The documentary world has come a long way since Nanook of the North. Now considered the first-ever documentary, the silent film first hit the big screen in the 1920s and followed the real lives of Quebec’s indigenous population, albeit with a few fictional scenes thrown in.

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But throughout the 20th century, as the movie industry (and subsequently the TV industry) picked up the pace, most people were more interested in fiction than reality. Lately, things have started to change. Amid the rise of streaming platforms (looking at you, Netflix) and their succession of hits like Tiger King, The Deepest Breath, and Planet Earth III, documentaries are more popular than ever.

Documentaries are powerful sources of information. But they also resonate with viewers because they are engaging, creative examples of storytelling. They help break down complex subjects into stretches of two hours or less through montages, expert interviews, archival footage, and voiceovers (often from well-known celebrities). And this is exactly why the vegan world has embraced them.

Where simple facts and figures struggle, a documentary utilizes imagery and emotive language to represent the heart of many issues, while simultaneously tugging on emotions.

The best vegan documentaries, streaming on Netflix and beyond

If you’re in the mood to be immersed in some of the biggest dilemmas the world is currently facing—but also desire to learn about the solutions we already have at our fingertips—we’ve rounded up some of the best vegan documentaries available to stream right now.


1‘You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment’

Last year, Stanford Medicine published a ground-breaking study that examined the effects of dietary habits on 22 sets of twins. In the study, one twin followed a vegetable-rich omnivorous diet, and the other followed a vegetable-rich plant-based diet. The researchers found that in the first four weeks, those on a plant-based diet had lower levels of LDL cholesterol and insulin, and they lost weight. A new must-see documentary series guides us through the experiment process and results—which surprised even the study authors themselves—as well as the eye-opening history of the Standard American Diet.
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VegNews.thesmellofmoneyThe Smell of Money

2 ‘The Smell of Money’

Backed by Joaquin Phoenix, and executive produced by Kata Mara, 2022’s The Smell of Money is an exposé of environmental racism, and takes a harrowing look at the impact of factory farms on communities that surround them. Follow the legal battle between one North Carolina community and Smithfield Foods, one of the largest pork producers in the US.
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3 ‘Poisoned’

In 2023, Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food, hit Netflix. The documentary takes a closer look at grocery store shelves and examines how the food industry’s systemic failures don’t just hurt animals and the planet, but they’re also putting people at risk of dangerous foodborne diseases.
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4 ‘Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret’

Released in 2014, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, is still changing lives today. The film, which was directed by Kip Anderson and produced by Keegan Kuhn, examines the real impact that animal agriculture is having on the environment, from deforestation to greenhouse gas pollution to ocean dead zones. It also pulls back the curtain on industry denial, as researchers, authors, speakers, activists, and animal advocates take viewers on a deep dive into the ugly truth: the meat we consume as a society is devastating the natural world.
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Produced by Anderson and directed by Ali Tabrizi, 2021’s Seaspiracy takes a deep and sobering look at the state of the fishing industry. It not only examines environmental issues like plastic pollution (a significant percentage of which comes from things like nets and lines) but also the human cost of industrial fishing. But, of course, it also explores the solutions to these issues, one of which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, taking seafood off our plates.
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Milked, released in 2021 and directed by Amy Taylor, is a feature-length documentary that follows activist Chris Huriwai as he travels throughout New Zealand. On his journey, he exposes the country’s multi-billion-dollar dairy industry and the scale of the impact it’s having on people and the planet. It’s another wake-up call from executive producer Kuhn, who stars in the film alongside environmentalists like Jane Goodall and Suzy Amis Cameron.
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8-eating-our-way-to-extinctionEating Our Way to Extinction

7‘Eating Our Way to Extinction’

Directed by Otto and Ludo Brockway and narrated by actor Kate Winslet, 2021’s Eating Our Way to Extinction is exactly what the title says it’s going to be. Accompanied by awe-inspiring cinematography, the film intends to be an eye-opening warning of what will happen to us and the planet if nothing changes with the food system soon. It features leading environmental experts, scientists, and global figures alongside powerful appearances and first-hand accounts from indigenous people.
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5-GameChangersThe Game Changers

8‘The Game Changers’

