The 100 “Greatest” Documentariesby erik | created - 22 Dec 2012 | updated - 22 Dec 2012 | Public
as selected by the viewers of PBS's POV
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1. Grey Gardens (1975)
PG | 94 min | Documentary, Comedy, Drama
An old mother and her middle-aged daughter, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, live their eccentric lives in a filthy, decaying mansion in East Hampton.
Votes: 9,557 | Gross: $0.03M
2. Paris Is Burning (1990)
R | 71 min | Documentary
A chronicle of New York's drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.
Votes: 6,344 | Gross: $3.78M
3. Hoop Dreams (1994)
PG-13 | 170 min | Documentary, Drama, Sport
A film following the lives of two inner-city Chicago boys who struggle to become college basketball players on the road to going professional.
Votes: 21,010 | Gross: $7.83M
4. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Not Rated | 101 min | Documentary, Crime, Drama
A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.
Votes: 18,085 | Gross: $1.21M
7. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Not Rated | 90 min | Documentary, Biography, History
A documentary of the successful career and assassination of San Francisco's first elected gay councilor.
Votes: 4,885 | Gross: $0.01M
8. Grizzly Man (2005)
R | 103 min | Documentary, Biography
Votes: 45,479 | Gross: $3.17M
9. Roger & Me (1989)
R | 91 min | Documentary
Votes: 23,955 | Gross: $6.71M
10. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
R | 87 min | Documentary, Comedy, Crime
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 »
Votes: 55,663 | Gross: $3.29M
11. Man on Wire (2008)
PG-13 | 94 min | Documentary, Biography
A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974, what some consider, "the artistic crime of the century".
Votes: 45,964 | Gross: $2.96M
PG-13 | 107 min | Documentary, Biography, History
Votes: 20,554 | Gross: $4.19M
13. Seven Up! (1964 TV Short)
39 min | Documentary, Short, 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 »
14. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
Not Rated | 107 min | Documentary, Biography
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.
Votes: 20,958 | Gross: $3.12M
19. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
PG | 96 min | Documentary
Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim follows Al Gore on the lecture circuit, as the former presidential candidate campaigns to raise public awareness of the dangers of global warming and calls for immediate action to curb its destructive effects on the environment.
Votes: 73,861 | Gross: $23.81M
20. Salesman (1969)
G | 85 min | Documentary, Drama
Four relentless door-to-door salesmen deal with constant rejection, homesickness and inevitable burnout as they go across the country selling very expensive bibles to low-income Catholic families.
22. Super Size Me (2004)
PG | 100 min | Documentary, Comedy, Drama
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.
Votes: 91,545 | Gross: $11.53M
23. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
R | 122 min | Documentary, Drama, War
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.
Votes: 118,293 | Gross: $119.19M
26. American Movie (1999)
R | 107 min | Documentary, Comedy
Documentary about an aspiring filmmaker's attempts to finance his dream project by finally completing the low-budget horror film he abandoned years before.
Votes: 14,694 | Gross: $1.16M
27. Night and Fog (1956)
Not Rated | 32 min | Documentary, Short, History
The history of Nazi Germany's death camps of the Final Solution and the hellish world of dehumanization and death contained inside.
29. March of the Penguins (2005)
G | 80 min | Documentary, Family
In the Antarctic, every March since the beginning of time, the quest begins to find the perfect mate and start a family.
Votes: 50,667 | Gross: $77.44M
31. Sherman's March (1985)
Not Rated | 157 min | Documentary, Biography, Comedy
Ross McElwee sets out to make a documentary about the lingering effects of General Sherman's march of destruction through the South during the Civil War, but is continually sidetracked by ... See full summary »
32. 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.
Not Rated | 150 min | Documentary, Crime, Drama
A horrific triple child murder leads to an indictment and trial of three nonconformist boys based on questionable evidence.
R | 85 min | Documentary
Two documentary filmmakers chronicle their time in Sonagchi, Calcutta and the relationships they developed with children of prostitutes who work the city's notorious red light district.
Votes: 13,513 | Gross: $3.41M
40. 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.
Votes: 15,429 | Gross: $1.32M
41. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Not Rated | 86 min | Documentary, Music
A collection of expertly photographed phenomena with no conventional plot. The footage focuses on nature, humanity and the relationship between them.
Votes: 29,487 | Gross: $1.72M
42. The Cove (2009)
PG-13 | 92 min | Documentary, Crime
Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.
Votes: 43,198 | Gross: $0.86M
43. 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.
