These are the 61 best documentaries of all time


Documentaries can be a hard sell, but it’s one that’s getting easier all the time. Once viewed as something stiff and obligatory, documentary film has, in recent years, risen to the top of the heap—thanks in no small part to some of the earth-shaking, needle-pushing, and ultimately world-changing films that are listed here, which find their focus in war, love, sex, death, and everything in between. And as for this list—its only qualifier is that these are the critically acclaimed, historically important, and pivotal films that a person who cares about film (and in doing so, often cares about humanity, in general) should really get to know.

It’s a list, with all that is good and bad about such things, but a pretty good list.

Note that it’s in alphabetical order.

  • Wow, Baraka’s missing.

    • Ron Miller

      One of my all time favorite movies! Although it might have been omitted because it is not really a documentary … I would call it more of an “art” film.

  • That’s a great list.

    I would add Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job for content, and stylistically it’s important.

  • It’s a great list. I’d add a few that I enjoyed:

    All Things Must Pass For All Mankind MacHeads (I’m biassed, an image of my then 85 year old mother is in it) Mission Control Rize Valley Uprising The Wrecking Crew History of the Eagles Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, running down a dream Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants

    • “MacHeads (I’m biassed, an image of my then 85 year old mother is in it)”

      So am I. 🙂

    • Mo

      “The Wrecking Crew” was a revelation for me.

      • If you liked that one, you might enjoy 64. The House that Ahmet Built on the history of Atlantic Records. Amazing story. Also, Tom Dowd and the Language of Music.

        • Mo

          Many thanks.

          • Sorry, I don’t know how “64” got in there, that’s not a documentary that I know of 😉

  • MarcW

    Woodstock. Documentary and time capsule all in one.

  • Peter Ross

    Salt of the Earth.

    The story of Sabastio Salgardo’s life. Harrowing, uplifting, mesmerising…but some of the best photography you will ever see