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100 best documentaries of all time

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Britdoc Foundation

100 best documentaries of all time

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

So what do great documentaries have in common? For one, they focus on conducting intensive research. 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.

Stacker's slideshow features 100 celebrated documentaries and the stories they tell. Some of these films expose stories that have put their filmmakers at risk. “The Act of Killing,” which exposes 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 and repression was so intense that he smuggled his documentary to the Cannes Film Festival on a flash drive baked into a birthday cake.

Other documentaries that appear on Stacker’s 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.

Stacker surveyed Metacritic for the top-ranked documentaries and ranked them according to their Metascore as of Feb. 6, 2020. Ties were broken by IMDb user rating and further broken by IMDb user votes. Films that have critic reviews but have not been released to the public were not considered. Documentary TV series were also not considered.

Read on for a look at the best documentary films of all time.

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Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab

#100. Manakamana (2013)

- Directors: Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Runtime: 118 min

"Manakamana" is an experimental documentary made by the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard. It tells the story of pilgrims traveling by cable car in Nepal and features many locals playing themselves. Reviewers called the film “hypnotic.”

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Green Acres Films

#99. Dreamcatcher (2015)

- Director: Kim Longinotto
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 104 min

"Dreamcatcher" tells the story of a former prostitute who helps at-risk young people break the cycle of sexual exploitation and take control of their lives. Reviewers lauded the film for being both harrowing and grim and amusing and light at the same time.

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The Film Group

#98. The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971)

- Director: Howard Alk
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 88 min

"The Murder of Fred Hampton" explores the murky circumstances around the murder of political activist and Black Panther Fred Hampton by the Chicago police. Although it received relatively little attention when it was released in 1971, 21st-century activists have pointed to it as a model of political activism through documentary and the arts.

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C.R.I.M. Produções

#97. What Now? Remind Me (2013)

- Director: Joaquim Pinto
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 164 min

"What Now? Remind Me" traces filmmaker Joaquim Pinto’s course of AIDS treatment as he receives it. The documentary is unique in that it is a “first-person” documentary, which is common in mediums like fiction, but less so in documentary films.

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Big Mouth Productions

#96. Cameraperson (2016)

- Director: Kirsten Johnson
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 102 min

Cameraperson is another autobiographical documentary, in which director Kristen Johnson chronicles her years behind the camera with decades of footage shot all over the world. Critics applaud the film for being absorbing, even for those unfamiliar with Johnson’s other work, and its fresh approach to documentary collage.

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IFC Films

#95. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

- Director: Werner Herzog
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 90 min

Werner Herzog’s team was given rare access inside France’s Chauvet Cave, which contains some of the oldest paintings ever recorded. The crew had to wear special suits and take extreme precautions while filming, and because of near-toxic levels of radon and carbon dioxide, no one could stay in the cave for more than a few hours a day.

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Hypnotic Pictures

#94. Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016)

- Director: Bill Morrison
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 120 min

"Dawson City: Frozen Time" uses footage found in the 1970s of the Yukon Canadian city of Dawson City, from its time during the gold rush to its era of filmmaking. The reels of footage were found in a swimming pool.

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Moxie Firecracker Films

#93. Last Days in Vietnam (2014)

- Director: Rory Kennedy
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 98 min

"Last Days in Vietnam" chronicles the final days and escape efforts of Vietnamese and American service people alike in the final days of the Vietnam War. The film contains footage that critics called “astonishing” and valuable reflections from those who were actually there.

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Public Square Films

#92. How to Survive a Plague (2012)

- Director: David France
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 110 min

"How to Survive a Plague" is about the early years of the AIDS epidemic. The production used over 700 hours of footage, including those of activists who had AIDS themselves. Filmmaker David France said that one reason he knew his film would be historic is that many of the activists included knew that they themselves would die.

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Grey Water Park Productions

#91. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019)

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 142 min

"Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story" by Martin Scorsese is a “pseudo-documentary,” containing both fictional and nonfictional material covering a concert by its titular subject. The film makes no distinction between the fiction and the nonfiction, and Dylan himself appears in the film talking about the fictional characters as if they were real, leaving audiences to guess.

