The Best Documentaries on Netflix Right Now (April 2021)


Netflix invented the streaming game and completely turned the movie business on its head with its award-winning original release model. But most people overlook the streaming giant’s truly extraordinary documentary collection. Netflix has amassed a collection of documentaries about, well, everything. From Best Documentary Oscar winners to original oddities, Netflix has content about space, history, capitalism, the digital age, and much, much more. If you’re in the mood to learn something new, take a look at the best documentaries currently streaming on Netflix and see what floats your boat.
We’ve also rounded up the best documentaries on Amazon Prime and the best documentaries on Hulu, if Netflix doesn’t have what you’re looking for.

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (2021)
For decades, college counselor Rick Singer ran a “side door” hustle designed to get the children of extremely wealthy families into top American universities. Unlike a “back door” donation of an entire building, Singer’s side doors paid college coaches and athletic directors to pass off wealthy applicants as athletic admissions and supplied students with fake scores and credentials, all for the tidy price of a few hundred thousand dollars. Through reenactments based on wiretapped phone conversations and court documents, this compelling documentary sheds light on just how corrupt America’s university system is and how wealth really does buy access.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%Stars: Matthew ModineDirectors: Chris SmithRating: RRuntime: 110 minutes
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Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)
Bikram is a household name these days as the yoga craze has officially gone mainstream. But many don’t know the story of the hot yoga founder, Bikram Choudhury. Based on the 30 for 30 podcast miniseries, director Eva Orner takes a deep dive into the rise and fall of Choudhury, who was considered near-divine by many of his followers before disturbing revelations came to light about his predatory impulses.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%Stars: Bikram ChoudhuryDirector: Eva OrnerRating: TV-MARuntime: 86 minutes
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Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (2021)
This limited series about one of California’s most notorious and terrifying serial killers has earned criticism for being too overtly graphic and sensationalizing both the violence and the pursuit of the murderer dubbed the Night Stalker. It’s not for the faint of heart. That said, for genuine true crime fans, Night Stalker is pulse-pounding and thrilling as it doggedly investigates the peripatetic, seemingly-random series of murders and sexual assaults that plagued Los Angeles County in the summer of 1985. On the hunt are LA County Sheriff’s Department detective Gil Carrillo and homicide investigator Frank Salerno. The series is told through first-person interviews, gripping archival footage, and original photography, painting a supremely grim (yet undeniably exciting) picture of one of LA’s most iconic horror stories.
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%Stars: Richard RamirezDirectors: Tiller Russell, Tim Walsh, Eli Holzman, Aaron SaidmanRating: TV-MASeasons: 1
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Surviving Death (2021)
We’ve all wondered what happens after you die, but nobody can really say for certain what the afterlife looks like — or if it even exists at all. This series, however, aims to investigate that question as much as possible. Based on Leslie Kean’s book of the same name, the series uses innovative new research and personal stories of near-death experiences, reincarnation, and paranormal phenomena to investigate the subject.
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%Directors: Ricki SternRating: TV-MASeasons: 1
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Pelé (2021)
The life of Pelé, arguably the greatest player to ever compete on a soccer field, has been documented numerous times. Among the highlights are a 2004 documentary, Pelé Forever, and Pelé: Birth of a Legend, a 2016 biopic about the star. Next comes the eponymous Pelé, which will include black-and-white archival footage of the star from an early age, as well as interviews with him and some of his former teammates. It will have a particular focus on the 12-year period from 1958 to 1970, when the Brazilian took the sporting world by storm.
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%Stars: PeléDirectors: Ben Nicholas, David TryhornRating: NARuntime: 108 minutes
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Strip Down, Rise Up (2021)
The healing process after a trauma can be an ongoing process that takes some a whole lifetime. Some women have found strength and healing through an unconventional practice: Pole dancing. Once seen as the activity of circus performers or exotic dancers, the women in Strip Down, Rise Up use pole dancing as a way of unlocking issues and reclaiming power taken from them by those who inflicted trauma.
