Best Documentaries of All Time – Chronological

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, compiled chronologically.  This list includes every documentary on at least two of the lists, plus certain documentaries that I have personally identified as important.  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 by rank (i.e., number of lists), go here.

THE EARLY YEARS: 1896-1955.

Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (Auguste Lumière, Louis Lumière, 1896) (France)*
Nanook of the North (Robert J. Flaherty, 1922) (US)*
Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) (Russia)**
Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1934) (Germany)*
Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard) (Alain Resnais, 1955) (France)**

THE SIXTIES.
Seven-Up (Paul Almond, 1964) (UK)
Dont Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) (US)*
Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967) (US)
High School (Frederick Wiseman, 1968) (US)
Monterey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968) (US)*
In the Year of the Pig (Emile de Antonio, 1968)
Salesman (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1968) (US)
The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophüls, 1969) (France)

THE SEVENTIES.
14-Up (Michael Apted, 1970) (UK)
Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) (US)*
Gimme Shelter (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1970) (US)**
Fata Morgana (Werner Herzog, 1971) (West Germany) **
Winter Soldier (Winterfilm Collective, 1972) (US)
F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1973) (France/Iran/West Germany)
Hearts and Minds (Peter Davis, 1974) (US)
Grey Gardens (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, 1975) (US)**
Harlan County, USA (Barbara Kopple, 1976) (US)
21-Up (Michael Apted, 1977) (UK)
A Grin Without a Cat (Chris Marker, 1977) (France)
The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978) (US)**
The Battle of Chile (Patricio Guzman, 1975-1979) (Chile)

THE EIGHTIES.
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (Adrian Malone, 1980) (US)
Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (Les Blank, 1980) (US)**
Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982) (US)**
Burden of Dreams (Les Blank, 1982) (US)*
Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983) (France)**
Streetwise (Martin Bell, 1984) (US)**
The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein, 1984) (US)**
Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984) (US)**
28-Up (Michael Apted, 1984) (UK)**
Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985) (France)
Sherman’s March (Ross McElwee, 1986) (US)**
Eyes on the Prize (Henry Hampton, 1987) (US)*
The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988) (US)**
Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (Marcel Ophüls, 1988) (France)**
Roger & Me (Michael Moore, 1989) (US)*

THE NINETIES.
Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990) (US)*
The Civil War (Ken Burns, 1990) (US)*
Madonna: Truth or Dare (Alek Keshishian, 1991) (US)
35-Up (Michael Apted, 1991) (UK)*
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola, 1991) (US)**
Brother’s Keeper (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 1992) (US)**
Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy & Stuart Samuels, 1992) (US)**
Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (Steven M. Martin, 1993) (US)**
Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994) (US)**
Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994) (US)**
The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, 1995) (US)
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 1996) (US)
Microcosmos (Claude Nuridsany, Marie Pérennou, 1996) (France)**
When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996) (US)*
42-Up (Michael Apted, 1998) (UK)*
Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1998) (Germany/US/UK/Cuba/France)*
Little Dieter Needs to Fly (Werner Herzog, 1998) (Germany/UK/France)**
American Movie (Chris Smith, 1999) (US)*
One Day in September (Kevin Macdonald 1999) (UK)**

THE NEW MILLENIUM.
Dark Days (Marc Singer, 2000) (US)
The Gleaners & I (Agnès Varda, 2000) (France)
Jazz (Ken Burns, 2001) (US)**
Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, 2001) (US)
My Voyage to Italy (Martin Scorcese, 2001) (US/Italy)
The Kid Stays in the Picture (Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen, 2002) (US)*
Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz, 2002) (US)*
Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002) (US)*
Bus 174 (José Padilha, Felipe Lacerda, 2002) (Brazil)*
Winged Migration (Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats, 2002) (France)*
To Be and to Have (Être et Avoir) (Nicolas Philibert, 2003) (France)*
Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2003) (US)**
Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003) (US)**
Touching the Void (Kevin Macdonald, 2003) (UK)**
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
 
(Errol Morris, 2003) (US)**
The Corporation (Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar, 2003) (Canada)*
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (Judy Irving, 2003) (US)*
Rivers and Tides (Thomas Riedelsheimer, 2003) (Germany/Finland/UK)
Dig! (Ondi Timoner, 2004) (US)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, 2004) (US)**
Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock, 2004) (US)*
Darwin’s Nightmare (Hubert Sauper, 2004) (Austria/France/Belgium)**
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) (US)
Born into BrothelsCalcutta’s Red Light Kids (Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman, 2004) (US)**
Murderball (Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro, 2005) (US)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Alex Gibney, 2005) (US)
49-Up (Michael Apted, 2005) (UK)*
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005) (US)**
March of the Penguins (Luc Jacquet, 2005) (France)**
The Devil & Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005) (US)
Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki, 2005) (US)
The Aristocrats (Paul Provenza, 2005) (US)
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick, 2006) (US)*
Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, 2006) (US)*
Deliver Us From Evil (Amy Berg, 2006) (US)
An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006) (US)
Planet Earth (Alastair Fothergill, 2006) (UK/US)*
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon, 2007) (US)
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi, 2007) (US)
Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney, 2007) (US)
Sicko (Michael Moore, 2007) (US)*
Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, 2007) (US)**
No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson, 2007) (US)**
Helvetica (Gary Hustwit, 2007) (US)
Religulous (Larry Charles, 2008) (US)*
Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country (Anders Østergaard, 2008) (Denmark)
Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) (UK)*
Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) (Israel)
Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner, 2008) (US)**
The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, 2009) (US)
Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, 2009) (Canada)
Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, 2010) (US)
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (Lev Anderson, Chris Metzler, 2010)
Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán, 2010) (Chile)
Waste Land (Lucy Walker, João Jardim, Karen Harley, 2010) (UK/Brazil)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010) (US)**
Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg, 2010) (US)**
Gasland (Josh Fox, 2010) (US)
Senna (Asif Kapadia, 2010) (UK)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010) (UK)*
Catfish (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010) (US)*
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010) (Canada/US/UK/France/Germany)**
The Interrupters (Steve James, 2011) (US)
Project Nim (James Marsh, 2011) (UK)
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (Werner Herzog, 2011) (US/UK/Germany)**
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011) (US)
The Invisible War (Kirby Dick, 2012) (US)
56-Up (Michael Apted, 2012) (UK)
This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 2012) (Iran)

One thought on “Best Documentaries of All Time – Chronological

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

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