100 Greatest Documentary Films

Criteria: These are the Greatest Documentary Films chosen for their influence, impact, historical importance, cinematography, direction, and popularity.
 Title (Year, Director) (Subject)
1. Nanook of the North
(1922, Robert J. Flaherty) (Inuit family in the Canadian arctic)
2. Olympia 1. Teil - Fest der Völker
(1938, Leni Riefenstahl) (1936 Olympics in Berlin)
3. Man With A Movie Camera
(1929, Dziga Vertov) (Soviet city life under Stalin)
4. The Sorrow and the Pity
(1971, Marcel Ophuls) (French collaboration with Nazi Germany)
5. The City
(1939, Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke) (Industrialization of American Cities)
6. Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life
(1925, Merian C. Cooper) (Journey of Bakhtiari tribe in Iran)
7. The Silent World
(1956, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Louis Malle) (Underwater world)
8. Woodstock
(1970, Michael Wadleigh) (Woodstock music festival 1969)
9. Nuit et brouillard (aka "Night and Fog")
(1955, Alain Resnais) (Nazi Concentration Camps)
10. Fahrenheit 9/11
(2004, Michael Moore) (George W. Bush, and the War on Terrorism)
11. Triumph of the Will
(1934, Leni Riefenstahl) (Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg)
12. Anne Frank Remembered
(1995, Jon Blair) (Anne Frank, diary)
13. The Thin Blue Line
(1988, Errol Morris) (Corrupt justice system, wrongly convicted man)
14. Shoah
(1985, Claude Lanzmann) (Death-camp survivors of the Holocaust)
15. Hearts and Minds
(1974, Peter Davis) (U.S. involvement in Vietnam War)
16. The Plow That Broke the Plains
(1936, Pare Lorentz) (The Dust Bowl)
17. The River
(1938, Pare Lorentz) (Mississippi River)
18. Hoop Dreams
(1994, Steve James) (Basketball)
19. Kon-Tiki
(1950, Thor Heyerdahl) (Six men on a raft cross the Pacific)
20. Harlan County, USA
(1976, Barbara Kopple) (Coal miners on strike in Kentucky - 1973)
21. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
(2005, Martin Scorsese) (Bob Dylan, 1961-1966)
22. Chernobyl Heart
(2003, Maryann DeLeo) (Ill children born after the Chernobyl disaster)
23. Taxi to the Dark Side
(2007, Alex Gibney) (Taxi driver in Afghanistan tortured & killed in '02)
24. March of the Penguins
(2005, Luc Jacquet) (Annual journey of Emperor penguins)
25. When We Were Kings
(1996, Leon Gast) (Foreman/Ali, 1974 boxing championship in Zaire)
26. The Times of Harvey Milk
(1984, Rob Epstein) (San Francisco's first elected gay councillor)
27. Bowling for Columbine
(2002, Michael Moore) (Violence and guns)
28. American Dream
(1990, Barbara Kopple) (Labor strike by blue-collar workers in 80's America)
29. The Eleanor Roosevelt Story
(1965,Richard Kaplan ) (Biography of Eleanor Roosevelt)
30. An Inconvenient Truth
(2006, Davis Guggenheim) (Global warming)
31. The Endless Summer
(1966, Bruce Brown) (Surfing around the world)
32. Promises
(2001, Carlos Bolado) (Jewish and Palestinian children together)
33. Down and Out in America
(1986, Lee Grant) (Poverty in the USA under Ronald Reagan)
34. Man of Aran
(1934, Robert J. Flaherty) (Life of people on Island of Aran)
35. Gimme Shelter
(1970, Albert and David Maysles) (Rolling Stones' 1969 US tour)
36. The Atomic Cafe
(1982, Jayne Loader) (Government issued propaganda about atomic bomb)
37. Spellbound
(2002, Jeffrey Blitz) (Eight teenagers out to win the 1999 National Spelling Bee)
38. The True Glory
(1945, Garson Kanin) (Allied invasion of Europe during World War II)
39. Let There Be Light
(1945, John Huston) (Shell-shocked soldiers)
40. Salesman
(1968, Albert Maysles) (Four door-to-door salesmen sell Bibles to the poor)
41. Crumb
(1994, Terry Zwigoff) (Comic artist Robert Crumb)
42. Winter Soldier
(1972, Winterfilm Collective) (US soldiers relate Vietnam war experiences)
43. Scared Straight!
(1980, Arnold Shapi) (Convicts tell troubled kids about horrors of prison)
44. Don't Look Back
(1967, D.A. Pennebaker) (Bob Dylan's '65 concert tour of United Kingdom)
45. The Memphis Belle
(1944, William Wyler) (Actual Bombing Mission Over Germany, WWII)
46. Titicut Follies
(1967, Frederick Wiseman) (Prison hospital for the criminally insane)
47. Sicko
(2007, Michael Moore) (American health care industry)
48. Journey Into Self
