groups of people are uniting to save the natural resource.
  • Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price Filmmaker Robert Greenwald takes aim at the corporate giant that’s come to symbolize big business in America — Wal-Mart — blasting the box-store Goliath for allegedly paying substandard wages, skimping on employee benefits and gutting communities.
  • Plastic Planet This documentary examines the ways in which plastic saturates our modern lives, and how our dependency on this petroleum product harms ourselves and our planet. See how plastic’s toxic chemicals enter the food chain and other disturbing secrets.
  • Escape from Suburbia After condemning America’s oil dependency in his 2004 documentary The End of Suburbia, filmmaker Gregory Greene here addresses the solutions that will avert catastrophe, outlining the issues actively moving the energy crisis from theory to reality. Spurred to action by the realities of peak oil, Greene focuses his camera on individuals across the country brave enough to challenge and instigate their communities into serious change.

Don’t ever say there isn’t anything good on TV again! Do you have a favorite social or cultural documentary not included in this list? Please let us know in the comments!



  1. I was finally able to add the ones I didn’t already have in my instant queue.

    I haven’t watched yet, but I have ‘God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys of Sudan,’ ‘Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Adventures,’ and ‘Thirst’ in my queue as well.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *