Best Wilderness Documentaries On Netflix

Brent Mccoy
• Sunday, 06 December, 2020
• 10 min read

With streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, getting a virtual stoke is just a click away. From hiking big miles to surviving on the mountain, these movies sure to entertain and inspire.

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It chronicles Tommy Caldwell’s obsessive quest to successfully climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. This film will leave you anxious at each fall and cheering with every chalky success.

And while much of the film focuses on Caldwell, you’ll quickly become a Superman of his climbing partner and friend Kevin Jorge son. Prepare to be inspired as war veterans find new meaning and passion in the waves.

This doc starts innocently enough with a Colorado cyclist determined to win a race. What unfolds is a shocking and mesmerizing tale of Olympic doping and Putin’s most-wanted whistleblower.

If you’re stuck at home dreaming of the day you can hit the road and travel, “Expedition Happiness” is a good getaway. Join a young German couple as they build out a school bus and hit the road to explore North America.

From the highest mountains to the desert extremes, this series explores the beauty and wonder of our natural world. Featuring gorgeous footage of big, steep, snowy lines, huge waves, and gnarly terrain, this is the movie you watch for inspiration.

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Originally released in IMAX theaters, this documentary features some truly breathtaking footage of America’s natural wonders. Come along as a trio of adventurers revisits the camping trip that inspired the creation of the national park system.

From hiking big miles to surviving on the mountain, these movies sure to entertain and inspire. Truth be told, with today’s technology, the picture and video quality of some of these documentaries is so real it’s almost, well, unreal.

Each of the eight episodes takes a look at a unique biome on Earth: frozen worlds, jungles, coastal seas, deserts, forests, freshwater, and more. Narrated by the iconic David Attenborough, this Emmy Award-winning series allows you to experience the planet’s natural beauty up close and personal.

This shorter documentary lets viewers in on the world of the filmmakers who spent years gathering footage. You’ll experience the excitement, anticipation, and triumphs alongside the creators and learn what it takes to get the perfect shot for all the nature documentaries that we love watching.

And with the calm voice of Academy Award-winner Robert Redford narrating the film, you will no doubt be talked into visiting each one of these parks if the sights themselves haven’t already convinced you to do so. Image source: International Union for Conservation of NaturePrecious coral reefs around the world are disappearing at an alarming rate.

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This moving documentary won the Audience Award at the 2017 Sun dance Film Festival, and for good reason. Witness incredible transformations over time that make anyone and everyone wants to take action to combat these bleaching events.

The documentary, which is narrated by Pierce Brosnan, journeys to new depths to explore the remarkable creatures of the deep sea. Thanks to the impressive cinematic technology, Oceans captures viewers with a vast and vivid undersea experience.

Yes, cute, little chimpanzee’s watching their parents swing from branches and use tools to break open food. This hour-long documentary showcases the fascinating mating behaviors of some of the world’s beautiful avian creatures.

Journey through moonlit plains, jungle nights, dark seas, sleepless cities, and more to see what nature does while we sleep. Each episode is only around twenty minutes long and centers around a loose theme, making it a perfect lunch-break watch.

Ancient forests, mountains, and vast wetlands serve as the habitats for some of Europe’s most iconic creatures. Follow along as Felix Stack and Selma Tail, along with their dog, Audi, travel in a renovated school bus through Canada, the U.S., and parts of South America in search of happiness.

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However, just like all the aforementioned documentaries, we hope this film gives you food for thought about life and how getting out into the wilderness impacts it for the better. If you just want a daily dose of cute without any of the extreme or gory footage nature documentaries can often bring, this is a fail safe option.

With episodes titled “Fluff and Stuff” and “Bouncing Buddies,” this documentary is guaranteed to warm your heart. You'll experience earth's natural beauty and learn how climate change impacts all its living creatures.

This nature series takes you inside the lives of the world's nocturnal creatures and animals that are active during the night, including lions hunting and bats in flight. This critically-acclaimed documentary follows oceanographer Sylvia Earle on her personal mission to save the ocean from threats like pollution, overfishing, and climate change.

