Best Documentaries Ever Made
Documentary filming has been around for nearly 100 years, and since then lot of powerful messages have been conveyed to audiences who are looking for factual information. Documentaries are becoming ever more popular around the world thanks to people like Werner Herzog, Michael Moore and Leonardo Dicaprio.
This list features many of the best documentaries ever made, rated for the importance of the subject and the quality of the film. Of course there are countless tv-release documentaries that could well have been on this list, especially some of BBC ones however we are sticking to cinema release ones here.
TagedList order as defined by john,
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Bowling for Columbine (2002)Documentary
One nation under the gun.
Why do 11,000 people die in America each year at the hands of gun violence? Talking heads yelling from every TV camera blame everything from Satan to video games. But are we that much different from many other countries? What sets us apart? How have we become both the master and victim of such enormous amounts of violence? This is not a film about gun control. It is a film about the fearful heart and soul of the United States, and the 280 million Americans lucky enough to have the right to a constitutionally protected Uzi. From a look at the Columbine High School security camera tapes to the home of Oscar-winning NRA President Charlton Heston, from a young man who makes homemade napalm with The Anarchist's Cookbook to the murder of a six-year-old girl by another six-year-old, Bowling for Columbine is a journey through America, through our past, hoping to discover why our pursuit of happiness is so riddled with violence.Vote count 382 Vote avg 73 Release date 2002-10-09
Man on Wire (2008)Thriller Documentary Crime
1974. 1350 feet up. The artistic crime of the century.
On August 7th 1974, French tightrope walker Philippe Petit stepped out on a high wire, illegally rigged between New York's World Trade Center twin towers, then the world's tallest buildings. After nearly an hour of performing on the wire, 1,350 feet above the sidewalks of Manhattan, he was arrested. This fun and spellbinding documentary chronicles Philippe Petit's "highest" achievement.Vote count 237 Vote avg 75 Release date 2008-07-25
Super Size Me (2004)Documentary Comedy Drama
The first ever reality-based movie ... everything begins and ends in 30 days!
Morgan Spurlock subjects himself to a diet based only on McDonald's fast food three times a day for thirty days without exercising to try to prove why so many Americans are fat or obese. He submits himself to a complete check-up by three doctors, comparing his weight along the way, resulting in a scary conclusion.Vote count 435 Vote avg 66 Release date 2004-01-17
This might hurt a little.
Sicko is a Michael Moore documentary about the corrupt health care system in The United States who's main goal is to make profit even if it means losing peoples lives. "The more people you deny health insurance the more money we make" is the business model for health care providers in America.Vote count 204 Vote avg 72 Release date 2007-05-18
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)Documentary
Controversy... what controversy?
Michael Moore's view on what happened to the United States after September 11; and how the Bush Administration allegedly used the tragic event to push forward its agenda for unjust wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.Vote count 319 Vote avg 68 Release date 2004-06-25
Inside Job (2010)Documentary
The film that cost $20,000,000,000,000 to make.
A film that exposes the shocking truth behind the economic crisis of 2008. The global financial meltdown, at a cost of over $20 trillion, resulted in millions of people losing their homes and jobs. Through extensive research and interviews with major financial insiders, politicians and journalists, Inside Job traces the rise of a rogue industry and unveils the corrosive relationships which have corrupted politics, regulation and academia.Vote count 240 Vote avg 77 Release date 2010-10-08
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)Documentary
By far the most terrifying film you will ever see.
A documentary on Al Gore's campaign to make the issue of global warming a recognized problem worldwide.Vote count 216 Vote avg 66 Release date 2006-01-24
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)Documentary
The world's first Street Art disaster movie
Banksy is a graffiti artist with a global reputation whose work can be seen on walls from post-hurricane New Orleans to the separation barrier on the Palestinian West Bank. Fiercely guarding his anonymity to avoid prosecution, Banksy has so far resisted all attempts to be captured on film. Exit Through the Gift Shop tells the incredible true story of how an eccentric French shop keeper turned documentary maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner.Vote count 279 Vote avg 77 Release date 2010-01-24
Searching for Sugar Man (2012)Documentary Music
Great Art Always Survives
Two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock 'n' roller, Rodriguez. The film won Best Documentary at the 85th Academy Awards.Vote count 250 Vote avg 79 Release date 2012-06-30
Never capture what you can't control.
Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity.Vote count 401 Vote avg 79 Release date 2013-06-07
March of the Penguins (2005)Documentary Family
In the harshest place on Earth, love finds a way.
Every year, thousands of Antartica's emperor penguins make an astonishing journey to breed their young. They walk, marching day and night in single file 70 miles into the darkest, driest and coldest continent on Earth.Vote count 311 Vote avg 69 Release date 2005-01-26
The legend of the greatest driver who ever lived.
