must-see documentaries

by amy-steele1 | created - 09 Dec 2013 | updated - 06 Apr 2017 | Public

documentaries I recommend-- provide insight, make you think, question, learn something and want to know more.

 Refine See titles to watch instantly, titles you haven't rated, etc
  • Instant Watch Options
  • Genres
  • Movies or TV
  • IMDb Rating
  • In Theaters
  • On TV
  • Release Year
  • Keywords






IMDb user rating (average) to
Number of votes to »




Reset



Reset
Release year or range to »




































































































1. 56 Up (2012 TV Movie)

Not Rated | 144 min | Documentary

83 Metascore

Director Michael Apted revisits the same group of British-born adults after a 7 year wait. The subjects are interviewed as to the changes that have occurred in their lives during the last seven years.

Directors: Michael Apted, Paul Almond | Stars: Michael Apted, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield

Votes: 1,821 | Gross: $0.70M

2. The Central Park Five (2012)

Not Rated | 119 min | Documentary, Crime, History

79 Metascore

A documentary that examines the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park. After having spent between 6 and 13 years each in prison, a serial rapist confessed to the crime.

Directors: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon | Stars: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Kharey Wise, Raymond Santana

Votes: 6,357 | Gross: $0.27M

3. Venus and Serena (2012)

PG-13 | 99 min | Documentary, Sport

65 Metascore

Ever since Venus and Serena Williams started playing in tennis tournaments, they've provoked strong reactions - from awe and admiration to suspicion and resentment. They've been winning ... See full summary »

Directors: Maiken Baird, Michelle Major | Stars: Raul Arevalo, Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Richard Williams

Votes: 676 | Gross: $0.05M

4. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011)

Unrated | 85 min | Documentary, Biography, Crime

65 Metascore

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.'

Directors: Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman | Stars: Daniel McGowan, Lisa McGowan, Tim Lewis, Kirk Engdall

Votes: 2,973 | Gross: $0.06M

5. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

PG | 96 min | Documentary, News

75 Metascore

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.

Director: Davis Guggenheim | Stars: Al Gore, Billy West, George Bush, George W. Bush

Votes: 77,950 | Gross: $23.81M

6. The Parking Lot Movie (2010)

PG | 74 min | Documentary

63 Metascore

The Parking Lot Movie is a documentary about a singular parking lot in Charlottesville, Virginia. The film follows a select group of parking lot attendants and their strange rite of passage... See full summary »

Director: Meghan Eckman | Stars: Patrick Baran, John Beers, Chris Farina, Tyler Magill

Votes: 1,810

7. Waste Land (2010)

Not Rated | 99 min | Documentary

78 Metascore

On the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro is Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill, where men and women sift through garbage for a living. Artist Vik Muniz produces portraits of the workers and learns about their lives.

Directors: Lucy Walker, Karen Harley, João Jardim | Star: Vik Muniz

Votes: 8,049 | Gross: $0.19M

8. What I Want My Words to Do to You: Voices from Inside a Women's Maximum Security Prison (2003)

78 min | Documentary

A look at playwright Eve Ensler's writing workshop inside Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women.

Directors: Madeleine Gavin, Judith Katz, Gary Sunshine | Stars: Mary Alice, Glenn Close, Eve Ensler, Hazelle Goodman

Votes: 93

9. 20 Feet from Stardom (2013)

PG-13 | 91 min | Documentary, Biography, Music

83 Metascore

Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we've had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead, until now.

Director: Morgan Neville | Stars: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill

Votes: 11,465 | Gross: $4.95M

10. Grizzly Man (2005)

R | 103 min | Documentary, Biography

87 Metascore

A devastating and heart-rending take on grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who were killed in October of 2003 while living among grizzly bears in Alaska.

Director: Werner Herzog | Stars: Timothy Treadwell, Amie Huguenard, Werner Herzog, Carol Dexter

Votes: 48,875 | Gross: $3.17M

11. Forks Over Knives (2011)

PG | 90 min | Documentary

57 Metascore

Examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.

Director: Lee Fulkerson | Stars: Lee Fulkerson, Matthew Lederman, Alona Pulde, T. Colin Campbell

Votes: 10,379

12. Muscle Shoals (2013)

PG | 111 min | Documentary, Biography, History

75 Metascore

A documentary that celebrates Rick Hall, the founder of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and the signature sound he developed in songs such as "I'll Take You There", "Brown Sugar", and "When a Man Loves a Woman".

