The Best Science Documentaries on Netflix
Netflix boxsets have become a staple in many peoples lives, and its no wonder why; they offer compelling viewing whenever you want to. But beyond their boxsets Netflix in fact has a great deal more to offer.
For science, nature, documentary lovers or those with just a passing interet in ‘how stuff works’ then Netflix is a veritable feast for knowledge hunters.
To get you started on your journey of discovery, here’s our list of some of the best science documentaries on Netflix, our list contains 10 suggestions to be exact, some you will probably have heard of, others are hopefully new to you:
‘Planet Earth’ as a documentary was the culmination of years of hard work on the part of its filmmakers and a sizable production budget that aimed to provide audiences with cinematic quality scenes.
Its premiere in early 2006 garnered it great acclaim, with home viewers praising the truly epic scale of the documentary, and its exploration of new and unusual species’.
The documentary series comprises eleven, fifty-minute episodes with each delving into the uniquely different biomes and habitats that make up our blue planet. Experience exquisite vistas as well as up-close examinations of the interaction between Earth’s myriad geography and the organisms that thrive in them, all alongside the stern, British narration of Sir David Attenborough (nature documentary lovers will recognise the voice instantaneously).
Discover the effects of gradual climate change, fly above the snow-covered Alpine summits, follow snaking rivers and travel to temperature-extreme deserts. If you’re looking for a documentary that is a sort of catch-all of the different geographical elements of Earth, look no further!
In 10 September 2008, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator started up for the first time, bringing with it the possibility of discovering the answers to science’s most complex questions about the universe.
Starting with the Large Hadron Collider’s first firing, follow six scientists on a 4-year journey as they and thousands of scientists of over a hundred different nationalities come together in a monumental scientific endeavor.
The documentary is exceptional in introducing the human side to what is basically hard numbers and complex mathematical equations that most people simply have no idea to wrap their heads around. The physics behind the LHC is itself explored, simplified in order to translate better for the laymen audience but yet not having lost the actual science behind the original message.
All in all, the documentary is a fantastic look at the result of years of hard work and labor from hundreds of scientists (of over a hundred nationalities) all working in concert with one another in order to achieve greater understanding of the very universe that surrounds us. Complex calculations and advanced theories juxtaposed with very real human emotions.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’ is hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson and explores several different fields of science in the 13-episode series. The 2014 sequel begins with an introduction to the ‘Ship of the Imagination’, the show’s primary narrative device that will be used to explore the universes’ past, present and future.
On this ship, be ready to speculate the possibility of life on Titan (Saturn’s moon), look upon the works of Isaac Newton, travelling across the vast reaches of space as well as understand the very human element and history that lies at the core of the scientific approach.
If you want a fun ride on Cosmos’ ‘Spaceship of the Imagination’, don on your pilot suit, put on your thinking cap and get ready to fly straight into the depths of Science.
Mysteries of the Unseen World
The gift of sight has given humanity a tremendously powerful means through which we can experience the beauty of planet Earth but there is so much that the naked eye simply misses out on. Whole other worlds are hidden away in plain sight – from the smallest living organisms to the amazing processes that occur on a nanoscale.
Long have scientists been privy to these hidden worlds, peering through microscopic lens and marveling at what they saw. Now, with visually stunning imagery produced with an attention to detail, open your eyes to a breadth of dimensions previously unknown to the modern layman.
Forest Whitaker narrates this short, but fulfilling, journey of domains beyond our own where you discover wavelengths that transcend the visible spectrum, things that simply move too fast, of the unique relationship of protons and electrons, and even the very structures that make everything so unique.
The documentary itself lasts a cozy 40 minutes; not a dive into the deep, but a satisfying initial exploration of things that our eyes fail to perceive.
This British three-part series focuses on our furry (and not so furry) little friends and how they survive in our shared world. Smaller creatures, such as the rhinoceros beetle, the elephant shrew and the marmoset, star face-first in this in-depth look at how they interact with the environment around them.
Each episode takes us to a different part of the world; from Arizona’s scorching Sonoran Desert to the rainforests of Borneo to the urban jungle of Tokyo. This isn’t your typical nature documentary – no sweeping vistas or cinematic landscapes lie in wait. Here, your eye candy is the very ground, the leaves, the low-lying brush and the scampering of rodents.
All in all, ‘Hidden Kingdoms’ is a unique take on the science/nature documentary medium. After all, you can’t underestimate the small things in life.
Created and produced by the BBC, Life is a British nature documentary series that takes a global view of the unique behavior that living things across the entire planet have developed in a bid for survival.
