The 15 Best Netflix Documentaries to Watch When You're Stoned
We went beyond 'Planet Earth' to give you the weirdest, most enlightening, and prettiest nonfiction you can stream.
Composite via Netflix, Wikimedia Commons
The joint is lit and you're ready to download information into your brain like Neo in The Matrix. All of a sudden the colorful grid of Netflix's documentary section pops up and the pure volume of selection is overwhelming. If you're not careful you'll wind up in an endless feedback loop of indecision, and you won't be expanding your mind, just your anxiety about how much there is to watch.
Stay away from that cursed menu and turn instead to our expertly curated list below of the best documentaries to watch while stoned. Are you looking for relaxing footage that explores the beauty of the natural world? What about a visually stunning series that celebrates the pinnacle of human creativity? Or a deep dive into the most perplexing conspiracies ever pondered by humankind? We've got you. Grab the pizza rolls and dig in.
You’re reading this, so chances are you’ve already binged all of Planet Earth and Planet Earth II, (If not, what the hell are you doing here? Roll a blunt and go watch those now!) Life is David Attenborough’s less famous BBC series about the struggle for survival inherent in every living creature. Metaphors for our own daily challenges abound. If you’ve never dated someone like the jealous, grabby Giant Australian Cuttlefish, try going out in Bushwick for a few weeks.
- Beckett Mufson, Staff Writer
Easily one of the best documentary series’s on Netflix today. Each episode covers the life and work of a designer at the top of their game—graphic design, architecture, sneaker design, photography, interior design, illustration—and is edited in a way that matches the tone and work of the subject. For architect Bjarke Ingels, you get this sort of uproarious, playful, bigger-than-life drone footage of his stunning buildings and developments. His personality is quite forward, the type of person who has gotten a career from both his talents and his ability to evangelize about his own ideas. And then you have Christoph Niemann, famed illustrator for the New Yorker, whose episode is shot in a very quiet, wry way, weft with his own illustrations, and cut in with b-roll that depicts his awkward ambling, his thought process, his very small-scale physical process of creation. For interior designer Ilse Crawford you get an incredibly warm, smart, no-nonsense vibe. Where Ingels makes you feel like you’re drinking the Koolaid and Niemann makes you feel a bit as if you’re voyeuristically invading on his quietude, Crawford’s episode is like being given a warm blanket and a cup of chowder to eat while you lounge on a heliotrope velvet chaise lounge. Every episode is a masterclass in the way form meets subject, toe-to-toe, to create informative art about art. You should watch this high, you should watch this sober. You should just watch this.
- Nicole Clark, Staff Writer
Opening on dramatic World War II footage and bold claims about the continuing influence of Adolf Hitler, this one is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re blazing a potent Sativa and searching for a rabbit hole to jump into, this 12-part series tackling everything from aliens to Jim Morrison’s death is a feast for THC-induced paranoia. Conspiracies is perfect for the kind of person who would laugh at a very dedicated Hitler reenactor’s crooked mustache.
If you like your conspiracies a little more relevant, soak up the highly concentrated bad vibes emanating from former Nixon strategist Roger Stone. He's arguably the man behind Donald Trump's rise to power, and he doesn't need drugs to get high: he huffs pure hatred and loves it.
A far cry from the candy-colored #Minimal photos that dominate Instagram’s Explore section, Minimalism is a jaw-dropping look at the effect consumerism has on society. As a lifestyle, Minimalism can be traced back to spiritual leaders like Buddha and Jesus and philosophers like the Greek teacher Epicurus, and it’s been a popular movement in the arts since the 1960s. But it’s difficult to apply these concepts to the overwhelming clusterfuck of modern advertising and media. After smoking a bowl and watching this 80-minute manifesto, you might come-to with all your clothes in the garbage and your apartment bare except for a new couch from West Elm.
Four words: slow motion butterfly swarm. Need I say more?