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Diamond Docs

#90. The Tillman Story (2010)

- Director: Amir Bar-Lev
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 94 min

"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 actually 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.

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Disarming Films

#89. Deliver Us from Evil (2006)

- Director: Amy Berg
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 101 min

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

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Ciné Tamaris

#88. The Beaches of Agnès (2008)

- Director: Agnès Varda
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 110 min

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

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Netflix

#87. Chasing Coral (2017)

- Director: Jeff Orlowski
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 93 min

"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.

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British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

#86. 42 Up (1998)

- Director: Michael Apted
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 139 min

"42 Up" is a documentary series that follows a group of British children starting in 1964. There are nine episodes, with one every seven years, to see how lives from a variety of backgrounds and personalities take shape. Critics have called it a “noble” project that elevates the entire genre of film.

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Doc Society

#85. Bisbee '17 (2018)

- Director: Robert Greene
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Runtime: 112 min

"Bisbee '17" tells the story of forced deportation that took place in Arizona in 1917. Many of the cast members are local residents interested in exploring the dark chapter of history that once happened in their city.

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ITVS Mile 22 LLC

#84. Newtown (2016)

- Director: Kim A. Snyder
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Runtime: 85 min

"Newtown" looks at the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 that rocked the nation and the world. The film uses never-before-heard testimonies to bear witness to a horrific and traumatic act of violence and its effects on a community.

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Stemal Entertainment

#83. Fire at Sea (2016)

- Director: Gianfranco Rosi
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Runtime: 114 min

“Fire at Sea” is set on the Italian island of Lampedusa and contrasts the everyday life of island residents with the perilous journey many migrants make across the ocean to reach the island and Europe. Meryl Streep called the film "a daring hybrid of captured footage and deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do. It is urgent, imaginative, and necessary filmmaking.”

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Alice Films

#82. Of Men and War (2014)

- Director: Laurent Bécue-Renard
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 142 min

"Of Men and War" looks at the traumatic effects of war on a group of veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars. The soldiers profiled were residents of the Pathway House, a treatment facility that several years later closed operations after a spate of suicides.

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Aborama

#81. Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (2016)

- Directors: Linda Saffire, Adam Schlesinger
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 90 min

“Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan” explores the prima ballerina’s relationship with her body, career, and time. Critics have lauded the film for its combination of “honesty and humility.”

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Les Films de l'Astrophore

#80. Level Five (1997)

- Director: Chris Marker
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 106 min

"Level Five" only uses one real actor in a world that is otherwise completely virtual. The film predicted the chaotic, primarily digital atmosphere that would come in ensuing decades.

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Tarnation Films

#79. Tarnation (2003)

- Director: Jonathan Caouette
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 88 min

"Tarnation" tells the story of filmmaker Jonathan Caouette’s relationship with his mentally ill mother. The film uses a combination of old home movies, photos, and even answering machine messages. It was made on iMovie and had an astonishingly low budget of $218.32.

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Shirley Clarke Productions

#78. Portrait of Jason (1967)

- Director: Shirley Clarke
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 105 min

"Portrait of Jason" tells the story of a gay African-American aspiring cabaret performer that dives deep into the tragic, brutal history of his life to reveal the sadness behind his theatrical facade. The Library of Congress chose the film to include in its National Film Registry as a culturally and historically significant film.

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Zeitgeist Films

#77. Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (2012)

- Director: Ben Shapiro
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 78 min

"Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters" captures the process of legendary photographer Gregory Crewdson. The film is rare for the amount of access it had over a 10-year period to such an acclaimed artist, which critics have called “fly on the wall.”

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Catherine Dussart Productions (CDP)

#76. The Missing Picture (2013)

- Director: Rithy Panh
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 92 min

"The Missing Picture" is a Cambodian documentary about the Khmer Rouge. The film was made by a survivor of the regime’s brutality, who was only 13 when the group swept through his village, killing many members of his family.

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Particle Fever

#75. Particle Fever (2013)

- Director: Mark Levinson
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 99 min

"Particle Fever" takes an inside look at the first round of experiments at a scientific facility in Switzerland that ultimately discovered the Higgs Boson particle. The film was lauded for being able to communicate complicated scientific concepts to the public in an approachable manner.