(1968, Tom Skinner) (Group therapy session)
49. The Long Way Home
(1997, Mark Jonathan Harris) (Establishment of modern state of Israel)
50. Moscow Strikes Back
(1942, Ilya Kopalin) (Soviet war documentary about Battle of Moscow)
51. The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison
(1998, Liz Garbus) (Life in Louisianas' Angola Prison)
52. Fires Were Started
(1943, Humphrey Jennings) (British firemen in the Blitz of World War II)
53. Grey Gardens
(1975, Ellen Hovde) (Reclusive mother and daughter live in a crumbling mansion)
54. One Day in September
(1999, Kevin Macdonald) (Israeli athletes killed at 1972 Olympics)
55. A Brief History of Time
(1991, Errol Morris) (Physicist Stephen Hawking)
56. American Zeitgeist
(2006, Rob McGann) (War on Terror)
57. Khaneh siah ast (aka "The House Is Black")
(1963, Forugh Farrokhzad) (Life in a leper colony)
58. The Conquest of Everest
(1953, George Lowe) (Mount Everest)
59. Obyknovennyy fashizm (aka "Triumph Over Violence") - (1965, Mikhail Romm) (German nazism)
60. My Flesh and Blood
(2003, Jonathan Karsh) (11 adopted special needs children)
61. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
(2003, Errol Morris)
62. Koyaanisqatsi
(1982, Godfrey Reggio) (Natural environments to manmade environments)
63. Grizzly Man
(2005, Werner Herzog) (Timothy Treadwell interacts with grizzly bears)
64. Silent Wings: The American Glider Pilots of World War II
(2007, Robert Child)
65. Monterey Pop
(1968, D.A. Pennebaker) (Monterey International Pop Festival)
66. Dark Days
(2000, Marc Singer) (Homeless life near Penn Station)
67. Microcosmos: Le peuple de l'herb
(1996, Claude Nuridsany) (A documentary of insect life)
68. Lessons of Darkness
(1992, Werner Herzog) (Kuwait oil fields in flames)
69. The Decline of Western Civilization
(1981, Penelope Spheeris) (Los Angeles punk rock scene)
70. The Corporation
(2003, Mark Achbar) (Corporations and their present-day dominance)
71. The Animal World
(1956, Irwin Allen) (Animals and dinosaurs)
72. Roger & Me
(1989, Michael Moore) (GM CEO Roger Smith/downsizing)
73. Moana
(1926, Robert J. Flaherty) (Customs of Polynesian natives)
74. Apur Sansar (aka The World of Apu) - (1959, Satyajit Ray) (jobless ex-student in India)
75. The Last Waltz
(1978, Martin Scorsese) (Final concert of The Band)
76. Buena Vista Social Club
(1998, Wim Wenders) (Cuban musicians spotlighted by Ry Cooder)
77. The U.S. vs. John Lennon
(2006, David Leaf) (John Lennon, musician/antiwar activist)
78. American Hardcore
(2006, Paul Rachman) (Hardcore punk music)
79. World Without Sun
(1964, Jacques-Yves Cousteau) (Underwater world)
80. Super Size Me
(2004, Morgan Spurlock) (Fast food and obesity in America)
81. Lake of Fire
(2006, Tony Kaye) (The abortion debate)
82. Paragraph 175
(2000, Rob Epstein) (Nazi persecution of homosexuals)
83. Il Mio viaggio in Italia (aka "My Voyage to Italy")
(1999, Martin Scorsese) (Italian cinema)
84. The Hellstrom Chronicle
(1971, Walon Green) (The insect world could take over the world)
85. In the Realms of the Unreal
(2004, Jessica Yu) (Henry Darger, visionary artist and novelist)
86. Land Without Bread
(1933, Luis Bunuel) (Spanish peasants)
87. Chronicle of a Summer
(1961, Edgar Morin) (French society in the summer of 1960)
88. Heima
(2007, Dean DeBlois) (Sigur Rós Iceland concerts, 2006)
89. Sir! No Sir!
(2005, David Zeiger) (Vietnam anti-war soldiers)
90. That's Entertainment!
(1974, Jack Haley Jr.) (MGM stars from the studio's 50 year history)
91. Encounters at the End of the World
(2007, Werner Herzog) (Antarctica)
92. Atomic Ed and the Black Hole
(2002, Ellen Spiro) (Ed Grothus, junk collector)
93. For All Mankind
(1989, Al Reinert) (the Apollo missions to the Moon)
94. The Hour of the Furnaces
(1968, Octavio Getino) (Neo-Colonisation of South America)
95. Blue Planet
(1990, Ben Burtt) (Earth from Space Shuttle)
96. Broken Rainbow
(1985, Victoria Mudd) (Government relocation of Navajo Indians in Arizona)
97. The Celluloid Closet
(1995, Rob Epstein) (Homosexuals in Hollywood films)
98. Jesus Camp
(2006, Heidi Ewing) (Christian summer camp for kids)
99. Faces of Death
(1978, Conan Le Cilaire) (Explicit scenes of Death)
100. Pumping Iron
(1977, Robert Fiore, George Butler) (Bodybuilding)

