The 50 Most Important Documentaries + 2 Movies

Required viewing for humans who care, or want to learn more, about the world around them.
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1.
Planet Earth (2006 Mini-Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.5/10 X  
Emmy Award-winning, 11 episodes, 5 years in the making, the most expensive nature documentary series ever commissioned by the BBC, and the first to be filmed in high definition. (48 mins.)
 
2.
Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie (1995 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A documentary presenting mankind's most ambitious effort at perfecting the means to its own annihilation... (92 mins.)
Director: Peter Kuran
 
3.
The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009 Mini-Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
The history of the U.S. National Parks system, including the initial ideas which led to the world's first national parks and the expansion of the system over 150 years. (120 mins.)
 
4.
The Town That Was (2007 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Portrait of John Lokitis, the youngest of 11 remaining residents of Centralia, Pennsylvania, a town destroyed by an underground mine fire. (71 mins.)
 
5.
Countdown to Zero (2010 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
A documentary about how the likelihood of nuclear weapons (or fissile materials) usage has increased due to the rise of terrorism and lack of safeguards and verification. (89 mins.)
Director: Lucy Walker
 
6.
The Last Mountain (2011 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A coal mining corporation and a tiny community vie for the last great mountain in Appalachia in a battle for the future of energy that affects us all. (95 mins.)
Director: Bill Haney
“ If your water tastes funny and you live on the East Coast of the U.S., this documentary may explain why. ” - Harry-Hood
 
7.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
An unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply. (131 mins.)
“ If you live on the West Coast, well, you get the idea. ” - Harry-Hood
 
8.
Why We Fight (2005 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Is American foreign policy dominated by the idea of military supremacy? Has the military become too important in American life? Jarecki's shrewd and intelligent polemic would seem to give an affirmative answer to each of these questions. (98 mins.)
Director: Eugene Jarecki
 
9.
Founding Brothers (2002 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
(200 mins.)
“ A fresh perspective on the "founding fathers", without the mythology. ” - Harry-Hood
 
10.
Nukes in Space (1999 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
U.S. nuclear tests in space, and the development of the military intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). (53 mins.)
Director: Peter Kuran
 
11.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
Director Davis Guggenheim eloquently weaves the science of global warming with Al Gore's personal history and lifelong commitment to reversing the effects of global climate change in the most talked-about documentary at Sundance. (96 mins.)
 
12.
Inside Job (2010 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Takes a closer look at what brought about the financial meltdown. (105 mins.)
 
13.
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
 
14.
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 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.)
 
15.
Guns, Germs, and Steel (2005 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A PBS documentary concerning Jared Diamond's theory on why there is such disparity between those who...
“ Answers the question, "Why are some countries or cultures more wealthy than others?" Pulitzer-winning book is must-read. ” - Harry-Hood
 
16.
Collapse: Based on the Book by Jared Diamond (2010 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
National Geographic follows a hypothetical team of scientists in the year 2210 as they set out to learn what led to the collapse of our present day society in this theoretical look into the future.
Director: Noel Dockstader
 
17.
National Geographic Explorer (1985 TV Series)
Episode: Easter Island Underworld (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A weekly series of short documentary segments funded by the National Geographic Society and done in the style of the National Geographic Specials... (120 mins.)
Director: Cara Biega
“ A clear explanation of what went wrong. (Deforestation = only one of many problems.) After all, we don't want to mimic their downfall, right? ” - Harry-Hood
 
18.
Hubble 3D (2010 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An IMAX 3D camera chronicles the effort of 7 astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. (44 mins.)
Director: Toni Myers
“ The last 10 minutes exemplifies "mind-blowing" visuals.
Makes the question mute, "Why should we study the heavens?" ” - Harry-Hood
 
19.
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
The story of America as seen through the eyes of the former Secretary of Defense under President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara. (107 mins.)
Director: Errol Morris
 
20.
War Photographer (2001 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Documentary about war photographer James Nachtwey, considered by many the greatest war photographer ever. (96 mins.)
Director: Christian Frei
 
21.
The Corporation (2003 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
Documentary that looks at the concept of the corporation throughout recent history up to its present-day dominance. (145 mins.)
 
22.
Sicko (2007 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A documentary comparing the highly profitable American health care industry to other nations, and HMO horror stories including shotgun deaths. (123 mins.)
Director: Michael Moore
 
23.
Planet Earth (2006 Mini-Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.5/10 X  
Emmy Award-winning, 11 episodes, 5 years in the making, the most expensive nature documentary series ever commissioned by the BBC, and the first to be filmed in high definition. (48 mins.)
 
24.
Into Eternity: A Film for the Future (2010 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A documentary on the safety of nuclear storage. (75 mins.)
Director: Michael Madsen
 
25.
Home (2009 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
With aerial footage from fifty-four countries, 'Home' is a depiction of how Earth's problems are all interlinked. (120 mins.)
 
