film The Greatest Documentaries of All Time

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List Rules 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 biographical documentaries from over a century of world filmmaking. Be sure to vote up your favorites and, if your #1 biography 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.

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The Best Documentaries on Hulu The Best Paranormal Movies Streaming on Hulu

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Food, Inc. 2008

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Blackfish 2013

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The Cove 2009

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Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See 10 Amazing Real-Life Superhero Gadgets & Powers

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Woodstock 1970

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Inside Job 2010

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36 Celebrities Who Were Rich Before They Were Famous 39 Ways to Repel a Potential Girlfriend

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Roger & Me 1989

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Crumb 1994

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Senna 2010

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Olympia 1938

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Catfish 2010

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Murderball 2005

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Religulous 2008

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Vader to Binks: Best to Worst Star Wars Characters The Best Coconut Milk Brands

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Defamation 2009

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Checkpoint is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Greatest Documentaries of All Time
Checkpoint 2003

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Sicko 2007

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Kon-Tiki 1947

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Dark Days 2000