29 Must See Documentaries

by willowdada | created - 10 Jun 2011 | updated - 06 Jul 2016 | Public
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1. Streetwise (1984)

91 min | Documentary

8.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

Gritty documentary looks at the life and lives of teenagers living on the streets of Seattle.

Director: Martin Bell | Stars: Roberta Joseph Hayes, Baby Gramps, Erin Blackwell, Lou Ellen Couch

Votes: 1,275

2. Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)

PG | 103 min | Documentary

8.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
80 Metascore

A filmed account of a bitterly violent miner strike.

Director: Barbara Kopple | Stars: Norman Yarborough, Houston Elmore, Phil Sparks, John Corcoran

Votes: 3,901

3. Style Wars (1983 TV Movie)

69 min | Documentary, Music

8.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

A documentary that exposes the rich growing subculture of hip-hop that was developing in New York City in the late '70s and early '80s, specifically focusing on graffiti art and breakdancing.

Director: Tony Silver | Stars: Demon, Kase 2, Eric Haze, Spank

Votes: 2,243

4. Salesman (1969)

G | 85 min | Documentary, Drama

7.9
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

Four relentless door-to-door salesmen deal with constant rejection, homesickness and inevitable burnout as they go across the country selling very expensive bibles to low-income Catholic families.

Directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin | Stars: Paul Brennan, Charles McDevitt, James Baker, Raymond Martos

Votes: 3,834

5. Marjoe (1972)

PG | 88 min | Documentary, Biography

7.7
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Part documentary, part expose, this film follows one-time child evangelist Marjoe Gortner on the "church tent" Revivalist circuit, commenting on the showmanship of Evangelism and "the ... See full summary »

Directors: Sarah Kernochan, Howard Smith | Stars: Marjoe Gortner, Sarah Kernochan

Votes: 1,216

6. Best Boy (1979)

111 min | Documentary, Biography

8.0
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In this documentary, the director follows the day-to-day activities of his retarded, middle-aged cousin Philly, over a three-year period.

Director: Ira Wohl | Stars: Ira Wohl, Philip Wohl, Zero Mostel, Christine O'Connor

Votes: 552

7. Burden of Dreams (1982)

Not Rated | 95 min | Documentary

8.0
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A documentary on the chaotic production of Werner Herzog's epic Fitzcarraldo (1982), showing how the film managed to get made despite problems that would have floored a less obsessively ... See full summary »

Director: Les Blank | Stars: Werner Herzog, Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards

Votes: 4,955

8. Grey Gardens (1975)

PG | 94 min | Documentary, Comedy, Drama

7.7
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An old mother and her middle-aged daughter, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, live their eccentric lives in a filthy, decaying mansion in East Hampton.

Directors: Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer | Stars: Edith Bouvier Beale, Edith 'Little Edie' Bouvier Beale, Brooks Hyers

Votes: 9,488 | Gross: $0.03M

9. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Not Rated | 101 min | Documentary, Crime, Drama

8.1
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79 Metascore

A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.

Director: Errol Morris | Stars: Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose, Jackie Johnson

Votes: 17,902 | Gross: $1.21M

10. Crumb (1994)

R | 119 min | Documentary, Biography, Comedy

8.0
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93 Metascore

An intimate portrait of the controversial cartoonist and his traumatized family.

Director: Terry Zwigoff | Stars: Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky, Charles Crumb, Maxon Crumb

Votes: 15,402 | Gross: $3.17M

11. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

Not Rated | 80 min | Documentary, Biography, Drama

8.1
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German-American Dieter Dengler discusses his service as an American naval pilot in the Vietnam War. Dengler also revisits the sites of his capture and eventual escape from the hands of the Vietcong, recreating many events for the camera.

Director: Werner Herzog | Stars: Dieter Dengler, Werner Herzog, Eugene Deatrick

Votes: 4,862

12. Different Drummer (1989–1991)
Episode: Dancing Outlaw (1991)

Not Rated | 29 min | Documentary

8.1
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This documentary short, produced for West Virginia public TV's "Different Drummer" series, introduces us to Jesco White, a hard-living, tap-dancing Boone County resident whose repeated ... See full summary »

Director: Jacob Young | Stars: Wattie Green, Dorsey White, Jerry White, Jesco White

Votes: 478

13. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

Not Rated | 107 min | Documentary, Biography

7.8
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90 Metascore

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.

Director: Andrew Jarecki | Stars: Arnold Friedman, Jesse Friedman, David Friedman, Elaine Friedman

Votes: 20,878 | Gross: $3.12M

14. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

PG | 98 min | Documentary

7.7
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Twenty-four contestants compete in an endurance/sleep deprivation contest in order to win a brand new Nissan Hardbody truck. The last person to remain standing with his or her hand on the ... See full summary »

Director: S.R. Bindler | Stars: Sid Allen, Brent Baskin, Greg Cox, J.C. Crum

Votes: 1,400 | Gross: $0.49M

15. The Cruise (1998)

PG-13 | 76 min | Documentary

7.8
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
69 Metascore

Affectionate portrait of Tim "Speed" Levitch, a tour guide for Manhattan's Gray Line double-decker buses. He talks fast, is in love with the city, and dispenses historical facts, ... See full summary »

Director: Bennett Miller | Star: Timothy 'Speed' Levitch

Votes: 1,449 | Gross: $0.24M

16. Tattooed Tears (1979)

Not Rated | 85 min | Documentary

7.1
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An intimate, hands on encounter with a maximum security juvenile correctional facility in Chino California.