Documentary Series
1. Victory at Sea - (1952, M. Clay Adams) (Naval combat during World War Two)
    (26 Episodes)

2. Civilisation - (1969, BBC) (Western civilization through art & architecture by Kenneth Clark)
    (14 Episodes)

3. Planet Earth - (2006, BBC) (The Earth narrated by David Attenborough)
    (11 Episodes)

4. The World at War - (1973-74, Jeremy Isaacs producer) (WWII, narrated by Laurence Olivier)
    (26 Episodes)

5. Cosmos - (1980, Adrian Malone) (Carl Sagan explains theories of the Universe)
    (13 Episodes)

6. The Great War - (1964, BBC) (First World War)
    (26 Episodes)

7. The Civil War - (1990, Ken Burns) (American Civil War)
    (9 Episodes)

8. 63 Up - (2019, Michael Apted) (14 British childrens' lives updated every 7 years)
    (3 Episodes)

9. Baseball - (1994, Ken Burns) (Baseball history)
    (11 Episodes)

10. The First World War: The Complete Series - (2003, Marcus Kiggell) (WWI)
    (10 Episodes)

Top Documentary Films of 2023

1. 20 Days in Mariupol
(Russian Invasion of Ukrainian city Mariupol)
2. Beyond Utopia
(Attempting escape from North Korea)
3. The Eternal Memory
(Chilean couple dealing with Alzheimers)
4. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
(Actor Michael J. Fox faces Parkinsons Disease)
5. The Disappearance of Shere Hite
(Author of "The Hite Report")
6. It Ain't Over
(The life and wit of Yogi Berra)
7. Four Daughters
(Tunisian mother of four daughters... Two go missing)
8. Judy Blume Forever
(The influence of the books by Judy Blume)
9. Kokomo City
(Black trans sex workers in New York and Georgia)
10. Youth (Spring)
(Chinese textile workers and their challenges)

Top Documentary Films of 2022

1. Fire of Love
(Two scientist lovers die recording erupting volcanos)
2. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
(Nan Goldin, her movement against opioid company)
3. Descendant
(Descendants of slaves from the ship Clotilda)
4. Riotsville, U.S.A.
(Police getting military training to combat '60s riots)
5. All That Breathes
(Two brothers protect a Black Kite in Delhi)
6. Navalny
(The events around the Alexei Navalny assassination attempt)
7. The Janes
(Network for women needing abortions before Roe v. Wade)
8. Lucy And Desi
(The relationship and legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz)
9. The Territory
(Indigenous men protect a tract of rainforest from destructive farmers)
10. The Tinder Swindler
(Women get revenge on an online playboy swindler)

Top Documentary Films of 2021

1. The Beatles: Get Back
(3 parts, Beatles recording sessions in 1969)
2. Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
(Harlem Cultural Festival)
3. The Rescue
(Rescue of 12 boys and coach from a cave in Thailand)
4. Flee
(A man reveals his past before marriage)
5. The Crime of the Century
(2 parts, promotion of OxyContin, and Fentanyl)
6. Seaspiracy
(How humans are harming the Oceans)
7. In the Same Breath
(Pandemic in Wuhan twisted by Communist party)
8. Exterminate All the Brutes
((4 parts, Whitewashed history of conquest)
9. The Velvet Underground
(New York's influential rock band)
10. Pray Away
(Christian "pray the gay away" movement and consequences)