Senna's remarkable story, charting his physical and spiritual achievments on the track and off, his quest for perfection, and the mythical status he has since attained, is the subject of Senna, a documentary feature that spans the racing legend's years as an F1 driver, from his opening season in 1984 to his untimely death a decade later.Vote count 244 Vote avg 80 Release date 2010-10-07
Food, Inc. (2008)Documentary
You'll never look at dinner the same way again.
Documentary filmmaker Robert Kenner examines how mammoth corporations have taken over all aspects of the food chain in the United States, from the farms where our food is grown to the chain restaurants and supermarkets where it's sold. Narrated by author and activist Eric Schlosser, the film features interviews with average Americans about their dietary habits, commentary from food experts like Michael Pollan and unsettling footage shot inside large-scale animal processing plants.Vote count 194 Vote avg 73 Release date 2008-09-07
Grizzly Man (2005)Documentary
One man spent the last 13 years of his life crossing them.
Werner Herzog's documentary film about the "Grizzly Man" Timothy Treadwell and what the thirteen summers in a National Park in Alaska were like in one man's attempt to protect the grizzly bears. The film is full of unique images and a look into the spirit of a man who sacrificed himself for nature.Vote count 171 Vote avg 72 Release date 2005-08-12 Amazon US Get
Zeitgeist (2007)Documentary History
Zeitgeist: the Movie is a 2007 documentary film by Peter Joseph examining possible historical and modern conspiracies surrounding Christianity, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Federal Reserve bank. It was officially released online on June 18, 2007 on www.ZeitgeistMovie.comVote count 153 Vote avg 70 Release date 2007-06-01
The Cove (2009)Documentary
Shallow Water. Deep Secret.
The Cove tells the amazing true story of how an elite team of individuals, films makers and free divers embarked on a covert mission to penetrate the hidden cove in Japan, shining light on a dark and deadly secret. The shocking discoveries were only the tip of the iceberg.Vote count 214 Vote avg 79 Release date 2009-07-31
In June 2013, Laura Poitras and reporter Glenn Greenwald flew to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with Edward Snowden. She brought her camera with her. The film that resulted from this series of tense encounters is absolutely sui generis in the history of cinema: a 100% real-life thriller unfolding minute by minute before our eyes. Poitras is a great and brave filmmaker, but she is also a masterful storyteller: she compresses the many days of questioning, waiting, confirming, watching the world’s reaction and agonizing over the next move, into both a great character study of Snowden and a narrative that will leave you on the edge of your seat as it inexorably moves toward its conclusion.Vote count 454 Vote avg 79 Release date 2014-10-10
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)Documentary
Ask not what your C.E.O. can do for you, but what you can do for your C.E.O.
Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story comes home to the issue he's been examining throughout his career: the disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans (and by default, the rest of the world).Vote count 144 Vote avg 70 Release date 2009-09-06
The Imposter (2012)Documentary Drama
There are two sides to every lie.
It’s 1994: a 13-year-old boy disappears from his home in San Antonio, Texas. Three and a half years later, he is found alive, thousands of miles away, in Spain. Disoriented and quivering with fear, he divulges his shocking story of kidnap and torture. His family is overjoyed to bring him home. But all is not what it seems. Sure, he has the same tattoos, but he looks decidedly different, and he now speaks with a strange accent. Why doesn't the family seem to notice these glaring inconsistencies? It's only when an investigator starts asking questions that this astounding true story takes an even stranger turn.Vote count 236 Vote avg 74 Release date 2012-07-13
Don't let anyone tell you what it is.
Nev, a 24-year-old New York-based photographer, has no idea what he's in for when Abby, an eight-year-old girl from rural Michigan, contacts him on Facebook, seeking permission to paint one of his photographs. When he receives her remarkable painting, Nev begins a friendship and correspondence with Abby's family. But things really get interesting when he develops a cyber-romance with Abby's attractive older sister, Megan, a musician and model. Prompted by some startling revelations about Megan, Nev and his buddies embark on a road trip in search of the truth.Vote count 180 Vote avg 65 Release date 2010-09-17
Amy (2015)Documentary Music
The girl behind the name.
