5 Financial Documentaries to Watch on Netflix Now

A screenshot from Netflix's Dirty Money, a financial documentary

One of the best parts of having so many streaming services with thousands of titles to choose from is that our options as viewers are limitless. The downside, though, is that it’s easy to spend more time scrolling through Netflix or Hulu than actually watching something.

If you’re looking for some brain food during your quarantine, here are some of the most fascinating documentaries on finance we found on Netflix. Some tackle the past, others look toward the future, and each gives a unique perspective on economics.

1. Dirty Money

This Netflix original documentary series features 12 episodes, all roughly an hour long and investigating different ways that money and wealth have been used against people. Each episode is a fascinating case study, including in-depth exposés on Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical executive who was convicted for securities fraud, and Jared Kushner, the real estate mogul and senior advisor to his presidential father-in-law with a shady past.

Dirty Money, as the name suggests, won’t exactly brighten your spirits, but it’s one of the most fascinating docuseries series of any genre. Plus, both seasons earned a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

2. Betting on Zero

Betting on Zero is not an uplifting documentary, and it may not have any characters you like, but it’s a darkly fascinating look at corporate misdoings and winner-take-all economics. The doc follows Bill Ackman, a hedge fund manager and activist investor, who went after a nutrition company called Herbalife that he believed to be a pyramid scheme. Ackman took a $1 billion short position on Herbalife stock, meaning he essentially made a billion-dollar bet that the company would collapse (hence, Betting on Zero). The film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

3. Explained

Explained is a fantastically informative series with brief, easily digestible episodes covering a wide variety of topics. There are currently 30 episodes available on Netflix, with topics such as cults, coding, and K-pop discussed.

There are also some great episodes around finance and money. The series features deep-dives into the stock market and cryptocurrency, as well as a discussion of the racial wealth gap featuring Corey Booker, and an episode about billionaires with Mark Cuban and Bernie Sanders. Explained episodes do a great job of covering a topic deeply in just 20 minutes, but I for one am usually left doing research for an hour after an episode that intrigues me.

4. Saving Capitalism

Based on Robert Reich’s 2015 book “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few,” this documentary analyzes Reich’s attempts to explain and remedy the failings of America’s economic system. Reich, who served as U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1993 until 1997, attempts to show how the changing economy has impacted people from all walks of life in this controversial documentary. The film succeeds in some areas and fails in others, but generally allows you to draw your own conclusions on what the true economic problems are in this country.

5. Hank: 5 Years From the Brink

You may have never heard of Henry Paulson, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary, but he was a central player in the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. 5 Years From the Brink presents Paulson’s side of the story, a chilling angle of a man behind the scenes of a nation on the verge of complete economic ruin. The documentary doesn’t sugarcoat anything: Paulson is open about his failures and successes, and overall provides a good accounting of what exactly happened when the market collapsed 12 years ago.