This docu-series has gotten a fair bit of flack for being pretentious and for perpetuating the notion of men as “auteurs” in food culture. (Full disclosure: I stopped after the first season, because there were so few women.) But the show is worth the few episodes of a high watch—there is no denying it is about as visually stunning as a food show could possibly be. While most food shows on Netflix focus specifically on baking or on the competitive aspects of cooking, this show simply showcases incredible, artful food. There is no mistaking the choice of Osteria Francescana in the first episode, where each dish is architectural in nature, and close ups look like postmodern sculptures.
Scraping the dust from the bottom of your grinder? Credit cards maxed? Student loan anxiety peaking? Well, fill that final bowl and dive into your depression with Netflix’s look at our dystopian late-capitalist economic nightmare. Definitely watch the Martin Shkreli episode. It has a happy ending.
- Michael Bolen, Director of Content Strategy
A British architect and actress explore "unconventional homes in extreme places." If you're looking for a mellow, aesthetically-stimulating high, this is for you. In each 60-minute episode, the pair visits spectacular homes in a certain environment—"Mountain," "Forest," "Coast," and "Underground." The lush and varied visuals are the perfect eye-candy for any stoner looking to be soothed or awe-inspired by unique architecture and impressive design, and the two hosts are droll enough to keep you entertained (or British enough to make you doze off on your couch. Either option is acceptable).
- Meredith Balkus, Associate Editor, Global
Pretty space pictures. Neil DeGrasse Tyson with his booming baritone doing a Carl Sagan impression in a big fake spaceship. Perspective on how tiny you are, floating on a speck of dirt in the infinite dust bunny we call reality. Cosmos is really the only excuse to whip out your old gravity bong engineering skills from junior year. “It’s for the theme, guys!” Also, you’ll never feel more justified in ordering another round of Pad Thai—it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, does it?
Couch locked? Not planning on going anywhere for roughly thirteen hours? Sit back, relax, and watch the best World War II documentary series on Netflix.
This Chinese artist is basically a magician. Cai Guo-Qiang uses pyrotechnics to make incredibly moving fine art, such as his iconic Sky Ladder, a physical embodiment of his connection to his deceased grandmother. It's so, so worth the subtitles to let the explosive images of his wizardry to wash over you. - BM
Explained is the Vox-iest thing Vox has ever produced, These 20-minute explainer videos range from things you think you know about, like monogamy, to things you’ve never really looked into, like K-Pop. They’re chock full of fun animations and old stock footage, and the interviews are all experts explaining basic concepts like they would to a five-year-old, which is ideal for indulging after a “baked” Italian eggplant.
A somewhat overwrought doc about Adderall abuse, especially on college campuses. Critics hoped it would do for academic and professional performance stimulants what Icarus did for sports doping. Part of the disappointment is surely from the realization that higher education and day jobs are neither as sexy nor as glamorous (nor are the table stakes as immediately high) as sports. So what, your campus has a drug dealer. So you have ADHD and you need a stimulant to be able to do your work—this is just using Adderall correctly. The fact that you need more of it over time, to get the same results, is nothing particularly new. The one bit I would fast forward to, however, is the story about a man using Adderall at his finance job to stay awake several days straight to hit a deadline. His project partner is hospitalized. When he calls his co-worker at the hospital to check in, the co-worker asks him to “sneak him more work.” Sort of wish this had dug harder into late-stage capitalism and neoliberalism. But it’s a pretty low stakes thing to stream in the backdrop of getting high. - NC
Paris Is Burning is art, whether you’re sober or high, but has a lot of “ooh and aww” factor should you be the latter. It explores New York’s ballroom culture of the 80s and early 90s, which was heavily impacted by not only the AIDS crisis but economic and social factors—so it gets pretty heavy, but a good and important heavy. Many viewers of Paris Is Burning were probably not a part of the ballroom scene but for some reason (maybe I’m just high, I don’t know), the documentary makes you feel nostalgic for a world you haven’t personally experienced.
- Anna Iovine, Weekend Social Editor
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