The Greatest Documentaries of All Time Films
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The Greatest Documentaries of All Time

List Criteria: Only documentary films - no mockumentaries


List of the best documentary movies of all time, as rated by the Ranker Community. Non-fiction films, or documentaries, were the original form of movie-making, in which a camera was used to simply capture real moments of life being lived. The very ability to record and later show an audience an event was itself a form of entertainment (though these films were called "actuality" films, not documentaries, at first.)

Educational and travel-themed films were also popular during the early days of cinema and the dawn of the 20th Century. Often, faraway lands such as Asia and Africa would be recorded and romanticized for Western European and American audiences.

The 1922 documentary film "Nanook of the North" is still widely viewed today, and is partially credited for introducing the concept of a 'narrative structure' to a non-fiction film. Robert Flaherty was filming 'real' subjects in their environment, but also was staging scenes with them to work better on camera and even building sets that would look better than the actual igloos in which his subjects lived.

Documentary films have also had a central importance in propaganda and politics. Leni Riefenstahl's notorious films on behalf of the German Nazi Party - particularly 1935's "Triumph of the Will" - have remained a startling reminder of the power of film as a medium to enthrall and influence a suggestive audience. Even modern documentaries are still often focused on community organizing, exposing social issues and rallying viewers behind a certain political attitude or opinion. Films like Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the Al Gore-starring "Inconvenient Truth" are credited with influencing the American political discussion during the George W. Bush era, and in some cases, advocacy films have become intertwined with the causes they depict in the minds of Americans. Not surprisingly, a few of the documentaries listed here are also considered among the best movies of all time - documentary or otherwise.

This list collects all the most important, worthwhile and significant documentaries from over a century of world filmmaking. Be sure to vote up your favorites and, if your #1 documentary doesn't appear on the list at all, add it at the bottom of the page.Some of the films on this list are among the best documentary movies on Netflix instant, so be sure to check if you're interested in seeing them.

Check out more lists like Gemma Whelan Hot, AJ Michalka Bikini, Eva Herzigova Hot, Laetitia Casta Hot, Bo Derek Hot and Brit Morgan Hot
List is ranked by a combination of each item's votes & positioning in reranks
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  1. 1
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    2007 More
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    added by: jgreenberg45
  2. 2
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    1996 More
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    added by: Desertrat89
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    added by: JesusAlonso
  8. 8
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    1988 More
    73
  9. 9
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    often listed &ranked high on reranks
    Exit Through the Gift Shop

    2010 More
    70
  10. 10
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    1970 More
    70
  11. 11
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    ranked low on reranks
    Hoop Dreams

    1994 More
    69
  12. 12
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    2010
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    Super High Me

    2008 More
    67
    added by: ikattarri
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    1978 More
    66
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    2003 More
    66
    added by: Clark Benson
  18. 18
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    1994 More
    65
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    Cosmos by Carl Sagan

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    1991 More
    63
    added by: clash1977
  23. 23
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    2000 More
    63
    added by: Samantha Dillinger
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    Capturing the Friedmans

    2003 More
    63
  25. 25
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    Dogtown and Z-Boys

    2001 More
    62
    added by: clash1977
  26. 26
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    March of the Penguins

    2005 More
    62
    added by: DigBick
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  28. 28
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    The Cove

    2009 More
    61
    added by: Benjamin Dunn
  29. 29
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    1986 More
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    added by: clash1977
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    Dig!

    2004 More
    58
    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
  33. 33
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    1981 More
    58
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  34. 34
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    added by: JesusAlonso
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    2007 More
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  36. 36
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  37. 37
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    added by: JimJenkins
  38. 38
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    1989 More
    55
  39. 39
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    53
    added by: Samantha Dillinger
  40. 40
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    1999 More
    53
    added by: clash1977
  41. 41
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    added by: AlexanderBonoTkachenko
  42. 42
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    2011 More
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    added by: NicoleBreanne
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    1997 More
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  44. 44
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    added by: PeteBoyle
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    2000 More
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    added by: clash1977
  46. 46
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    1973 More
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    added by: Randolph
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    often listed
    Zeitgeist: The Movie

    2007 More
    51
    added by: JesusAlonso
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    added by: analise.dubner
  49. 49
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  50. 50
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    ranked low on reranks
    Waiting for "Superman"

    2010 More
    51
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