The Greatest Documentaries of All Time Films
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9  reranks 4,390 votes 456 voters 38,651 views more info

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 the best documentaries about food, the most irritating television hosts and 10 gross but fascinating diseases
List is ranked by a combination of each item's votes & positioning in reranks
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  1. 1
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    added by: Pallknowing1
  2. 2
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    added by: Desertrat89
  3. 3
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    added by: jgreenberg45
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    1996 More
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    added by: Desertrat89
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    1996 More
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    added by: jgreenberg45
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  9. 9
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    added by: JesusAlonso
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    1994 More
    70
  11. 11
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    1988 More
    70
  12. 12
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    70
    added by: Clark Benson
  13. 13
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    added by: DigBick
  14. 14
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    ranked low on reranks
    Hoop Dreams

    1994 More
    68
  15. 15
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    often listed &ranked high on reranks
    Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

    2008 More
    68
    added by: jgreenberg45
  16. 16
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    67
    added by: Benjamin Dunn
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  18. 18
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    1970 More
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  19. 19
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    added by: PetaFritz
  20. 20
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    1978 More
    63
  21. 21
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    1981 More
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    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
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  23. 23
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    1989 More
    61
  24. 24
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    60
    added by: JesusAlonso
  25. 25
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    1999 More
    60
    added by: clash1977
  26. 26
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    ranked low on reranks
    Capturing the Friedmans

    2003 More
    60
  27. 27
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    60
    added by: RobMeusel
  28. 28
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    2000 More
    59
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  29. 29
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    1991 More
    59
    added by: clash1977
  30. 30
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    ranked low on reranks
    Grey Gardens

    1975 More
    59
  31. 31
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    58
    added by: Samantha Dillinger
  32. 32
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    2001 More
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    added by: clash1977
  33. 33
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    2002 More
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  34. 34
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  35. 35
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  36. 36
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    2000 More
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    added by: clash1977
  37. 37
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    1992 More
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  38. 38
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    added by: ikattarri
  39. 39
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    often listed &ranked high on reranks
    Heavy Metal Parking Lot

    1986 More
    54
    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
  40. 40
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    Prohibition

    2011 More
    54
    added by: MarySSpiegel
  41. 41
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    1990 More
    53
    added by: sebbzor
  42. 42
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    2007 More
    53
  43. 43
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    added by: Pallknowing1
  44. 44
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    often listed
    Crazy Love

    2007 More
    53
    added by: Celebrity Events
  45. 45
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    added by: sebbzor
  46. 46
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    added by: sebbzor
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    often listed &ranked high on reranks
    Dig!

    2004 More
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    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
  48. 48
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    added by: midnightq2
  49. 49
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    Thrilla In Manilla

    2008 More
    52
  50. 50
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    2006 More
    51
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