Follow a trio of adventurers visiting the national parks and prepare yourself for truly majestic scenery. You'll see tightrope walkers, skiers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers at peaks everywhere from Tibet to Alaska.

The Emmy award-winning documentary seeks to discover why the reefs are disappearing and gives viewers a glimpse inside the underwater world. Whether you live in a city and need to fill the tree-shaped void in your life or just want to take in some truly spectacular scenery, a nature documentary is the answer to captivate, educate, and inspire you.

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From a visually stunning film showcasing incredible underwater life to an eye-opening look at the illegal ivory trade, these are the flicks that we think everyone should watch this Sunday night. The element that most viewers tend to gravitate toward when it comes to documentaries is the essence of real life that one gleans from the assemblages of historical footage, photographs, talking heads, pre-recorded audio, and sequences of physical excursion or simple quotidian tasks.

Even in cases where the film's overall focus is narrowed to fit a pre-conceived narrative, there's an unmistakable feeling of intimacy, of being let into a filmmaker's brain for a quick flash. In using snippets of the real world, in a variety of forms, great documentaries use images of universal, familiar existence to impart something tremendously personal, even intimate.

Netflix has a bountiful of great documentaries that cover a diverse range of subjects, from true crime to sports to even filmmaking. As the documentary points out, it’s not just ingrained cultural racism that results in the widespread incarceration of African-Americans and other minorities.

13th systematically goes through the decades following the passage of the 13th amendment to show how black people were targeted by the media, by the government, and by businesses to create a new form of slavery. It is a movie that will infuriate you, depress you, and hopefully spur you to action against a system that has done egregious harm to our fellow citizens.

If you’re looking for something soothing, uplifting, and oddly beautiful, you should check out Poppa Ehrlich and James Reed’s lovely documentary My Octopus Teacher. The movie follows filmmaker Craig Foster who goes snorkeling off the coast of South Africa and encounters an octopus.

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Through their stunning underwater photography, we see a magnificent and startling intelligent animal working its way to survive in a dangerous kelp forest. The film never anthropomorphizes or cheapens the complexity of this underwater world, while also never losing sight of the majesty it presents.

The Netflix original documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door is a harrowing, infuriating chronicle of the 2018 Watts family murders that uses social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages, and home video footage to revisit the events that unfolded. The film largely keeps the focus on the victims, making it a standout amongst many true crime documentaries.

It lays bare the lies that our social media profiles can carry, and the toxicity that festers in the heart of far too many American relationships. It begins with a deep-dive into the shift from arcade games to in-home consoles and chronicles everything from the game-changing arrival of the NEW to how Sega built a strategy to challenge Nintendo.

This flashing back and forth always keeps things interesting, contextualizing the 1997-98 Bulls season by filling in the blanks of what came before. You’ll be amazed at Jordan’s skill and drive, but the rockeries also has some eye-opening and surprisingly candid moments from one of the greatest athletes to ever live.

The story follows competitive Rubin Cube solvers Flies Members from Australia, who was the uncontested world champion until the arrival of American Max Park. What could be the premise for a story about serious rivalry in a niche sport instead becomes a beautiful tale of friendship and heroism.

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When so many stories about competition easily give way to negativity, it’s truly heartwarming to see such a positive and uplifting tale. Each installment of the seven-episode rockeries Tiger King is crazier than the last, to the point that you may find yourself saying multiple times, “Well surely things can’t possibly get any weirder than this.” You’d be 100% wrong.

Tiger King follows the exploits of Joe Exotic, a flamboyant and extremely confident owner of a private big cat zoo in Oklahoma. The story of Joe Exotic is stranger than fiction, involving lies, guns, a bid for the U.S. presidency, and a murder-for-hire plot.

