The 100 “Greatest” Documentaries

In November 2012, POV asked its viewers, “What do you think are the greatest documentaries of all time?” Viewers were allowed to define “greatest” however they wished, whether that meant the most expertly crafted, influential, illuminating, impactful, form-defining, beloved or simply those that were the most successful at the box office. After 30 days of voting on over 1000 submissions, these 100 came out on top. How many have you seen?

  1. Grey Gardens (Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer, 1975)
  2. Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990)
  3. Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)
  4. The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)
  5. Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)
  6. Harlan County, USA (Barbara Kopple, 1976)
  7. The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein, 1984)
  8. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
  9. Roger & Me (Michael Moore, 1989)
  10. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)
  11. Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008)
  12. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Errol Morris, 2003)
  13. The Up Series (Paul Almond, Michael Apted, 1964-)
  14. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003)
  15. Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994)
  16. Jesus Camp (Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, 2006)
  17. Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner, 2008)
  18. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon, 2007)
  19. An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006)
  20. Salesman (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1968)
  21. Man With a Movie Camera (Chelovek s Kino-Apparatom) (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
  22. Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock, 2004)
  23. Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, 2004)
  24. Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970)
  25. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Alex Gibney, 2005)
  26. American Movie (Chris Smith, 1999)
  27. Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard) (Alain Resnais, 1955)
  28. The Civil War (Ken Burns, 1990)
  29. March of the Penguins (Luc Jacquet, 2005)
  30. Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967)
  31. Sherman’s March (Ross McElwee, 1986)
  32. Planet Earth (Alastair Fothergill, 2006)
  33. Eyes on the Prize (Henry Hampton, 1987)
  34. Religulous (Larry Charles, 2008)
  35. The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978)
  36. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 1996)
  37. Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz, 2002)
  38. Born into Brothels (Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman, 2004)
  39. Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, 2001)
  40. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola, 1991)
  41. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
  42. The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, 2009)
  43. Nanook of the North (Robert J. Flaherty, 1922)
  44. The Corporation (Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar, 2003)
  45. The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, 1995)
  46. Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1998)
  47. Sicko (Michael Moore, 2007)
  48. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)
  49. Gimme Shelter (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)
  50. Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)
  51. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
  52. When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, 1996)
  53. Who Killed the Electric Car? (Chris Paine, 2006)
  54. Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010)
  55. Hearts and Minds (Peter Davis, 1974)
  56. Murderball (Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro, 2005)
  57. The Gleaners & I (Agn├Ęs Varda, 2000)
  58. Restrepo (Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, 2010)
  59. Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, 2010)
  60. Sans Soleil (Sunless) (Chris Marker, 1983)
  61. Dont Look Back (DA Pennebaker, 1967)
  62. Touching the Void (Kevin Macdonald, 2003)
  63. Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (Lev Anderson, Chris Metzler, 2010)
  64. Baraka (Ron Fricke, 1992)
  65. This Film Is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick, 2006)
  66. Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, 1989)
  67. Brother’s Keeper (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 1992)
  68. High School (Frederick Wiseman, 1968)
  69. F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1973)
  70. Capitalism: A Love Story (Michael Moore, 2009)
  71. Dark Days (Marc Singer, 2000)
  72. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2010)
  73. Cosmos (Adrian Malone, 1980)
  74. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (Kurt Kuenne, 2008)
  75. Helvetica (Gary Hustwit, 2007)
  76. Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki, 2005)
  77. Winged Migration (Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats, 2002)
  78. The Aristocrats (Paul Provenza, 2005)
  79. Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, 2009)
  80. The Atomic Cafe (Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty, 1982)
  81. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011)
  82. Wordplay (Patrick Creadon, 2006)
  83. Burden of Dreams (Les Blank, 1982)
  84. Monterey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968)
  85. The Battle of Chile (Patricio Guzman , 1975-1979)
  86. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (Judy Irving, 2003)
  87. Gasland (Josh Fox, 2010)
  88. The Interrupters (Steve James, 2011)
  89. Catfish (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010)
  90. The Endless Summer (Bruce Brown, 1966)
  91. Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg, 2010)
  92. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (Marshall Curry, 2011)
  93. Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens) (Leni Riefenstahl, 1934)
  94. King Corn (Aaron Woolf, 2007)
  95. Madonna: Truth or Dare (Alek Keshishian, 1991)
  96. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Martin Scorsese, 2005)
  97. Sweetgrass (Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, 2009)
  98. The Kid Stays in the Picture (Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen, 2002)
  99. The Decline of Western Civilization (Penelope Spheeris, 1981)
  100. Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (Errol Morris, 1997)

Next: Trivia from the “Greatest” Documentaries poll »

Published by

POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 400 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.