The 10 Best Documentary Villains

I think it's safe to say that though the documentary style of filmmaking has been around for a while, it has taken an unexpected rise in the 21st century, and a whole slew of recent documentary films have become beacons for specific social and political movements like never before. This newly popularized style of muckraking is no doubt powerful, and the most effective of these films really bend and fold the reality into a dramatic narrative in a way that speaks directly to its audience. But at the root of every problem is an antagonizer, someone or something that pulls the strings, and it's usually the role of the documentary to call these adversaries out and expose their wrongdoings to the entire world. When done right, these evildoers enter the realm of some of the greatest and most memorable movie villains ever – Hannibal Lecter, Dracula, Darth Vader, HAL 9000, and so on. So, here it goes – my list of the 10 best documentary villains.

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1.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
Die-hard gamers compete to break world records on classic arcade games. (79 mins.)
Director: Seth Gordon
“ Billy Mitchell, from “King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters”

Most other villains on this list are not single persons but huge conglomerates that have in some way or another harmed the public. However, my number one most evil villain for this list is just one person, a person hwith a would-be innocent background: Billy Mitchell was famous for setting the all-time high scores for a number of classic arcade games, most notably Donkey Kong. However, when his score is challenged by Steve Wiebe, a nobody from Washington who crushes Mitchell's all-time high score from his garage, Mitchell releases a fury of vengeance. Wiebe's Donkey Kong console is sabotaged by affiliates of Mitchell, and Mitchell uses influence on the official tracker of gaming high scores, Twin Galaxies, to completely defame Wiebe. Perhaps it's because Steve Wiebe is such a tragic hero – an ex-Boeing employee who is now a humble science teacher, a star pitcher who fell short of fame due to an injury, a defeated soul who still has the drive to do anything he sets his mind to; or perhaps it is because Billy Mitchell is such a familiar antagonist – the bully who is too big and powerful for you to do anything when he carelessly sweeps you aside and shames you in front of everyone, but Billy Mitchell is certainly a villain, and in the context of documentaries, the most effective one in my books. ” - ryancarroll88
 
2.
The Cove (2009 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health. (92 mins.)
Director: Louie Psihoyos
“ The Japanese Fishermen, from “The Cove”

The most recent winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary is a thrill of a film; it not only reveals a chilling reality about the Japanese whaling industry, but it takes us on a journey along with the filmmakers as they work against the seemingly impossible odds of trying to get the film made. Ric O'Barry heads a team of activists trying to document the slaughter of an estimated 23,000 dolphins by the Japanese fishermen every year during the hunt for amusement park dolphins. Though this seems to be a straightforward task, his team is met with constant opposition from the entire town of Taiji. They overcome incredible obstacles to set up cameras in the infamous cove where the massacre takes place, evading constant surveillance from the police and local volunteers who will apparently do anything to prevent any footage from escaping the cove. What is especially infuriating is the way they block our heroes with the utmost arrogance and scorn, making the audience hate everything about them. The footage that the group is finally able to obtain, and the astonishing truths that they reveal is little less than amazing. ” - ryancarroll88
 
3.
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
Documentary on reported Conservative bias of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News Channel (FNC), which promotes itself as "Fair and Balanced". Material includes interviews with former FNC employees and the inter-office memos they provided. (75 mins.)
“ Rupert Murdoch, from “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism”

This film is a thorough, unabated attack on the Fox News Channel and media mogul Rupert Murdoch for their right-wing agenda and biased coverage despite the slogan “Fair and Balanced.” Fox News is the sole subject, but the movie hits on something bigger – the death of honest news to the whims of subjectivity and opinion for the sake of ratings (it even brings up the 1976 classic “Network” as a startling voice of reason). At the head of this bastion of misinformation is Rupert Murdoch, the enabler who knows that people would sooner listen to constant reinforcement of their own beliefs rather than any reality that will challenge them, leading to a network whose purpose is not to inform but to incite. At its core, Fox News is propaganda at the basest of forms, and it is still continuously the most watched cable news channel in the United States, which simply means that for now, Rupert Murdoch has won. ” - ryancarroll88
 
4.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim follows Al Gore on the lecture circuit, as the former presidential candidate campaigns to raise public awareness of the dangers of global warming and calls for immediate action to curb its destructive effects on the environment. (96 mins.)
“ Humans, from every Liberal Guilt Documentary

It's no secret that most documentaries have progressive roots and agendas, and it's simply because these are the easiest and most pressing issues to address to the public. Even further we have entered into the era of “Liberal Guilt”: feeling bad for the things we have because, well, having things means taking from something else. The more issues that are examined, the more one point shines with perfect clarity: humans really suck. It's shown in everything from “An Inconvenient Truth” which tells us that humans are responsible for dumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than ever before (which, if continued, will have irreversible affects on global climate) to “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which reveals, when it really comes down to it, was everyone. Very recently, documentary filmmakers have become fixated on the idea that most of the problems with the world today are caused by one giant culprit – us. ” - ryancarroll88
 
5.
Food, Inc. (2008 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An unflattering look inside America's corporate controlled food industry. (94 mins.)
Director: Robert Kenner
“ Monsanto Company, from “Food, Inc.”