The first Netflix documentary to hail from executive producers Michelle and Barack Obama was the Oscar-winning American Factory, and their second effort Trip Camp is just as great if not better. Incredible archival footage from this camp opens the film, but we then follow the various people we’ve met as they spend the next few decades embroiled in activism to pass legislation to make the world accessible for those with disabilities.

Some will ding the film for being too manicured, and in truth it’s impossible to tell just how heavy a hand Swift had in the tailoring of the documentary re: her self-image. But the film’s true moments of insight are hard to ignore, and it’s fascinating to watch Swift come to terms with who she is as a human being while also being one of the most famous people on the planet.

Do you want to feel good about the state of the American industry and the treatment of its skilled labor force? There's also a stinger at the end lamenting the ultimate decline of the human workforce due to automation, yet it's worth remembering that the machines themselves are simply tools that improve the production pipeline; it's still a human being, and often a bean-counting, bottom-liner who stands to make a few more points on their stock portfolio, who makes the call to replace flesh-and-blood workers at the end of the day.

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The 2019 Netflix documentary The Great Hack takes a deep dive into the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, and how, despite Facebook’s denials, the social media giant used personal data harvested by its users. Through interviews with investigative journalists and Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, the film offers a shocking deep-dive of how data has become the most valuable resource on the planet, and how data is used to target users with ads and fake “viral videos” and news stories to swing major elections.

Power of Gray skull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe tells you exactly what is waiting for you right there in the title. From filmmakers Lobby (Turtledove, and the upcoming Conan the Barbarian and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance documentaries) and McCallum (Nintendo Quest) comes a deep dive into all things He-Man.

From the chaotic creation of the musclebound hero as a Mattel toy franchise dreamed up as a competitor to Kenner, to the low points of the brand in the late 80s and 90s, and the modern resurgence of the property thanks to a dedicated fan base and savvy creative decisions, this documentary is a one-stop shop for all things Moth. In just about 95 minutes, this lengthy chat with creatives behind the scenes of the brand, spanning from the early 80s to today, tells the untold tale of how one of the most iconic creations came to be.

And if you're a collector, watching the doc might not be enough for you; luckily you can add the newly released home video to your Moth collection starting September 3rd ! While some may be quick to dismiss this documentary because its main figure is liberal political Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Rachel Lear's film isn’t really concerned with the right-left divide.

Although Ocasio-Cortez’ story over-arches the whole film, Lear's also takes time to follow other female politicians who are seeking to win their primary battles. If you’re fed up with business-as-usual politicians who have forgotten their constituents, Knock Down the House provides an inspiring rally cry.

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The words “bonkers”, “crazy”, and “wild” might come to mind while watching the true crime documentary Abducted in Plain Sight, but they would all be negated by the disturbing story that unfolds in Skye Borgman’s film. The narrative follows the Bro berg family, whose daughter Jan was abducted not once but twice by their neighbor Robert ‘B’ Behold.

The details of those abductions certainly fall into the realm of stranger-than-fiction, but the methods of Behold are that of a true monster and predator who ripped the Bro berg family apart simply, so he could get at Jan. The three-episode rockeries Five Came Back is an adaptation of author Mark Harris non-fiction book of the same name, which looks at World War II though the eyes of five filmmakers who helped the war effort in different ways: John Ford, William Tyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens.

These iconic Hollywood directors were enlisted to make various documentaries during the war to rally support, train troops, and document horrific experiences. It’s a must-see for WWII buffs, and not only is it masterfully structured, but Netflix has also made available 13 of the documentaries discussed in the film to watch after it’s over.

That idea is expanded even further in the show's second season, as it explores themes of parenthood, how displacement affects food culture, and the shifting nature of what a “steak dinner” means to people. Of The Other Side of the Wind, but it also gives insight into Welles’ career in the shadow of Citizen Kane.

While a number of films have been made about the Iraq War, legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris goes straight to the source for The Unknown Known. Tough questions are asked, and while Morris isn’t really here to outright admit wrongdoing or reconsider his choices, the steadfastness and confidence with which he recounts the Iraq War saga is downright chilling.

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