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Life-Changing Documentaries You've Got to See

Updated June 11, 2021 1.8k votes 363 voters 14.1k views132 items

List RulesVote 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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  • 1

    ActorsKurt Kuenne, Andrew Bagby, David Bagby

    Released2008

    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
  • 2

    Blackfish

    Gabriela Cowperthwaite
    125
    34

    ActorsTilikum, Dave Duffus, Samantha Berg

    Released2013

    Blackfish is a 2013 Documentary film written by Eli B. Despres and directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. A documentary following the controversial captivity of killer whales, and its dangers for both...  more
  • 3

    ActorsLawrence Wright, Mark Rathbun, Monique Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe

    Released2015

    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.

    Robert Kenner
    53
    18

    ActorsMichael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Richard Lobb

    Released2008

    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 radically...  more
  • 5

    The Bridge

    Eric Steel
    47
    21

    ActorsEric Geleynse, Chris Brown, Susan Ginwalla

    Released2006

    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 featured...  more
  • 6
    33
    10

    ActorsWade Robson, James Safechuck, Michael Jackson

    Released2019

    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 fans,...  more
  • 7
    40
    19

    ActorsArnold Friedman, Jesse Friedman, David Friedman

    Released2003

    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
  • 8

    Man on Wire

    James Marsh
    33
    14

    ActorsPhilippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau

    Released2008

    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 based...  more
  • 9

    The Cove

    Louie Psihoyos
    39
    21

    ActorsRichard O'Barry, Louie Psihoyos, Hardy Jones

    Released2009

    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 action...  more
  • 10

    Super Size Me

    Morgan Spurlock, Mira King
    48
    31

    ActorsMorgan Spurlock, Daryl Isaacs, Chemeeka Walker

    Released2005

    Super Size Me is a 2004 American documentary film directed by Morgan Spurlock. The film follows a 30-day period from February 1 to March 2, 2003, during which Spurlock ate only McDonald's food....  more
  • 11

    Jesus Camp

    Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing
    42
    26

    ActorsMike Papantonio, Lou Engle, Becky Fischer

    Released2006

    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
  • 12
    36
    19

    ActorsKirby Dick, Amy Ziering, Amy Herdy, Annie Clark

    Released2015

  • 13

    Sicko

    Michael Moore
    33
    18

    ActorsMichael Moore, Tucker Albrizzi, Tony Benn

    Released2007

    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. The...  more
  • 14

    The Great Hack

    Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim
    20
    2

    ActorsCarole Cadwalladr, David Carroll, Brittany Kaiser

    Released2019

    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....  more
  • 15

    ActorsPeter Coyote, Gary Davis, Jeffrey Skilling, Bethany McLean, Kenneth Lay

    Released2005

    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
  • 16

    The Thin Blue Line

    Errol Morris
    30
    21

    ActorsRandall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose

    Released1988

    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
  • 17

    Catfish

    Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
    33
    26

    ActorsWendy Whelan, Drew Jacoby, Tiler Peck, Rubinald Pronk, Craig Hall

    Released2010

    "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 of his...  more
  • 18

    ActorsErrol Morris, Elizabeth Holmes, Tyler Shultz

    Released2019

    The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley is 2019 American documentary film, directed and produced by Alex Gibney. The story of Theranos, a multi-billion dollar tech company, its founder...  more
  • 19

    Citizenfour

    Laura Poitras
    28
    21

    ActorsEdward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney, Jacob Appelbaum

    Released2015

    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
  • 20

    Samsara

    Ron Fricke
    20
    12

    ActorsBalinese Tari Legong Dancers, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Puti Sri Candra Dewi

    Released2011

    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 years...  more
  • 21

    The Game Changers

    Louie Psihoyos
    10
    2

    ActorsJames Wilks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrik Baboumian

    Released2019

    The Game Changers is a 2019 American documentary film directed Louie Psihoyos....  more
  • 22

    Moonlight Sonata

    Irene Taylor Brodsky
    8
    0

    Released2019

    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

    Love, Antosha

    Garret Price
    6
    0

    ActorsAnton Yelchin, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pine, Kristen Stewart

    Released2019

    Love, Antosha is a 2019 American documentary film directed and produced by Garret Price. The documentary focuses on the life and career of the late actor Anton Yelchin, narrated by Nicolas Cage....  more
  • 24

    Untouchable

    Ursula Macfarlane
    7
    2

    ActorsRosanna Arquette, A.J. Benza, Hillary Clinton, Hope Exiner D'Amore, Paz de la Huerta

    Released2019

    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
  • 25
    9
    5

    ActorsAlexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin

    Released2019

    Knock Down the House is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Rachel Lears. The documentary is about four progressive Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean...  more
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List Rules: Vote up the greatest must-watch documentaries that changed the way you think about everything.