Top Documentary Films of 2020

1. David Byrne's American Utopia
(Talking Heads frontman informative musical)
2. The Dissident
(Finding clues to Jamal Khashoggi's murder in Istanbul)
3. Time
(A wife working for the release of her husband from prison)
4. Dick Johnson Is Dead
(A dying man is helped by his daughter)
5. Crip Camp
(Summer camp for teens with disabilities)
6. City Hall
(City government in Boston)
7. Gunda
(A mother pig, her piglets, chickens and cows)
8. My Octopus Teacher
(Diver befriends an octopus, off South Africa)
9. Kiss the Ground
(Saving the planet through regenerative agriculture)
10. Totally Under Control
(The handling of COVID-19 in the U.S.)

Top Documentary Films of 2019

1. For Sama
(A mother and daughter's survival in war-torn Aleppo, Syria)
2. Apollo 11
(In-depth events surrounding The Apollo 11 moon mission)
3. American Factory
(Culture clash in Chinese owned factory in the U.S.)
4. Honeyland
(Saving bees in Macedonia to prevent ecological disaster)
5. Cunningham
(Life of iconic dance innovator Merce Cunningham)
6. One Child Nation
(History and effects of China's one-child policy)
7. The Cave
(Female doctors working in secret tunnels in war-torn Syria)
8. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
(Bob Dylan and friends 1975 concert tour)
9. Midnight Family
(Family run ambulance service operating in Mexico City)
10. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
(The career of Linda Ronstadt)

Top Documentary Films of 2018

1. They Shall Not Grow Old
(Restored WWI film footage)
2. RBG
(U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg)
3. Won't You Be My Neighbor?
(Children's television host, Fred Rogers)
4. Three Identical Strangers
(Strangers accidentally discover they are identical triplets)
5. Minding the Gap
(Three young men escape families in the American Rust-Belt)
6. Hale County This Morning, This Evening
(The Black community in Hale County, Alabama)
7. Bisbee '17
(Recreations of an Arizona mining towns past)
8. King in the Wilderness
(Final years of Martin Luther King, Jr.)
9. On Her Shoulders
(Nadia Murad, survivor of the 2014 Yazidi genocide)
10. Mercury 13
(Women training to be astronauts in 1961)

Top Documentary Films of 2017

1. City of Ghosts
(Raqqa Syria invaded by ISIS)
2. Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS
(Syria in 2017)
3. Starless Dreams
(Iranian juvenile detention center for girls)
4. Human Flow
(Worldwide migration from war, famine, and climate change)
5. Strong Island
(1992 murder of William Ford Jr.)
6. Served Like a Girl
(Five women veterans help homeless women veterans)
7. Icarus
(Doping in sports and a Russian scientist)
8. Long Strange Trip
(The rock band Grateful Dead)
9. Chasing Coral
(Vanashing coral reefs and the causes)
10. Trophy
(Industries of big-game hunting)

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2016

1. I Am Not Your Negro
(Race relations in America as told by writer James Baldwin)
2. Tower
(University of Texas tower shooting that killed 16 people)
3. O.J.: Made in America
(O.J. Simpson trial and divided America)
4. 13th
(Racial inequality in the prison system)
5. California Typewriter
(People who still use typewriters)
6. One More Time with Feeling
(Nick Cave and his the creative process)
7. Houston, We Have a Problem!
(The myth of America's '60s space program from Yugoslavia)
8. Born in China
(Baby animals in China. Panda, Snow leopard, and monkey)
9. The Red Pill
(Men's Rights Movement)
10. Gleason
(Professional football player Steve Gleason and his ALS)

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2015

1. Cartel Land
(Citizen uprising against drug cartel in Mexico)
2. Amy
(Story of Amy Winehouse)
3. Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom
(Ukraine during 2013 and 2014)
4. Meru
(Climbing Himalayan Mount Meru)
5. Where to Invade Next
(Michael Moore compares the US to other countries)
6. Human
(Stories about and images of the world)
7. (T)error
(FBI counterterrorism sting operation)
8. Best of Enemies
(Debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley)
9. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution
(Rise and fall of the Black Panther Party)
10. Dreamcatcher
(Comforting sex workers in Chicago)

