Channel 4's "50 Greatest Documentaries"

by deadmonger | created - 18 Apr 2011 | updated - 09 Nov 2014 | Public

The 50 Greatest Documentaries was a Channel 4 television programme which was broadcast on 9 October 2005 and was narrated by British actress, Zoë Wanamaker. The list was compiled based on the nominations submitted to Channel 4 by a series of factual filmmakers.

Some entries are imperfect as explained within their description and numbers 34 - "Signs of the Times" (1992) and 35 - "An Impossible Job: Graham Taylor" (1993) are unfortunately totally absent as there is no entry in IMDb for them.

 Refine See titles to watch instantly, titles you haven't rated, etc
  • Instant Watch Options
  • Genres
  • Movies or TV
  • IMDb Rating
  • In Theaters
  • On TV
  • Release Year
  • Keywords

IMDb user rating (average) to
Number of votes to »


Release year or range to »

1. Seven Up! (1964 TV Movie)

40 min | Documentary, Biography

A group of seven-year-old British children from widely ranging backgrounds are interviewed about a range of subjects. Director Michael Apted plans to reinterview them at seven-year ... See full summary »

Director: Paul Almond | Stars: Douglas Keay, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield

Votes: 2,965

This is for the entire "Up" series; Seven Up! (1964), Seven Plus 7 (1970), 21 Up (1977), 28 Up (1984), 35 Up (1991), 42 Up (1998) & 49 Up (2005). Another instalment is due in 2012.

2. Touching the Void (2003)

R | 106 min | Documentary, Adventure, Drama

82 Metascore

The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.

Director: Kevin Macdonald | Stars: Simon Yates, Joe Simpson, Brendan Mackey, Nicholas Aaron

Votes: 30,575 | Gross: $4.59M

3. Bowling for Columbine (2002)

R | 120 min | Documentary, Crime, Drama

72 Metascore

Filmmaker Michael Moore explores the roots of America's predilection for gun violence.

Director: Michael Moore | Stars: Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, Salvador Allende

Votes: 132,864 | Gross: $21.24M

4. The World at War (1973–1976)

TV-PG | 52 min | Documentary, History, War

A groundbreaking 26-part documentary series narrated by the actor Laurence Olivier about the deadliest conflict in history, World War II.

Stars: Laurence Olivier, Anthony Eden, Averell Harriman, Albert Speer

Votes: 17,023

5. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

Not Rated | 107 min | Documentary, Biography

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: 21,841 | Gross: $3.12M

6. The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off (2004 TV Movie)

50 min | Documentary

A year ago, 36-year-old Jonny Kennedy died. He had a terrible genetic condition called Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) - which meant that his skin literally fell off at the slightest ... See full summary »

Director: Patrick Collerton | Stars: Edna Kennedy, Jonny Kennedy, Nell McAndrew

Votes: 352

7. Life on Earth (1979– )

702 min | Documentary

David Attenborough's groundbreaking study of the evolution of life on our planet.

Star: David Attenborough

Votes: 2,324

8. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

R | 122 min | Documentary, Drama, War

67 Metascore

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.

Director: Michael Moore | Stars: Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Ben Affleck, Stevie Wonder

Votes: 120,701 | Gross: $119.19M

9. When We Were Kings (1996)

PG | 88 min | Documentary, Sport

83 Metascore

A documentary of the 1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire, "The Rumble in the Jungle," between champion George Foreman and underdog challenger Muhammad Ali.

Director: Leon Gast | Stars: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Don King, James Brown

Votes: 13,555 | Gross: $2.67M

11. Hoop Dreams (1994)

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

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: 21,753 | Gross: $7.83M

12. This Week (1956–1992)
Episode: Death on the Rock (1988)


SAS execute 3 unarmed IRA Volunteers in Gibraltar. Witnesses discuss the British Military cover up.

Stars: George Carman, Julian Manyon

Votes: 8

13. The Leader, His Driver, and the Driver's Wife (1991)

Not Rated | 85 min | Documentary

From the award-winning Director Nick Broomfield, The Leader, His Driver, and the Driver's Wife portrays the sinister and comic sides of Eugene Terre'Blanche, leader of the neo-Nazi AWB Afrikaner Party in South Africa.