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HBO Documentary Films

#74. Gideon's Army (2013)

- Director: Dawn Porter
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 96 min

"Gideon's Army" looks at three public defenders in the American South, who uphold the constitutional requirement that those who cannot afford a lawyer will be provided one. Critics applaud the film for taking an unflinching look at work in which “everybody’s in an emergency state.”

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ICON production

#73. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu (2010)

- Director: Andrei Ujica
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 180 min

"The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu" uses over 1,000 hours of archival footage to explore the life of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. The film shows the stark contrast between the self-mythology the dictator promoted of himself and the reality of his life, which ended with execution.

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Paramount Pictures

#72. Murderball (2005)

- Directors: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 88 min

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

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National Geographic Studios

#71. Jane (2017)

- Director: Brett Morgen
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 90 min

"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.

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Maïa Films

#70. To Be and to Have (2002)

- Director: Nicolas Philibert
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 104 min

"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.

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CNN Films

#69. Life Itself (2014)

- Director: Steve James
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 121 min

"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.

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Lions Gate Films

#68. Grizzly Man (2005)

- Director: Werner Herzog
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 103 min

"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.

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Little Bear

#67. My Journey Through French Cinema (2016)

- Director: Bertrand Tavernier
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 201 min

"My Journey Through French Cinema" is a look at French film history. Filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier is widely considered one of the most knowledgeable critics of French film history, and the documentary is called “a lifetime in the making.”

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HBO Documentary Films

#66. Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018)

- Director: Susan Lacy
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 133 min

"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 is praised for diving deep into her political affiliations, and her candid admissions of regret over how she was used by the North Vietnamese.

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Crossing the Line Productions

#65. The Farthest (2017)

- Director: Emer Reynolds
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 121 min

"The Farthest" looks at the famous Voyager mission to outer space. The film is 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.

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Sony Pictures Classics

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

- Director: Errol Morris
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 107 min

“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 has an original soundtrack by Robert Glass and takes its title from the military idea of “the fog of war,” which refers to making difficult decisions in the theatre of combat.

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Cutler Productions

#63. Listen to Me Marlon (2015)

- Director: Stevan Riley
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 103 min

"Listen to Me Marlon" is about the life of famous actor Marlon Brando. Critics have 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.

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Arsam International

#62. Cunningham (2019)

- Director: Alla Kovgan
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 6.2
- Runtime: 93 min

"Cunningham" traces the evolution of artist Merce Cunningham. Cunningham was a choreographer, and the documentary is praised for showing elements of dance that are difficult to convey in a conventional film.

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Artangel Media

#61. The Arbor (2010)

- Director: Clio Barnard
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 94 min

"The Arbor" tells the story of the famous and doomed playwright Andrea Dunbar, who had a difficult early life as a child in the United Kingdom. It uses a blend of fiction and nonfiction to tell its story, including word-for-word quotations taken from real life.

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Upfront Films

#60. Democrats (2014)

- Director: Camilla Nielsson
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 100 min

“Democrats” is about democracy in modern Zimbabwe. The New York Times called it an essential and unsettling documentary, highlighting how ordinary people in the country are struggling to make everyone’s voices heard.

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Hulu

#59. Crime + Punishment (2018)

- Director: Stephen Maing
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 112 min

"Crime + Punishment" looks at the lives of black and Latino police officers. The film is praised as a “shocking” look at the emotional toll of being a whistleblower in a corrupt system.

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Oscilloscope

#58. A Film Unfinished (2010)

- Director: Yael Hersonski
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 88 min

"A Film Unfinished" is a Hebrew movie that looks at a Nazi movie that was never fully made. The film helped ignite a debate over the rating system that should be applied to artwork about cultural traumas like the Holocaust.

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Cinereach

#57. Shirkers (2018)

- Director: Sandi Tan
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 97 min

"Shirkers" follows up on a mentee-mentor relationship between an American filmmaker and a Singaporean teenager 20 years later. Critics praise how filmmaker Sandi Tan uses her own personal disappointment to explore the nature of creativity, loss, and disappointment.

