100 best documentaries of all time

December 6, 2021
Iconoclast

100 best documentaries of all time

Great documentaries often give access and illumination to stories that would otherwise go untold. The subject of a documentary can be anything from a single individual's life to a broader political event, and the effect of the films range from uplifting to devastating.

To celebrate the genre, Stacker created a ranking of the top 100 documentaries of all time by leveraging data on all documentary movies to create a "Stacker score" that serves as a weighted index split evenly between IMDb and Metacritic scores. To qualify, the film had to be listed as a documentary on IMDb, have a Metascore, and have at least 1,000 IMDb user votes. Ties were broken by Metascore and further ties were broken by votes. Documentary TV series were not included. Data is of December 2021. 

Some of the top-100 films expose stories that have put their filmmakers at risk. "The Act of Killing," which details mass executions that took place in Indonesia in the 1960s, features stories that have been actively covered up by Indonesian government officials. One of the documentary's filmmakers remained anonymous out of fear of reprisals from the government. In another case, an Iranian filmmaker's fear of the government was so intense that he smuggled his documentary to the Cannes Film Festival on a flash drive baked into a birthday cake. 

The director of the legendary nine-hour documentary "Shoah," which focused on the Holocaust, refused to use any archival footage and only used his own original interviews, which partly explains why the film took 11 years to make. Other documentaries that appear on our list are uplifting and tell stories of some of humanity's greatest achievements, like "Apollo 11," which features footage from the famous space mission that was the first to land humans on the moon.

Keep reading to discover the 100 best documentary films of all time.

You may also like: 100 best Westerns of all time

1 / 100
Das Films

#100. When We Were Kings (1996)

- Director: Leon Gast
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 88 minutes

The 1974 championship match "The Rumble in the Jungle" is the subject of this Oscar-winning documentary, which pitted underdog Muhammad Ali against champion George Foreman. Foreman and Ali joined the filmmakers on stage when the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

2 / 100
Leacock-Pennebaker

#99. Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back (1967)

- Director: D.A. Pennebaker
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 96 minutes

Director D. A. Pennebaker accompanies Bob Dylan on his 1965 tour of England capturing both concert footage and intimate scenes of Dylan's life off the stages and pages of music. Pennebaker said he never intended for "Dont Look Back" to be a true documentary, which, by his definition, is a piece of film that dives deeply and educates. His ambition was not to paint a detailed portrait of the life of a music icon, but instead to show the world what it was like to be with him for a moment in time.

3 / 100
Bluemark Productions

#98. American Movie (1999)

- Director: Chris Smith
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 107 minutes

This film documents the journey of filmmaker Mark Borchardt as he attempts to finance and complete a low-budget horror film. Filled with a cast of lovable losers, the documentary features Borchardt's 82-year-old Uncle Bill, his financier and a man who lives in a trailer park though he has over $250,000 stashed away at the bank.

4 / 100
Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#97. The Endurance (2000)

- Director: George Butler
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 97 minutes

This retelling of the Antarctic expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1914 is narrated by Liam Neeson. It includes new footage of the locations involved in the original expedition, as well as interviews with the surviving relatives of the members of the expedition. Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice, though miraculously the explorer and his expedition mates all lived through the harrowing ordeal.

5 / 100
Film4

#96. Amy (2015)

- Director: Asif Kapadia
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 128 minutes

This documentary tells the story of Amy Winehouse's life, leveraging unseen footage, home videos, and more than 100 interviews to paint the picture of her abundant talent and her tragic, untimely death. Winehouse's father, Mitch Winehouse, was very critical of the documentary, claiming it portrayed him in a damaging untrue light.

6 / 100
Eye Steel Film

#95. Last Train Home (2009)

- Director: Lixin Fan
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 85 minutes

"Last Train Home" shines a light on the toll China's economic boom has taken on families by exploring the lives of factory workers who sacrifice their home lives for their professional ones. The film focuses on Chen and Zhang and their struggles reconnecting with the children they see infrequently due to their work.

7 / 100
Diamond Docs

#94. The Tillman Story (2010)

- Director: Amir Bar-Lev
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 94 minutes

"The Tillman Story" explores the life of football player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman and his death in Afghanistan. Tillman was reportedly killed in a Taliban attack, but the film reveals that it was a cover-up by the military. Tillman died as a result of "friendly fire." Critics lauded it in particular for being a powerful piece of anti-propaganda.

8 / 100
Higher Ground Productions

#93. Crip Camp (2020)

- Directors: James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 106 minutes

Camp Jened, a summer camp for teenagers with disabilities in the Catskills, helped kickstart a revolution in the 1970s. "Crip Camp" was released in the year that marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and was produced by Michelle and Barack Obama's production company, Higher Ground.