Rotten Tomatoes: NAStars: Sheila Kelley, Amy Bond, Jenyne ButterflyDirector: Michèle OhayonRating: NARuntime: 111 minutes
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FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
In 2018, the festival destination of the year was Fyre Fest. Organized by Ja Rule and Billy McFarland, the festival boasted to be the most exclusive and exciting event of the decade, hosted on a private island with a litany of extraordinary amenities for big spenders and a performance lineup headlined by Blink-182. Fyre Fest, immortalized by its solid orange square logo, was so hyped it gained its own mystique that took the world by storm practically overnight. For those who actually attended and became stranded on the little Caribbean island where it was held, Fyre Fest became a nightmarish hellscape. This is the history of one of the largest social frauds in history.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%Stars: Billy McFarland, Ja RuleDirector: Chris SmithRating: NRRuntime: 97 minutes
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The Social Dilemma (2020)
One of the more shocking documentaries of 2020, The Social Dilemma shines a light on something most of us already suspect: Big tech and social media are potentially extremely dangerous. Blending drama and documentary, The Social Dilemma is driven by tech experts who have created many of the systems that drive our current social networking-obsessed age. But they’re not promoting their work, they’re sounding the alarm of what it can do.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%Stars: Randy Fernando, Tristan Harris, Jeff SeibertDirector: Jeff OrloskiRating: PG-13Runtime: 94 minutes
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My Octopus Teacher (2020)
Nature has much to teach us, and that is abundantly evident in My Octopus Teacher. Burned-out filmmaker James Reed retreats to the southwest tip of Cape Town, South Africa, to recharge and go diving in the beautiful underwater kelp forests he visited when he was growing up. While he’s escaping the stressors of the real world and diving in the chilly waters, he strikes up a surprising companionship with an unusually docile octopus in a kelp forest. Following this almost supernatural lead, the filmmaker delves further into the mysteries and wonders of the ocean.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%Star: James Reed, Craig FosterDirector: James ReedRating: TV-PGRuntime: 85 minutes
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American Murder: The Family Next Door (2018)
American Murder is a true-crime documentary that reconstructs the disappearance of Shanann Watts and her two young children, beginning with the initial 9-1-1 call and culminating with the infamous trial of Chris Watts, the husband and father. Told through archival footage, text messages, and interviews with friends, family, and legal experts, American Murder is a cutting chronicle of the Watts family and those near to them — their struggles, their horrors, and their pain.
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%Star: Chris Watts, Shanann WattsDirector: Jenny PopplewellRating: TV-MARuntime: 82 minutes
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Long Shot (2017)
Did you know that Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Larry David technically helped an innocent man get out of prison? In Long Shot, Los Angeles’ Juan Catalan is incarcerated for a murder he did not commit. This short, talking-head documentary presents viewpoints from Catalan’s family, legal team, Larry David himself, and other pertinent experts. But the doc really picks up steam when Catalan’s defense goes to needle-in-a-haystack measures to prove his alibi on the day of the reported murders.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%Star: Larry David, Juan CatalanDirector: Jacob LaMendolaRating: TV-14Runtime: 39 minutes
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Last Breath (2019)
Chris Lemons and his crewmates were veteran deep-sea divers carrying out a routine repair, 100 meters below the surface in the North Sea. What started as a normal day on the job quickly became everyone’s worst nightmare as Chris’ umbilical cord (the harness securing him to the repair vessel) severed, trapping Chris at the bottom of the ocean with a quickly-depleting air supply. Told through archival footage of the day’s events, as well as filmed interactions with the vessel crew, Last Breath is a pulse-pounding look at the ocean-blue and an endearing display of humanity, as told by a group of men that were just doing their jobs.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%Star: Chris Lemons, Duncan Allcock, Stuart AndersonDirector: Richard Da CostaRating: TV-MARuntime: 85 minutes
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Becoming (2020)
In 2018, former First Lady Michelle Obama wrote a book called Becoming about her life’s journey. In 2020, director Nadia Hallgren released a documentary with the same name that followed Obama during her book tour. Michelle Obama also provides some perspective on her years in the White House alongside her husband, former President Barack Obama. Michelle Obama’s story, however, is compelling enough on its own, especially given how she relates the challenges she’s faced and overcome.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%Stars: Michelle Obama, Gayle King, Barack ObamaDirector: Nadia HallgrenRating: PGRuntime: 89 minutes
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I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
Before his demise, James Baldwin planned to tell the story of his experiences in the Civil Rights movement in Remember This House. Baldwin was a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, and he offered his own perspective on history in his unfinished book. Documentary filmmaker Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro recruited Samuel L. Jackson to narrate Baldwin’s thoughts on the most important movement of his lifetime. It’s an ongoing battle that has never truly ended, and it’s only become more timely.