Director: Greg 'Freddy' Camalier | Stars: Rick Hall, Aretha Franklin, Keith Richards, Candi Staton

Votes: 3,295 | Gross: $0.70M

13. The Punk Singer (2013)

Not Rated | 81 min | Documentary, Biography, Music

75 Metascore

A look at the life of activist, musician, and cultural icon Kathleen Hanna, who formed the punk band Bikini Kill and pioneered the "riot grrrl" movement of the 1990s.

Director: Sini Anderson | Stars: Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon, Joan Jett

Votes: 2,538 | Gross: $0.12M

14. Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who (2007)

Not Rated | 237 min | Documentary, Music

A documentary on The Who, featuring interviews with the band's two surviving members, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.

Directors: Paul Crowder, Murray Lerner, Parris Patton | Stars: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Keith Moon

Votes: 1,193

15. It Might Get Loud (2008)

PG | 98 min | Documentary, Music

70 Metascore

A documentary on the electric guitar from the point of view of three significant rock musicians: the Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White.

Director: Davis Guggenheim | Stars: Jimmy Page, The Edge, Jack White, Dallas Schoo

Votes: 11,915 | Gross: $1.61M

16. Ballerina (2006 TV Movie)

Not Rated | 80 min | Documentary, Music

This documentary gives insight to the lives of five ballerinas, all at different points in their careers. Looking at the operations of the Vagonova Academy and the Mariinsky Theatre, the life of a ballerina is disclosed.

Director: Bertrand Normand | Stars: Taylor Ash, Altynai Asylmuratova, Diane Baker, Olga Chenchilova

Votes: 368 | Gross: $0.11M

17. Bhutto (2010)

Unrated | 111 min | Documentary, Biography

68 Metascore

A riveting documentary of the recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto, a polarizing figure in the Muslim world. Following in her father's footsteps as a pillar for democracy, Bhutto was ... See full summary »

Directors: Duane Baughman, Johnny O'Hara | Stars: Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Asif Ali Zardari

Votes: 599 | Gross: $0.10M

18. Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011)

R | 89 min | Documentary, Comedy, Music

64 Metascore

A documentary on Conan O'Brien's comedy tour of the U.S. and Canada after leaving his post at "The Tonight Show" and severing his relationship with NBC.

Director: Rodman Flender | Stars: Conan O'Brien, Andy Richter, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Vivino

Votes: 5,905 | Gross: $0.27M

19. Dig! (2004)

R | 107 min | Documentary, Music

76 Metascore

A documentary on the once-promising American rock bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, and the friendship/rivalry between their respective founders, Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor.

Director: Ondi Timoner | Stars: Anton Newcombe, Courtney Taylor-Taylor, Joel Gion, Matt Hollywood

Votes: 5,785 | Gross: $0.13M

20. Good Hair (2009)

PG-13 | 96 min | Documentary, Comedy

72 Metascore

Chris Rock explores the wonders of African-American hairstyles.

Director: Jeff Stilson | Stars: Chris Rock, Maya Angelou, Al Sharpton, Tanya Crumel

Votes: 5,267 | Gross: $4.16M

21. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

R | 84 min | Documentary, Biography, Comedy

79 Metascore

A documentary on the life and career of Joan Rivers, made as the comedienne turns 75 years old.

Directors: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg | Stars: Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Jocelyn Pickett

Votes: 3,512 | Gross: $2.93M

22. Searching for Debra Winger (2002)

R | 100 min | Documentary

Rosanna Arquette talks to various actresses about the pressures they face as women working in the entertainment industry.

Director: Rosanna Arquette | Stars: Patricia Arquette, Rosanna Arquette, Emmanuelle Béart, Katrin Cartlidge

Votes: 1,041

23. Shut Up & Sing (2006)

R | 93 min | Documentary, Biography, Music

77 Metascore

A documentary on the Dixie Chicks in the wake of singer Natalie Maines' anti-George W. Bush statement at a 2003 concert.

