Person Wearing Round White Analog Watch at 10:09

Top Must-Watch Documentary Films of All Time

Documentary films have the power to educate, inspire, and challenge our beliefs. They offer a unique perspective on the world around us, shedding light on important issues and events that might otherwise go unnoticed. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some of the top must-watch documentary films of all time. These films have stood the test of time and continue to captivate audiences with their compelling storytelling and thought-provoking subject matter.

1. Introduction

Documentary films are often considered a window into the world’s most pressing issues. They offer an insight into the lives of people, places, and events that we may not have known about otherwise. Some of the most powerful and thought-provoking films of all time have been documentaries. In this article, we will take a look at some of the must-watch documentary films that have captured the attention of audiences worldwide.

1.1. Why watch documentaries?

Documentaries offer a unique perspective on the world around us. They allow us to dive deep into a topic, explore different viewpoints, and gain a better understanding of issues we may not have previously been aware of. Whether you’re looking to expand your knowledge on a particular subject or simply enjoy a good story, documentaries are an excellent way to do so. In this article, we will explore the top must-watch documentary films of all time and why they are worth watching.

1.2. Criteria for choosing the best documentaries

When it comes to choosing the best documentaries to watch, there are several important criteria to consider. First and foremost, the subject matter should be both interesting and relevant to your personal interests or areas of expertise. Additionally, the documentary should be well-researched and factually accurate, with a clear and compelling narrative structure. The quality of the production values, including the cinematography, editing, and sound design, should also be taken into account. Finally, it is important to consider the perspective and bias of the filmmaker, as this can have a significant impact on the tone and content of the documentary.

1.3. Importance of documentaries in society

Documentaries have become an integral part of society, providing a window into different worlds and allowing us to gain a deeper understanding of various issues. They are an important tool for education, activism, and entertainment. Through documentaries, we can learn about history, science, politics, culture, and current events. They give us a chance to see the world from different perspectives and challenge our preconceived notions. In short, documentaries are a powerful means of communication that can inspire change and shape the way we view the world.

1.4. Brief history of documentary films

Documentary films date back to the late 1800s, when the Lumière brothers created the first documentary-style film, La Sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon). Since then, documentaries have been used to educate, inform, and entertain audiences. Throughout the 20th century, documentary filmmakers such as Robert J. Flaherty, Dziga Vertov, and John Grierson revolutionized the genre with their unique approaches to storytelling. Today, documentaries continue to be a popular form of filmmaking, with a wide range of subject matter and styles available for audiences to enjoy.

1.5. How to approach watching documentaries

When it comes to watching documentaries, it’s important to approach them with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Unlike fictional films, documentaries are based on real-life events and often address important social, political, or environmental issues. To get the most out of a documentary, it’s helpful to do some research beforehand to understand the topic being covered. This can involve reading articles or books on the subject, or simply familiarizing yourself with the key players and events. Additionally, it’s important to watch documentaries critically, questioning the information presented and considering different perspectives. By doing so, you can gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter and engage with the material on a more meaningful level.

2. Top 5 Must-watch Documentary Films

1. The Act of Killing
2. Blackfish
3. Citizenfour
4. The Thin Blue Line
5. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

2.1. 1. The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing is a must-watch documentary film that explores the 1965 Indonesian genocide from the perspective of the perpetrators. The film is directed by Joshua Oppenheimer and follows a group of former death squad leaders as they reenact their killings in various cinematic genres, including musicals and westerns. Through their performances, the film exposes the psychological toll of their actions and the ongoing political power structures that continue to uphold their impunity.

2.2. 2. Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams is a 1994 documentary film directed by Steve James. The film follows the lives of two African-American high school students in Chicago, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they pursue their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. The documentary explores themes of race, class, and the American Dream, as well as the pressures and challenges faced by young athletes. Hoop Dreams has been widely acclaimed for its honest portrayal of inner-city life and its impact on young people. It has won numerous awards, including the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, and has been named one of the greatest documentaries of all time by the International Documentary Association.

