The best documentaries ever made

by JurijFedorov | created - 06 Jun 2014 | updated - 8 months ago | Public

Documentaries that entertain while at the same time changing your worldview and teach you something unique.

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1. Hjernevask (2010– )

39 min | Documentary

Interviewing several Norwegian and international scientists, the documentary series asks whether biology has been underestimated in social sciences.

Stars: Harald Eia, Jørgen Lorentzen, Martine Aurdal, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair

Votes: 199

Norwegian documentary that you can find on youtube. Clearly the best documentary ever made as it is the only one of its kind. It focuses on interviewing scientists and comparing their data. This is not just a great documentary but great science presented so that all can understand it. Already a classic.

2. 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: 21,692 | Gross: $7.83M

This is the best documentary that is not a series. Clearly the best documentary ever made. When I see a "top ##" lists of best documentaries ever made and this one is not in top 5 I stop reading. This documentary shows us what human beings are. There is only one way to make a documentary like this one. Film real human beings doing daily stuff for a year or 2.

3. Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson (1993 TV Movie)

93 min | Documentary, Biography, Sport

Filmmaker Barbara Kopple profiles the life and career of former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson and the surrounding events that led to his 1992 6 year prison conviction.

Director: Barbara Kopple | Stars: Mike Tyson, Kevin Rooney, Desiree Washington, Curtis Ratliff

Votes: 145

The one with black and white scenes in it.

4. 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: 30,469 | Gross: $4.59M

This is again an incredible documentary about survival. A lot of documentaries and movies are copying its style now - for obvious reasons.

5. The Civil War (1990)

TV-14 | 680 min | Documentary, History, War

A comprehensive survey of the American Civil War.

Stars: David McCullough, Sam Waterston, Julie Harris, Jason Robards

Votes: 9,634

Ken Burns is the best documentary maker of all time. And all of his documentaries are incredible. But this one is a 101 on how to make a historical documentary. This style has been copied at least 1000 times. If the style was copyrighted he would be a billionaire.

6. Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (2003–2010)

TV-MA | 30 min | Comedy, Documentary

The comedy illusionist duo explore various topics and debunk what they consider misconceptions about them.

Stars: Penn Jillette, Teller, Shera Pollins, Gene Hatcher

Votes: 11,057

Very education and entertaining at the same time. A lot of episodes will blow your mind. So basic, yet so ignored. Their ultra libertarianism might be a bit too much at times. But their political conviction seems to guide them onto the right track most of the time. Lacks an episode on nuclear power among other things.

7. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004)

TV-PG | 214 min | Documentary, Biography, Sport

The story of Jack Johnson, the first African-American Heavyweight boxing champion.

Director: Ken Burns | Stars: Jack Johnson, Keith David, Samuel L. Jackson, Adam Arkin

Votes: 1,202

Ken Burns... on one of the greatest athletes who has ever lived.

8. Planet Earth (2006)

TV-G | 533 min | Documentary

Emmy Award-winning, 11 episodes, five years in the making, the most expensive nature documentary series ever commissioned by the BBC, and the first to be filmed in high definition.

Stars: David Attenborough, Sigourney Weaver, Huw Cordey, Doug Allan

Votes: 137,427

The go to documentary while high. While David Attenborough is not as informative as he should be it is still an amazing spectacle and a must watch for all ages and still very informative. Fantastic. Now we need more documentaries in this quality but with tons of information in them too.

9. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

PG-13 | 79 min | Documentary, Biography, Sport

83 Metascore

Die-hard gamers compete to break world records on classic arcade games.

Director: Seth Gordon | Stars: Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Mark Alpiger, Adam Wood

Votes: 32,871 | Gross: $0.68M

A good vs bad documentary from the country of media manipulation. Such a great story.

10. Murder on a Sunday Morning (2001)

Not Rated | 111 min | Documentary, Crime

Oscar-winning documentary that documents a murder trial in which a 15-year-old African-American is wrongfully accused of a 2000 murder in Jacksonville, Florida.