Each of the ten-episode series looks at both plants and different animal groups, from plants’ struggle for water and nutrients to mammal’s communal approach to finding food to the life cycles of insects.
The documentary series is pretty much an extensive look at the common traits shared by the major animal groups and plants that contribute to their successful survival. The production budget and long timescale of the documentary gave it the ability to create sequences that have never been seen before.
With intimate film making techniques, newer camera technology, over 150 shoots on all seven continents and miniature high definition cameras, ‘Life’ is a stunning, entertaining work of art deserving of your time.
What Plants Talk About
Plants are more than just decoration and the primary source of oxygen; they’re complex living organisms that do more than just photosynthesis, they communicate.
This is all very strange stuff to hear but how about the idea that plants actively ‘forage and hunt’ for food? While they don’t ‘forage and hunt’ in the traditional sense since they can’t actually walk about, you’ll find that young roots actively seek out and grow towards nutrient-rich soil.
How about that scent we’re all so familiar with when cutting any kind of greenery? That’s actually plant-speak for “help me, I’m dying.” In ‘What Planks Talk About, a combination of showcased experiments and time-lapse photography will leave you with the knowledge of all these amazing (and somewhat disturbing) things!
If you’ve ever wondered how plants even seem to exist let alone communicate, what without brains or mouths, then ‘What Plants Talk About’ is the surefire documentary for you.
Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies
Most people don’t actually know much about Cancer. So when one of his recently cancer-stricken patients asked what it was exactly he was having to battle through, Siddhartha Mukherjee decided he needed to craft a really good answer not just for his patient, but for the rest of humanity.
In 2010, Siddhartha – an Indian-born American physician and oncologist – published the ‘Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer’. A year later, the book won a slew of awards before finally receiving the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.
Mukherjee’s time as a hematology/oncology fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital drove him to write about the topic in great detail, including his personal experiences as a physician, a comprehensive examination of Cancer’s sordid history as well as the latest research and therapies.
The book was heralded as an ‘elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal, into long history’ of cancer. In 2015, director Barak Goodman and producer Ken Burns came together to produce a six-hour, three-episode documentary film that became the most in-depth documentary made on any single disease (of which cancer is several).
The series optimistically concludes, nothing that new, promising treatments and research point to an undoubtable, inevitable victory. ‘Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies’ is a thorough look at an enemy that threatens the entire human race and the ongoing, combined effort of humanity as it marches onward unflinchingly.
The Story of Maths
Yes, I know, it’s Maths, but whoever said Maths had to be boring? Here, we ditch the complex calculations and unsolvable “find X” questions for a look at the very history of Mathematics itself.
In ‘The Story of Maths’, host Marcus du Sautoy demonstrates the fundamental nature of Mathematics (which undoubtedly will do little to persuade most of us to love our algebra homework) and the rise of mathematics over the ages.
On this journey through time, discover the transformation of mathematics as an analytical subject in Ancient Greece, before embarking on a trip to the East, where Asia’s rising power amidst Europe’s Dark Ages would propel the subject to reach ever greater heights.
Learn more about the Fibonacci sequence, the invention of Algebra (or scorn the birth of true evil) and the number zero, as well as the seemingly complex concepts of infinity. The documentary itself concludes with an episode dedicated to the unsolved problems that still confound todays 21st-century mathematicians (a whole different ‘find x’ ballgame).
This is more of a history lesson than a look at nature but altogether, ‘The Story of Maths’ is more than just a look at its progress, it is an exploration of the fascination that human beings have always had in numbers. After all, Mathematics itself is an inherently fundamental aspect of basically every science. Maybe finding X isn’t such a bad idea after all.
Tesla: Master of Lightning
You definitely know of Thomas Edison that famous American inventor and businessman responsible for so many modern contraptions we use today. But you’ve probably never heard of Nikola Tesla, a Serbian scientist that Edison scammed of 50 000 dollars.
Edison would be famously quoted as saying to the young Tesla, “When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke.”
In Tesla: Master of Lightning, we dive deep into the life and times of that very Serbian scientist, sifting through his personal notes and revealing previously unknown details of the curious inventor. The well-researched production will set the record straight on Tesla, giving him the long overdue recognition that such an inspiring, exemplary individual deserves.
Grab some popcorn and have a good drink by your side as you learn of the Austrian immigrant who crossed the ocean to achieve the American dream, with grand ideas that would eventually culminate in vast contributions to the modern alternating current electricity supply system.
We hope you enjoyed our list of the best science documentaries on Netflix.
Now over to you: what’s your favourite science documentary?
Leave a comment and let us know!