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%Star: Samuel L. Jackson (narrator)Director: Raoul PeckRating: PG-13Runtime: 93 minutes
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Athlete A (2020)
For more than two decades, Larry Nassar was a doctor for the USA Gymnastics national team. Nassar betrayed the trust placed in him, however, by sexually assaulting the young female gymnasts in his care. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s Athlete A follows the journalists from The Indianapolis Star who broke the story that helped send Nassar to jail. More importantly, the film also provides the victims with another opportunity to share their stories about the abuse they endured and the challenges they faced when they dared to break their silence. Their harrowing tales can be difficult to hear, but it’s necessary viewing.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%Stars: Maggie Nichols, Jerry Moran, Jen SeyDirectors: Bonni Cohen, Jon ShenkRating: PG-13Runtime: 103 minutes
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13th (2016)
The story of race in America is a long, bloody, systemically inequitable one. And that systemic inequality seems hellbent on perpetuating itself, as illustrated in Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated 13th. This doc tells the story of post-slavery America by drawing attention to the 13th Amendment, which — on its surface — appears to abolish slavery. There’s a loophole, however, that permits slavery as punishment for a crime. DuVernay argues, through meticulous statistical research and archival evidence, that the criminal justice system and mass incarceration have become a modern, more insidious means of perpetuating racial inequality and bolstering racial biases, both culturally and systemically. In today’s turbulent political environment, 13th should be mandatory viewing for all Americans.
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%Stars: Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Van JonesDirector: Ava DuVernayRating: TV-MARuntime: 100 minutes
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Chasing Coral (2017)
Although they only cover less than two percent of the ocean floor, coral reefs are essential to marine ecosystems, providing support for nearly 25 percent of ocean species. It’s disturbing, then, to see the vibrant reefs of the world turn bone-white and die. Director Jeff Orlowski’s latest documentary, Chasing Coral, follows a team of researchers as they try to document the slow death of the world’s reefs. The documentary is informative, laying out for viewers why coral reefs are important in maintaining healthy oceans, and how increasing ocean temperatures are destroying them. Chasing Coral provides a human element, too. The researchers involved display a great passion for their work, and their zeal may be more persuasive than any facts or figures.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%Stars: Andrew Ackerman, Pim Bongaerts, Neal CantinDirector: Jeff OrlowskiRating: TV-PGRuntime: 89 minutes
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Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (2020)
2020 will forever be known as the year of the coronavirus and the year of Joe Exotic, Tiger King. Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin’s docuseries on the big cat trade in the United States became a bonafide meme and take factory. It’s a documentary for the internet age, somehow consistently re-upping itself with the weirdness and insanity of its characters and stories episode after episode. Joe Exotic is an openly gay, polygamous, country-singing, gun-toting, mullet-sporting, redneck who owns and operates a private big cat zoo in Oklahoma. His story is, somehow, even stranger.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%Stars: Joe Exotic, John ReinkeDirectors: Rebecca Chaiklin, Carole BaskinRating: TV-MASeasons: 1
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Amanda Knox (2016)
Amanda Knox is a controversial figure — and a well-known one at that. In 2007, the foreign-language student and her boyfriend were wrongly convicted of murdering her fellow flatmate while in Italy, resulting in an eight-year legal battle that saw rampant misogyny, shaky forensic evidence, and shoddy journalism placed at the forefront. In the aptly titled Amanda Knox, directors Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst don’t so much recount the events as much as they examine the web of incompetence pervading the sexualized tabloid narrative, thus creating a riveting procedural that’s chock-full of enlightening interviews with Knox and those closest to her.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%Stars: Amanda Knox, Meredith Kercher, Raffaele SollecitoDirectors: Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinnRating: TV-MARuntime: 93 minutes
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The Ivory Game (2016)
In this Netflix Original, filmmakers Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani tell the story of elephant poaching and the inner workings of the ongoing ivory trade — from the inside out. The film paints a dire picture of the economies, both political and financial, that have emerged as a result of ivory’s value in regions where legal loopholes allow the black-market commodity to move unfettered. From Africa to China to Italy, the film looks to expose the brutality of the ivory trade and help support those looking to make it extinct. It exists in the same vein as heartbreaking documentaries such as Blackfish and The Cove, and as such, it often feels more like a loudspeaker for animal-rights activists than a work of pure journalism.