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HBO Documentary

#56. Everything Is Copy (2015)

- Directors: Jacob Bernstein, Nick Hooker
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 89 min

"Everything Is Copy" looks at the life of writer Nora Ephron, who comforted herself after disappointing life experiences with the idea that anything could be written about. Ephron was a beloved writer, and the film holds a rare 100% approval rate on Metacritic, indicating “universal acclaim.”

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Maysles Documentary Center

#55. In Transit (2015)

- Directors: Albert Maysles, Lynn True, David Usui, Nelson Walker III, Benjamin Wu
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 76 min

"In Transit" looks at the lives of workers and passengers on the Empire Builder train. The film was financed by Al Jazeera America, which was closed in 2016, leaving the film in limbo without the rights to distribution for some time.

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HBO Documentary Films

#54. Citizenfour (2014)

- Director: Laura Poitras
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 114 min

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

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United Artist Films

#53. The Last Waltz (1978)

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 117 min

"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.

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CNN Films

#52. Apollo 11 (2019)

- Director: Todd Douglas Miller
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 93 min

"Apollo 11" takes documentary footage—much of it previously unreleased—from the famous space mission to tell its story. However, not all critics are impressed, with one from The New Yorker saying it is even more remarkable that the film manages to be dull given its exciting subject material.

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Netflix

#51. 13th (2016)

- Director: Ava DuVernay
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 100 min

"13th" focuses on racial inequality in the United States. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay uses the film to say that slavery has still been existent since the end of the Civil War, and critics praise the film for simultaneously being “incendiary and controlled.”

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Sony Pictures Classics

#50. Inside Job (2010)

- Director: Charles Ferguson
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 109 min

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

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Acquire Talent Agency

#49. Western (2015)

- Directors: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 5.8
- Runtime: 92 min

"Western" takes as its focus two towns located opposite of the US-Mexican border. Critics have decried the fact that despite the film’s distribution on the global platform of Netflix, it did not receive much traction outside of the United States.

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Fin & Fur Films

#48. The River and the Wall (2019)

- Director: Ben Masters
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 6.3
- Runtime: 97 min

"The River and the Wall" looks at a trip made by five friends from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. The purpose of the trip and film is to explore the environmental impact of a border wall. The film has been praised as a “passionate and spectacularly photographed political message.”

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Lucid Inc.

#47. Uncertain (2015)

- Directors: Ewan McNicol, Anna Sandilands
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 82 min

"Uncertain" looks at a weed threatening a lake in a small border town with an uncertain future. Critics have praised the film for its simultaneous depictions of “wonder and horror.”

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Idéale Audience

#46. National Gallery (2014)

- Director: Frederick Wiseman
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 180 min

“National Gallery” takes an inside look at the National Gallery in London and its many famous works of art. Despite having many fans, others have critiqued the film as “crushingly dull” and ironically lacking an artistic point of view of its own.

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Drafthouse Films

#45. The Overnighters (2014)

- Director: Jesse Moss
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 102 min

"The Overnighters" features 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."

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Beth Harrington Productions

#44. The Winding Stream (2014)

- Director: Beth Harrington
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 90 min

"The Winding Stream" is an up-close look at the Carter family, one of country music’s most famous dynasties. One of the film’s major selling points? A rare interview with an aged Johnny Cash right before his death.

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Discovery Films

#43. Man on Wire (2008)

- Director: James Marsh
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 94 min

"Man on Wire" looks at the famous 1947 feat of a tightrope artist walking on a high wire between the Twin Towers. The documentary was later fictionalized into a feature film.

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40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

#42. 4 Little Girls (1997)

- Director: Spike Lee
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 102 min

"4 Little Girls" is about the bombing of a church in Alabama in 1963 that killed four African-American girls. The Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in its archive due to its historical and cultural significance.

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Albert+ Sustainable production

#41. 63 Up (2019)

- Director: Michael Apted
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 180 min

"63 Up" looks at the lives of British schoolchildren from a variety of economic backgrounds and follows up with them every seven years. Critics have called it a groundbreaking documentary series that looks unflinchingly at the economic disparities that can impact a child’s prospects in life.

