The best National Geographic documentaries to watch on Disney+
Craving a documentary on (extremely cute) canine evolution? The early days of NASA? Or some mind-bending psychology? Then do we have a recommendation list for you.
Blockbuster entertainment. Marvel. Baby Yoda. Chances are these are the words that come to mind if you think Disney+. However, the House of Mouse’s streaming service also hosts some of the best National Geographic documentaries ever.
Whatever scientific field you’re interested in – cosmology, psychology or even dog evolution – there’s a docu-series or film waiting for you to watch. But where should you start? Which titles in National Geographic’s bulky back-catalogue are the unmissable gems?
Fortunately, you don’t need to ponder these questions for too long: we’ve rounded up the best National Geographic documentaries in one easy list. Just for you.
The World According to Jeff Goldblum
Jeff Goldblum being Jeff Goldblum across the globe. That’s the incredible elevator pitch for this 12-part series, a show which sees the Jurassic Park actor explore the science of a selection of suitably quirky topics (think ice cream or the future of bicycles).
And the best part? He does absolutely no research before each episode. That means you get to see his genuinely Goldblum-ish first reaction to learning exactly how ice cream is made or why NASA use swimming pools to simulate space.
That's got to be worth a watch, right?
- Watch The World According to Jeff Goldblum on Disney+ now.
Prepare to feel very very small in the grand scheme of things: Comos, the 21st-Century reboot of the classic space show, explains some absolutely gargantuan celestial events. Hosted by the ever-charismatic astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the 13-part series plunges into everything from the Big Bang, black holes, gravity, dark matter and even time itself.
Accessible to physics newcomers, Cosmos is a perfect beginner’s guide to the Universe at large.
- Watch Cosmos on Disney+ now.
The Real Right Stuff
If you’re a NASA nut or space flight aficionado, you’ve probably rocketed through all episodes of historical scripted series The Right Stuff – and you'll also be delighted to hear it has a spin-off docu-series.
While its sister series dramatised the glory days of America’s first astronauts, The Real Right Stuff uses unseen archive footage and expert testimony to tell the story of the so-called ‘Mercury 7’.
Over two hours, the film offers a terrifying insight into the early days of the space program, with each flight seemingly plagued by communication blackouts and bumpy re-entries.
If you didn’t have respect for NASA’s first astronauts before, you will after this.
- Watch The Real Right Stuff on Disney+ now.
Fascinating throughout, Brain Games offers a superb explanation of how your mind works. Or, more often, how it doesn’t. Guiding viewers through optical illusions, memory faults and subconscious errors, each episode demonstrates how your most powerful organ falls short on a daily basis.
However, Brain Games doesn’t only serve up some surprising DIY psychology experiments to try on your family: the show also highlights how our mental biases can have devastating effects, from the rise of fake news, to how businesses can easily exploit customers.
- Watch Brain Games on Disney+ now.
Science of Stupid
Humans: they’re idiots. That’s the thesis presented by this documentary series that sees amateur scientists challenging the laws of the Universe – and losing spectacularly. Essentially You’ve Been Framed meets a Brian Cox lecture, viewers are treated to footage of stunts gone wrong before learning the physics behind the failure.
Basically, if you wanted to learn Hooke’s Law and see an overconfident teenager crash a pogo stick, this is the show for you.
- Watch The Science of Stupid on Disney+ now.
Suitably narrated by Bear Grylls, this beautifully-shot series demonstrates how certain creatures have adapted to live in Earth’s most inhospitable landscapes. Mountain tops, deserts, arctic tundras and even fire-prone grassland: Hostile Planet delves into environments far from any human settlements.
While light on cute wildlife, this six-part show is packed with insights into Earth's more resilient animals in many fast-paced scenes – a fight between a jaguar and crocodile is a particularly remarkable sequence.
- Watch Hostile Planet on Disney+ now
How Dogs Got Their Shapes
We’ll admit it now: yes, the main draw of this one-off special documentary is plenty of footage of adorable pups. But How Dogs Got Their Shapes is much more than that. Between all the canine cuteness lies a fascinating explanation into how there are so many breeds and variations of man’s best friends.
Over 45 minutes, this documentary tells the story of different parts of dogs' bodies – from noses to coats – and how they adapted over time. Overall, a fascinating and heart-warming watch.
- Watch How Dogs Got Their Shapes now on Disney+.
Into the Canyon
Just how did the Grand Canyon form? And how exactly will this natural wonder change in future? Those are the two questions at the heart of this movie, which sees two science journalists traverse the entire 750-mile gorge by foot – an endurance feat that has claimed many lives in the past.
Breathtakingly shot throughout, the film is best when it explores the myriad threats to the Grand Canyon National Park. This includes contamination from uranium mines and the impact of constant helicopter tours. A definite eye-opener.
- Watch Into the Canyon now on Disney+.
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Thomas is a Staff Writer at BBC Science Focus and looks after all things Q&A. Writing about everything from cosmology to anthropology, he specialises in the latest psychology and neuroscience discoveries. Thomas has a Masters degree (distinction) in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield and has written for Men’s Health, Vice and Radio Times. He has been shortlisted as the New Digital Talent of the Year at the national magazine Professional Publishers Association (PPA) awards.