Robert Kenner worked together with Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser to explore the modern world of corporate farming and food production and unearthed a world of issues that envelops everything from the basic economic structure to consumer health. Though other food companies carry their own guilt, the biggest and baddest villain of all is Monsanto Company, whose patent on genetically modified foods has completely demolished the ability of small independent farmers to conduct business. Not only do they restrict farmers from possessing their plant seeds, but they will actively seek out farms for crops containing their patent (which, of course, inevitably happens naturally with crossbreeding). Once discovered, the company files massive lawsuits for patent infringement, which it has already done to over 150 farmers, putting most offenders out of business. It is a complete rupture of free market economics and a mockery of the legal system, but for now Monsanto Company still stands tall and crushes all opposition. ” - ryancarroll88
 
6.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A documentary about the Enron corporation, its faulty and corrupt business practices, and how they led to its fall. (110 mins.)
Director: Alex Gibney
“ Enron Heads, from “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”

By the end of 2001, after being exposed for all of its wrongdoings, Enron was certainly the most hated company in the US. What this documentary does is pick apart every front of the biggest corporate fraud in history, and at the heart of every guise and lie is the insurmountable greed of the top executives. Everyone from Jeffrey Skilling, the Head C.E.O. who came up with the idea to use “mark-to-market accounting” which would allow the company to mark future profits before they were actually achieved to Andrew Fastow, who disguised Enron's deficits by creating fake off-balance-sheet partnerships and diverting the losses to them (and soaked up any potential gains for himself) had their hand in the cookie jar. What is really scary is how smart all of these people are and the strategies they came up propped up the failing company for years, and the idea of compensating someone for a good idea is really only useful if that idea is carried through. The resulting downfall left a terrible wake, crushing everything from supportive bank investors to the entire state of California. ” - ryancarroll88
 
7.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Documentary on the Friedmans, a seemingly typical, upper-middle-class Jewish family whose world is instantly transformed when the father and his youngest son are arrested and charged with shocking and horrible crimes. (107 mins.)
Director: Andrew Jarecki
“ Arnold Friedman, from “Capturing the Freidmans”

What was first meant to be a documentary about birthday party clowns ended up being one of the darkest and foreboding films of the decade when filmmakers found out that family entertainer David Friedman's father and brother were arrested on child molestation charges. The film details the sting operation that first exposed Arnold Friedman's collection of child pornography and the eventual trial that ensued. This is interchanged with contradictory interviews from the alleged victims and news stories that blew up the case into a full-sized “witch hunt.” Still, the heart of the film isn't the trial, but the home videos taken during the whole ordeal, which painfully shows the disintegration of a family and the weakness of a discovered criminal backed into a corner. ” - ryancarroll88
 
8.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
Michael Moore's view on what happened to the United States after September 11; and how the Bush Administration allegedly used the tragic event to push forward its agenda for unjust wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (122 mins.)
Director: Michael Moore
“ President George W. Bush, from “Fahrenheit 9/11”

Michael Moore released his most political-charged film to date on the brink of the 2004 presidential election, directly targeting President George W. Bush in an effort to make him look both incapable of running this country and, even further, harmful to its welfare. And boy does it get its job done. It may not be the best of Moore's efforts and it may be preaching to an already converted audience, but the way he chronicles and tabulates Bush's every misdeed and shortfall during his first term, it's irrefutable to say that as a nation, we screwed up. Two big issues the film hits on are evidence of ties between the Bush and bin Laden family before and after 9/11 and reinforcing the point that the Iraq War was being fought on the false premise that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing nuclear weapons. The film is ripe with satirical wit, but is filled with sad truths that all point the blame to one person – the leader of our nation. ” - ryancarroll88
 
9.
March of the Penguins (2005 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
In the Antarctic, every March since the beginning of time, the quest begins to find the perfect mate and start a family. (80 mins.)
Director: Luc Jacquet
“ Leopard Seals, from “March of the Penguins”

There's no question about it – penguins are cute, and in 2005 they became all the rage because of this quirky little French documentary narrated by the master of all narrators, Morgan Freeman. It's hard to believe, but seeing all the struggles these little guys have to go through to simply stay alive in the harsh conditions of Antarctica, let alone their startling determination for filial responsibility, the Emperor Penguins captured the hearts of everyone. And then there were the Leopard Seals: these godless, soulless beings who don't even think twice about gobbling up our adorable friends in an instant, especially when the penguins were just trying to return home to feed their hungry chicks. ” - ryancarroll88
 
10.
Jesus Camp (2006 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A documentary on kids who attend a summer camp hoping to become the next Billy Graham. (84 mins.)
“ 'Kids on Fire' School of Ministry, from “Jesus Camp”

“Jesus Camp” recounts the experiences of three kids who attend a religious summer camp called “Kids On Fire,” aimed to train children to become little less than warriors for God. It is an eye-opener for Christians and atheists alike as the film repeatedly shows clips of the camps lessons and ceremonies, which are less about spiritual enlightenment than about brainwashing these children to become an affecting army for their political causes, encompassing everything from fighting abortion rights to denouncing global warming. It is no wonder that shortly after the film was released, the summer camp was closed down. ” - ryancarroll88