Entertainment

The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time  

Ranker Film
180 votes 37 voters 54 items

List Rules Vote up the best intelligent movies, or those that are smart, clever, etc.

Intelligent documentaries really aren't hard to come by, as most of them set out to inform in some way or another. Nevertheless, some of the best documentaries are simply "smarter" than others. In other words, there's an extensive list of informative documentaries out there to ultimately make you smarter and, in some cases, even more aware of the world around you. Whether they set out to change the way people think or simply explain a significant event or issue in depth, these intelligent documentaries should not be missed. So, next time you're feeling out of the loop or want to expand your mind, check out one these potentially life-changing documentaries.

A perfect example of such docs is the ever-eye-opening Food, Inc. Created to show the world the truth behind many of the foods we eat on a daily basis, anyone who's watched it has surely considered changing the way they eat, as well as how they view their food. The Oscar-nominated 13th also fits in here, as it takes a close look at the ongoing racial inequality in America. In short, many of these smart documentaries are just as important as they are intelligent.

If you're feeling in the mood for an educational flick, check out some of the best intelligent documentaries to date below. You can also help rank them by voting up your favorites, as well as voting any down you feel aren't as great as the next.  

list ordered by
1
Food, Inc. is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Robert Kenner
How much do we know about the food we buy at our local supermarkets and serve to our families? Though our food appears the same as ever — a tomato still looks like a tomato — it has been ...more
2
Super Size Me is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Morgan Spurlock, Mira King
Super Size Me is a 2004 American documentary film directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock. Spurlock's film follows a 30-day period from February 1 to March 2, 2003, during which he ate only ...more
3
The Act of Killing is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn
The Act of Killing is a 2012 documentary film directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous and Christine Cynn.
4
13th is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Ava DuVernay
13th is a 2016 American documentary by director Ava DuVernay. An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality.
5
Amanda Knox is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn
Amanda Knox is a 2016 American documentary film directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn. Featuring interviews with Amanda Knox, her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, Italian prosecutor ...more
6
Going Clear: Scientology and t... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Alex Gibney
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is a 2015 documentary film directed by Alex Gibney. Deconstructing the church's claims by presenting a condensed history of Scientology and its ...more
7
The Century of the Self is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
The Century of the Self Adam Curtis
The Century of the Self is a 2002 British television documentary series by Adam Curtis. It focuses on how the work of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, and Edward Bernays influenced the way ...more
8
HyperNormalisation is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Adam Curtis
HyperNormalisation is a 2016 BBC documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis. In the film, Curtis argues that since the 1970s, governments, financiers, and technological utopians have given up ...more
9
Jesus Camp is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing
Jesus Camp is a 2006 American documentary film directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing about a charismatic Christian summer camp, where children spend their summers being taught that they have ...more
10
Sicko is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Michael Moore
Sicko is a 2007 documentary film by American filmmaker Michael Moore. The film investigates health care in the United States, focusing on its health insurance and the pharmaceutical industry. ...more
11
The Cove is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Louie Psihoyos
The Cove is a 2009 documentary film that analyzes and questions dolphin hunting practices in Japan. It was awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010. The film is a call to ...more
12
Cocaine Cowboys is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Billy Cohen
Cocaine Cowboys is a 2006 documentary film directed by Billy Corben and produced by Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben through their Miami-based media studio Rakontur. The film explores the rise ...more
13
We Were Here is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
David Weissman, Bill Weber
We Were Here is a 2011 documentary film about the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. The film, produced and directed by David Weissman with editor/ co-director and Bill Weber, premiered at the ...more
14
Requiem for the American Dream is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott
15
Hell and Back Again is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Danfung Dennis
Hell and Back Again is a 2010 documentary film directed by Danfung Dennis. "In 2009, U.S. Marines launched a major helicopter assault on a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. ...more
16
Killing Them Safely is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Killing Them Safely Nick Berardini
17
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Mac... is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine Alex Gibney
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is a documentary film directed and produced by Alex Gibney. A look at the personal and private life of the late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs.
18
Chasing Ice is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Jeff Orlowski
Chasing Ice is a 2012 documentary film about the efforts of nature photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey to publicize the effects of climate change, directed by Jeff Orlowski. It ...more
19
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mi... is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine Michele Josue
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine is a 2012 documentary historical fiction and biographical film written and directed by Michele Josue.
20
What Happened, Miss Simone? is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Liz Garbus
What Happened, Miss Simone? is a 2015 biographical documentary film directed by Liz Garbus. Exploring the life of Nina Simone, the documentary combines previously unreleased archival footage and ...more
21
The Edge of Democracy is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Petra Costa
The Edge of Democracy (a.k.a. Democracia em Vertigem) is a 2019 Brazilian documentary film directed by Petra Costa. Both a documentary and a memoir, The Edge of Democracy documents the ...more
22
Moonlight Sonata is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Moonlight Sonata Irene Taylor Brodsky
Moonlight Sonata (a.k.a. Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements) is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky. The documentary interweaves the story of a deaf boy ...more
23
Maiden is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Alex Holmes
Maiden is a 2019 British documentary film directed by Alex Holmes. The film tells the story of Tracy Edwards who became the skipper of the first ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round ...more
24
Jawline is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Liza Mandelup
Jawline is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Liza Mandelup. The documentary shows the trial and tribulations of Austyn Tester, a 16-year-old who attempts to become internet famous.
25
Ice on Fire is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Intelligent Documentaries of All Time
Leila Conners
Ice on Fire is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Leila Conners. The film explores potential ways to reverse climate change and the possible extinction-level event caused by arctic ...more