This Unknown Netflix movie is a surprise Top 10 hit — stream it or skip it?

A still image from Unknown Cave of Bones on Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

Sometimes it's easy to predict when a new movie will find its way into the Netflix top 10. The likes of Birdbox Barcelona and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish were practically shoo-ins to make a splash on the streamer when they were added earlier this month, but the recently-released documentary Unknown: Cave of Bone has been a surprise hit.

Landing on Netflix on Monday, July 17, the doc has quickly proved an unexpected hit with subscribers leaping into the sixth spot on the Netflix Top 10 most-watched list. That puts it above the likes of The Boss Baby and sci-fi action flick 65. Yup, a documentary about paleoanthropology is beating a movie where Adam Drive battles dinosaurs. That’s quite an achievement! 

However, if you know very little about Unknown: Cave of Bone, you might be wondering if it’s worth streaming, or if it’s another Netflix project that can be thrown into the skip pile, and that’s where we can help. Below you’ll find all the details you need to determine if the feature-length documentary is worthy of a spot in your Netflix watchlist, so let's jump right into it. 

What is Unknown: Cave of Bones about?  

Unknown: Cave of Bones takes viewers on a journey to Cradle of Mankind, a paleoanthropological site located northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. This spot is famous for being home to the largest concentration of human ancestral remains anywhere in the world. And it’s here that Lee Berger makes a potentially history-altering discovery. 

The expert paleoanthropologist finds what is believed to be the world’s oldest graveyard with remnants and artifacts that are estimated to be more than 250,000 years old. But the remains buried here are seemingly not human and this discovery raises some complex questions about our earliest ancestors. 

Now Lee and his team are attempting to prove that this ancient ape-like creature practiced complex burial rituals. And if that can be determined as fact, then it would change everything we know about evolution, the origins of belief, and what it truly means to be human. 

Unknown: Cave of Bones reviews: What do critics say? 

At the time of writing, there isn’t much of a critical consensus on Unknown: Cave of Bones. In fact, there are only three available reviews right now on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, which isn’t even enough to generate a percentage score. But the doc has received enough ratings for an audience score of 62%, which can be considered a fairly lukewarm reception from viewers.

Brandon Yu of The New York Times gave the show a mostly positive review, writing “As the team unearths evidence, the documentary offers a ripe window into the process of scientific discovery.” While John Serba of Decider said, “We could nitpick the film’s structure and approach to the material, but Cave of Bones gives us some pretty enthralling science, and is an eye-opener either way.”

A far less positive take came from YouTuber Chris Joyce, who delivered a fairly scathing verdict in their video review: “The largest and most glaring issue is that about 99% comes across as pure speculation and conjecture. The lack of objective science that’s delivered makes this a big waste of time and a disappointing watch.”   

Should you stream Unknown: Cave of Bones on Netflix?  

If you’re looking for something new to watch on Netflix that will get you thinking, then Unknown: Cave of Bones could be exactly what you’re after. It’s a documentary that examines some pretty big questions, and while it lacks definitive answers, it’s sure to get your brain engaged, and may even spark a few dinner table discussions in your household. 

However, if you’re craving something light and breezy after a long day dealing with real-world responsibilities, maybe throw this one into your watchlist for a later date instead. It’s definitely not a Netflix movie to watch when you’re just seeking some easy entertainment.  

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Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.