9 / 100
ICON production

#92. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (2010)

- Director: Andrei Ujica
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 180 minutes

Using footage from the Romanian National Television and National Film Archives, this film profiles communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who reigned from 1965 to 1989. After being overthrown, Ceausescu was executed alongside his wife on Christmas Day 1989.

10 / 100
Drafthouse Films

#91. The Overnighters (2014)

- Director: Jesse Moss
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 102 minutes

"The Overnighters" centers on a pastor in North Dakota who becomes controversial in his town for opening his door to homeless people looking for work. Critics have compared it to the great 20th-century migration novel "The Grapes of Wrath."

11 / 100
Big Mouth Productions

#90. Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)

- Director: Kirsten Johnson
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 89 minutes

In this documentary, director Kirsten Johnson faces the impending death of her father due to dementia with powerful love packaged in dark humor. She imagines and stages myriad ways that her father could die, but it is anything but macabre. The final product is one last play session, one last time with father and daughter engaged in make-believe in an attempt to control the uncontrollable, to have a say over how they will greet death when it comes, as it does for us all.

12 / 100
Kasper Collin Produktion

#89. I Called Him Morgan (2016)

- Director: Kasper Collin
- Stacker score: 87.6
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 92 minutes

"I Called Him Morgan" is about the widow of jazz great Lee Morgan, Helen Morgan, who took care of him through his heroin addiction and was later held responsible for his murder. The Guardian called it "spellbinding, mercurial, hallucinatory, exuberant, tragic"—adjectives that could just as easily be used to describe jazz at its best.

13 / 100
Universal Pictures

#88. Senna (2010)

- Director: Asif Kapadia
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Runtime: 106 minutes

Ayrton Senna won the Formula One world championship as a Brazillian Formula One driver a total of three times before his death. The driver, considered one of the best, died at the age of 34 after crashing into a concrete barrier while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The film won the World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011.

14 / 100
Promises Film Project

#87. Promises (2001)

- Directors: B.Z. Goldberg, Justine Shapiro, Carlos Bolado
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 106 minutes

Chronicling the lives of seven children from Israel and Palestine who lead very different lives, "Promises" follows them for three years from 1995 to 1998. Writing for The New York Times, Julie Salamon called the film "intensely personal and insightful...a humanist's dream."

15 / 100
Agência Brasil // Wikimedia Commons

#86. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2003)

- Directors: Kim Bartley, Donnacha O'Briain
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 74 minutes

Just as an Irish film crew began making this documentary about Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, dissidents attempted a coup d'état. The 2002 two-day coup failed to remove Chavez from power, but became the subject of this award-winning documentary.

16 / 100
Art Matters Inc.

#85. Paris Is Burning (1990)

- Director: Jennie Livingston
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 71 minutes

"Paris Is Burning," tells the story of the drag balls that took place in New York circa the 1980s. The documentary won a 1992 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film (Documentary).

17 / 100
Dribbling Pictures

#84. The Other Side of Everything (2017)

- Director: Mila Turajlic
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 100 minutes

Filmmaker Mila Turajlic exposes her family's past, which has remained hidden behind a locked door in her mother's apartment in Belgrade for seven decades. The New Yorker's Richard Brody chose "The Other Side of Everything" as one of the best films of 2018.

18 / 100
Anonymous Content

#83. Lake of Fire (2006)

- Director: Tony Kaye
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 152 minutes

This graphic documentary depicts both sides of the abortion debate in stark black and white. British filmmaker Tony Kaye filmed "Lake of Fire" on and off for 17 years.

19 / 100
LargeLab

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

- Director: Seth Gordon
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 79 minutes

The world of competitive arcade gaming is the subject of this entertaining documentary. Filmmaker Seth Gordon follows Steve Wiebe as he tries to snag the high score record for Donkey Kong, the 1981 arcade game, from Billy Mitchell.

20 / 100
CNN Films

#81. Blackfish (2013)

- Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 83 minutes

"Blackfish" focuses on the issues that arise when killer whales are kept in captivity by telling the story of Tilikum, an orca whale who was responsible for the deaths of several people, including a SeaWorld trainer. SeaWorld called the film "shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading and scientifically inaccurate."

21 / 100
Discovery Films

#80. In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)

- Director: David Sington
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 100 minutes

NASA's Apollo mission is remembered by the crew who lived through it in this documentary that also features archival footage of the memorable space mission. The film includes interviews with the surviving astronauts.