Director: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade | Stars: Ann Finnell, Patrick McGuinness, James Williams, Michael Glover

Votes: 3,883

Hi... you there... watch this documentary. It is very good. As someone studying psychology this is a documentary that blew my mind. I knew all this. But you are always surprised when you see people as stupid as the psychology books say they are.

11. The Dust Bowl (2012– )

Documentary

A documentary about the 1930s drought of North American prairie farm land, and its consequences during the great depression.

Stars: Dorothy Williamson, Donald Worster, Timothy Egan, Calvin Crabill

Votes: 1,257

Watch the rest of the scenes used in Interstellar. But it is much better than Interstellar even though the movie is good too.

12. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014– )

TV-PG | 557 min | Documentary

An exploration of our discovery of the laws of nature and coordinates in space and time.

Stars: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stoney Emshwiller, Piotr Michael, André Sogliuzzo

Votes: 89,092

Really good. Very informative documentary on space, physics and the story about our discovery of these things. The CGI effects are worth a watch by themselves, but they are only there to educate you. Neil deGrasse Tyson is born for tv.

13. Pandora's Promise (2013)

Not Rated | 87 min | Documentary

54 Metascore

A feature-length documentary about the history and future of nuclear power. The film explores how and why mankind's most feared and controversial technological discovery is now passionately... See full summary »

Director: Robert Stone | Stars: Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes, Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas

Votes: 1,712 | Gross: $0.07M

Very good. Great job by everyone involved. I highly recommend this documentary to everyone who want to know about radiation, environment, energy sources, society and such.

14. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

R | 87 min | Documentary, Comedy, Crime

85 Metascore

The story of how an eccentric French shop-keeper and amateur film-maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. The film contains... See full summary »

Director: Banksy | Stars: Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, Space Invader, Debora Guetta

Votes: 57,367 | Gross: $3.29M

Another A to B documentary. A story about a man. This is a bit like a movie. A Borat type of documentary. But the most important things in it is our reaction to modern art. And all the reactions are real. Another must watch documentary to understand the concept of modern art.

15. Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story (2005)

87 min | Documentary

A story of violence, love, sex, politics and media centered around the life of Griffith, a six-time world welterweight champion.

Directors: Ron Berger, Dan Klores | Stars: Don Dunphy, Benny Paret, Emile Griffith, Pete Hamill

Votes: 314

16. Prohibition (2011– )

360 min | Documentary, History

The story of the American activist struggle against the influence of alcohol, climaxing in the failed early 20th century nationwide era when it was banned.

Stars: Peter Coyote, Pete Hamill, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Michael Lerner

Votes: 1,994

Ken Burns... one of his best. This is something everyone in Europe has heard about. But we never understood how the most libertarian country in the world could forbid an essential part of mans diet.

Epic documentary. I wish all history documentaries were made like this. Even if you are not interested in the Jews you will like this documentary.

18. The West (1996– )

537 min | Documentary, History, War

Stephen Ives' "The West" is a PBS 4-Video Series co-produced by Ken Burns: - "Death Runs Riot" 85 min. - "Fight No More Forever" 85 min. - "Ghost Dance" 58 min. - "The People" 82 min.

Stars: Peter Coyote, N. Scott Momaday, Murphy Guyer, John Trudell

Votes: 1,211

Ken Burns produced... which makes is great but not incredible. A few pretentious interviews drag it down. But it is still a must watch for all human beings.

19. Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (2000)

84 min | Documentary, History

74 Metascore

The history of the "Scottsboro Boys," a group of African American men who were victims of a racist miscarriage of justice that became a national controversy.

Directors: Barak Goodman, Daniel Anker | Stars: Frances McDormand, Stanley Tucci, Andre Braugher, Nesbitt Blaisdell

Votes: 263

The story is amazing. Nothing subjective just presenting the story as it was. About bigots, blacks, a Jew and much more.

