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Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See 

Ranker Film
Updated July 29, 2020 1.1k votes 310 voters 11.7k views 56 items

List Rules Vote up the greatest must-watch documentaries that changed the way you think about everything.

Nothing can match the drama of real life. Must see documentary movies underscore that point by highlighting intriguing individuals and exposing truths. Along the way, they tackle topics as varied as political corruption, factory farming, and personal discovery. This is a list of popular documentaries including everything from Man on Wire to Capturing the Friedmans to Jesus Camp.

What films will you find on this list of must watch documentaries? The 2009 doc Food, Inc. shines a light on American dietary habits by examining usually unseen aspects of farming, supermarkets, and fast food production. Blackfish is another life-changing documentary that pulls back the curtain on captive creatures in Sea World. And if you're seeking a new perspective, look no further than Man on Wire, detailing the daring exploits of wire walker Philippe Petit. Other good films featured on this best documentaries list include Super Size Me, Sicko, and Gasland.

Do you have any documentaries to recommend? Give your favorites a thumbs up and please add any good movies that are missing.

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list ordered by
1
Dear Zachary: A Letter t... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Kurt Kuenne

Actors: Kurt Kuenne, Andrew Bagby, David Bagby

Released: 2008

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is a 2008 American documentary conceived and created by Kurt Kuenne. Kuenne's close friend Andrew Bagby was murdered after Bagby ended his ...more

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A Timeline Of The Horrific Case Behind 'Dear Zachary' #156 of 276 The Top Tearjerker Movies That Make Men Cry #1 of 19 These Documentaries Took A Hard Left Turn And Left Audiences Shocked And Confused

2
Blackfish is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Actors: Tilikum, Dave Duffus, Samantha Berg

Released: 2013

Blackfish is a 2013 Documentary film written by Eli B. Despres and directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

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#9 of 43 The Best Documentaries on Hulu #23 of 347 The Greatest Documentaries of All Time #53 of 357 The Best Movies Directed by Women

3
Going Clear: Scientology... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Alex Gibney

Actors: Lawrence Wright, Mark Rathbun, Monique Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe, + more

Released: 2015

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
4
Food, Inc. is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Robert Kenner

Actors: Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Richard Lobb

Released: 2008

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
5
The Cove is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Louie Psihoyos

Actors: Richard O'Barry, Louie Psihoyos, Hardy Jones

Released: 2009

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
6
The Hunting Ground is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Kirby Dick

Actors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering, Amy Herdy, Annie Clark

Released: 2015

7
Jesus Camp is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing

Actors: Mike Papantonio, Lou Engle, Becky Fischer

Released: 2006

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

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'Jesus Camp' Is A Horrifying Documentary About Religious Zealotry #2 of 15 These Popular True Crime Documentaries Are Even Better In Podcast Form #19 of 55 The Best Movies About Cults

8
The Bridge is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Eric Steel

Actors: Eric Geleynse, Chris Brown, Susan Ginwalla

Released: 2006

The Bridge is a 2006 British-American documentary film by Eric Steel spanning 365 days of filming at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge in 2004. The film captured a number of suicides, and ...more
9
Capturing the Friedmans ... is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Andrew Jarecki

Actors: Arnold Friedman, Jesse Friedman, David Friedman

Released: 2003

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS was the most riveting, provocative, and hotly debated film of the year. Despite their predilection for ...more

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#6 of 19 These Documentaries Took A Hard Left Turn And Left Audiences Shocked And Confused #8 of 347 The Greatest Documentaries of All Time #27 of 36 The Best British Documentaries

10
The Thin Blue Line is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Errol Morris

Actors: Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose

Released: 1988

The Thin Blue Line is a 1988 American documentary film by Errol Morris, depicting the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit. ...more

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#310 of 522 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked #17 of 24 The Best True Crime Documentaries To Watch #3 of 347 The Greatest Documentaries of All Time

11
Super Size Me is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Morgan Spurlock, Mira King

Actors: Morgan Spurlock, Daryl Isaacs, Chemeeka Walker

Released: 2005

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

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#62 of 134 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again #43 of 327 The Best Free Movies On YouTube, Ranked #11 of 347 The Greatest Documentaries of All Time