Directors: Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill | Stars: Brian, Marcus, Pedro, Ronnie

Votes: 124

17. Gates of Heaven (1978)

Not Rated | 85 min | Documentary, Comedy, Drama

7.5
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A documentary about a pet cemetery in California, and the people who have pets buried there.

Director: Errol Morris | Stars: Lucille Billingsley, Zella Graham, Cal Harberts, Dan Harberts

Votes: 4,542

18. Roger & Me (1989)

R | 91 min | Documentary

7.5
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70 Metascore

Director Michael Moore pursues GM CEO Roger B. Smith to confront him about the harm he did to Flint, Michigan with his massive downsizing.

Director: Michael Moore | Stars: Michael Moore, Roger B. Smith, Rhonda Britton, Fred Ross

Votes: 23,905 | Gross: $6.71M

19. Winged Migration (2001)

G | 89 min | Documentary

8.0
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82 Metascore

Documentary on the migratory patterns of birds, shot over the course of three years on all seven continents.

Directors: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats | Stars: Jacques Perrin, Philippe Labro

Votes: 10,763 | Gross: $10.76M

20. American Movie (1999)

R | 107 min | Documentary, Comedy

7.9
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
84 Metascore

Documentary about an aspiring filmmaker's attempts to finance his dream project by finally completing the low-budget horror film he abandoned years before.

Director: Chris Smith | Stars: Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank, Tom Schimmels, Monica Borchardt

Votes: 14,633 | Gross: $1.16M

21. Hoop Dreams (1994)

PG-13 | 170 min | Documentary, Drama, Sport

8.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
98 Metascore

A film following the lives of two inner-city Chicago boys who struggle to become college basketball players on the road to going professional.

Director: Steve James | Stars: William Gates, Arthur Agee, Emma Gates, Curtis Gates

Votes: 20,872 | Gross: $7.83M

22. Chicken Ranch (1983)

Unrated | 74 min | Documentary

6.5
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Documentary on the "Chicken Ranch," a legal Nevada brothel.

Directors: Nick Broomfield, Sandi Sissel | Stars: Fran, Walter Plankinton, Connie, Claudia

Votes: 260

23. Samsara (I) (2011)

PG-13 | 102 min | Documentary, Music

8.5
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65 Metascore

Filmed over nearly five years in twenty-five countries on five continents, and shot on seventy-millimetre film, Samsara transports us to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders.

Director: Ron Fricke | Stars: Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Puti Sri Candra Dewi, Putu Dinda Pratika

Votes: 26,558 | Gross: $2.60M

24. Gui tu lie che (2009)

Not Rated | 85 min | Documentary, Drama

7.7
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
86 Metascore

A couple embarks on a journey home for Chinese new year along with 130 million other migrant workers, to reunite with their children and struggle for a future. Their unseen story plays out as China soars towards being a world superpower.

Director: Lixin Fan | Stars: Changhua Zhang, Yang Zhang, Suqin Chen, Qin Zhang

Votes: 3,057 | Gross: $0.29M

25. Poto and Cabengo (1980)

Not Rated | 77 min | Documentary

7.2
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

Two young twins in the USA have invented their own shared language. Scientists are wanting to study the language but social workers are trying to get the twins to leave their secret ... See full summary »

Director: Jean-Pierre Gorin | Star: Jean-Pierre Gorin

Votes: 279

26. Warrendale (1967)

100 min | Documentary

7.7
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Chronicles 7-weeks in the lives of 12 emotionally disturbed children and their therapist's experimental method of treatment at the Toronto-area Warrendale facility.

Director: Allan King | Star: Martin Fischer

Votes: 416

27. Louie Bluie (1985)

Not Rated | 75 min | Documentary, Music

7.7
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About the obscure country-blues musician and idiosyncratic visual artist Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong, member of the last known black string band in America.

Director: Terry Zwigoff | Stars: Howard Armstrong, Ted Bogan, Jay Lynch

Votes: 573

28. Hell House (2001)

Not Rated | 85 min | Documentary

6.8
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
64 Metascore

A look at the "Hell House" performed annually in October by the youth members of Trinity Church (Assemblies of God) in Cedar Hill, Texas (a Dallas suburb) - seen by over 10,000 visitors ... See full summary »

Director: George Ratliff | Stars: Aria Adloo, Ashley Adloo, Amy Allred, Gabriel Allred

Votes: 1,468

29. Sherman's March (1985)

Not Rated | 157 min | Documentary, Biography, Comedy

7.5
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Ross McElwee sets out to make a documentary about the lingering effects of General Sherman's march of destruction through the South during the Civil War, but is continually sidetracked by ... See full summary »

Director: Ross McElwee | Stars: Ross McElwee, Dede McElwee, Ross McElwee Jr., Patricia Rendleman

Votes: 2,026