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

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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 Criteria: Only documentary films - no mockumentaries

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  Name
Score
  1. 1
    Up 52
    Down 14
    2007 More
    99
    added by: jgreenberg45
  2. 2
    Up 89
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    often listed
    Super Size Me

    2004 More
    93
    added by: Pallknowing1
  3. 3
    Up 48
    Down 21

    most listed &ranked high on reranks
    Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

    2005 More
    92
    added by: Desertrat89
  4. 4
    Up 37
    Down 9
    1996 More
    87
    added by: Desertrat89
  5. 5
    Up 42
    Down 16

    often listed
    When We Were Kings

    1996 More
    87
    added by: jgreenberg45
  6. 6
    Up 98
    Down 71

    often listed &controversial
    Bowling for Columbine

    2002 More
    82
  7. 7
    Up 33
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    often listed
    Man on Wire

    2008 More
    82
    added by: JesusAlonso
  8. 8
    Up 42
    Down 15
    1988 More
    81
  9. 9
    Up 62
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    the people's #1
    Hoop Dreams

    1994 More
    81
  10. 10
    Up 55
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    2008 More
    79
  11. 11
    Up 51
    Down 17
    1978 More
    78
  12. 12
    Up 44
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    2005 More
    76
  13. 13
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    2010 More
    76
    added by: PetaFritz
    2010
  14. 14
    Up 18
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    2010 More
    76
  15. 15
    Up 34
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    1970 More
    75
  16. 16
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    ranked high on reranks
    Crumb

    1994 More
    75
  17. 17
    Up 19
    Down 9
    2008 More
    72
    added by: jgreenberg45
  18. 18
    Up 38
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    ranked high on reranks
    Capturing the Friedmans

    2003 More
    72
  19. 19
    Up 16
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    ranked high on reranks
    Senna

    2010 More
    70
    added by: RobMeusel
  20. 20
    Up 25
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    2003 More
    70
    added by: Clark Benson
  21. 21
    Up 11
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    ranked high on reranks
    Dark Days

    2000 More
    70
    added by: Samantha Dillinger
  22. 22
    Up 33
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    ranked high on reranks
    The Cove

    2009 More
    70
    added by: Benjamin Dunn
  23. 23
    Up 16
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    often listed
    Super High Me

    2008 More
    70
    added by: ikattarri
  24. 24
    Up 23
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    ranked high on reranks
    Cosmos by Carl Sagan

    70
    added by: HMSvictory
  25. 25
    Up 13
    Down 7

    ranked high on reranks
    Dogtown and Z-Boys

    2001 More
    69
    added by: clash1977
  26. 26
    Up 26
    Down 9
    2005 More
    69
    added by: DigBick
  27. 27
    Up 9
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    2005 More
    67
  28. 28
    Up 9
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    1991 More
    65
    added by: clash1977
  29. 29
    Up 9
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    2003 More
    64
    added by: ikattarri
  30. 30
    Up 6
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    1986 More
    64
    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
  31. 31
    Up 18
    Down 8
    2008 More
    64
    added by: JesusAlonso
  32. 32
    Up 13
    Down 4
    1981 More
    63
    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
  33. 33
    Up 42
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    ranked high on reranks
    Roger & Me

    1989 More
    63
  34. 34
    Up 6
    Down 6
    2004 More
    63
    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
  35. 35
    Up 34
    Down 27
    2009 More
    61
    added by: Pallknowing1
  36. 36
    Up 6
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    2000 More
    61
    added by: clash1977
  37. 37
    Up 15
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    2011 More
    61
    added by: NicoleBreanne
  38. 38
    Up 14
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    1973 More
    59
    added by: Randolph
  39. 39
    Up 7
    Down 4
    1999 More
    59
    added by: clash1977
  40. 40
    Up 12
    Down 7
    2009 More
    58
    added by: PeteBoyle
  41. 41
    Up 9
    Down 5
    2010 More
    58
    added by: Samantha Dillinger
  42. 42
    Up 7
    Down 5
    1997 More
    58
  43. 43
    Up 5
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    ranked low on reranks
    Best Worst Movie

    2010 More
    58
    added by: JimJenkins
  44. 44
    Up 3
    Down 3
    2004 More
    57
  45. 45
    Up 3
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    1992 More
    57
    added by: clash1977
  46. 46
    Up 3
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    2007 More
    57
  47. 47
    Up 11
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    1999 More
    57
    added by: Lons
  48. 48
    Up 39
    Down 16
    2010 More
    57
  49. 49
    Up 10
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    2010 More
    56
    added by: AlexanderBonoTkachenko
  50. 50
    Up 4
    Down 3
    2000 More
    56
    added by: clash1977
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