26.
Powaqqatsi (1988 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
An exploration of technologically developing nations and the effect the transition to Western-style modernization has had on them. (99 mins.)
Director: Godfrey Reggio
 
27.
Koyaanisqatsi (1982 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
A collection of expertly photographed phenomena with no conventional plot. The footage focuses on nature, humanity and the relationship between them. (86 mins.)
Director: Godfrey Reggio
 
28.
Nuclear Rescue 911: Broken Arrows & Incidents (2001 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
Director: Peter Kuran
Stars: Adam West
 
29.
Atomic Journeys: Welcome to Ground Zero (1999 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A tour of U.S. atomic test sites in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Mississippi, and Alaska. (52 mins.)
Director: Peter Kuran
 
30.
The Thin Blue Line (1988 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas. (103 mins.)
Director: Errol Morris
 
31.
W. (2008)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
A chronicle of the life and presidency of George W. Bush. (129 mins.)
Director: Oliver Stone
“ A dramatic account of why voters should check the work history of a person before voting. (Must-see for all Americans & democracies.) ” - Harry-Hood
 
32.
Super Size Me (2004 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
While examining the influence of the fast food industry, Morgan Spurlock personally explores the consequences on his health of a diet of solely McDonald's food for one month. (100 mins.)
Director: Morgan Spurlock
 
33.
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
An examination of the social costs of corporate interests pursuing profits at the expense of the public good. (127 mins.)
Director: Michael Moore
 
34.
Freakonomics (2010 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
A collection of documentaries that explores the hidden side of human nature through the use of the science of economics. (93 mins.)
 
35.
Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A documentary that investigates the birth and death of the electric car, as well as the role of renewable energy and sustainable living in the future. (92 mins.)
Director: Chris Paine
 
36.
Revenge of the Electric Car (2011 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Director Chris Paine takes his film crew behind the closed doors of Nissan, GM, and the Silicon Valley start-up Tesla Motors to chronicle the story of the global resurgence of electric cars. (90 mins.)
Director: Chris Paine
 
37.
Earthlings (2005 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
Using hidden cameras and never-before-seen footage, Earthlings chronicles the day-to-day practices of the largest industries in the world, all of which rely entirely on animals for profit. (95 mins.)
Director: Shaun Monson
 
38.
Blowing Up Paradise (2005 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
(80 mins.)
Director: Ben Lewis
“ You might not look at the South Pacific the same again. ” - Harry-Hood
 
39.
Wild Pacific (2009 Mini-Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
A documentary series on life in and adapted to the conditions of the Southern part of the Pacific Ocean...
“ The most relaxing title to watch on this list. Still brings a solid eco-friendly message. ” - Harry-Hood
 
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41.
“ This TV movie adaptation is not as good as "Myths and the Moundbuilders". IMDB does not list that, but it's worth checking out (local library, internet, etc). Look for that doc, which covers as aspect of Native American history I never learned in an American school. ” - Harry-Hood
 
42.
The American Nightmare (2000 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
An examination into the nature of 1960's-70's horror films, the involved artists, and how they reflected contemporary society. (73 mins.)
Director: Adam Simon
“ If you didn't know that many horror films are social commentary, this might interest you. ” - Harry-Hood
 
43.
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011 Documentary)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A further followup of the case of the West Memphis Three and the decades long fight to exonerate them that finally gained traction with new DNA evidence. (121 mins.)
 
44.
Cosmos (1980 Mini-Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.3/10 X  
Astronomer Carl Sagan leads us on an engaging guided tour of the various elements and cosmological theories of the universe. (60 mins.)
“ The most highly-regarded astronomy doco. For more current scientific discoveries, I recommend the next two series, "Through the Wormhole" and "The Universe". ” - Harry-Hood
 
45.
Through the Wormhole (2010 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
Hosted by Morgan Freeman, Through the Wormhole will explore the deepest mysteries of existence - the questions that have puzzled mankind for eternity... (60 mins.)
 
46.
The Universe (2007 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
This educational show explores many scientific questions and topics about the universe (Big Bang, the Sun, the planets, black holes, other galaxies, astrobiology etc.) through latest CGI, data and interviews with scientists. (45 mins.)
 
47.
Nova (1974 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
Science documentaries about various topics.
“ Long-running series on PBS, which covers many "breaking news" stories from the science world. ” - Harry-Hood
 
48.
Horizon (1964 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  
Horizon is BBC Two's flagship 50-minute science documentary series. In September 2004 it celebrated... (50 mins.)
“ Another great series, from BBC this time, that helpfully explains the weird world around us. ” - Harry-Hood
 
49.
Dark Matters: Twisted But True (2011 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Delves into the most unusual research ever conducted, including attempts to crossbreed humans and apes... (30 mins.)
“ Tongue-in-cheek, yet intriguing, TV series about 'true' conspiracies. ” - Harry-Hood
 
50.
I Shouldn't Be Alive (2005 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Re-enactments of real-life tales of human survival against the savage elements, dangerous climates and physical hazards. (60 mins.)
“ If you're in a rough spot, here's some survival training. ” - Harry-Hood