22 / 100
Aronson Film Associates

#79. Sound and Fury (2000)

- Director: Josh Aronson
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 80 minutes

Technological advancements like cochlear implants to cure deafness are seen largely, almost exclusively, as a good thing. Many—especially those who are not deaf or do not have deaf individuals in their familial and social circles—might question why anyone would choose not to hear if they could. But for many families, like the Artinians featured in "Sound and Fury," deafness has become a way of life and an identity. This documentary explores how a seemingly obvious choice like getting cochlear implants is more difficult than many know.

23 / 100
Little Bear Productions

#78. Let's Get Lost (1988)

- Director: Bruce Weber
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 120 minutes

Jazz trumpeter Chet Baker's life is examined in this documentary featuring interviews with his children, friends, and lovers. The film also tackles his drug addiction. Four months before its release, Baker died under mysterious circumstances.

24 / 100
Spencer Platt // Getty Images

#77. Street Fight (2005)

- Director: Marshall Curry
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 83 minutes

Covering the 2002 mayoral race in Newark, New Jersey, filmmaker Marshall Curry uncovered corruption in the camp of Mayor Sharpe James, who had been in office for 16 years. James ran against attorney Cory Booker, who was backed by filmmaker Spike Lee, appearing in the film on Booker's behalf.

25 / 100
Ken Lipper/June Beallor production

#76. The Last Days (1998)

- Director: James Moll
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 87 minutes

In this film, five Hungarian Holocaust survivors share their harrowing experiences of being imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps in 1944. All five, who are now U.S. residents, return to their places of imprisonment. Against the backdrop of one of the darkest moments in human history, these survivors serve as beacons of light and the embodiment of hope and courage.

26 / 100
Amigo Media

#75. Let the Fire Burn (2013)

- Director: Jason Osder
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 88 minutes

Composed of archival footage and interviews, "Let the Fire Burn" tells the story of how on May 13, 1985, the longtime feud between radical group MOVE and the city of Philadelphia came to a terrifying and deadly head. The film won Best Local Feature at the 2013 Philadelphia Film Festival.

27 / 100
Paramount Pictures

#74. Murderball (2005)

- Directors: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 88 minutes

"Murderball" is a documentary about athletes with disabilities who play wheelchair rugby. The film was deemed significant enough to be screened at the United Nations.

28 / 100
Jafar Panahi Film Productions

#73. This Is Not a Film (2011)

- Directors: Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi
- Stacker score: 88.2
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 75 minutes

Filmmaker Jafar Panahi made this documentary with his phone as a response to threats from the Iranian government. The film was smuggled out of Iran to the Cannes Film Festival in a flash drive baked in a birthday cake.

29 / 100
Hulu Originals

#72. Derek DelGaudio's In & Of Itself (2020)

- Director: Frank Oz
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 90 minutes

Stephen Colbert and his wife, Evelyn, served as executive producers on this film that sees magician Derek DelGaudio examining the illusions of one's individual identity. Several celebrities can be seen in the audience, including Bill Gates.

30 / 100
Netflix

#71. Cuba and the Cameraman (2017)

- Director: Jon Alpert
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 113 minutes

This documentary follows life in Cuba over four decades as the Cuban people experience milestone moments in the country's rich and diverse history, including the 2016 death of Fidel Castro. This Netflix original debuted at the Venice International Film Festival.

31 / 100
Netflix

#70. 13th (2016)

- Director: Ava DuVernay
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 100 minutes

"13th" focuses on the mass incarceration in the United States, and its disproportionate impact on Black Americans. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay argues that slavery has persisted since the end of the Civil War, through Reconstruction era chain gangs, the war on drugs, and "tough on crime" policies. Critics praised the film for simultaneously being provocative and measured.

32 / 100
Little Monster Films

#69. Free Solo (2018)

- Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 100 minutes

Alex Honnold, an American rock climber, free solo climbs Yosemite National Park's El Capitan in this National Geographic film. It is believed that Honnold has a decreased response to fearful stimuli based on the results of a functional MRI (fMRI), which was discussed in the film.

33 / 100
Noujaim Films

#68. The Square (2013)

- Director: Jehane Noujaim
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 95 minutes

"The Square" tells the story of the Egyptian Revolution through the eyes of various protestors. It became the first Oscar-nominated Netflix film in 2014 when it became a contender for Best Documentary Feature.

34 / 100
Angel TV

#67. Night Will Fall (2014)

- Director: André Singer
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 75 minutes

World War II footage found by researchers revealed a surprise: a documentary about German concentration camps made by Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein in 1945. Director André Singer explores the making of this lost film, with Helena Bonham Carter serving as the narrator. The documentary consists of interviews with both survivors and liberators and short newsreel films woven with raw footage from the original 1945 film.