12
Enron: The Smartest Guys... is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Alex Gibney

Actors: Peter Coyote, Gary Davis, Jeffrey Skilling, Bethany McLean, Kenneth Lay, + more

Released: 2005

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is a 2005 documentary film based on the best-selling 2003 book of the same name by Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, a study of one of the ...more

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#120 of 313 The Best Political Films Ever Made #14 of 347 The Greatest Documentaries of All Time #5 of 41 Every Alex Gibney Documentary, Ranked

13
Man on Wire is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
James Marsh

Actors: Philippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau

Released: 2008

Man on Wire is a 2008 British documentary film directed by James Marsh. The film chronicles Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center. It is ...more

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#499 of 675 The Best Movies Roger Ebert Gave Four Stars #12 of 347 The Greatest Documentaries of All Timelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

14
Sicko is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Michael Moore

Actors: Michael Moore, Tucker Albrizzi, Tony Benn

Released: 2007

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
15
Citizenfour is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Laura Poitras

Actors: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney, Jacob Appelbaum

Released: 2015

Citizenfour is a 2014 documentary film directed by Laura Poitras. A documentarian and a reporter travel to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with Edward Snowden to discuss the NSA spying ...more
16
Catfish is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Catfish Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost

Actors: Wendy Whelan, Drew Jacoby, Tiler Peck, Rubinald Pronk, Craig Hall, + more

Released: 2010

"Nev, a 24-year-old New York–based photographer, has no idea what he’s in for when Abby, an eight-year-old girl from rural Michigan, contacts him on MySpace, seeking permission to paint one ...more

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How 'Catfish' Changed Eight People's Lives And Rewired Our Understanding Of Online Existence #12 of 19 These Documentaries Took A Hard Left Turn And Left Audiences Shocked And Confused #15 of 16 The Most Misleading Movie Trailers

17
Samsara is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Ron Fricke

Actors: Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Puti Sri Candra Dewi

Released: 2011

Samsara is a 2011 non-narrative documentary film, directed by Ron Fricke and produced by Mark Magidson, who also collaborated on Baraka, a film of a similar vein. Samsara was filmed over five ...more
18
Leaving Neverland is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Dan Reed

Released: 2019

Leaving Neverland is a 2019 documentary film directed and produced by British filmmaker Dan Reed. Leaving Neverland describes how Michael Jackson allegedly began relationships with two young ...more
19
Gasland is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Josh Fox

Actors: Dick Cheney, Josh Fox

Released: 2010

Gasland is a 2010 American documentary written and directed by Josh Fox. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011, the film focuses on communities in the United States ...more
20
Forks over Knives is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Lee Fulkerson

Actors: Lee Fulkerson, Matthew Lederman, Alona Pulde

Released: 2011

Forks Over Knives is a 2011 American documentary film directed by American independent filmmaker Lee Fulkerson that advocates a low-fat whole-food, plant-based diet as a means of combating a ...more
21
The Great Hack is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim

Actors: Carole Cadwalladr, David Carroll, Brittany Kaiser

Released: 2019

The Great Hack is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is examined through the eyes of several involved persons.
22
The Game Changers is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Louie Psihoyos

Actors: James Wilks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrik Baboumian

Released: 2019

The Game Changers is a 2019 American documentary film directed Louie Psihoyos.
23
Untouchable is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Ursula Macfarlane

Actors: Rosanna Arquette, A.J. Benza, Hillary Clinton, Hope Exiner D'Amore, Paz de la Huerta, + more

Released: 2019

Untouchable is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Ursula Macfarlane. The film focuses on the abuse allegations that involve Harvey Weinstein and features interviews with Weinstein’s ...more
24
Fahrenheit 11/9 is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Michael Moore

Actors: Donald J. Trump, Michael Moore

Released: 2018

Fahrenheit 11/9 is a 2018 documentary film directed by Michael Moore. The film explores the 2016 United States presidential election and the subsequent presidency of Donald Trump.

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#274 of 358 The Greatest Documentaries of All Time #128 of 173 The Best Movies Of 2018 #42 of 70 The Best Documentaries About the U.S. Government

25
Moonlight Sonata is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See
Irene Taylor Brodsky

Released: 2019

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