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Red Envelope Entertainment

#40. No End in Sight (2007)

- Director: Charles Ferguson
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 102 min

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

63/
Grasshopper Film

#39. Dead Souls (2018)

- Director: Bing Wang
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 495 min

"Dead Souls" chronicles the lives of forced laborers in a Chinese detention camp. The film meets over 100 survivors of the camps, which were set up throughout China in the 1950s.

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Chanel 4

#38. For Sama (2019)

- Directors: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 96 min

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

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Talking Heads

#37. Stop Making Sense (1984)

- Director: Jonathan Demme
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 88 min

"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.

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Boynton Films Production

#36. Big Men (2013)

- Director: Rachel Boynton
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 99 min

"Big Men" looks at corruption in the oil industry in Africa. While it might be easy to have made a one-note vilification story, the film has been praised instead as a “cool and incisive snapshot of global capitalism at work is as remarkable for its access as for its refusal to judge.”

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67/
Red Square Productions

#35. My Perestroika (2010)

- Director: Robin Hessman
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 88 min

"My Perestroika" looks at the events leading up to the collapse of the USSR. Critics have hailed the film’s decision to portray the time period nearly exclusively from the lens of people who lived it, giving “a privileged sense of learning the history of a place not from a book but from the people who lived it.”

68/
Kasper Collin Produktion

#34. I Called Him Morgan (2016)

- Director: Kasper Collin
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 92 min

"I Called Him Morgan" is about the companion of jazz great Morgan Lee, 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.

69/
Jafar Panahi Film Productions

#33. This Is Not a Film (2011)

- Directors: Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 75 min

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

70/
Artist Tribe

#32. The Girls in the Band (2011)

- Director: Judy Chaikin
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 81 min

"The Girls in the Band" tells the forgotten stories of many female jazz musicians. The New York Times praised the film for capturing both the sexism of the industry in the 20th century while still showcasing “humor, determination, and raw talent.

71/
HBO Documentary

#31. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

- Director: Andrew Jarecki
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 107 min

“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.

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72/
ITVS

#30. Minding the Gap (2018)

- Director: Bing Liu
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 93 min

"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 about race, class, and politics with a narrative about a sport.

73/
MediaTrade

#29. My Voyage to Italy (1999)

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 246 min

"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 make up over half of those Scorsese cites as having a major influence.

74/
Drafthouse Films

#28. The Act of Killing (2012)

- Directors: Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous, Christine Cynn
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 117 min

"The Act of Killing" exposed the mass executions of exposed communists in Indonesia. Befitting its subversive nature, one of the co-directors is an anonymous Indonesian.

75/
Arte G.E.I.E.

#27. Over the Limit (2017)

- Director: Marta Prus
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 74 min

"Over the Limit" follows a teenage Russian gymnast as she trains for the 2016 Olympics. The film depicts a training so rigorous and devastating it was compared by some critics to a documentary version of the ballet film “Black Swan.”

76/
Zipporah Films

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

- Director: Frederick Wiseman
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 197 min

"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.

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77/
Roadside Attractions

#25. Stories We Tell (2012)

- Director: Sarah Polley
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 108 min

Sarah Polley’s "Stories We Tell" takes a close look at her family’s personal history, including one 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.

78/
Atacama Productions

#24. Nostalgia de la luz (2010)

- Director: Patricio Guzmán
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 90 min

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

79/
Sony Pictures Classics

#23. The Gatekeepers (2012)

- Director: Dror Moreh
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 101 min

"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.

80/
Imperial War Museum

#22. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

- Director: Peter Jackson
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 99 min

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

81/
Asphalt Films

#21. Out of the Clear Blue Sky (2012)

- Director: Danielle Gardner
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Runtime: 107 min

"Out of the Clear Blue Sky" looks at the impact of the 9/11 attacks on the investment offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, which had an office in the World Trade Center. The film has been praised for taking such a specific and unique look at the impact of a tragedy on a singular firm.

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82/
Icarus Films

#20. A Man Vanishes (1967)

- Director: Shôhei Imamura
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 130 min

"A Man Vanishes" is a Japanese documentary about a handsome, successful businessman who disappears without a trace. The film is praised for itself following “like a detective squad,” the disappearance of someone who, it seems, may have set out to deceive.