35 / 100
Organica Music Group

#66. Bridegroom (2013)

- Director: Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 80 minutes

"Bridegroom" premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. The film is about the relationship between two gay men, Shane and Tom. Just as they plan to marry, Tom dies in a tragic accident and his family refuses to let Shane attend his funeral.

36 / 100
Paranoid Pictures

#65. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

- Director: Banksy
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 87 minutes

Graffiti artist Banksy explores underground art in this amusing and entertaining documentary. Writing for the Arizona Republic, Richard Nilsen said of the film, "The plain fact is that, on some level, it doesn't matter whether the film is true or not. Either way, it's fascinating. Either way, we learn a lot. Either way, it's a great film."

37 / 100
Thom Andersen Productions

#64. Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)

- Director: Thom Andersen
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 169 minutes

This film documents the ways the City of Angels has been used and depicted in films. Filmmaker Thom Andersen focuses on the misrepresentations of the city, as well as its cultural significance to the film industry.

38 / 100
BBC Storyville

#63. Welcome to Chechnya (2020)

- Director: David France
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 107 minutes

This film follows activists as they fight for LGBTQ+ rights in Chechnya. Writing for Rolling Stone, David Fear called the film "a collective profile in courage ... on the people who are the last thing standing between survival and a purge."

39 / 100
Disarming Films

#62. Deliver Us from Evil (2006)

- Director: Amy Berg
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 101 minutes

"Deliver Us from Evil" blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, traveling between police precincts in the Bronx and military battles in the Middle East. Critics were divided, with some calling the genre mashup of fiction and nonfiction "silly" and overwhelming.

40 / 100
National Geographic Studios

#61. Jane (2017)

- Director: Brett Morgen
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 90 minutes

"Jane" is a biographical documentary about primatologist Jane Goodall. The film draws from over 100 hours of archival footage that had been in the National Geographic archives for over 50 years.

41 / 100
Maïa Films

#60. To Be and to Have (2002)

- Director: Nicolas Philibert
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 104 minutes

"To Be and to Have" is a French documentary about a small rural school. Critics have praised the film for its close, quiet, sensitive look at the impact a teacher can have on the life of their students.

42 / 100
CNN Films

#59. Life Itself (2014)

- Director: Steve James
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 121 minutes

"Life Itself" is another biographical documentary, this one focusing on the life of film critic Roger Ebert. The film was based on Ebert's autobiography of the same name and was finished and released after his death, in part thanks to an Indiegogo campaign that raised the final funds necessary to make the film.

43 / 100
Les Films de l'Astrophore

#58. F for Fake (1973)

- Directors: Orson Welles, Gary Graver, Oja Kodar, François Reichenbach
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 89 minutes

This documentary about fraud was narrated by directing legend Orson Welles, who, after his involvement in a notorious Martian invasion, was no stranger to fakery. "F is for Fake" focuses on two phonies, art forger Elmyr de Hory and Elmyr's biographer, Clifford Irving. Irving also wrote a fraudulent Howard Hughes autobiography.

44 / 100
Lions Gate Films

#57. Grizzly Man (2005)

- Director: Werner Herzog
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 103 minutes

"Grizzly Man" is a retrospective of the life of grizzly bear lover Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell was killed by a grizzly bear attack, and although audio footage of his attack exists, it has never been released, not even for the documentary.

45 / 100
Zipporah Films

#56. Ex Libris: New York Public Library (2017)

- Director: Frederick Wiseman
- Stacker score: 88.7
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 197 minutes

"Ex Libris: New York Public Library" takes a deep dive into the world of the New York Public Library and all its branches. The film is unique because it has no central characters beyond that of the library itself, which the film promotes as the ultimate equalizer.

46 / 100
3ality Digital Entertainment

#55. U2 (2007)

- Directors: Catherine Owens, Mark Pellington
- Stacker score: 89.2
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 85 minutes

This 3D concert film gives viewers an immersive perspective on U2's 2006 "Vertigo" tour. "U2 3D" was pitched and created primarily as a vehicle to experiment with new 3D technology. The production was complex, requiring 18 3D cameras capturing footage at each show. The documentary was lauded for its technological innovation.

47 / 100
Granada Television

#54. 49 Up (2005)

- Directors: Michael Apted, Paul Almond
- Stacker score: 89.2
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 180 minutes

In 1964, filmmaker Michael Apted began visiting and following the lives of several 7-year-old children. He continued to visit them every seven years in the "Up" documentary series. When they turned 49, Apted visited them again and examined their lives while interspersing film from previous entries in the series.

48 / 100
RadicalMedia

#53. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)

- Directors: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
- Stacker score: 89.2
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 121 minutes

This film is a continuation of the examination of The West Memphis Three and how new DNA evidence helped with their exoneration. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 84th Annual Academy Awards.