Star-studded The Game Changers—which counts James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, and Lewis Hamilton among its executive producers—focuses on exposing the myth that meat is a necessary part of optimal athletic performance. While many think that packing in animal protein is a key part of sporting success, the film—which was directed by Louie Psihoyos—aims to demonstrate that the opposite is true. It spotlights world-renowned plant-based athletes like Patrik Baboumian (a record-holding strongman), Kendrick Farris (a record-holding weightlifter), and Dotsie Bausch (a US cycling champion). Keep an eye out for the documentary’s sequel, which was announced in June 2023.
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Directed by Chris Delforce, 2018’s feature-length film Dominion takes its lead from Earthlings in many ways. For one, it stars Phoenix, alongside other big names like Sadie Sink, Rooney Mara, and Sia. But it also mimics techniques, like the use of hidden camera footage. It expands on this by adding harrowing drone footage to the mix, which aims to expose “the underbelly” of animal agriculture.
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10‘73 Cows’

BAFTA-winning 73 Cows differs from many of the documentaries on this list, because it is not a factory farming exposé, and it doesn’t follow an activist or environmentalist. Instead, this moving film tugs on the heartstrings by focusing on Jay Wilde, a former beef farmer, and the personal journey that led him to give up his herd of cattle and pursue a career in vegan farming.
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2-what-the-healthWhat the Health

11‘What the Health’

Another hit from Kuhn and Anderson, 2017’s What the Health examines another dangerous side of meat and dairy consumption: the impact it is having on our health. With input from medical experts, like Milton Mills, MD; Garth P. Davis, MD, FACS, FASMBS; and Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, the film explores the link between diet and disease and investigates the real reason why some of the biggest health organizations in America aren’t doing more to educate the public.
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VegNews.theendofmeatposterThe End of Meat

12‘The End of Meat’

If you’re looking for a little bit of hope, check out German filmmaker Marc Pierschel’s The End of Meat. Released in 2017, the documentary features interviews with innovators and leaders in both the vegan food and animal rights spheres and takes a look at what a cruelty-free future might look like. “Instead of focusing on the negative consequences of consuming meat, I wanted to show the hugely beneficial possibilities of a post-meat world and what that might look like for humans, animals, and the planet,” Pierschel said in a statement at the time of release.
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13‘Eating Animals’

Narrated by actor Natalie Portman, a passionate vegan and animal advocate, Eating Animals is based on the best-selling book of the same name, which was written by Jonathan Safran Foer. Like the novel, the documentary—which was produced by Christopher Dillon Quinn, alongside Portman and Foer—aims to expose the horrors of factory farming. It encourages people to look beyond cognitive dissonance and see what’s really going on at the end of their fork.
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Released in 2013, Blackfish remains a thorn in SeaWorld’s reputation and ticket sales. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the film examines the ethics and dangers of keeping cetaceans in captivity by following the life of Tilikum, an orca who was captured off the coast of Iceland before spending the majority of his life in SeaWorld marine parks. Orcas have never killed human beings in the wild, but the stress of captivity likely led Tilikum to kill three people, two of whom were his trainers.
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9-forks-over-knivesForks Over Knives

15‘Forks Over Knives’

Similar to documentaries like What the Health, 2011’s Forks Over Knives—directed by Lee Fulkerson—aims to educate people about the healing power of plant-based nutrition. The feature-length documentary explains why embracing a whole foods, plant-based diet may just extend your life and reduce the threat of debilitating chronic disease.
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16 ‘Vegucated’

This 2011 documentary directed by Marisa Miller Wolfson is a fascinating look at three meat-eaters’ journeys as they try out a vegan diet for six weeks with the help of Wolfson herself. The film addresses issues like cognitive dissonance, animal rights, and even sees participants take a look behind the cloak of the meat industry as they uncover the harsh reality of factory farms and slaughterhouses in the US.
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VegNews.thecovedocumentaryposterThe Cove

17‘The Cove’

Directed by Louie Psihoyos, 2009’s The Cove is centered around the brutal capture and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The feature-length documentary, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2010, stars Ric O’ Barry, a dolphin trainer turned activist who worked on 1996’s Flipper.
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It may have been released in the mid-aughts, but 2005’s Earthlings, narrated by Phoenix and directed by Shaun Monson, is still relevant today. Relying on hidden camera footage, the documentary takes aim at issues like factory farming, the pet trade, and animal testing, and strives to expose how and why some of the world’s biggest industries rely fundamentally on animal cruelty.
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