The Greatest Documentaries of All Time Films
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9  reranks 4,855 votes 509 voters 56,954 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: Desertrat89
  2. 2
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    added by: Pallknowing1
  3. 3
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    1996 More
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    1996 More
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    added by: jgreenberg45
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    ranked low on reranks
    Food, Inc.

    2008 More
    76
  7. 7
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    2002 More
    75
  8. 8
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    74
    added by: JesusAlonso
  9. 9
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  10. 10
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  11. 11
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    added by: DigBick
  12. 12
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    71
    added by: Clark Benson
  13. 13
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    1988 More
    71
  14. 14
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    2009 More
    71
    added by: Benjamin Dunn
  15. 15
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    1994 More
    70
  16. 16
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    often listed &ranked high on reranks
    Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

    2008 More
    70
    added by: jgreenberg45
  17. 17
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    1994 More
    68
  18. 18
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    1970 More
    68
  19. 19
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    67
    added by: PetaFritz
  20. 20
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    1981 More
    65
    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
  21. 21
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    1978 More
    64
  22. 22
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    1989 More
    62
  23. 23
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    added by: JesusAlonso
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  25. 25
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    61
    added by: RobMeusel
  26. 26
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    ranked low on reranks
    Capturing the Friedmans

    2003 More
    61
  27. 27
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    2000 More
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    added by: Samantha Dillinger
  28. 28
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    1991 More
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  29. 29
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    added by: Samantha Dillinger
  30. 30
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    added by: clash1977
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    Grey Gardens

    1975 More
    60
  32. 32
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    60
  33. 33
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    1999 More
    59
    added by: clash1977
  34. 34
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  35. 35
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  36. 36
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    1992 More
    57
    added by: clash1977
  37. 37
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  38. 38
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    added by: midnightq2
  39. 39
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    often listed &ranked high on reranks
    Devil's Playground

    2003 More
    56
    added by: ikattarri
  40. 40
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    often listed &ranked high on reranks
    Heavy Metal Parking Lot

    1986 More
    55
    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
  41. 41
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    55
    added by: Pallknowing1
  42. 42
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    1990 More
    55
    added by: sebbzor
  43. 43
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    added by: Celebrity Events
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  45. 45
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    added by: sebbzor
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    often listed &ranked high on reranks
    Dig!

    2004 More
    54
    added by: SandyAijalaBrown
  47. 47
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    Prohibition

    2011 More
    54
    added by: MarySSpiegel
  48. 48
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    Thrilla In Manilla

    2008 More
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  49. 49
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  50. 50
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    added by: sebbzor
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