49 / 100
Ciné Tamaris

#52. The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

- Director: Agnès Varda
- Stacker score: 89.2
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 112 minutes

"The Beaches of Agnès" is an autobiographical documentary of the life of filmmaker Agnès Varda. Varda said that it would likely be her last film, but ended up releasing another called "Faces Places" more than a decade later.

50 / 100
Apolo Media

#51. Honeyland (2019)

- Directors: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov
- Stacker score: 89.2
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 89 minutes

When threatened by a group of nomad beekeepers, the last female bee-hunter in Europe must take action to save the bees and restore natural harmony. Filmed in Macedonia, "Honeyland" represented the country's first Oscar nomination since 1995.

51 / 100
Galatée Films

#50. Microcosmos (1996)

- Directors: Claude Nuridsany, Marie Pérennou
- Stacker score: 89.2
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 80 minutes

If you're a bug lover, "Microcosmos" is the documentary for you. This documentary film shines a light on a little-understood—and probably rarely thought-about—world of invertebrates and how they communicate. Unlike the nature documentaries we've grown accustomed to, with melodious narration by the likes of Sir David Attenborough or Sigourney Weaver, "Microcosmos" has almost no narration, and is instead a showcase of nature in its purest form.

52 / 100
40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

#49. 4 Little Girls (1997)

- Director: Spike Lee
- Stacker score: 89.2
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 102 minutes

"4 Little Girls" is about the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama that killed four Black children. The Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in its archive due to its historical and cultural significance.

53 / 100
Discovery Films

#48. Man on Wire (2008)

- Director: James Marsh
- Stacker score: 89.2
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 94 minutes

"Man on Wire" looks at the famous 1974 feat of tightrope artist Philippe Petit, who walked on a high wire between the Twin Towers. The documentary was later fictionalized into a feature film, "The Walk."

54 / 100
MSNBC Films

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

- Director: Kurt Kuenne
- Stacker score: 89.8
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Runtime: 95 minutes

Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne pays tribute to his murdered childhood friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, and attempts to create a portrait for Bagby's unborn son, Zachary. Ultimately, Zachary's mother and Bagby's ex, Shirley Turner, was accused of murdering the physician. In a tragic turn, Turner took her own life and that of her infant son.

55 / 100
Netflix

#46. Chasing Coral (2017)

- Director: Jeff Orlowski
- Stacker score: 89.8
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 93 minutes

"Chasing Coral" taps on the expertise of divers and scientists the world over to explore why coral reefs are disappearing at such an astonishing rate. One surprising addition to the film? A soundtrack with an original song by actress Kristen Bell.

56 / 100
Cedar Creek Productions

#45. Rewind (2019)

- Director: Sasha Joseph Neulinger
- Stacker score: 89.8
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 86 minutes

Generations of abuse are uncovered when filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger discovers his father's home video collection and begins to put the pieces of his childhood together. The film won a Critics' Choice Documentary Award for Best First Documentary Feature in 2020.

57 / 100
HBO Documentary Films

#44. Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018)

- Director: Susan Lacy
- Stacker score: 89.8
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 133 minutes

"Jane Fonda in Five Acts" follows the many lives that its titular subject has lived over decades in the public eye, from her time as an anti-war activist to her marriage to a billionaire. The film was praised for diving deep into her political work, and her candid admissions of regret over how she was used by the North Vietnamese.

58 / 100
HBO Documentary

#43. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

- Director: Andrew Jarecki
- Stacker score: 89.8
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 107 minutes

"Capturing the Friedmans" follows the trial of two related men for sexual abuse and child molestation. The film was nominated for an Academy Award, but not everyone was pleased; some of the family members wrote to the Academy, protesting the nomination.

59 / 100
Atacama Productions

#42. Nostalgia for the Light (2010)

- Director: Patricio Guzmán
- Stacker score: 89.8
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 90 minutes

"Nostalgia for the Light" follows a team of archaeologists digging for ancient civilizations in Chile. The film tells two stories—one about astronomers, and the other about archeologists. Both stories are set in the Chilean Atacama Desert.

60 / 100
Sony Pictures Classics

#41. The Gatekeepers (2012)

- Director: Dror Moreh
- Stacker score: 89.8
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 101 minutes

"The Gatekeepers" uses the experiences of six members of Israel's intelligence agency Shin Bet to talk about their organization's successes and failures in the Six Days War. Some in Israel critiqued the film for painting an overly rosy portrait of Shin Bet.

