Netflix has earned a reputation for its absurd documentaries, and its latest offerings are no exception. Earlier this month we got Worst Roommate Ever, a five-part true-crime series featuring “harrowing tales of seemingly harmless roommates turning into real-life nightmares for their unsuspecting victims.” Also arriving soon is Bad Vegan: Frame, Fraud, and Fugitives, which chronicles the life of “the queen of vegan” Sarma Melngailis, the owner and co-founder of vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine. While her restaurant was a dream, her real life was a nightmare—her husband conned her out of her empire and convinced Melngailis that he could make her and her pit bull immortal. Turns out, the truth really can be stranger than fiction.
In honor of these new shows, we’ve rounded up some of the other fascinating documentaries currently available on Netflix full of larger-than-life characters, shocking twists, and outrageous antics. Because it’s hard to quit after watching just one.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first. What would this list be without the wildest documentary series in recent memory? Filled with colorful characters and bitter rivalries, the show introduced millions to the wild world behind the scenes of big cat and exotic animal attractions. Obviously, timing was a key factor in Tiger King‘s massive popularity, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that this show would have been a conversation starter even without so many people stuck at home in the early days of a pandemic lockdown with nothing better to do than binge it. Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin have become household names, and even inspired a recent fictional retelling of their feud, Joe vs. Carole, premiering this month on Peacock. Netflix followed up with a second season of Tiger King in late 2021, but it didn’t have nearly the impact of the first. A much better watch is the spin-off Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story, which digs into the life of a minor background character from the original series whose operation might be even shadier than Joe’s and Carole’s combined.
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado
In the 1980s and ’90s, Puerto Rican entertainer Walter Mercado would pop up on TV screens across Latin America in a fabulous cape and read people’s horoscopes. One day, Mercado stopped interpreting the stars and simply vanished from public view. Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado delves into Mercado’s strange life, including his massive collection of paintings, capes, and other things celebrating himself. Claiming he doesn’t age (among other revelations) Mercado unveils just how much of a lovable weirdo he was. Unfortunately, his death in 2019 (a few months before the documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival) proved that he was all too human. Besides Mercado himself, the film features interviews with family members, former employees, and prominent Latino celebrity admirers, including Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Abducted in Plain Sight
Described as “bonkers” and “crazy,” Abducted in Plain Sight is straight-up disturbing. The film focuses on the Broberg family, whose daughter Jan was abducted not once, but twice by the same person. What’s even more baffling is the fact that the Brobergs were friends with Jan’s kidnapper, Robert “B” Berchtold, who managed to convince Jan’s parents to drop the kidnapping charges. If that isn’t enough to infuriate you, The Brobergs still allowed Berchtold to spend time with their daughter. There’s no doubt that Berchtold is a complete monster, but Abducted in Plain Sight also sheds light on the responsibilities of parents to protect their children.
I Am Divine
Divine, aka Harris Glenn Milstead, was a queer icon who was once known as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” One of the world’s first drag queen stars, Divine starred in a number of outrageous movies made by John Waters set in their hometown in Baltimore. I Am Divine takes a deeper look at the queen whose makeup inspired Ursula’s in The Little Mermaid, and reveals that Milstead shared very little in common with his wild alter ego. He was a kind, reserved, and caring man who loved being around his friends. I Am Divine serves as a reminder that the art of drag did not start with RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The Tinder Swindler
It may be tempting to look down on the victims of a scam and say you’d never fall for it, but The Tinder Swindler shows just how convincing and manipulative a truly skilled con artist can be. In one of the most shocking true stories on Netflix, Shimon Hayut, aka Simon Leviev, managed to swindle a series of women he met on Tinder out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to support his lavish lifestyle. Three of them agreed to be interviewed for the series. He told them he was the son of Russian-Israeli diamond mogul Lev Leviev and took them on luxurious adventures around the world. At some point, each woman would get the same sob story about his “enemies” targeting him, followed by desperate requests for funds, which he would then use to woo the next one in line, and so on. Eventually, some of his marks connected with each other to compare notes and took their story to a team of investigative journalists to help take him down. Since The Tinder Swindler’s release, the real Leviev family is suing the swindler for pretending to be a part of their family. The lesson here is if you commit crimes and document it all on social media, you will absolutely get caught.
My Octopus Teacher
If you’ve ever wanted to befriend an enigmatic sea creature and weren’t sure how, this is the film for you. My Octopus Teacher follows the first-person account of filmmaker Craig Foster as he begins diving in a chilly kelp forest near Cape Town, South Africa. One day, Foster meets an octopus, and she slowly begins to show him what her day-to-day life looks like underwater. Their bond leads Foster to form a stronger relationship with his son, an aspiring marine biologist. The film is so endearing that it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel
For fans of true crime podcasts, Netflix has a good number of documentaries that should be right up your dark, scary alley. We recommend this one for the way it serves up the grisly details with plenty of atmosphere and a dash social commentary. In 2013, Elisa Lam vanished from the Cecil Hotel, a once famous hotel in Los Angeles, which has since fallen into ruin. Weeks later, Lam was found dead in the hotel’s water tank. Rather than fixating on the many conspiracy theories around Lam’s disappearance, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel focuses on the illustrious history of the Cecil Hotel as well as the socioeconomic conditions that led to its sordid reputation. The docuseries doesn’t answer every question about Lam’s murder, but it does attempt to answer some of them while also exploring the mind-boggling poverty of Los Angeles.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Like so many others, you may remember watching the disaster of the Fyre Festival unfold in real time on social media with a combination of shock and glee. You may also recall that there were not one but two subsequent documentaries made about it (Hulu strategically scooped Netflix by releasing theirs four days before this one). Both are entertaining, but Netflix’s goes more in depth into the planning of the event and all the foolish moves that led up to it. Although it doesn’t have a one-on-one interview with Billy McFarland himself, the scammer behind the infamous fiasco (you’ll have to watch the Hulu one for that), you do get a more valuable perspective from those who worked behind the scenes and the team in the Bahamas, who arguably got screwed over the most. The initial appeal is undeniably the schadenfreude of watching a bunch of influencers whine about having to sleep in FEMA tents, but Fyre is more interested in exploring what happened to the regular folks affected by this. The most memorable scene involves McFarland’s business partner, Andy King, who recalls the NSFW extremes he went to to bring Evian water to the Bahamas.
Wild Wild Country
This docuseries truly lives up to its name. Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Ranjessh and his cult of followers, who built their own secluded commune called Rajneeshpuram in rural Oregon, are indeed wild. As you can imagine, the locals weren’t too happy about a massive cult settling in their territory, taking over the city council seats, and attempting to run their own town. They tell tales of the strange behavior of the members, who were easily identified by their red and purple clothing. The story gets more and more dramatic as it goes on, including allegations of drug abuse, sex scandals, bio-terrorism, power struggles at the highest levels, and attempted murder. While Ranjeesh died before the documentary was made, his one-time right hand woman (who would later lead her own breakaway faction), Ma Anand Sheela, emerges as the unambiguous villain of the piece. She reveals a lot to the filmmakers in her interviews, but we learn even more about her from news reports and the other participants, including former cult members. Apparently the docuseries doesn’t even delve into half of the scandal, but there’s enough here to keep you riveted.