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%Stars: Prince William, Andrea Crosta, Ian StevensonDirectors: Kief Davidson, Richard LadkaniRating: TV-14Runtime: 112 minutes
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The Short Game (2013)
Ever seen the excellent 2002 documentary Spellbound? Well, The Short Game is kind of like that, though it focuses on eight entrants in the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship and their overzealous parents, instead of a national spelling bee in Washington D.C. Director Josh Greenbaum’s inspiring film follows the young athletes — five of whom are boys and three of whom are girls — beginning six months before the competition, profiling their athletic drive and personal interests in equal measure. Some of the athletes hog more of the spotlight than others, such as tennis superstar Anna Kournikova’s younger brother, but they all wind up participating in a competition that spurs both laughter and tears for the children and their parents.
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%Stars: Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Annika SörenstamDirector: Josh GreenbaumRating: PGRuntime: 99 minutes
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Icarus (2017)
Bryan Fogel’s first documentary, Icarus, began as an attempt to document the effects of doping, with Fogel taking drugs to compete in a bicycle race. In an act of journalistic serendipity, Fogel meets a Russian doctor, Grigory Rodchenkov, who leads Fogel to a far bigger story: A Russian, state-sponsored doping program that could cast doubt on the validity of international sports. The story behind Icarus is interesting enough to recommend it, and it is essentially a real-life political thriller.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%Stars: Bryan Fogel, Mark MonroeDirector: Bryan FogelRating: TV-MARuntime: 120 minutes
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American Factory (2019)
Winner of the 2020 Best Documentary Oscar, American Factory will not make you feel good about the state of American institutions. This look into a defunct General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, is the first release from Higher Ground, a production company founded by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. But before that, it was made by Participant Media, who screened it at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it also won Best Documentary. The doc depicts the Dayton plant receiving new life when a Chinese billionaire invests in it as a new American glass-making facility for his company, Fuyao. The skilled labor force subsequently struggles as human skill is sacrificed for a few pennies’ worth of savings. American Factory shows the plight of the skilled labor force, both American and Chinese, as they fall victim to the rich and powerful. It’s a good, hard look at the American Dream and whether it still exists.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%Stars: Junming ‘Jimmy’ Wang, Robert Allen, Sherrod BrownDirectors: Steven Bognar, Julia ReichertRating: TV-14Runtime: 110 minutes
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Our Planet (2019)
Earth is a living, breathing sphere of air and water, filled with the tallest mountains and the largest oceans. Our Planet is a special collaboration between Silverback Films, Netflix, and the World Wildlife Fund. Taking place over four years, Our Planet takes viewers on a breathtaking journey from the deepest seas to the driest deserts to the thickest jungles. Our Planet not only showcases the majestic wildlife of our world but also highlights the challenges faced, as well as how humans can learn to coexist with the natural world. Our Planet is narrated by David Attenborough (Blue Planet) for English-speaking audiences, and it’s also narrated by Salma Hayek for Latin America and Penelope Cruz for Spanish audiences.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%Star: David AttenboroughRating: TV-GSeasons: 1
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Night On Earth (2020)
Night On Earth is a revolutionary new nature documentary, utilizing state-of-the-art cinematography to view the natural world at night. Even in the pitch blackness of the night, Night On Earth illuminates the land as if the sun were out, showcasing nocturnal creatures and their behaviors under the cover of darkness. This cutting-edge filmmaking unearths an entirely new world that’s rarely seen by humans — but that can now be seen with every detail. Narrated by Samira Wiley (A Handmaid’s Tale), Night On Earth is a mesmerizing experience, bringing to light the world of the dark.
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%Star: Samira WileyRating: TV-PGSeasons: 1
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Birders (2019)
Birders offers a thought-provoking view of bird-watching from opposite sides of the border between the United States and Mexico. Bird-watchers from Mexico observe birds crossing into the U.S., and watchers in the U.S. see the return. Man-made obstacles pose a threat to the birds and their habitats, which cause untold destruction to their populations and ecosystems. This short documentary showcases a world without borders and members of two countries working together to protect the habitat of these magnificent birds.