A documentary on the life of Amy Winehouse, the immensely talented yet doomed songstress. We see her from her teen years, where she already showed her singing abilities, to her finding success and then her downward spiral into alcoholism and drugs.Vote count 408 Vote avg 75 Release date 2015-07-03
This Is It (2009)Music Documentary
Like You've Never Seen Him Before
A compilation of interviews, rehearsals and backstage footage of Michael Jackson as he prepared for his series of sold-out shows in London.Vote count 206 Vote avg 67 Release date 2009-10-28
The King of Kong (2007)Documentary
Don't get chumpatized
In this hilarious arcade showdown, a humble novice goes head-to-head against the reigning Donkey Kong champ in a confrontation that rocks the gaming world to its processors! For over 20 years, Billy Mitchell has owned the throne of the Donkey Kong world. No one could beat his top score until now. Newcomer Steve Wiebe claims to have beaten the unbeatable, but Mitchell isn't ready to relinquish his crown without a fight. Go behind the barrels as the two battle it out in a vicious war to earn the title of the true King of Kong.Vote count 121 Vote avg 81 Release date 2007-08-17
A world beyond words.
This is a paralyzingly beautiful documentary with a global vision: an odyssey through landscape and time, that is an attempt to capture the essence of life.Vote count 136 Vote avg 80 Release date 1992-09-15
Touching the Void (2003)Documentary Action Adventure
A documentary based on the book of the same name by Joe Simpson about Simpson's and Simon Yates' disastrous and near-fatal attempt to climb 6,344m Siula Grande in the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.Vote count 115 Vote avg 76 Release date 2003-09-05
Going Clear intimately profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, shining a light on how they attract true believers and the things they do in the name of religion.Vote count 270 Vote avg 78 Release date 2015-01-25
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)Documentary
Fall in love with your work
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.Vote count 214 Vote avg 78 Release date 2011-06-11
The Act of Killing (2012)Documentary
A story of killers who win, and the society they build
In a place where killers are celebrated as heroes, these filmmakers challenge unrepentant death-squad leaders to dramatize their role in genocide. The result is a surreal, cinematic journey, not only into the memories and imaginations of mass murderers, but also into a frighteningly banal regime of corruption and impunity.Vote count 174 Vote avg 76 Release date 2012-08-31
Samsara (2011)Drama Documentary
Samsara is a word that describes the ever turning wheel of life. It is a concept both intimate and vast - the perfect subject for filmmakers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, whose previous collaborations include Chronos and Baraka, and who, in the last 20 years, have travelled to over 58 countries together in the pursuit of unique imagery. Samsara takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation that will transform viewers in countries around the world as they are swept along a journey of the soul. Through powerful images pristinely photographed in 70mm and a dynamic music score, the film illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of the nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.Vote count 137 Vote avg 80 Release date 2011-09-16
Roger & Me (1989)Documentary History
A documentary about the closure of General Motors' plant at Flint, Michigan, which resulted in the loss of 30,000 jobs. Details the attempts of filmmaker Michael Moore to get an interview with GM CEO Roger Smith.Vote count 81 Vote avg 73 Release date 1989-09-01
Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)Music Documentary
The authorized documentary on late Guitar/lead singer Kurt Cobain from his early days in Aberdeen Washington to his success and downfall with Grunge band Nirvana.Vote count 250 Vote avg 75 Release date 2015-03-23
Jesus Camp (2006)Documentary
America is being born again.
A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement. Jesus Camp follows children at a Christian summer camp as they hone their "prophetic gifts" and are schooled in how to "take back America for Christ." The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future.Vote count 96 Vote avg 65 Release date 2006-09-15
Capturing the Friedmans (2003)Documentary
Who do you believe?
An Oscar nominated documentary about a middle-class American family who is torn apart when the father Arnold and son Jesse are accused of sexually abusing numerous children. Director Jarecki interviews people from different sides of this tragic story and raises the question of whether they were rightfully tried when they claim they were innocent and there was never any evidence against them.Vote count 90 Vote avg 75 Release date 2003-05-30
Hoop Dreams (1994)Documentary
An Extraordinary True Story.
This documentary follows two inner-city Chicago residents, Arthur Agee and William Gates, as they follow their dreams of becoming basketball superstars. Beginning at the start of their high school years, and ending almost 5 years later, as they start college, we watch the boys mature into men, still retaining their "Hoop Dreams".Vote count 77 Vote avg 75 Release date 1994-09-12
The Fog of War (2003)War Documentary History
Using archival footage, United States Cabinet conversation recordings, and an interview of the eighty-five-year-old Robert McNamara, 'The Fog of War' depicts his life, from working as a WWII Whiz Kid military officer, to being the Ford Motor Company's president, to managing the American Vietnam War, as defense secretary for presidents Kennedy and Johnson.Vote count 58 Vote avg 75 Release date 2003-12-09
A Stunning Visual Portrayal of Earth
With aerial footage from 54 countries, Home is a depiction of how the Earth's problems are all interlinked.Vote count 153 Vote avg 79 Release date 2009-06-03
The Corporation (2003)Documentary
The corporation as psychopath...