44. The Corporation (2003)
Not Rated | 145 min | Documentary, History
Documentary that looks at the concept of the corporation throughout recent history up to its present-day dominance.
Votes: 19,033 | Gross: $1.88M
45. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
R | 102 min | Documentary, History
A documentary surveying the various Hollywood screen depictions of homosexuals and the attitudes behind them throughout the history of North American film.
Votes: 5,475 | Gross: $1.51M
46. Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
G | 105 min | Documentary, Music
Aging Cuban musicians whose talents had been virtually forgotten following Castro's takeover of Cuba, are brought out of retirement by Ry Cooder, who travelled to Havana in order to bring the musicians together, resulting in triumphant performances of extraordinary music, and resurrecting the musicians' careers.
Votes: 14,453 | Gross: $7.00M
47. Sicko (2007)
PG-13 | 123 min | Documentary, Drama
A documentary comparing the highly profitable American health care industry to other nations, and HMO horror stories including shotgun deaths.
Votes: 69,711 | Gross: $24.54M
48. Waltz with Bashir (2008)
R | 90 min | Animation, Biography, Drama
An Israeli film director interviews fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to reconstruct his own memories of his term of service in that conflict.
Votes: 49,646 | Gross: $2.28M
49. Gimme Shelter (1970)
R | 91 min | Documentary, Music, Thriller
A harrowing documentary of the Stones' 1969 tour, with much of the focus on the tragic concert at Altamont.
Votes: 9,093 | Gross: $0.25M
51. Shoah (1985)
Not Rated | 566 min | Documentary, History, War
Claude Lanzmann's epic documentary recounts the story of the Holocaust through interviews with witnesses - perpetrators as well as survivors.
Votes: 6,648 | Gross: $0.02M
52. When We Were Kings (1996)
PG | 88 min | Documentary, Sport
A documentary of the 1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire, "The Rumble in the Jungle," between champion George Foreman and underdog challenger Muhammad Ali.
Votes: 13,246 | Gross: $2.67M
53. Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)
PG | 92 min | Documentary
A documentary that investigates the birth and death of the electric car, as well as the role of renewable energy and sustainable living in the future.
Votes: 11,622 | Gross: $1.68M
56. Murderball (2005)
R | 88 min | Documentary, Sport
Quadriplegics, who play full-contact rugby in wheelchairs, overcome unimaginable obstacles to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Votes: 9,340 | Gross: $1.52M
57. Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000)
Not Rated | 82 min | Documentary
An intimate, picaresque inquiry into French life as lived by the country's poor and its provident, as well as by the film's own director, Agnes Varda. The aesthetic, political and moral ... See full summary »
Votes: 4,260 | Gross: $0.15M
58. Restrepo (2010)
R | 93 min | Documentary, War
A year with one platoon in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan.
Directors: Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger | Stars: The Men of Battle Company 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Juan 'Doc Restrepo, Dan Kearney, LaMonta Caldwell
Votes: 18,717 | Gross: $1.33M
59. Bill Cunningham New York (2010)
Not Rated | 84 min | Documentary, Biography, History
A profile of the noted and extraordinarily cheerful veteran New York City fashion photographer.
Votes: 4,645 | Gross: $1.51M
62. Touching the Void (2003)
R | 106 min | Documentary, Adventure, Drama
The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.
Votes: 29,373 | Gross: $4.58M
63. Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (2010)
Not Rated | 107 min | Documentary, Music
A career retrospective of Fishbone, an all African-American rock band from Los Angeles who created a high energy blend of funk, metal, ska, and punk and experienced a career as chaotic and unique as the music they created.
66. Tongues Untied (1989)
55 min | Documentary
Marlon Riggs, with assistance from other gay Black men, especially poet Essex Hemphill, celebrates Black men loving Black men as a revolutionary act. The film intercuts footage of Hemphill ... See full summary »
Haven't found this one yet.
67. Brother's Keeper (1992)
R | 104 min | Documentary, Crime, Mystery
This documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky details the murder trial of Delbert Ward. Delbert's of a family of 4 brothers (the other 3 being Roscoe, Lyman and William - Bill, for ... See full summary »
Votes: 3,287 | Gross: $1.31M
68. High School (1969)
Not Rated | 75 min | Documentary
Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman takes us inside Northeast High School as a fly on the wall to observe the teachers and how they interact with the students.
Director: Frederick Wiseman
Haven't found this one yet.
70. Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
R | 127 min | Documentary, Crime, News
An examination of the social costs of corporate interests pursuing profits at the expense of the public good.
Votes: 37,978 | Gross: $14.36M
72. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
G | 90 min | Documentary, History
Werner Herzog gains exclusive access to film inside the Chauvet caves of Southern France and captures the oldest known pictorial creations of humanity.
Votes: 12,976 | Gross: $5.23M
Not Rated | 95 min | Documentary, Crime, Drama
A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend's ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son.
76. Why We Fight (2005)
PG-13 | 98 min | Documentary, History, War
Is American foreign policy dominated by the idea of military supremacy? Has the military become too important in American life? Jarecki's shrewd and intelligent polemic would seem to give an affirmative answer to each of these questions.
Votes: 9,376 | Gross: $1.44M
78. The Aristocrats (2005)
Unrated | 89 min | Documentary, Comedy
One hundred superstar comedians tell the same very, VERY dirty, filthy joke--one shared privately by comics since Vaudeville.
Votes: 15,386 | Gross: $6.38M
79. Gui tu lie che (2009)
Not Rated | 85 min | Documentary, Drama
A couple embarks on a journey home for Chinese new year along with 130 million other migrant workers, to reunite with their children and struggle for a future. Their unseen story plays out as China soars towards being a world superpower.
Votes: 3,067 | Gross: $0.29M
80. The Atomic Cafe (1982)
Not Rated | 86 min | Documentary, History
Disturbing collection of 1940s and 1950s United States government issued propaganda films designed to reassure Americans that the atomic bomb was not a threat to their safety.
81. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
PG | 81 min | Documentary
A documentary on 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, his renowned Tokyo restaurant, and his relationship with his son and eventual heir, Yoshikazu.
Votes: 28,332 | Gross: $2.55M
83. Burden of Dreams (1982)
Not Rated | 95 min | Documentary
A documentary on the chaotic production of Werner Herzog's epic Fitzcarraldo (1982), showing how the film managed to get made despite problems that would have floored a less obsessively ... See full summary »
85. The Battle of Chile: Part I (1975)
Not Rated | 191 min | Documentary
The chronicle of the political tension in Chile in 1973 and of the violent counter revolution against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende.
89. Catfish (2010)
PG-13 | 87 min | Documentary
Young filmmakers document their colleague's budding online friendship with a young woman and her family which leads to an unexpected series of discoveries.
Votes: 37,329 | Gross: $3.23M
90. The Endless Summer (1966)
PG | 95 min | Documentary, Sport
The crown jewel to ten years of Bruce Brown surfing documentaries. Brown follows two young surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave, and ends up finding quite a few in addition to some colorful local characters.
91. Marwencol (2010)
83 min | Documentary, Biography, Fantasy
After a vicious attacks leaves him brain-damaged and broke, Mark Hogancamp seeks recovery in "Marwencol", a 1/6th scale World War II-era town he creates in his backyard.
Votes: 2,626 | Gross: $0.11M
Unrated | 85 min | Documentary, Biography, Crime
A rare behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America's 'number one domestic terrorist threat.'
Votes: 2,834 | Gross: $0.06M
94. King Corn (2007)
Unrated | 88 min | Documentary
King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from ... See full summary »
Votes: 1,813 | Gross: $0.08M
American Masters (1985– )
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
Not Rated | 359 min | Documentary, Biography
A chronicle of Bob Dylan's strange evolution between 1961 and 1966 from folk singer to protest singer to "voice of a generation" to rock star.
97. Sweetgrass (2009)
Unrated | 101 min | Documentary, Adventure, Western
In the summer of 2003, a group of shepherds took a herd of sheep one final time through the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, in the extreme north-west of the United States. It was a journey ... See full summary »
Votes: 783 | Gross: $0.21M
98. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
R | 93 min | Documentary, Biography
Documentary about legendary Paramount producer Robert Evans (the film shares the same name as Evans's famous 1994 autobiography).
Votes: 6,363 | Gross: $1.43M
99. The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
Not Rated | 100 min | Documentary, History, Music
The Los Angeles punk music scene circa 1980 is the focus of this film. With Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear, Germs, and X.
100. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997)
PG | 80 min | Documentary
What do an elderly topiary gardener, a retired lion tamer, a man fascinated by mole rats, and a cutting-edge robotics designer have in common? Both nothing and everything in this ... See full summary »
Votes: 3,332 | Gross: $0.83M
Haven't found this one yet.