61 / 100
Roadside Attractions

#40. Stories We Tell (2012)

- Director: Sarah Polley
- Stacker score: 89.8
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 108 minutes

Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell" takes a close look at her family's personal history, including an incident that relates deeply to her own identity. Critics praised the film for showing that things are not always what they first appear to be—including the film itself.

62 / 100
ArenaPlex LLC

#39. Concert for George (2003)

- Director: David Leland
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 146 minutes

On the one-year anniversary of George Harrison's death, his friends, family, and bandmates came together for a tribute concert. Filmed at Royal Albert Hall, the singer's son Dhani and Harrison's widow, Olivia, organized the event, while Eric Clapton provided musical direction.

63 / 100
Decia Films

#38. The Salt of the Earth (2014)

- Directors: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Runtime: 110 minutes

Photographer Sebastião Salgado spent 40 years capturing the beautiful-if-often devastating wonders of the world; this documentary captures his life and work. Filmmaker Juliano Ribeiro Salgado documents his father's work along with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Wim Wenders in a touching and honest portrayal.

64 / 100
Diamond Docs

#37. The Cove (2009)

- Director: Louie Psihoyos
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 92 minutes

Activists, including renowned dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry, expose animal abuse at a cove near Taiji, Japan in this shocking documentary. "The Cove'' won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2010.

65 / 100
Belzberg Films

#36. Children Underground (2001)

- Director: Edet Belzberg
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 104 minutes

The subjects of this documentary are the children who moved from state orphanages into the streets after communism fell in Romania. The filmmakers follow the lives of five of these children. Writing for New York Times, Stephen Holden called the film "a raw cinema verite portrait."

66 / 100
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

#35. 42 Up (1998)

- Director: Michael Apted
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 139 minutes

"42 Up" is a documentary series that follows a group of British children starting in 1964. There are nine films, one every seven years, that chronicle how lives from a variety of backgrounds and personalities take shape. Critic Roger Ebert called it a "noble" project that elevates the entire genre of film.

67 / 100
Crossing the Line Productions

#34. The Farthest (2017)

- Director: Emer Reynolds
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 121 minutes

"The Farthest" looks at the famous Voyager mission to outer space. The film was praised for not relying too much on its intrinsically interesting subject material and having a skillful soundtrack and cinematographer to bring its material to artistic life.

68 / 100
Sony Pictures Classics

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

- Director: Errol Morris
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 107 minutes

"The Fog of War" looks at the life of former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and inspects his observations about modern warfare. The film features an original soundtrack by Robert Glass and takes its title from the military concept of "the fog of war," which refers to making difficult decisions in the theater of combat.

69 / 100
HBO Documentary Films

#32. Citizenfour (2014)

- Director: Laura Poitras
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 114 minutes

"Citizenfour" takes an up-close look at the whistleblower scandal surrounding Edward Snowden's release of classified documents. Critics praised the film for blending a serious look at civil liberties with the plot and pacing of a thriller.

70 / 100
Desert Wind Films

#31. Brother's Keeper (1992)

- Directors: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
- Stacker score: 90.3
- Metascore: 93
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 104 minutes

"Brother's Keeper" follows the death of one brother in an upstate New York family that is later pinned on his older brother. The film is widely hailed as a compassionate, incisive, and non-judgemental look into the culture of the rural area and how it may have impacted the harrowing events.

71 / 100
Tremolo Productions

#30. Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

- Director: Morgan Neville
- Stacker score: 90.9
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 95 minutes

An exploration into the life of children's television pioneer Fred Rogers, the film won the 2019 Independent Spirit Award. The film's trailer debuted on what would have been Fred Rogers' 90th birthday.

72 / 100
Cutler Productions

#29. Listen to Me Marlon (2015)

- Director: Stevan Riley
- Stacker score: 90.9
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 103 minutes

"Listen to Me Marlon" is about the life of famous actor Marlon Brando. Vulture critic David Edelstein called the film one of the best and "most searching" documentaries ever made about an actor, using hundreds of hours of audio recordings to have Brando tell part of his own story.

73 / 100
Spheeris Films

#28. The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

- Director: Penelope Spheeris
- Stacker score: 90.9
- Metascore: 93
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 100 minutes

"The Decline of Western Civilization" looks at the punk rock scene in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. While the film received rave reviews, not everyone was a fan: The chief of police in Los Angeles wrote a letter after the film's release demanding it not be shown again in the city.

74 / 100
Arrow Media

#27. Sherpa (2015)

- Director: Jennifer Peedom
- Stacker score: 90.9
- Metascore: 93
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 96 minutes

"Sherpa" tells the story of a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest through the perspectives of sherpas who were on the mountain that day. The 2014 Mount Everest avalanche was one of the deadliest Everest disasters.