Rotten Tomatoes: NAStars: Esteban Berrones, Chris Birchfield, Mark ConwayDirector: Otilia Portillo PaduaRating: TV-GRuntime: 37 minutes
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Into the Inferno (2016)
Director and writer Werner Herzog created a feature-length documentary that focuses on one of the most powerful and destructive forces on our planet: Volcanoes. Volcanoes wield great power, and they’re able to decimate any land — but also create new land as their thunderous force completely changes the land around them. Herzog sends viewers deep into the magma-filled heart of volcanoes, as their destructive forces breed creation and civilizations praise their raw power. With breathtaking filmmaking, Into the Inferno showcases the pure power of volcanoes and how they have impacted our world.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%Stars: Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer, Katia KrafftDirector: Werner HerzogRating: TV-PGRuntime: 104 minutes
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Team Foxcatcher (2016)
Utilizing home video footage, Team Foxcatcher recounts the downward spiral of John du Pont and the tragic murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz with authenticity and depth. Team Foxcatcher sees exclusive interviews with du Pont and the families impacted by this tragedy. Directed by Jon Greenhalgh, Team Foxcatcher received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Documentary. The tragedy was the central focus of this dark and dramatic film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%Stars:Dan Chaid, John du Pont, Dave SchultzDirector: Jon GreenhalghRating: TV-MARuntime: 91 minutes
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World War II in Colour (2009)
It’s a good time to catch up on history, and World War II in Colour captures the biggest moments of World War II. Newly revealed and restored footage showcases the realities of World War II from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway to the siege of Stalingrad to the bombing of Hiroshima. Unlike other World War II documentaries, these moments are restored in color, giving clarity to these momentous moments in military history. With commentary from researchers and historians, World War II in Colour is an excellent series for those wishing to learn more about World War II.
Rotten Tomatoes: NAStars: Robert Powell, Swaylee Loughnane, Mamoru ShigemitsuRating: TV-MASeasons: 1
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Spitfire: The Plane that Saved the World (2018)
There were many aircraft that flew over the skies of World War II, but the Spitfire is revered as one of history’s greatest. Spitfire: The Plane that Saved the World is a feature-length documentary film about the Supermarine Spitfire, the legendary combat aircraft flown by the Royal Air Force through hundreds of combat engagement, including The Battle of Britain. Through restored archival footage, historians, researchers, and combat veterans, Spitfire: The Plane that Saved the World is a critically-acclaimed documentary that tells the story of heroism, bravery, sacrifice, and love.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%Stars: John Ackroyd, Charles Dance, Mary EllisDirectors: David Fairhead, Ant PalmerRating: TV-14Runtime: 94 minutes
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The Universe (2009)
Where do you go when the world is not enough? The Universe lives up to its title by expanding the focus beyond Earth as it explores the cosmos in a unique way. The series invites experts in multiple fields to share their knowledge while using CGI graphics to illustrate universal objects and concepts. Nine seasons were produced, but Netflix only has a selection of episodes from the second season that focus on the really fun stuff. That means alien planets, dark matter, the Moon, supernovas, space travel, and more.
Rotten Tomatoes: NA%Stars: VariousRating: TV-14Seasons: 9
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Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (2019)
Ten years ago, Luka Magnotta posted a video of himself killing two kittens on camera. A few outraged viewers launched their own online manhunt, as chronicled in Don’t F**k With Cats. Several internet sleuths closely examined the video hoping to find clues about Magnotta’s identity and where he could be found. Meanwhile, Magnotta went on to kill an international student, and he proved to be even more dangerous than previously believed. Exposing Magnotta was only the beginning — the real trick was catching him.
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%Stars: Deanna Thompson, John Green, Claudette HamlinDirector: Mark LewisRating: TV-MASeasons: 1
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The Great Hack (2019)
Do the words “Cambridge Analytica” mean anything to you? It’s the name of the company that illegally lifted personal information from Facebook users during the 2016 election. More surprisingly, Cambridge Analytica was working for Senator Ted Cruz, as well as the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom. The Great Hack examines this story by talking to the people who were chasing the story and other individuals who were involved in the scandal. The scary thing is that the past may be prologue for companies that are stealing information from public Facebook pages. It may be a long time before the full extent of the damage is revealed.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%Stars: Brittany Kaiser, David Carroll, Paul-Olivier DehayeDirectors: Karim Amer, Jehane NoujaimRating: TV-MARuntime: 114 minutes
Watch on Netflix
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