50 Great Documentaries

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People occasionally ask me what’s the best way to become a better editor. For a long time, my stock answer was to watch a lot of movies. I think now that a more precise answer is to understand how movies work: to dissect them the way Renaissance artists dissected cadavers in order to better understand the human form.

With that in mind, here’s a list of 50 documentaries that I particularly enjoyed. The list is not a best of. And it’s far from complete. Many were produced in America and most are from the last 20 years. What these films have in common is that they are all tell great stories.

Make sure to add your favorite documentaries to the list below.



Grizzly Man
The Cove

Movies about Movies

Best Worst Movie
Burden of Dreams
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse
Jodoroworsky’s Dune
Lost in La Mancha


Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Beware of Mr. Baker
End of the Century – The Story of the Ramones
Hoop Dreams
The Filth and The Fury
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
The Last Waltz


12 O’Clock Boys
Brother’s Keeper
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Man on Wire
Capturing the Friedmans
Queen of Versailles
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters


Dogtown and Z-Boys
The Undefeated
When We Were Kings

War, Politics, Strife

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
Five Broken Cameras
Harlan County, U.S.A. (The Criterion Collection)
How to Survive a Plague
Iraq in Fragments
Manda Bala
No End in Sight
Paradise Lost: The Childhood Murders at Robin Hood Hills
Shoah (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Taxi To the Dark Side
The Act of Killing
The Unknown Known
Trouble the Water
Waltz with Bashir
West of Memphis
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts