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The Top 25 Documentaries of All Time

According to the International Documentary Association, the following is a list of the top 25 documentaries ever made. The grouping was compiled by having members of the Association vote for their favorites out of a list of 700. Now, I like documentary film but I don't consider myself such an expert that I can fully critique a list made up by the International Documentary Association. Still, there are some gems missing, like The Times of Harvey Milk.

So, time to weigh in, documentary buffs. What's totally justified and what did they leave off?

1. Hoop Dreams (1994)
2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
3. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
4. Spellbound (2002)
5. Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)

To see the next 20 titles,

6. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
7. Crumb (1994)
8. Gimme Shelter (1970)
9. The Fog of War (2003)
10. Roger & Me (1989)
11. Super Size Me (2004)
12. Don't Look Back (1967)
13. Salesman (1968)
14. Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1982)
15. Sherman's March (1986)
16. Grey Gardens (1976)
17. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
18. Born into Brothels (2004)
19. Titicut Follies (1967)
20. Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
21. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
22. Winged Migration (2002)
23. Grizzly Man (2005)
24. Night and Fog (1955)
25. Woodstock (1970)

Join The Conversation
bobsy111 bobsy111 5 years
I think "This Is Spinal Tap" would have to be the best documentary of all time. Superbly directed and tackles important issues of it's time with intelligence and respect. Do yourself a favor and take the time to watch this excellent, thought provoking drama which takes us on a journey through the lives of a musical band who are true heroes.
sightandsound sightandsound 5 years
I think that "Hoop Dreams" is very overrated. The producers basically went on a 'fishing expedition' and recorded the lives of a couple of basketball players for several years and were able to come up with a story. It could just as easily have been a big flop. But they got lucky. This is no great piece of art or a reflection of our times. It did not involve a perilous journey, nor does it tackle an important subject that matters to most people. I believe that the best documentaries take risks. They handle subjects that hold universal truths; they uncover things we haven't seen before. The best one's should be about things that matter and, revealing these things makes a difference in our lives. 'Hoop Dreams" fails on all those accounts. My votes go for documentaries like "When The Levees Broke, Katrina/New Orleans aftermath", Spike Lee's four-hour opus and "An Inside Job", both of which are not on this list. I support some of the docs on the list, such as, "An Inconvenient Truth", "The Fog of War", "Fahrenheit 9/11", "The Thin Blue Line", "Woodstock", "Bowling for Columbine". "Harlan County USA". These are all masterpieces. Other snoozers on this list include, "Buena Vista Social Club", "Capturing the Friedmans" and "Gimme Shelter". Pleeease!
lray777 lray777 9 years
Can't believe Michael Moore gets this much credit! There obviously haven't been enough documentaries made!
pistonsjenny pistonsjenny 9 years
I think this list is a little too weighted in favor of the recent past. I also think that When We Were Kings (about the Mohammad Ali/George Forman "Rumble in the Jungle") and The War Room about the 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign were somewhat glaringly left off. And Spike Lee's Four Little Girls.
Jinx Jinx 9 years
I loved Maria, Full of Grace, but it isn't a documentary.
Twinbaby Twinbaby 9 years
Sad to see Maria Full of Grace(2004) isn't up there. It is about a Colombian teenager who chooses to become a drug mule to support her family. POWERFUL, Heartwrenching. a must see.
Jinx Jinx 9 years
Linny, Thats another good one! It was sad and frustrating though.
Linny Linny 9 years
I liked "Who Killed the Electric Car?". It really made me sad about the world and angry about how stupid people are.
leeluvfashion leeluvfashion 9 years
I like "Why We Fight" which talks about the army and how the country doesn't reveal alot of things that the army does to trick people into signing up; like targeting people going through rough times and using those things to trick them into signing up. It's an eye-opener.
rw05 rw05 9 years
You missed "Shoah" possibly the best Holocaust documentary ever made. Images are still with me and I saw it in 1985. The train driver to a concentration camp who had to drink a bottle of vodka every day to drown out the screams. The houses ticked off casually by interviewees "A Jewish family lived here. And here. And here." The response to the smells of the ovens. Ken Burns "The Civil War." The Southern woman who can follow Sherman's march to the sea by the fires of her neighbor's homes on the horizon. Gettysburg - 50,000 dead Americans in 3 days over 6000 acres, so many that streams of blood ran down the hillside. And "The Shakers - Hearts to God Hands to work" of a world gone by where Utopia was just down the street and a way of life.
jennifer76 jennifer76 9 years
Seems like some really great documentaries already mentioned were left off in favor of some political/agenda type pieces. Which makes it seem like the list is a little more "Top 25 Documentaries That Really Made An Impression on The Judges" than "Top 25 Documentaries of All Time". Either way, some great viewing here! Def heading over to my Netflix queue after reading this thread...
laurensgotslacks laurensgotslacks 9 years
the devil and daniel johnston needs to be here as well as living dolls: the making of a child beauty queen
Jinx Jinx 9 years
I don't know why, but the Super Size guy bugged me. Then that Soso lady came out with hers, and she lost weight on the diet. But she did more than pig out, and then sit back on a bed and say now, I'm going to sit on my ass and drink this huge drink and eat ice cream! :oy:
lady-T lady-T 9 years
oh my god..i need to watch more tv...i havent seen any but have seen parts of super size me!
outofhere outofhere 9 years
Not so much as one Ken Burns? The guy should have at least one on the list, Civil War perhaps.
beingtazim beingtazim 9 years
i like a lot of those, but haven't seen the ones that i already know about, like the inconvenient truth one etc. everyone has to see this: The Take is a's a bit about it from the website: In suburban Buenos Aires, thirty unemployed auto-parts workers walk into their idle factory, roll out sleeping mats, and refuse to leave. All they want is to re-start the silent machines. But this simple act - The Take - has the power to turn the globalization debate on its head. ( read more if you click on the link above) --- it is a really powerful documentary. on the website you can see what has been happening there after the documentary was filmed.
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