Director: Nick Broomfield | Stars: Nick Broomfield, Eugene Terre'Blanche, J.P. Meyer, Anita Meyer

Votes: 358

14. One Day in September (1999)

R | 94 min | Documentary, History, Sport

82 Metascore

The Palestinian terrorist group Black September holds Israeli athletes hostage at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich.

Director: Kevin Macdonald | Stars: Michael Douglas, Ankie Spitzer, Jamal Al Gashey, Gerald Seymour

Votes: 5,305 | Gross: $0.16M

15. Fourteen Days in May (1987)

87 min | Documentary

Fourteen Days in May is a documentary film directed by Paul Hamann and originally shown on television by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1987. The programme recounts the final days ... See full summary »

Director: Paul Hamann | Stars: Bobby Butler, Donald Cabana, Melanie Christopher, Paul Hamann

Votes: 190

16. The Family (1974– )

30 min | Reality-TV

"The Family" (1974) is one of the first "reality" shows in the history of television. Modelled after the US TV series "An American Family (1972), this 12-part series documents the daily life of a working-class family from Reading, UK.

Stars: Tom Bernes, Christopher Wilkins, Gary Wilkins, Heather Wilkins

Votes: 17

17. Night Mail (1936)

25 min | Short, Documentary

Shows the special train on which mail is sorted, dropped and collected on the run, and delivered in Scotland overnight.

Directors: Harry Watt, Basil Wright | Stars: Arthur Clark, John Grierson, Stuart Legg, Robert Rae

Votes: 1,071

18. The Nazis: A Warning from History (1997– )

292 min | Documentary, History, War

An examination of how a cultured people could have allowed Adolf Hitler's rise to power.

Stars: Samuel West, Adolf Buchner, Jutta Rüdiger, Günther Ruschin

Votes: 1,409

19. Super Size Me (2004)

PG | 100 min | Documentary, Comedy, Drama

73 Metascore

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.

Director: Morgan Spurlock | Stars: Morgan Spurlock, Daryl Isaacs, Chemeeka Walker, Dania Abu-Rmaileh

Votes: 93,946 | Gross: $11.53M

20. The Death of Yugoslavia (1995– )

50 min | Documentary, History

This captivate documentary covers the struggles of the Yugoslavian people during the collapse of their country, and the subsequent wars to finally find hope with the signing of the Final Peace Accords.

Stars: Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman, Borisav Jovic, Momir Bulatovic

Votes: 765

21. Walking with Dinosaurs (1999)

TV-14 | 30 min | Documentary, Animation, History

Documentary-style series about the era of the dinosaurs, mixing real locations and CGI.

Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Avery Brooks, André Dussollier

Votes: 4,584

22. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)

R | 93 min | Documentary, Crime

71 Metascore

Nick Broomfield's second documentary on Aileen Carol Wuornos, a highway prostitute who was executed in 2002 for killing six men in the state of Florida. This second installment includes the filmmaker's testimony at Wournous's trial.

Directors: Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill | Stars: Aileen Wuornos, Nick Broomfield, Terry Humphreys-Slay, Leitha Prather

Votes: 5,724 | Gross: $0.10M

23. China: Beyond the Clouds (1994 TV Movie)

240 min | Documentary

Add a Plot

Director: Phil Agland | Star: Lisa Lu

Votes: 50

24. Omnibus (1967–2003)
Episode: Cracked Actor (1975)

Not Rated | 53 min | Documentary, Biography, Music

BBC documentary showing David Bowie looking back on his Ziggy Stardust character during his Diamond Dogs tour.

Director: Alan Yentob | Star: David Bowie

Votes: 219

This entry is for the 2003 documentary "The Secret Policeman" for which this is a sequel, however there is no IMDb page for the original.

26. Q.E.D. (1982–1999)
Episode: John's Not Mad (II) (1989)

28 min | Documentary

Influential 1989 documentary which explores the struggles of a Scottish teenager to live with Tourettes syndrome.

Stars: Eleanor Bron, Heather Davidson, John Davidson, Lorna Peggie

Votes: 68

27. Around the World in 80 Days (II) (1989)

49 min | Documentary

Michael Palin attempts to copy the exploits of fictional character Phileas Fogg, by trying to travel around the world (without flying) in 80 days.

