Best Documentaries of All Time – Ranked

I found over 12 lists of “Best Documentary Films of All Time” on the Internet and combined them into one list.  Here are the results, organized by rank (i.e., number of lists that mentioned it). This list includes every documentary on at least two of the lists.  At the end, I have appended a list of documentaries on my list of personal favorites that did not make the ‘two or more lists’ criterion.  One asterisk means I’ve seen it.  Two asterisk means it is on my personal list of favorite documentaries.  For a version of this list organized chronologically, go here.

11
The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)**
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)**

9
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Errol Morris, 2003)**
Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008)*

8
Grey Gardens (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, 1975)**
Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994)**
Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)**
Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)*
Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003)**
Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, 2004)**
An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006)

7
Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)**
The Up Series (1964- )
     Seven-Up (Paul Almond, 1964)
     14-Up (Michael Apted, 1970)
     21-Up (Michael Apted, 1977)
     28-Up (Michael Apted, 1984)**
     35-Up (Michael Apted, 1991)*
     42-Up (Michael Apted, 1998)*
     49-Up (Michael Apted, 2005)*
     56-Up (Michael Apted, 2012)
Dont Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967)*
Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz, 2002)*
Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock, 2004)*

6
Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970)*
Gimme Shelter (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)**
The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978)**
Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola, 1991)**
When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996)*
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010)**
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)*

5
Nanook of the North (Robert J. Flaherty, 1922)*
Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard) (Alain Resnais, 1955)**
Harlan County, USA (Barbara Kopple, 1976)
Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)**
Roger & Me (Michael Moore, 1989)*
Touching the Void (Kevin Macdonald, 2003)**
March of the Penguins (Luc Jacquet, 2005)**
Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney, 2007)
Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner, 2008)**
Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg, 2010)**

4
Salesman (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1968)
The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophüls, 1969)
F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1973)
Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)**
Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)**
Sherman’s March (Ross McElwee, 1986)**
Dark Days (Marc Singer, 2000)
Bus 174 (José Padilha, Felipe Lacerda, 2002)*
Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2003)**
Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman, 2004)**
Murderball (Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro, 2005)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Alex Gibney, 2005)
Catfish (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010)*
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)**

3
Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1934)*
Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967)
Hearts and Minds (Peter Davis, 1974)
The Battle of Chile (Patricio Guzman, 1975-1979)
The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein, 1984)**
Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990)*
Brother’s Keeper (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 1992)**
Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1998)*
The Gleaners & I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
Winged Migration (Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats, 2002)*
To Be and to Have (Être et Avoir) (Nicolas Philibert, 2003)*
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004)
Planet Earth (Alastair Fothergill, 2006)*
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon, 2007)
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi, 2007)
Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)
Gasland (Josh Fox, 2010)
Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010)
The Interrupters (Steve James, 2011)
This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 2012)

2
Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (Auguste Lumière, Louis Lumière, 1896)*
High School (Frederick Wiseman, 1968)
Monterey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968)*
In the Year of the Pig (Emile de Antonio, 1968)
Winter Soldier (Winterfilm Collective, 1972)
A Grin Without a Cat (Chris Marker, 1977)
Cosmos (Adrian Malone, 1980)
Burden of Dreams (Les Blank, 1982)*
Eyes on the Prize (Henry Hampton, 1987)*
Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (Marcel Ophüls, 1988)**
The Civil War (Ken Burns, 1990)*
Madonna: Truth or Dare (Alek Keshishian, 1991)
The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, 1995)
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 1996)
Microcosmos (Claude Nuridsany, Marie Pérennou, 1996)**
Little Dieter Needs to Fly (Werner Herzog, 1998)**
American Movie (Chris Smith, 1999)*
One Day in September (Kevin Macdonald, 1999)**
Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, 2001)
My Voyage to Italy (Martin Scorcese, 2001)
The Kid Stays in the Picture (Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen, 2002)*
The Corporation (Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar, 2003)*
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (Judy Irving, 2003)*
Rivers and Tides (Thomas Riedelsheimer, 2003)
Dig! (Ondi Timoner, 2004)
The Devil & Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)
Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki, 2005)
The Aristocrats (Paul Provenza, 2005)
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick, 2006)*
Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, 2006)*
Deliver Us From Evil (Amy Berg, 2006)
Sicko (Michael Moore, 2007)*
Helvetica (Gary Hustwit, 2007)
Religulous (Larry Charles, 2008)*
Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country (Anders Østergaard, 2008)
The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, 2009)
Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, 2009)
Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, 2010)
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (Lev Anderson, Chris Metzler, 2010)
Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán, 2010)
Waste Land (Lucy Walker, João Jardim, Karen Harley, 2010)
Project Nim (James Marsh, 2011)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011)
The Invisible War (Kirby Dick, 2012)

More Personal Favorites
Fata Morgana (Werner Herzog, 1971)**
Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (Les Blank, 1980)**
Streetwise (Martin Bell, 1984)**
Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy & Stuart Samuels, 1992)**
Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (Steven M. Martin, 1993)**
Jazz (Ken Burns, 2001)**
Darwin’s Nightmare (Hubert Sauper, 2004)**
Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, 2007)**
No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson, 2007)**
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (Werner Herzog, 2011)**

One thought on “Best Documentaries of All Time – Ranked

  1. Pingback: What’s Up? Docs. | Make Lists, Not War

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