2.3. 3. Blackfish

Blackfish is a powerful documentary film that explores the mistreatment of killer whales in captivity. The film specifically focuses on the story of Tilikum, a captive orca responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a highly experienced trainer. Through interviews with former SeaWorld trainers and experts in the field, Blackfish sheds light on the physical and psychological harm caused by keeping these intelligent and social creatures in small tanks. The film sparked controversy and public outcry, leading to changes in SeaWorld’s practices and increased awareness of animal welfare issues.

2.4. 4. The Thin Blue Line

The Thin Blue Line is a gripping documentary film by Errol Morris that investigates the wrongful conviction of Randall Dale Adams for the murder of a police officer. Through interviews with witnesses and reenactments of the crime, Morris exposes the flaws in the justice system that led to Adams’ conviction. This film is a must-watch for anyone interested in true crime or the criminal justice system.

2.5. 5. Citizenfour

Citizenfour is a documentary film directed by Laura Poitras. It focuses on Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about government surveillance programs. The film follows Snowden as he meets with Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald in a Hong Kong hotel room to reveal the extent of the government’s surveillance. Citizenfour won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2015.

3. Honorable Mentions

In addition to the top 10 must-watch documentary films of all time, there are a few honorable mentions that deserve recognition. ‘Blackfish’ is a powerful film that exposes the dark side of the captive killer whale industry. ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ takes viewers on a journey through the life of a sushi master and his dedication to his craft. ‘The Act of Killing’ is a chilling documentary that explores the brutal history of Indonesia’s military dictatorship. These films, along with many others, offer unique perspectives on important issues and are definitely worth watching.

3.1. 6. Grizzly Man

Grizzly Man is a 2005 documentary film directed by Werner Herzog. The film chronicles the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent 13 summers living among grizzly bears in Alaska. Treadwell documented his experiences on video and was eventually killed by one of the bears he had come to know. The film raises questions about the relationship between humans and nature, the boundaries of documentary filmmaking, and the psychology of a man who was willing to risk his life for his passion.

3.2. 7. Man on Wire

Man on Wire is a thrilling documentary that tells the story of Philippe Petit’s daring high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The film uses a combination of interviews, archival footage, and reenactments to capture the excitement and tension of Petit’s incredible feat. Man on Wire is a testament to human courage and ingenuity, and it is a must-see for anyone interested in history or extreme sports.

3.3. 8. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a mesmerizing documentary film that follows the life and work of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master who runs a small, unassuming restaurant in Tokyo. The film explores the dedication, discipline, and artistry that goes into making the perfect piece of sushi, as well as the complex relationships between Jiro and his two sons, both of whom are also sushi chefs. With stunning cinematography and a beautiful score, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a feast for the senses and a celebration of the pursuit of excellence.

3.4. 9. Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man is a heartwarming and intriguing documentary film that follows the journey of two South African fans who set out to uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of their favorite musician, Sixto Rodriguez. The film takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotions as it reveals the incredible story of how Rodriguez’s music became an inspiration for a generation of South Africans struggling against apartheid. With stunning visuals and a powerful soundtrack, Searching for Sugar Man is a must-watch for anyone who loves music and believes in the power of the human spirit.

3.5. 10. Bowling for Columbine

Bowling for Columbine – This Michael Moore documentary explores the root causes of gun violence in America, focusing on the tragic mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. Moore investigates the culture of fear and violence that permeates American society, and questions why the United States has such a high rate of gun-related deaths compared to other developed countries. Through interviews with survivors, politicians, and gun enthusiasts, Bowling for Columbine offers a thought-provoking commentary on the state of gun control in America.


Documentary films provide a unique perspective on the world around us, and these top must-watch films offer a glimpse into various aspects of society, history, and culture. From the impactful messages of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ to the emotional journey of ‘Searching for Sugar Man,’ these films are truly unforgettable. Whether you are a film buff or just looking for some thought-provoking entertainment, these documentaries are a must-see.

Scroll to top