Since the late 18th century American legal decision that the business corporation organizational model is legally a person, it has become a dominant economic, political and social force around the globe. This film takes an in-depth psychological examination of the organization model through various case studies. What the study illustrates is that in the its behaviour, this type of "person" typically acts like a dangerously destructive psychopath without conscience. Furthermore, we see the profound threat this psychopath has for our world and our future, but also how the people with courage, intelligence and determination can do to stop it.Vote count 65 Vote avg 75 Release date 2003-09-10
Restrepo (2010)Documentary War
One platoon, one valley, one year
Winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for a Documentary, Restrepo chronicles the deployment of a U.S. platoon of courageous American soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, considered to be one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military.Vote count 100 Vote avg 73 Release date 2010-06-25
Indie Game: The Movie (2012)Documentary
Indie Game: The Movie is a feature documentary about video games, their creators and the craft. The film follows the dramatic journeys of video game developers as they create and release their games to the world. The film tells the emotional story of friends Edmund McMillen & Tommy Refenes, as they craft their first Xbox game: "Super Meat Boy". It follows Phil Fish, the creator of the highly-anticipated game: "FEZ". After 4 years of working in near solitude, Phil reveals his opus to the public for the first time. And, the film tells the surprising story of one of the highest-rated video games of all time:"Braid". The film is about making video games, but at its core, it's about the creative process, and exposing yourself through your work. In short: Making fun and games is anything but fun and games.Vote count 181 Vote avg 74 Release date 2012-05-18
Room 237 (2012)Documentary
Some movies stay with you forever... and ever... and ever.
A subjective documentary that explores various theories about hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's classic film The Shining. Five very different points of view are illuminated through voice over, film clips, animation and dramatic reenactments.Vote count 190 Vote avg 62 Release date 2012-10-26
Pumping Iron (1977)Documentary
Pumping Iron is a 1977 documentary film about the run-up to the 1975 Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition. The film focuses on Arnold Schwarzenegger and his competitors, Lou Ferrigno and Franco Columbu. The documentary was co-directed by Robert Fiore and George Butler. It was based on the book of the same name by Charles Gaines and George Butler (Simon and Schuster, 1974).Vote count 114 Vote avg 69 Release date 1977-01-18
Where to Invade Next (2015)Documentary
Prepare to be liberated
Academy Award-winning director Michael Moore returns with what may be his most provocative and hilarious film yet: Moore tells the Pentagon to "stand down" — he will do the invading for America from now on.Vote count 130 Vote avg 73 Release date 2015-12-23
Before the Flood (2016)Documentary TV Movie
The science is clear, the future is not.
A look at how climate change affects our environment and what society can do prevent the demise of endangered species, ecosystems, and native communities across the planet.Vote count 150 Vote avg 79 Release date 2016-10-21
Off the map, things get strange.
Herzog and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger go to Antarctica to meet people who live and work there, and to capture footage of the continent's unique locations. Herzog's voiceover narration explains that his film will not be a typical Antarctica film about "fluffy penguins", but will explore the dreams of the people and the landscape.Vote count 72 Vote avg 71 Release date 2007-09-01
Cartel Land (2015)Drama Documentary
In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as "El Doctor," shepherds a citizen uprising against the Knights Templar, the violent drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Meanwhile, in Arizona's Altar Valley—a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley—Tim "Nailer" Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to halt Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across our border.Vote count 141 Vote avg 74 Release date 2015-07-03
It's Just Business.
A documentary about the Enron corporation, its faulty and corrupt business practices, and how they led to its fall.Vote count 64 Vote avg 71 Release date 2005-04-22
TPB AFK is a documentary about three computer addicts who redefined the world of media distribution with their hobby homepage The Pirate Bay. How did Tiamo, a beer crazy hardware fanatic, Brokep a tree hugging eco activist and Anakata – a paranoid hacker libertarian – get the White House to threaten the Swedish government with trade sanctions? TPB AFK explores what Hollywood’s most hated pirates go through on a personal level.Vote count 114 Vote avg 70 Release date 2013-02-08
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)Documentary Family
Humanity's Lost Masterpiece... in 3D
Werner Herzog gains exclusive access to film inside the Chauvet caves of Southern France, capturing the oldest known pictorial creations of humankind in their astonishing natural setting.Vote count 72 Vote avg 71 Release date 2010-09-10
There is one single industry destroying the planet more than any other. But no one wants to talk about it...
"COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret" is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following an intrepid filmmaker as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today, and investigates why the world's leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. This documentary will be as eye-opening as "Blackfish" and as inspiring as "An Inconvenient Truth."Vote count 91 Vote avg 77 Release date 2014-07-01
The human side of the digital revolution.
Werner Herzog's exploration of the Internet and the connected world.Vote count 62 Vote avg 64 Release date 2016-03-04
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