20. 30 for 30 (2009– )
Episode: Fantastic Lies (2016)

102 min | Documentary, Biography, History

A documentary examination of the accusations of sexual misconduct against the Duke University lacrosse team that were ultimately found to be baseless

Director: Marina Zenovich | Stars: Joe Alleva, Bradley Bannon, Bill Bell, Richard H. Brodhead

Votes: 760

21. 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: 13,522 | Gross: $2.67M

22. 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: 16,819

23. 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: 132,606 | Gross: $21.24M

Yes, Michael Moore is very subjective. A millionaire knowing what people want to see on screen. But here he archives to present a very interesting story with real issues.

24. Thrilla in Manila (2008 TV Movie)

100 min | Documentary, Sport

A filmed recounting of the final championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975.

Director: John Dower | Stars: Joe Frazier, Marvis Frazier, Thomas Hauser, Muhammad Ali

Votes: 770

25. Louis Theroux: Louis and the Brothel (2003 TV Movie)

80 min | Documentary

Louis stays with the residents of a soon to open brothel in Nevada for a few weeks.

Director: Geoffrey O'Connor | Star: Louis Theroux

Votes: 1,288

All Louis Theroux documentaries not set in England are great. But this one is one of the best and the most touching.

26. Horizon (1964– )
Episode: The Quest for Tannu Tuva (1988)

45 min | Documentary

The story of physicist Richard Feynman's fascination with - and efforts to visit - a remote country in the center of Asia, called Tannu Tuva, "the land where the reindeer meets the camel".

Director: Christopher Sykes | Stars: Richard Feynman, Ralph Leighton

Votes: 40

Who is your favorite physicist? I didn't want to watch it when I saw that it was about an imagined travel and not physics. But I am glad I watched it anyway. Like watching a documentary about Tom Cruise doing origami - and being great at it.

27. The Armstrong Lie (2013)

R | 124 min | Documentary, Biography, Sport

67 Metascore

A documentary chronicling sports legend Lance Armstrong's improbable rise and ultimate fall from grace.

Director: Alex Gibney | Stars: Lance Armstrong, Reed Albergotti, Betsy Andreu, Frankie Andreu

Votes: 6,702 | Gross: $0.38M

10 years ago a documentary like this would change the world. Now it seems like common knowledge. But it is still very interesting. The most interesting story from cycling.

28. Atom (2007– )

180 min | Documentary

The story of the discovery that everything is made from atoms, one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in history, and the brilliant minds behind it.

Star: Jim Al-Khalili

Votes: 392

Very informative, intellectual and philosophical. Top quality.

29. 100 års indvandring (2003)

38 min | Documentary

Documentary series about refugees coming to Denmark.

Stars: Dijana Bagelund, Lui Beilin, Julius Cieslak, Sven Dassau

Danish documentary. But still good enough to be on this list. Someone just has to make subtitles for it and upload it on youtube. I have it on my PC.

30. Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan (2004–2016)
Episode: Nunu and Kane (2004)

TV-G | 30 min | Family, Reality-TV

Cesar helps a vicious Chihuahua and a neurotic Great Dane.

Director: Jim Milio | Stars: Emmett Dahlen, Marina Dahlen, Kane, Tina Madden

Votes: 24

1 episode of this show teaches us a very important lesson. That animals have behaviors and can be trained by adjusting their behavior patterns. It made me think about children and how we raise them - an how we can and cannot raise them.

31. Horizon (1964– )
Episode: Deepwater Disaster: The Untold Story (2010)

Documentary

A look into a massive oil mining accident that allowed over 5000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico for over 87 days.

Director: Tristan Quinn | Stars: Steven Mackintosh, Thad Allen, Pat Campbell, Charlie Henry

Votes: 10

I remember watching this and thinking it was incredible. I love these kind of great quality documentaries that don't force a subjective message upon the viewer but are very informative. Since then I have been watching both PBS and BBC documentaries like crazy.

32. American Experience (1988– )
Episode: Henry Ford (2013)

TV-PG | 115 min | Documentary, Biography, History

HENRY FORD paints a fascinating portrait of a farm boy who rose from obscurity to become the most influential American innovator of the 20th century.

