Documentary 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.

list ordered by

1
176 67
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The Best Documentaries on Hulu The Best Netflix Original Specials

2
174 71
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3
151 58
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4
135 43
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Blackfish 2013

5
120 60
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JesusAlonso added Man on Wire 2008

6
238 244
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Pallknowing1 added Super Size Me 2005

7
155 81
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Food, Inc. 2008

8
116 55
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9
114 62
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DigBick added March of the Penguins 2005

10
112 55
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11
76 26
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sebbzor added The Civil War 1990

12
100 35
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Benjamin Dunn added The Cove 2009

13
71 31
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14
113 46
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15
80 40
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Woodstock 1970

Documentaries About Movies That Are Better Than The Actual Movies The Most Rewatchable Movies

16
123 82
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jgreenberg45 added The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters 2007

17
149 104
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18
132 81
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Desertrat89 added Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room 2005

19
95 71
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jgreenberg45 added When We Were Kings 1996

20
78 19
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21
264 164
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22
93 46
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23
54 25
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SandyAijalaBrown added The Decline of Western Civilization 1981

24
81 46
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25
70 29
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26
94 32
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PetaFritz added Inside Job 2010

27
82 32
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28
91 48
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29
60 26
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JesusAlonso added Triumph of the Will 1935

33 Celebrities with Problem Children Girls Reveal What They Actually Want for Valentine's Day

30
98 67
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Crumb 1994

31
52 17
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32
105 65
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Roger & Me 1989

33
86 37
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34
60 34
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Samantha Dillinger added Catfish 2010

35
55 24
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RobMeusel added Senna 2010

36
49 26
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37
52 31
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JesusAlonso added Waltz with Bashir 2008

38
45 19
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39
40 21
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JesusAlonso added Olympia 1938

40
52 34
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clash1977 added Dogtown and Z-Boys 2001

41
79 59
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Religulous 2008

42
54 43
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JesusAlonso added Zeitgeist: The Movie 2007

43
35 34
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Murderball 2005

The Best Movies Based on TV Shows The Best Steakhouses in Los Angeles

44
37 8
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sebbzor added 9/11: The Falling Man 2006

45
26 26
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clash1977 added Incident at Oglala 1992

46
62 49
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midnightq2 added Sicko 2007

47
46 34
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48
27 4
Paradise Lost Trilogy is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Greatest Documentaries of All Time
Paradise Lost Trilogy

49
84 69
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Pallknowing1 added Capitalism: A Love Story 2009

50
39 21
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AlexanderBonoTkachenko added Restrepo 2010