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.
Actors: Kurt Kuenne
Directed by: Kurt Kuenne
Directed by: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
Actors: Romane Bohringer, Charles Berling, Jules Sitruk
Directed by: Luc Jacquet
Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Actors: Paul McGill, Robert Sciglimpaglia, Jr., Joel Ney, Laurence Gates, + more
Directed by: James Marsh
Actors: George Foreman, B.B. King, Don King, George Plimpton
Directed by: Leon Gast
Directed by: Errol Morris
Actors: Peter Coyote, Gary Davis, Jeffrey Skilling, Bethany McLean, Kenneth Lay, + more
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Actors: Billy McFarland, Ja Rule
Directed by: Chris Smith
Actors: Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom, John Doe, Dave Alvin, D. J. Bonebrake, + more
Directed by: Penelope Spheeris
Actors: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Pete Townshend, Jerry Garcia, Keith Moon, + more
Directed by: Michael Wadleigh
Actors: Guy Williams, Correy Lennox, Richard Earl Sawdon, Brian MacDonald
Directed by: Michael Moore
Directed by: Eleanor Coppola, George Hickenlooper, Fax Bahr