Stars: Michael Palin, Basil Pao, Chris Collins, Terry Gilliam

Votes: 1,400

28. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Not Rated | 101 min | Documentary, Crime, Drama

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: 19,250 | Gross: $1.21M

30. A History of Britain (2000–2002)

60 min | Documentary, History

A comprehensive historical survey of the British Isles.

Stars: Simon Schama, Michael Kitchen, Samuel West, Lindsay Duncan

Votes: 704

31. The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004)

157 min | Documentary, History

78 Metascore

A series of three documentaries about the use of fear for political gain.

Stars: Gilles Kepel, Melvin Goodman, Stephen Holmes, William Kristol

Votes: 3,605

32. Spellbound (2002)

G | 97 min | Documentary, Comedy, Thriller

80 Metascore

Spellbound follows eight teenagers on their quest to win the 1999 National Spelling Bee.

Director: Jeffrey Blitz | Stars: Angela Arenivar, Ubaldo Arenivar, Jorge Arenivar, Scott McGarraugh

Votes: 11,482 | Gross: $5.73M

33. The War Game (1965 TV Movie)

48 min | Drama, War

A docudrama depicting a hypothetical nuclear attack on Britain.

Director: Peter Watkins | Stars: Michael Aspel, Peter Graham, Dave Baldwin, Kathy Staff

Votes: 5,549

34. Woodstock (1970)

R | 184 min | Documentary, History, Music

The film chronicle of the legendary 1969 music festival.

Director: Michael Wadleigh | Stars: Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Roger Daltrey, Joe Cocker

Votes: 14,290 | Gross: $50.00M

35. People's Century: 1900-1999 (1995– )

Not Rated | 60 min | Documentary

Series documenting the history of the twentieth century through the testimony of those who lived through it.

Stars: Sean Barrett, Veronika Hyks, Raymond Abescat, Maurice Bourgeois

Votes: 115

36. Beneath the Veil (2001 TV Movie)


British journalist Saira Shah travels to Afghanistan with a camera crew to document the realities of life under the Taliban. Filmed just months prior to the terrorist attacks of September ... See full summary »

Director: Cassian Harrison | Star: Saira Shah

Votes: 79

37. Feltham Sings (2002 TV Movie)

60 min | Documentary, Music

A documentary film crew go into Feltham young offenders prison where the teenagers who left are 75% likely to re-offend. The film talks to a handful of inmates about life in prison and how ... See full summary »

Director: Brian Hill

Votes: 27

41. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)

R | 96 min | Documentary

Documentary that chronicles how Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) was plagued by extraordinary script, shooting, budget, and casting problems--nearly destroying the life and career of the celebrated director.

Directors: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola | Stars: Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, George Lucas

Votes: 16,313 | Gross: $1.32M

42. Nanook of the North (1922)

Not Rated | 78 min | Documentary

In this silent predecessor to the modern documentary, film-maker Robert J. Flaherty spends one year following the lives of Nanook and his family, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle.

Director: Robert J. Flaherty | Stars: Allakariallak, Alice Nevalinga, Cunayou, Allegoo

Votes: 9,330

43. Forty Minutes (1981–1994)
Episode: Home from the Hill (1987)


Documentary about Colonel Hilary Hook, formerly of the Indian cavalry and leader of extravagant safaris in Kenya. Hook returned home to England after being evicted from his home in the ... See full summary »

Director: Molly Dineen | Stars: Harry Hook, Hilary Hook

Votes: 20

44. Civilisation (1969– )

TV-G | 50 min | Documentary, History, Music

Sir Kenneth Clarke guides us through the ages exploring the glorious rise of civilisation in western man. Beginning with the bleakness of the dark ages to the present day, we consider ... See full summary »

Stars: Kenneth Clark, Nicholas Blake, William Devlin, Ronald Lacey

Votes: 624

47. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

PG-13 | 107 min | Documentary, Biography, History

87 Metascore

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.

Director: Errol Morris | Stars: Robert McNamara, John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon

Votes: 21,133 | Gross: $4.19M

48. When Louis Met... Jimmy (2000 TV Special)

49 min | Documentary

Louis spends a week with Jimmy Savile and attempts to get behind the public persona.

Director: Will Yapp | Stars: Louis Theroux, Jimmy Savile, Michael Buerk, Elizabeth Dawn

Votes: 511

Recently Viewed