The 25 "Greatest" Documentaries of All Time by POV

"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 those that were the most successful at the box office. After 30 days of voting on over 1000 submissions, these 25 came out on top. How many have you seen?"


Weight: 25


  1. Voted on by the general public (-50)
  2. Genre slant (-25)

Films (25)

1. Grey Gardens

Directed by Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer | Rated PG | 94 min | 1975

An old mother and her middle-aged daughter, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, live their eccentric lives in a filthy, decaying mansion in East Hampton.

2. Paris Is Burning

Directed by Jennie Livingston | Rated R | 71 min | 1990

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.

3. Hoop Dreams

Directed by Steve James | Rated PG-13 | 170 min | 1994

A film following the lives of two inner-city Chicago boys who struggle to become college basketball players on the road to going professional.

4. The Thin Blue Line

Directed by Errol Morris | 103 min | 1988

A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.

5. Bowling for Columbine

Directed by Michael Moore | Rated R | 120 min | 2002

Filmmaker Michael Moore explores the roots of America's predilection for gun violence.

6. Harlan County U.S.A.

Directed by Barbara Kopple | Rated PG | 103 min | 1976

A filmed account of a bitterly violent miner strike.

7. The Times of Harvey Milk

Directed by Rob Epstein | 90 min | 1984

A documentary of the successful career and assassination of San Francisco's first elected gay councilor.

8. Grizzly Man

Directed by Werner Herzog | Rated R | 103 min | 2005

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

9. Roger & Me

Directed by Michael Moore | Rated R | 91 min | 1989

Director Michael Moore pursues GM CEO Roger Smith to confront him about the harm he did to Flint, Michigan with his massive downsizing.

10. Exit Through the Gift Shop

Directed by Banksy | Rated R | 87 min | 2010

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...

11. Man on Wire

Directed by James Marsh | Rated PG-13 | 94 min | 2008

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."

12. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

Directed by Errol Morris | Rated PG-13 | 107 min | 2003

The story of America as seen through the eyes of the former Secretary of Defense under President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara.

13. Seven Up!

Directed by Paul Almond | Rated N/A | 39 min | 1964

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 ...

14. Capturing the Friedmans

Directed by Andrew Jarecki | 107 min | 2003

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.

15. Crumb

Directed by Terry Zwigoff | Rated R | 119 min | 1994

An intimate portrait of the controversial cartoonist and his traumatized family.

16. Jesus Camp

Directed by Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady | Rated PG-13 | 87 min | 2006

A documentary on kids who attend a summer camp hoping to become the next Billy Graham.

17. Food, Inc.

Directed by Robert Kenner | Rated PG | 94 min | 2008

An unflattering look inside America's corporate controlled food industry.

18. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Directed by Seth Gordon | Rated PG-13 | 79 min | 2007

Die-hard gamers compete to break world records on classic arcade games.

19. An Inconvenient Truth

Directed by Davis Guggenheim | Rated PG | 96 min | 2006

Director Davis Guggenheim eloquently weaves the science of global warming with Al Gore's personal history and lifelong commitment to reversing the effects of global climate change in the most talked-about documentary at Sundance.

20. Salesman

Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin | Rated G | 85 min | 1968

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.

21. Man with a Movie Camera

Directed by Dziga Vertov | 68 min | 1929

A man travels around a city with a camera slung over his shoulder, documenting urban life with dazzling invention.

22. Super Size Me

Directed by Morgan Spurlock | Rated PG | 100 min | 2004

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.

23. Fahrenheit 9/11

Directed by Michael Moore | Rated R | 122 min | 2004

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.

24. Woodstock

Directed by Michael Wadleigh | Rated R | 184 min | 1970

The film chronicle of the legendary 1969 music festival.

25. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Directed by Alex Gibney | 110 min | 2005

A documentary about the Enron corporation, its faulty and corrupt business practices, and how they led to its fall.