Director: Sarah Colt | Stars: Oliver Platt, Henry Ford, Steven Watts, Douglas Brinkley

Votes: 160

Does what it sets out to do. So there is really not much going against it. And as the man is both interesting and important this documentary is good. It could have had a bit more information in it. But this is one of the best American Experience documentaries out there.

33. 30 for 30 (2009– )
Episode: Once Brothers (2010)

79 min | Documentary, Biography, History

Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac were two friends who grew up together sharing the common bond of basketball. Together, they lifted the Yugoslavian National team to unimaginable heights. ... See full summary »

Director: Michael Tolajian | Stars: Rick Adelman, Danny Ainge, Kenny Anderson, James Baker III

Votes: 2,677

This is like stepping into another world. A few documentaries will make you think about how the hell it was possible for you to know nothing about the subject they present. This is one of those documentaries. After watching it I was blown away by how deep and interesting the story was. There are no good or evil sides here, but you think there are.

34. 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: 760

35. The Trials of Darryl Hunt (2006)

PG-13 | 106 min | Documentary, Crime

"The Trials of Darryl Hunt" is a feature documentary about a brutal rape/murder case and a wrongly convicted man, Darryl Hunt, who spent nearly twenty years in prison for a crime he did not... See full summary »

Directors: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg | Stars: Evelyn Jefferson, Fred Flagler, John Reeves, Mary Anne Sheboy

Votes: 934 | Gross: $0.00M

36. Nova (1974– )
Episode: Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (2007)

TV-PG | Documentary, Biography

When the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania votes to require science teachers to read a statement touting Intelligent Design as a scientific alternative to Darwin's Theory of Evolution ... See full summary »

Directors: Gary Johnstone, Joseph McMaster | Stars: Jay Benedict, Anthony Edridge, Michael Fitzpatrick, Paul Haley

Votes: 172

At first I didn't add this documentary to my favorite list. It is a bit too specific and is about ignorant, manipulative people. I would not add a documentary about vaccines-cause-autism fanatics, so why this? It is a great courtroom drama where we see the good side study the opposite sides case in very deep detail. And we see the ignorant guys try to hide all the evidence but digging bigger holes for themselves. And ignorant religious fanatics use the USA constitution to support their cause. Who will win? Who will lose?

37. 30 for 30: Soccer Stories (2014– )
Episode: Hillsborough (2014)

TV-G | 105 min | Sport

A look at the events of 15 April 1989 at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England which led to the death of 96 football supporters, and the legacy of what is now known as the "Hillsborough Disaster".

Director: Daniel Gordon | Stars: Margaret Aspinall, Graham Burton, Eric Campbell, Chris Cowlin

Votes: 391

Disturbing. But it tells the universal story of corruption by power. And this story is very important to understand our societal structures. Very moving at the end. Watch it when you have a good day and few *beep* to give.

38. Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (2001)

Not Rated | 30 min | Animation, Documentary

Using the latest digital technology, the era between the dinosaurs and man is superbly recreated by the BBC and Discovery Channel in another winning production from the coalition.

Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Stockard Channing, Larry Agenbroad, Frank Fish

Votes: 2,226

This is very informative. The very best in the Walking with... series. And it has a lot of illustrations on what animals were our ancestors. Which is both unique and exiting.

39. Generation Earth (2012– )

Documentary

A look at how man kind not only impacts, but shapes the world to make previously insurmountable obstacles a thing of the past.

Votes: 81

Very interesting documentary about big constructions on our planet. I love this one. I really hope to see a lot more documentaries about big constructions. I have seen quite a few of them but they are usually way over the top documentaries that try to impress the viewer with big words and flashy images every few seconds. This one is high quality.

If you are looking for a documentary for highly intelligent people look no further. This is the documentary that is the form for all documentaries about scientific discoveries. Really interesting. It made me very happy and excited while I watched it. As with many of these Horizon documentaries there is both a NOVA and Horizon version of it.

41. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1992– )

PG-13 | Documentary

The globe-spanning story of the oil industry from the first strikes of the 19th century through the Gulf War. The industry's colorful characters and oil's key role in 20th century history are brought to life by participants and historians.

Stars: Donald Sutherland, Daniel Yergin, Norman Cooley, Stephanie Cran

Votes: 91

42. All the President's Men Revisited (2013 TV Movie)

120 min | Documentary

Looks back at Watergate, the original game changer of America politics. How has Watergate changed the Presidency? What effect has the scandal had on our political leaders? And has hope and ... See full summary »

Director: Peter Schnall | Stars: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Fred Dalton Thompson, Jon Stewart

Votes: 192

43. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Not Rated | 95 min | Documentary, Biography, Crime

82 Metascore

A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend's ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son.

Director: Kurt Kuenne | Stars: Kurt Kuenne, Andrew Bagby, David Bagby, Kathleen Bagby

Votes: 27,996

Another god vs bad documentary with a clear story structure. Of cause this also feels like it is set up like the others. So these kind of documentaries are to me very controversial as you don't know how much of them is the truth. But as the stories are always about unknown people it doesn't really matter as much.

44. Nature (1982– )
Episode: What Plants Talk About (2013)

Not Rated | 54 min | Documentary, Family

From PBS - Hard core science is effortlessly integrated with a light-hearted look at how plants behave, revealing a world where plants are as busy, responsive and complex as we are. From ... See full summary »

Director: Erna Buffie | Star: Nora Young

Votes: 76

Do plants communicate? Yes. How do they do it? These scientists have great hypothesis to answer that question. A documentary about plants so interesting that animals seem boring in comparison.

45. The Ascent of Money (2008 TV Movie)

Documentary

Niall Ferguson takes us on a historical adventure through the ascent of money, applying fact and opinion throughout.

Director: Adrian Pennick | Stars: Gareth Armstrong, Niall Ferguson, Richard Lintern

Votes: 578

Very rich on information. It ends on a low note as he starts hypothesizing in the last episode. But up to that point it is just an information bomb. The biggest problem is that it is not an even greater information bomb. When you try to explain the whole history of economics you will always leave big holes in your story. And some of these holes might seem purposeful. So it is not conclusive in any way. But economics has to be explained in a 100 hours long documentary to truly be understood.

46. Empire of Dreams: The Story of the 'Star Wars' Trilogy (2004 Video)

151 min | Documentary, History, Sci-Fi

An in-depth making of documentary about the original Star Wars trilogy, covering the productions of the three films and their impact on popular culture.

Directors: Edith Becker, Kevin Burns | Stars: Robert Clotworthy, Walter Cronkite, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg

Votes: 3,045

47. The Vietnam War (2017)

TV-MA | 990 min | Documentary, History, War

A comprehensive history of the United States' involvement in the bitterly divisive armed conflict in Southeast Asia.

Stars: Peter Coyote, Huy Duc, Duong Van Mai Elliott, Karl Marlantes

Votes: 7,271

48. Sonicsgate (2009)

Unrated | 120 min | Documentary, History, Sport

Exposing the truth behind the Seattle SuperSonics' tragic exodus after 41 years in the Emerald City.

Director: Jason Reid | Stars: John Keister, Kevin Calabro, Percy Allen, Chris Daniels

Votes: 330

I watched it for free on youtube. Who makes a documentary on this level and makes it free? And why haven't I heard about this before I saw this documentary? For someone used to a capitalistic sport structures in Europe the communistic top down management of USA leagues blew my mind. I still don't get it. This is terrible. Why would anyone want to watch sport in leagues as terrible as these?

49. American Experience (1988– )
Episode: The Massie Affair (2005)

Not Rated | Documentary, Biography, History

Add a Plot

Director: Mark Zwonitzer | Stars: Blair Brown, Kanalu Young, David Edward Stannard, Haunani-Kay Trask

Votes: 22

50. Waiting for 'Superman' (2010)

PG | 111 min | Documentary