Directors: Barbara Kopple, Cecilia Peck | Stars: Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, Clayton Allen

Votes: 4,636 | Gross: $1.22M

24. Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (2013)

Not Rated | 88 min | Documentary, Biography, Crime

72 Metascore

Follows the court case of three members of the Russian feminist punk protest group Pussy Riot after their performance in a Russian Orthodox cathedral.

Directors: Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin | Stars: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Mariya Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Andrey Tolokonnikov

Votes: 1,804

25. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2002)

Unrated | 92 min | Documentary, Music

66 Metascore

First-time filmmaker and award-winning photographer Sam Jones documents the recording of Wilco's album, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."

Director: Sam Jones | Stars: Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Leroy Bach, Glenn Kotche

Votes: 1,918 | Gross: $0.45M

26. Pearl Jam Twenty (2011)

Not Rated | 109 min | Documentary, History, Music

59 Metascore

A documentary on the band Pearl Jam that marks their 20th anniversary in the year 2011.

Director: Cameron Crowe | Stars: Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Cameron Crowe

Votes: 7,345 | Gross: $0.45M

27. Miss Representation (2011)

Not Rated | 85 min | Documentary

Explores the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America, and challenges the media's limited portrayal of what it means to be a powerful woman.

Directors: Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Kimberlee Acquaro | Stars: Pat Mitchell, Jackson Katz, Jim Steyer, Marissa Mayer

Votes: 3,362

28. Dark Girls (2011)

Not Rated | 71 min | Documentary

Documentary exploring the deep-seated biases and attitudes about skin color---particularly dark skinned women, outside of and within the Black American culture.

Directors: D. Channsin Berry, Bill Duke | Stars: Soren Baker, Ronald Boutelle, Joni Bovill, Kirk Bovill

Votes: 478

29. Citizenfour (2014)

R | 114 min | Documentary, Biography, News

88 Metascore

A documentarian and a reporter travel to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with Edward Snowden.

Director: Laura Poitras | Stars: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney, Jacob Appelbaum

Votes: 48,658 | Gross: $2.80M

30. Life Itself (2014)

R | 121 min | Documentary, Biography

87 Metascore

The life and career of the renowned film critic and social commentator, Roger Ebert.

Director: Steve James | Stars: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Gene Siskel, Martin Scorsese

Votes: 14,205 | Gross: $0.81M

31. The Hunting Ground (2015)

PG-13 | 103 min | Documentary

77 Metascore

An exposé of rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll they take on students and their families.

Director: Kirby Dick | Stars: Andrea Pino, Annie Clark, Claire Potter, Melinda Manning

Votes: 5,649 | Gross: $0.41M

32. Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (2013)

Not Rated | 57 min | Documentary, Adventure, Family

Angela Sun's journey of discovery to one of the most remote places on Earth, Midway Atoll, to uncover the truth behind the mystery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Along the way she ... See full summary »

Director: Angela Sun | Stars: Lewis Goldsmith, Wallace J. Nichols, Angela Sun

Votes: 419

33. Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement (2009)

Not Rated | 61 min | Documentary, Drama, Romance

After 42 years, feisty and delightful lesbian couple Edie and Thea are finally getting married. From the early '60s to the present day, the tireless community activists persevere through ... See full summary »

Directors: Susan Muska, Gréta Olafsdóttir | Stars: Thea Spyer, Edea Windsor

Votes: 354

34. Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief (2015)

Not Rated | 119 min | Documentary

80 Metascore

A documentary looking at the inner-workings of the Church of Scientology.

Director: Alex Gibney | Stars: Paul Haggis, Jason Beghe, Spanky Taylor, David Miscavige

Votes: 34,774

35. Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

84 min | Documentary

A documentary about young women who have been drawn into the sex trade - and how easy it is for a web-savvy generation to end up making porn.

Directors: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus | Stars: Farrah Laurel Abraham, John Anthony, Rachel Bernard, Carrie Brooks

Votes: 14,042

36. Amy (III) (2015)

R | 128 min | Documentary, Biography, Music

85 Metascore

Archival footage and personal testimonials present an intimate portrait of the life and career of British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse.

Director: Asif Kapadia | Stars: Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Russell Brand

Votes: 44,599 | Gross: $8.41M

37. Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013)

PG | 91 min | Documentary, Adventure, Biography

69 Metascore

A visually stunning chronicle of what it is like to live in Antarctica for a full year, including winters isolated from the rest of the world, and enduring months of darkness in the coldest place on Earth.