83/
Desert Wind Films

#19. Brother's Keeper (1992)

- Directors: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 104 min

"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.

84/
Lincoln Square Productions

#18. Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 (2017)

- Director: John Ridley
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 144 min

"Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992" looks at a decade of racial tension in the city of Los Angeles that culminates in the race riots in 1992. Critics have pointed out that the film is as much about memory itself as it is about the specific events depicted, and how individual memories intersect with broader cultural narratives.

85/
Go-Valley

#17. Tower (2016)

- Director: Keith Maitland
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 82 min

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

86/
Iconoclast

#16. One More Time with Feeling (2016)

- Director: Andrew Dominik
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 113 min

"One More Time with Feeling" chronicles Nick Cave’s recording of an album after 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.

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87/
Britdoc Foundation

#15. The Look of Silence (2014)

- Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
- Metascore: 92
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 103 min

“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 an earlier documentary, “The Act of Killing,” that's also about those executions.

88/
Spheeris Films

#14. The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

- Director: Penelope Spheeris
- Metascore: 93
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 100 min

"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.

89/
Arrow Media

#13. Sherpa (2015)

- Director: Jennifer Peedom
- Metascore: 93
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 96 min

"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.

90/
Superior Pictures

#12. Crumb (1994)

- Director: Terry Zwigoff
- Metascore: 93
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 119 min

"Crumb" is a portrayal of the famous cartoonist Robert Crumb by one of his long-time best friends. It has been called “the greatest documentary of all time” for showing its protagonist in his full “damaged” glory.

91/
Synecdoche

#11. Shoah: Four Sisters (2018)

- Director: Claude Lanzmann
- Metascore: 93
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 273 min

“Shoah: Four Sisters” interviews four women who survived the Holocaust. The film was the final project of legendary filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, who tried to use as much of the footage that he wasn’t able to use from his earlier nine-hour “Shoah” documentary.

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92/
HBO Documentary

#10. First Cousin Once Removed (2012)

- Director: Alan Berliner
- Metascore: 94
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 78 min

"First Cousin Once Removed" chronicles a poet’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and how that impacts his work. The film’s title comes from the fact that the director and the poet were first cousins.

93/
40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

#9. Amazing Grace (2018)

- Directors: Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack
- Metascore: 94
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 89 min

"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.

94/
Red Flag Releasing

#8. We Were Here (2011)

- Directors: David Weissman, Bill Weber
- Metascore: 94
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 90 min

"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 became the city’s openly gay mayor.

95/
Ciné Tamaris

#7. Faces Places (2017)

- Directors: JR, Agnès Varda
- Metascore: 94
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 94 min

"Faces Places" is a collaboration by directors JR and Agnes Varda as they travel through rural France in an unlikely friendship. The film was beloved by critics, who called it “an exploration of the arts in the face of mortality.” It was Varda’s last film.

96/
ARTE Films

#6. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

- Director: Raoul Peck
- Metascore: 95
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 93 min

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

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97/
Netflix

#5. Virunga (2014)

- Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
- Metascore: 95
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 100 min

"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 ranger of that park. He survived and championed the film and its release.

98/
HBO Documentary

#4. King In The Wilderness (2018)

- Director: Peter W. Kunhardt
- Metascore: 97
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 111 min

"King In The Wilderness" is a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. in the last years of his life. The film is celebrated for fulfilling its makers’ intent to turn everything people thought they knew about Dr. King on its head, including showcasing his fiery intensity instead of purely his famous calm.

99/
Fine Line Features

#3. Hoop Dreams (1994)

- Director: Steve James
- Metascore: 98
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 170 min

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

100/
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

#2. Shoah (1985)

- Director: Claude Lanzmann
- Metascore: 99
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 566 min

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.

101/
BKS Film

#1. Best Kept Secret (2013)

- Director: Samantha Buck
- Metascore: 100
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 85 min

"Best Kept Secret" follows a teacher of special needs students for 18 months before her students are set to graduate. The film has been celebrated for focusing on minority and special needs children instead of white and middle-class children.

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