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  • 05.02.17

22 Movies And Shows Every Designer Should Watch On Netflix

Netflix’s queue is constantly changing. Here’s a guide to the latest stuff.

22 Movies And Shows Every Designer Should Watch On Netflix

(This is an updated version of a list we published two years ago–the majority of which was no longer streamable, given Netflix’s content churn. We miss you, Objectified!)

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The Netflix queue is one of the most dangerous time-sinks on earth. But to designers, it can actually be a great source of inspiration, with everything from design documentaries to films that are pure visual art. Here are 22 must-see design movies and shows on Netflix. 

[Photo: Magnolia Pictures]

Iris

In this very watchable, critically acclaimed short documentary, interior designer and round-glasses-loving fashion icon Iris Apfel is profiled by documentary legend Albert Maysles. Even though she’s in her 90s, Apfel still quips, and dresses, better than you do today. [Watch here.]

[Photo: Blinkworks]

Indie Game: The Movie

What’s it like to make a hit video game with a staff of one or two people, taking meetings with Microsoft execs before going back to 12 hours of pixel painting? This very watchable documentary profiles two teams of designers while they created Super Meat Boy and Fez, a couple of the biggest critical and financial indie hits of the past decade, in a high-stakes race to make both deadlines and ends meet. [Watch here.] There’s also a sequel now. [Watch here.]

[Photo: Touchstone Pictures]

The Films Of Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Moonrise Kingdom are both currently available for streaming. Who can ever get enough of the quirky prop magic created by Anderson’s long-time collaborator, Kris Moran? (Not us.) [Watch here and here.]

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei is China’s most prominent artist-activist, known for openly challenging the Chinese government (and even being imprisoned for it). The documentary takes you inside his studio, work, and philosophies. [Watch here.]

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[Photo: Exit Through the Gift Shop]

Exit Through The Gift Shop

If you haven’t heard about this “documentary” about graffiti artist Banksy, we’d rather not spill the beans. Come for the street art. Stay (or leave) for the conspiracy theories. [Watch here.]

Metropolis

Yes, it was filmed in 1927. Yes that means it’s silent. But Metropolis is still an amazing piece of architectural sci-fi, set in a dystopian future in which just about everything has gone to crap except for the unbelievable set budgets. It’s hard to believe that the film was made before the advent of computer-generated imagery. Director Fritz Lang relied on tricks like mirrors and miniatures to pull off the film’s special effects. If you can’t take the pace of the movie’s narrative, we won’t judge. Just load it up in the background for a bit of visual splendor. [Watch here.]

[Photo: Happy Movie]

Happy

What makes us happy? Really? This hit documentary by Roko Belic profiles the question by profiling different happy people from around the world, examining the question through spirituality and science. It’s more of a survey of the field than a conclusive or authoritative documentary, but it will leave you with a greater understanding of what is, perhaps, the most important topic in human existence. [Watch here.]

Sky Ladder

Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang likes to blow things up. Sky Ladder is a gorgeously filmed portrait of his work, with a subtle respect for sound that will make you feel the fizzles and booms. [Watch here.]

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Abstract: The Art Of Design

Produced in-house as a Netflix Original, this series is basically Mind of a Chef for designers, which profiles the design elite including starchitect Bjarke Ingels, Nike footwear designer Tinker Hatfield, and Pentagram graphic designer Paula Scher. Critical the series is not. But there’s no better portrait of the place and time of design today than this slickly produced series. [Watch here.]

[Photo: Long Shot Factory]

If You Build It

This inspiring, beloved documentary follows a group of North Carolina high school students as they learn to design and construct a new building for their school. The movie opens with a TED talk about the project itself–so there’s a certain self-aware pat on the back that might make the film cloying to some. But watch a kid build a twisting chicken coop that looks straight out of an architectural biennial, and it’s tough to be too cynical about the power of design thinking. [Watch here.]

[Photo: Untold Creative]

The True Cost

In the era of social media, the fashion industry has gotten faster. Trends go viral, and manufacturers like Zara, Uniqlo, and H&M have responded by transforming from seasonal lines, often planned a year in advance, to clothing that goes from factory to store shelves in a matter of weeks. But there’s a price to all of this surprisingly cheap clothing. This documentary by Andrew Morgan examines fast fashion’s unadvertised sins. [Watch here.]

