‘Tis the season to be jolly … and to curl up in your pajamas, enjoy some vegan egg nog, and turn on a good movie. After the presents have been opened, and grandma and grandpa have retired to bed, there’s no better time to flip through the endless options of streaming movies to watch on Netflix. While perusing the films, why not choose to go into 2016 a little wiser than you were before and hit the documentary section? Even if you have already seen some of these, the holiday break is a great time to introduce family and friends to a world of animals they haven’t seen before. Here are our picks for the best documentaries on Netflix that will totally change the way you think about animals.

1. Blackfish

The 12 Worst Things to Happen to SeaWorld Since the Release of Blackfish


This revolutionary film documents the story of the captive whale Tilikum, who killed three people at SeaWorld, one of them being trainer, Dawn Brancheau, after being stolen from his mother as a baby and living a lifetime in captivity. “Blackfish” first premiered in January 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival. It later aired on CNN only to became the highest ranking film on the channel, reaching over a million people in its debut broadcast and 26.4 million total viewers over 24 showings. The film was nominated for a 2014 BAFTA Award and has since inspired the proposal of legislative bills affecting captive orcas. The film spawned the worldwide #EmptyTheTanks movement and SeaWorld ticket sales and attendance hit an all time low . Blackstone Holdings, a key shareholder, recently sold 19,500,000 shares of their holdings in the company, and attendance has drop by over 13 percent. While Tilikum is is in captivity, the fate of SeaWorld’s other marine animals has been even more somber. On December 21, 2015, an 18-year-old orca named Unna was the 38th killer whale to die in captivity at SeaWorld.  If you or a family member are still visiting SeaWorld or other marine parks, this film will completely change the way you looks at animals in captivity, especially beloved whales.

2. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Leonardo DiCaprio to Executive Produce 'Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret' on Netflix


The film “Cowspiracy” is one of the most eye-opening documentaries of the year as it zeros-in on the devastating effects of animal agriculture and details how raising and slaughtering animals for food is the most detrimental industry to our Earth, causing massive water depletion, deforestation, species extinction, and ocean dead zones.  With “Cowspiracy,” filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn have put a spotlight on our animal agriculture industry’s (even so-called “sustainable” meat and dairy farms) are destroying our planet and causing climate  that has been largely ignored.  Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret was pushed into the spotlight on Netflix this year with the help of Executive Producer and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. This film and will show why, more than ever, we should all #EatForThePlanet and consider what we put on our plates if we want our planet to survive.

3.  Vanishing of the Bees

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The film details the economic, political, and ecological consequences of a dwindling world honey bee population, known Colony Collapse Disorder. There is no definitive explanation, but this film details the likely theories and the devastating effect of a world without bees. Bees are incredibly important to our food system. According to researchers, 70 of the top 100 food crops grown worldwide rely on pollinators, this is equivalent to 90 percent of the world’s nutrition. It might sound unbelievable, but without bees we can say goodbye to food such as apples, almonds, oranges, and avocados. This means that the plight of the honey bee is not one that should be taken lightly. Over the past few decades, the bee population in the U.S. has declined steadily by 30 percent each year. This documentary is a must-watch for anyone concerned about the environment and the future of food.

4. Virunga

Oil Explorers: Keep your Hands off Virunga, Africa's Oldest National Park


Virunga” is an anti-poaching exposé details the efforts made by rangers at the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park to keep the animals under their care safe. This groundbreaking documentary looks into the current conflict of oil exploration at the oldest national park in Africa and boasts awe-inspiring sights and broad array of animal and plant species. Most notably, Virunga is home to the world’s last existing mountain gorilla populations – only 880 mountain gorillas are left in the wild as civil war and oil industries have ravaged the Park, putting these beloved animals under threat from poachers and oil explorers. Leonardo DiCaprio, who was the executive producer of the film helped bring this documentary teamed with Netflix to bring “Virunga” into homes everywhere. The film was nominated for 2015 Academy Awards in the  Best Documentary category. It was also nominated for BAFTA and a Director’s Guild of America Award.

5. The Ghosts In Our Machine

Ghosts of Our Machine


“The Ghosts in Our Machine” is an emotional look at industries that exploit animals for profit. Directed by Liz Marshall, the documentary follows renowned international photographer Jo-Anne McArthur as she photographs the animals, or “ghosts,” behind the food, fashion, entertainment, and research facilities and her difficult journey to get the images out to the public. While the film explores some of our most haunting industries, “The Ghosts in Our Machine” is PG when it comes to its footage. This somber peek into some of our most lucrative commercial activities and the lives of the animals that keep them in business, is one of the most powerful stories to see this winter break.

6. Tyke, Elephant Outlaw

New Documentary, 'Tyke Elephant Outlaw,' Details Circus Elephant's Tragic Dash to Freedom


Tyke Elephant Outlaw,” tells the story of Tyke, a female circus elephant owned and used by Circus International in shows around the world in the 1990s. According to the interviews in the film, it was obvious that she was suffering in captivity and frustrated by the tricks she was forced to perform. Her frustration led to her eventual rampage that left one person dead and several more injured. Entering the world of circus elephants unlike ever before, this new documentary forces us to rethink the use of wild animals in entertainment and captivity.  Similar to the storyline of “Blackfish,” Tyke’s story mirrors that of Tilikum’s, the SeaWorld whale that suffered in captivity and eventually killed his trainer.

 All image source: Netflix