75 / 100
40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

#26. Amazing Grace (2018)

- Directors: Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack
- Stacker score: 90.9
- Metascore: 94
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 89 minutes

"Amazing Grace" is a concert documentary of Aretha Franklin performing in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. The film was originally conceived in the 1970s, but it wasn't released until decades later due to difficulties syncing the audio with the visuals.

76 / 100
United Artist Films

#25. The Last Waltz (1978)

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Stacker score: 91.4
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 117 minutes

"The Last Waltz" looks at the legendary rock group The Band and their farewell concert. The film has been called one of the greatest concert films ever made, but others have critiqued it for largely giving the short shrift to band member Robbie Robertson.

77 / 100
CNN Films

#24. Apollo 11 (2019)

- Director: Todd Douglas Miller
- Stacker score: 91.4
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 93 minutes

"Apollo 11" takes documentary footage—much of it previously unreleased—from the famous space mission to tell its story. However, not all critics were impressed, with Richard Brody from The New Yorker marveling at how the film manages to be dull given its exciting subject material.

78 / 100
Sony Pictures Classics

#23. Inside Job (2010)

- Director: Charles Ferguson
- Stacker score: 91.4
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 109 minutes

"Inside Job" looks at the factors that contributed to the financial meltdown of 2008 that catalyzed the Great Recession. The New York Times' A.O. Scott praised the film for having "the scourging moral force of a pulpit-shaking sermon" delivered with "rigor, restraint and good humor."

79 / 100
Red Envelope Entertainment

#22. No End in Sight (2007)

- Director: Charles Ferguson
- Stacker score: 91.9
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 102 minutes

"No End in Sight" looks at the two years following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The New York Times' A.O. Scott praised the film for being an "enraging" look at what it calls the incompetence of the Bush administration in running and perpetuating the war.

80 / 100
ITVS

#21. Minding the Gap (2018)

- Director: Bing Liu
- Stacker score: 91.9
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 93 minutes

"Minding the Gap" focuses on three young men who escape the harsh realities of their lives in a declining Rust Belt town through skateboarding. The film received rave reviews for managing to blend commentary on race, class, and politics with a narrative on skate culture.

81 / 100
Brigit Folman Film Gang

#20. Waltz with Bashir (2008)

- Director: Ari Folman
- Stacker score: 91.9
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 90 minutes

This animated Israeli war documentary features interviews with fellow veterans as filmmaker Ari Folman tries to recall memories of his time in service during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. "Waltz with Bashir" was the first animated film nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

82 / 100
Go-Valley

#19. Tower (2016)

- Director: Keith Maitland
- Stacker score: 91.9
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 82 minutes

"Tower" is about a sniper that held the University of Texas hostage from a clock tower in 1966. The documentary can be seen as a memorial of events that happened 50 years before its release and featured interviews with survivors.

83 / 100
MediaTrade

#18. My Voyage to Italy (1999)

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Stacker score: 92.5
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 246 minutes

"My Voyage to Italy" is a heavily autobiographical documentary about filmmaker Martin Scorsese's childhood on the Lower East Side and his major cinematic influences. The films of Roberto Rossellini loom particularly large.

84 / 100
Drafthouse Films

#17. The Act of Killing (2012)

- Directors: Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous, Christine Cynn
- Stacker score: 93
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 117 minutes

"The Act of Killing" sees director Joshua Oppenheimer asking the men who committed atrocities of mass executions in Indonesia to reenact their actions on camera, which they do. Befitting its subversive nature, one of the co-directors is an anonymous Indonesian.

85 / 100
Superior Pictures

#16. Crumb (1994)

- Director: Terry Zwigoff
- Stacker score: 93
- Metascore: 93
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 119 minutes

"Crumb" is a portrayal of the famous cartoonist Robert Crumb by one of his long-time best friends; director Terry Zwigoff reportedly spent nine years creating the documentary. Critic Roger Ebert said the film was "unusual in having access to the key players and biographical artifacts of Crumb's entire life."

86 / 100
Red Flag Releasing

#15. We Were Here (2011)

- Directors: David Weissman, Bill Weber
- Stacker score: 93
- Metascore: 94
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 90 minutes

"We Were Here" memorializes the gay men and women who lost their lives in the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. The filmmaker has deep roots in the community, having first moved to the city in the 1970s when Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (making him the first openly gay elected official in California history).

87 / 100
Ciné Tamaris

#14. Faces Places (2017)

- Directors: JR, Agnès Varda
- Stacker score: 93
- Metascore: 94
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 94 minutes

"Faces Places" is a collaboration by directors JR and Agnès Varda as they travel through rural France and explore their unlikely friendship. The film was beloved by critics, including Amy Taubin, who called it "an exploration of the arts in the face of mortality." It was Varda's last film.

