EW Greatest Movies Ever Made - Documentary

by michaelseaman | created - 26 Aug 2012 | updated - 26 Aug 2012 | Public

From the book published in 1996, focusing on home viewing.

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1. Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)

PG | 103 min | Documentary

80 Metascore

A filmed account of a bitterly violent miner strike.

Director: Barbara Kopple | Stars: Norman Yarborough, Houston Elmore, Phil Sparks, John Corcoran

Votes: 4,415

2. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)

Not Rated | 65 min | Documentary

This movie shows us one day in Berlin, the rhythm of that time, starting at the earliest morning and ends in the deepest night.

Director: Walter Ruttmann | Star: Paul von Hindenburg

Votes: 3,553

4. Triumph of the Will (1935)

Not Rated | 110 min | Documentary, History, War

The infamous propaganda film of the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, Germany.

Director: Leni Riefenstahl | Stars: Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, Max Amann, Martin Bormann

Votes: 13,980

5. Night and Fog (1956)

Not Rated | 32 min | Documentary, Short, History

The history of Nazi Germany's death camps of the Final Solution and the hellish world of dehumanization and death contained inside.

Director: Alain Resnais | Stars: Michel Bouquet, Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler

Votes: 15,833

7. Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989)

79 min | Documentary, Biography, History

A collection of profiles of people dead from AIDS who are remembered in the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman | Stars: Sara Lewinstein, David Mandell, Suzi Mandell, Sallie Perryman

Votes: 571

8. Workout (I) (1982 Video)

Not Rated | 90 min | Sport

Jane Fonda's Workout is the original Workout program inspired by her best-selling book. The program includes a 30 minute Beginners' class and a 60 minute Advanced session. Include segments ... See full summary »

Director: Sidney Galanty | Stars: Jane Fonda, Steve Brourman, Beverly Brown, Carol Gutierrez

Votes: 49

9. Always for Pleasure (1978)

Not Rated | 58 min | Documentary

A look at the spirit of New Orleans. First a funeral: Allen Toussaint explains that you arrive slow and cut up afterwards. Then it's food, with a lesson in eating crayfish at Frankie and ... See full summary »

Director: Les Blank | Stars: Blue Lu Barker, Henry 'Professor Longhair' Byrd, Dr. John, Aaron Neville

Votes: 347

10. J'ai été au bal (1989)

84 min | Documentary, Music

Film on the history of the toe-tapping, foot-stomping music of French Southwest Louisiana.

Directors: Les Blank, Chris Strachwitz

Votes: 67

11. Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking (1990)

Not Rated | 31 min | Documentary, Short

"Les Blank marries his passion for spicy, down home food and his love for Cajuns and Creoles in this mouth-watering, exploration of the cooking, and other enthusiasms, of French-speaking ... See full summary »

Directors: Les Blank, Maureen Gosling

Votes: 185

12. The People vs. Paul Crump (1962 TV Movie)

52 min | Documentary

Paul Crump, age 22, was caught up in a failed robbery with four other black men and was sentenced to die in the electric chair. Friedkin so believed in Crump's innocence that he made The People vs. Paul Crump in order to save his life.

Director: William Friedkin | Stars: Major James Harris, Mary Alice Harris

Votes: 49

13. Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987 TV Movie)

PG-13 | 84 min | Documentary, History, War

A documentary featuring letters written by U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines during the Vietnam War to their families and friends back home. Archive footage of the war and news ... See full summary »

Director: Bill Couturié | Stars: Tom Berenger, Ellen Burstyn, J. Kenneth Campbell, Richard Chaves

Votes: 1,666

14. The Clowns (1970 TV Movie)

G | 92 min | Documentary, Comedy

A ragout of real memories and mockumentary, as Fellini explores a childhood obsession: circus clowns.

Director: Federico Fellini | Stars: Riccardo Billi, Federico Fellini, Gigi Reder, Tino Scotti

Votes: 1,894

15. Night Mail (1936)

Approved | 25 min | Short, Documentary

Shows the special train on which mail is sorted, dropped and collected on the run, and delivered in Scotland overnight.