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2014

1. Citizenfour
(Edward Snowden and government's massive covert-surveillance programs)
2. Virunga
(Protecting endangered mountain gorillas)
3. Last Days in Vietnam
(Evacuating collaborators from Saigon)
4. The Look of Silence
(1960s Indonesian genocide)
5. Fed Up
(The American food industry and illness)
6. The Overnighters
(Homeless oil field workers given shelter in North Dakota)
7. The Salt of the Earth
(Career of photographer Sebastião Salgado)
8. Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory
(Music therapy for dementia patients)
9. Glen Campbell...I'll Be Me
(Glen Campbell farewell tour and Alzheimer's)
10. Life Itself
(The life of film critic Roger Ebert)

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2013

1. The Act of Killing
(Former Indonesian death squad leaders reenact their real-life mass-killings)
2. Stories We Tell
(Contradictory answers to family questions)
3. These Birds Walk
(A poor runaway boy and a reluctant ambulance driver in Karachi)
4. The Gatekeepers
(Interviews with all surviving former heads of Shin Bet)
5. Let The Fire Burn
(Sixty-one homes destroyed by Philadelphia police in 1985)
6. Blackfish
(Consequences of killer whales in captivity)
7. The Square
(Egypts Tahrir square in the days leading up to the fall of Mubarak)
8. 20 Feet From Stardom
(Backup singers in the pop music world)
9. Call Me Kuchu
(Homosexuality punishable by death in Uganda)
10. Sound City
(David Grohl brings life back to the fabled California recording studio)

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2012

1. How to Survive a Plague
(Two coalitions improve the plight of AIDS patients)
2. The Waiting Room
(Public hospital careing for a community of largely uninsured  patients)
3. West of Memphis (Catastrophic failure of justice in Arkansas)
4. The House I Live In
(America's criminal justice system, and implications of U.S. drug policy)
5. The Central Park Five
(Rape in Central Park and those wrongly accused)
6. Brooklyn Castle
(Struggling junior high school's champion chess team)
7. Chasing Ice
(Climate change and melting glaciers documented)
8. The Flat
(A documentarian learns of his immigrant grandparents difficult past)
9. Hitler's Children
(The lives of the descendants of the top Nazi officials)
10. The Revisionaries
(A re-write of evolution and American history in textbooks)

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2011

1. Undefeated
(3 underprivileged students from Memphis and their coach)
2. Hell and Back Again
(The conflict in Afghanistan)
3. Zeitgeist: Moving Forward
(Money controls the world)
4. Samsara
(Twenty-five countries on five continents)
5. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
(America's domestic terrorist threat)
6. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
(85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono)
7. Pina
(German choreographer, Pina Bausch)
8. Forks Over Knives
(Degenerative diseases and meat consumption)
9. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory- (Case of the West Memphis Three)
10. Bobby Fischer Against the World
(Chess master Bobby Fischer)

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2010

1. Restrepo
(One platoon in one valley for one year in Afghanistan)
2. Inside Job
(A closer look at what brought about the financial meltdown)
3. Waste Land
(What happens in the world's largest trash city)
4. Exit through the Gift Shop
(The world's most infamous graffiti artists at work)
5. Gasland
(Hydraulic drilling process called "fracking")
6. Enemies of the People
(The Killing Fields of Cambodia)
7. The Tillman Story
(Pat Tillman. Life, death, coverup)
8. Waiting for 'Superman'
(The broken education system)
9. Precious Life
(Israeli pediatrician and a Palestinian mother)
10. The Elephant in the Living Room
(Dangerous animals as household pets)

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2009

1. The Cove
(Louie Psihoyos) (Dolphin abuse in a cove near Taiji, Japan)
2. Puskás Hungary
(Tamás Almási) (Hungarian football hero of the 1950s)
3. Crude
(Joe Berlinger) (Ecuadorans against Chevron for contamination of the Amazon)
4. My Neighbor, My Killer
(Anne Aghion) (The people of Rwanda attempt to reconcile)
5. Iron Maiden: Flight 666
(Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen) (Iron Maiden's 2008 world tour)
6. Home
(Yann Arthus-Bertrand) (Aerial footage of Earth's problems)
7. Food, Inc.
(Robert Kenner) (Inside America's corporate controlled food industry)
8. Anvil - The Story of Anvil
(Sacha Gervasi) (Canadian metal band Anvil)
9. Unmistaken Child
(Nati Baratz) (A Tibetan monk's search for the reincarnation of his teacher)
10. Capitalism: A Love Story
(Michael Moore) (Corporate dominance on our everyday lives)

For Sama - 2019

Last Updated: 2019-04-09
Newly added names are in  Red