88 / 100
Channel 4 News

#13. For Sama (2019)

- Directors: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
- Stacker score: 93.5
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Runtime: 100 minutes

"For Sama" is a look at the experience of war through female eyes, with a focus on the Syrian Civil War. The film made history when it was nominated for four BAFTAs—a first for a documentary.

89 / 100
Imperial War Museum

#12. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

- Director: Peter Jackson
- Stacker score: 93.5
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 99 minutes

Using state-of-the-art technology, "They Shall Not Grow Old" tells the story of World War I through the men who fought in it. The documentary uses archival footage from the Imperial War Museum's archives, which was over 100 years old upon the film's release.

90 / 100
ARTE Films

#11. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

- Director: Raoul Peck
- Stacker score: 93.5
- Metascore: 95
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 93 minutes

"I Am Not Your Negro" is an imagined version of a book James Baldwin never finished. It was lauded for its imagination combined with Baldwin's voice recordings and notes on his unfinished work.

91 / 100
Talking Heads

#10. Stop Making Sense (1984)

- Director: Jonathan Demme
- Stacker score: 94.1
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 88 minutes

"Stop Making Sense" is a concert documentary about the Talking Heads. The film received a very positive critical reception, with particular praise coming from its focus on frontman David Byrne, who provides much of the film's energy.

92 / 100
Iconoclast

#9. One More Time with Feeling (2016)

- Director: Andrew Dominik
- Stacker score: 94.1
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 113 minutes

"One More Time with Feeling" chronicles Nick Cave's recording of an album following the death of his 15-year-old son. As befits the raw, urgent nature of the material, the entire film was shot over seven days with a crew of only seven people.

93 / 100
Britdoc Foundation

#8. The Look of Silence (2014)

- Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
- Stacker score: 94.1
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 103 minutes

"The Look of Silence" focuses on the intersection of an optometrist's life and the Indonesian mass killings of the 1960s. It is a companion film to the earlier documentary, "The Act of Killing," which also focuses on the executions.

94 / 100
40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

#7. David Byrne's American Utopia (2020)

- Director: Spike Lee
- Stacker score: 94.1
- Metascore: 93
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 105 minutes

Based on Talking Heads frontman David Byrne's 2019 Broadway show, "American Utopia" started out as a solo album by Byrne and grew.  

95 / 100
Alexander Nanau Production

#6. Collective (2019)

- Director: Alexander Nanau
- Stacker score: 95.2
- Metascore: 95
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 109 minutes

The film follows investigative journalists as they expose the political corruption and scandal behind seemingly unrelated events around a nightclub fire in Bucharest. It made the 2021 Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature.

96 / 100
Netflix

#5. Virunga (2014)

- Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
- Stacker score: 95.2
- Metascore: 95
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 100 minutes

"Virunga" is about a team of people working to protect endangered gorillas in a Congolese national park. Two days before the film's release, unidentified gunmen shot the chief ranger of that park. He survived and championed the film and its release.

97 / 100
Wadleigh-Maurice

#4. Woodstock (1970)

- Director: Michael Wadleigh
- Stacker score: 95.2
- Metascore: 95
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 184 minutes

This portrait of the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s has reached cult classic status. It captured the epic three-day rock and roll concert that featured diverse performers including folk singing legend Joan Baez, British rock band The Who, and guitar god Jimi Hendrix.

98 / 100
Concordia Studio

#3. Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

- Director: Questlove
- Stacker score: 95.7
- Metascore: 96
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 118 minutes

This 2021 documentary takes a deeper look at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. It features cuts of over 40 hours of restored, original footage from the festival, shot by Hal Tulchin, which sat untouched, and unseen by many, for decades. The film explores why the Harlem Cultural Festival, which took place in the same year as Woodstock and featured major talents such Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder, is a cultural touchstone that has remained largely unknown.

99 / 100
KTCA Minneapolis

#2. Hoop Dreams (1994)

- Director: Steve James
- Stacker score: 97.3
- Metascore: 98
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 170 minutes

"Hoop Dreams" was shot over five years and showcased two inner-city boys who bused into a predominantly white high school that excelled in basketball. This acclaimed documentary was originally only intended to be a 30-minute television series.

100 / 100
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

#1. Shoah (1985)

- Director: Claude Lanzmann
- Stacker score: 100
- Metascore: 99
- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Runtime: 566 minutes

Director Claude Lanzmann spent 11 years making "Shoah," using his own interviews and refusing to use any archival material. Lanzmann has said his filmmaking is motivated by an effort to prove and record the history of the Holocaust against any denials it happened.

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