[Image: Focus Features]

Kubo And The Two Strings

What happens when you combine some of Japan’s most beautiful arts–origami, ink washes, and ukiyo-e wood painting–with stop-motion animation? You get a beautiful movie also happens to be only the second animated film in history to be nominated for an Academy Award in Best Visual Effects. But since it grossed well under $100 million in its 2016 release, barely making back its own budget, there’s a good chance you’ve never seen it. [Watch here.]

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Mind Of A Chef And Chef’s Table

Your friend has told you that you need to watch Mind of a Chef and Chef’s Table 100 times now. Your friend is always right. So if you haven’t partaken in these two series, we guess it’s time to enjoy some of the most beautiful plates of food come together in slow motion–even if the chef-as-genius motif is a bit overplayed. [Watch here and here.]

Encounters at the end of the world

In this Werner Herzog documentary–a filmmaker who has been accused of artfully blending fact and fiction–Herzog takes us to the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, a place of desolate landscapes to explore “the prospect of man’s oblivion.” The visuals contrast between vast, empty spaces and tight quarters where you feel almost too close to the film’s subjects. As with all Herzog’s work, it jumps between the sublime and mundane, the inspirational and the utterly boring. [Watch here.]

Tales By Light

If you’ve ever watched the behind-the-scenes of Planet Earth, you know: The stories behind the photography can be every bit as exciting as the captured moments themselves. Tales by Light is a Netflix Original that profiles nature photographers at work. It’s all a bit meta. You’re watching photographers, getting these amazing photos–all being captured by camera operators, who are getting the amazing video that you’re actually watching of the photographers at work. But if you’ve ever had the fantasy of traveling the globe, camera in hand–well, this series won’t cure it. [ Watch here.]

[Photo: IMDB]

Sneakerheadz

Let us get this out of the way first: Sneakerheadz is not a great documentary. But it’s a superb primer to a cultural movement and big business you may know nothing about. This very hand-holding documentary goes as far to define words like “colorway” before explaining how Run DMC planted the seeds of Adidas’s business strategy today. Critics agree that the film backed off where it should have pushed. Indeed, one of the more interesting subtexts is the evolution of the sneaker market itself–from a hobby that was about originality and discoverability, to one driven by carefully marketed, corporately coordinated “drops” of limited-edition kicks. [Watch here.]

[Photo: Disney and Pixar]

Finding Dory

If you don’t have a child in your life who has forced you to watch Finding Dory–and then watch Finding Dory again–it’s a must-see purely for its visual splendor. In an age when Hollywood computer animation cuts every corner possible, Pixar demonstrates the height of the medium, with an impossibly intricate octopus (the studio’s most complicated character built to date), and scenes that squeeze what must be a thousand or more fish into a single tank. It’s hard to believe there are enough animators in the world to build such a thing. [Watch here.]

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Fresh Dressed

Today, it’s a given that hip-hop culture has influenced the catwalk–Fresh Dressed is a documentary by writer Sacha Jenkins that takes you into the history–for looks at the origins of trends like fat laces and oversized clothing. Plus, interviews with famous faces like Kanye West and Sean Combs keep things moving. [Watch here.]

[Photo: Dogwoof Ltd.]

Dior and I

As Raf Simmons prepares his first couture line for Christian Dior, preeminent fashion documentary director Frédéric Tcheng follows him through the design process with a single camera and seemingly unfettered access. Unlike many design documentaries, which are more promotional than critical, Dior and I reads imperfect and honest–especially in a simple scene in a car, as Simmons provides some seemingly earnest introspection about his own career and how people see him. [Watch here.]

Black Mirror

In 2015, Netflix commissioned its own run of the hit British show Black Mirror, which gives a Twilight Zone twist to technologies of the modern day. By many reports, the series is only getting better over time. And in a world full of social networking, AI, and augmented reality, it’s not just science fiction anymore, either. It’s a demonstration of what the world could become if technology and design choose to consume our world instead of improving it. [Watch here.]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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