100 Greatest Documentary Films

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Criteria: These are the Greatest Documentary Films chosen for their influence, impact, historical importance, cinematography, direction, and popularity.

Last Updated: 2019-04-09
Greatest Documentary Films
documentary Nanook of the North DVD cover  documentary The Sorrow and the Pity DVD cover  documentary Man With A Movie Camera DVD cover  documentary The Sorrow and the Pity DVD cover  documentary The City DVD cover  documentary Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life DVD cover
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

Victory at Sea documentary DVD cover
Civilisation documentary DVD cover
Planet Earth documentary DVD cover
1. Victory at Sea - (1952, M. Clay Adams) (Naval combat during World War Two)
    (26 Episodes)
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2. Civilisation - (1969, BBC) (Western civilization through art & architecture by Kenneth Clark)
    (14 Episodes)
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3. Planet Earth - (2006, BBC) (The Earth narrated by David Attenborough)
    (11 Episodes)
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4. The World at War - (1973-74, Jeremy Isaacs producer) (WWII, narrated by Laurence Olivier)
    (26 Episodes)
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5. Cosmos - (1980, Adrian Malone) (Carl Sagan explains theories of the Universe)
    (13 Episodes)
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6. The Great War - (1964, BBC) (First World War)
    (26 Episodes)
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7. The Civil War - (1990, Ken Burns) (American Civil War)
    (9 Episodes)
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8. 63 Up - (2019, Michael Apted) (14 British childrens' lives updated every 7 years)
    (3 Episodes)
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9. Baseball - (1994, Ken Burns) (Baseball history)
    (11 Episodes)
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10. The First World War: The Complete Series - (2003, Marcus Kiggell) (WWI)
    (10 Episodes)
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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)
20 Days in Mariupol movie poster

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)
Fire of Love movie poster

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)
The Beatles: Get Back documentary movie poster

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.)
David Byrne's American Utopia documentary movie poster

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)
For Sama documentary movie poster

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)
They Shall Not Grow Old documentary movie poster

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)
City of Ghosts movie poster

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)
I Am Not Your Negro movie poster

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)
Cartel Land film poster

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)
Citizenfour documentary movie poster

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)
The Act of Killing documentary movie poster

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)
How to Survive a Plague documentary movie poster

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)
Undefeated movie poster

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)
Restrepo documentary movie poster

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)
The Cove documentary movie poster

For Sama - 2019

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