Director: Anthony Powell | Stars: Anthony Powell, Genevieve Bachman, William Brotman, Michael Christiansen

Votes: 3,036 | Gross: $0.29M

38. What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

Not Rated | 101 min | Documentary, Biography, Music

75 Metascore

A documentary about the life and legend Nina Simone, an American singer, pianist, and civil rights activist labeled the "High Priestess of Soul."

Director: Liz Garbus | Stars: Nina Simone, Lisa Simone Kelly, Roger Nupie, Al Schackman

Votes: 10,452

39. Iris (IX) (2014)

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

80 Metascore

A documentary about fashion icon Iris Apfel from legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles.

Director: Albert Maysles | Stars: Carl Apfel, Harold Koda, Dries Van Noten, Inez Bailey

Votes: 3,968 | Gross: $1.31M

40. Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

TV-MA | 145 min | Documentary, Animation, Biography

83 Metascore

An authorized documentary on the late musician Kurt Cobain, from his early days in Aberdeen, Washington to his success and downfall with the grunge band Nirvana.

Director: Brett Morgen | Stars: Aaron Burckhard, Chad Channing, Don Cobain, Jenny Cobain

Votes: 26,419

41. Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (2014)

PG | 116 min | Documentary, Biography, Family

79 Metascore

As he struggles with Alzheimer's disease, country-music legend Glen Campbell embarks on his farewell tour in the U.S., Australia, and Europe.

Director: James Keach | Stars: Glen Campbell, Kim Campbell, Ronald Petersen, Dave Kaplan

Votes: 1,392 | Gross: $0.37M

42. The True Cost (2015)

PG-13 | 92 min | Documentary, Drama, News

46 Metascore

The True Cost is a documentary film exploring the impact of fashion on people and the planet.

Director: Andrew Morgan | Stars: Livia Giuggioli, Stella McCartney, Vandana Shiva, Lucy Siegle

Votes: 6,031

43. He Named Me Malala (2015)

PG-13 | 88 min | Documentary

61 Metascore

A look at the events leading up to the Taliban's attack on Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, for speaking out on girls' education followed by the aftermath, including her speech to the United Nations.

Director: Davis Guggenheim | Stars: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai, Khushal Yousafzai

Votes: 4,233 | Gross: $2.64M

44. Last Days in Vietnam (2014)

Not Rated | 98 min | Documentary, History, War

86 Metascore

During the chaotic final weeks of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as the panicked South Vietnamese people desperately attempt to escape. On the ground, ... See full summary »

Director: Rory Kennedy | Stars: Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Stuart Herrington, Juan Valdez

Votes: 3,527 | Gross: $0.47M

45. The Wolfpack (2015)

R | 90 min | Documentary, Biography

75 Metascore

Confined in an apartment from a New York housing project, the six Angulo brothers learned everything they know about the world through watching films and spend their time reenacting their favorite movies with intricate homemade costumes.

Director: Crystal Moselle | Stars: Bhagavan Angulo, Govinda Angulo, Jagadisa Angulo, Krsna Angulo

Votes: 11,205 | Gross: $1.30M

46. Upside Down: The Creation Records Story (2010)

TV-MA | 101 min | Documentary, Music

The definitive film about Creation Records, one of the world's most successful and colorful independent labels.

Director: Danny O'Connor | Stars: Alan McGee, Bobby Gillespie, Noel Gallagher, Chris Abbot

Votes: 543

47. I Am Femen (2014)

95 min | Documentary

A revealing look at FEMEN- the topless female activists who fight corrupt and patriarchal political systems in Kiev and all across Europe- as well as a portrait of the group's creative backbone, the bewitching Oksana Shachko.

Director: Alain Margot | Stars: Anna Hutsol, Oksana Shachko, Inna Shevchenko, Sasha Shevchenko

Votes: 184

48. Vessel (II) (2014)

Not Rated | 90 min | Documentary, Adventure, Biography

68 Metascore

A fearless sea captain sails a ship through loopholes in international law, providing abortions on the high seas, and leaving in her wake a network of emboldened activists who trust women to handle abortion on their own terms.

Director: Diana Whitten | Star: Rebecca Gomperts

Votes: 204

49. Running from Crazy (2013)

Not Rated | 100 min | Documentary, Biography, Drama