Directors: Harry Watt, Basil Wright | Stars: Arthur Clark, John Grierson, Stuart Legg, Robert Rae

Votes: 1,140

16. Nanook of the North (1922)

Not Rated | 78 min | Documentary

In this silent predecessor to the modern documentary, film-maker Robert J. Flaherty spends one year following the lives of Nanook and his family, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle.

Director: Robert J. Flaherty | Stars: Allakariallak, Alice Nevalinga, Cunayou, Allegoo

Votes: 9,859

17. Man of Aran (1934)

Not Rated | 76 min | Documentary

In this blend of documentary and fictional narrative from pioneering filmmaker Robert Flaherty, the everyday trials of life on Ireland's unforgiving Aran Islands are captured with attention to naturalistic beauty and historical detail.

Director: Robert J. Flaherty | Stars: Colman 'Tiger' King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane, Pat Mullin

Votes: 1,800

18. Louisiana Story (1948)

Approved | 78 min | Adventure, Drama

The idyllic life of a young Cajun boy and his pet raccoon is disrupted when the tranquility of the bayou is broken by an oil well drilling near his home.

Director: Robert J. Flaherty | Stars: Joseph Boudreaux, Lionel Le Blanc, E. Bienvenu, Frank Hardy

Votes: 1,503

19. The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)

Unrated | 25 min | Documentary, Short, Drama

This documentary is about what happened to the Great Plains of the United States when a combination of farming practices and environmental factors led to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Director: Pare Lorentz | Stars: Thomas Chalmers, Bam White

Votes: 603

20. Salesman (1969)

G | 85 min | Documentary, Drama

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.

Directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin | Stars: Paul Brennan, Charles McDevitt, James Baker, Raymond Martos

Votes: 4,275

21. Inside Rooms: 26 Bathrooms, London & Oxfordshire, 1985 (1985)

26 min | Documentary, Short

Greenaway's documentary short shows us...well, 26 bathrooms, some in use by their owners while we visit. Whee!

Director: Peter Greenaway | Stars: Cosey Fanni Tutti, Geoffrey Palmer

Votes: 315

22. Best Boy (1979)

111 min | Documentary, Biography

In this documentary, the director follows the day-to-day activities of his retarded, middle-aged cousin Philly, over a three-year period.

Director: Ira Wohl | Stars: Ira Wohl, Philip Wohl, Zero Mostel, Christine O'Connor

Votes: 575

23. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Not Rated | 101 min | Documentary, Crime, Drama

79 Metascore

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

Director: Errol Morris | Stars: Randall Adams, David Ray Harris, Gus Rose, Jackie Johnson

Votes: 20,155 | Gross: $1.21M

24. Sherman's March (1985)

Not Rated | 157 min | Documentary, Biography, Comedy

Documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee sets out to make a movie about Union General Sherman's March to the Sea towards the end of the American Civil War, but keeps getting sidetracked by his own love life.

Director: Ross McElwee | Stars: Ross McElwee, Dede McElwee, Ross McElwee Jr., Patricia Rendleman

Votes: 2,195

26. Olympia Part One: Festival of the Nations (1938)

Not Rated | 111 min | Documentary, Sport

The document of the 1936 Olympics at Berlin.

Director: Leni Riefenstahl | Stars: David Albritton, Arvo Askola, Jack Beresford, Erwin Blask

Votes: 4,009

27. Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty (1938)

Not Rated | 90 min | Documentary, Sport

The document of the 1936 Olympics at Berlin, orchestrated as Nazi propaganda.

Director: Leni Riefenstahl | Stars: Sheigo Arai, Jack Beresford, Ralf Berzsenyi, Ferenc Csík

Votes: 3,356

28. Hawai · Maree oki kaisen (1942)

116 min | Drama, History, War

When a boy who is in the navy college returns home for vacation he meets his young cousin who also wants to join in order to become a pilot. However, the younger man's mother is ... See full summary »

Director: Kajirô Yamamoto | Stars: Denjirô Ôkôchi, Yatarô Kurokawa, Setsuko Hara, Kaoru Itô

Votes: 80

EW refers to a title called "The Battle of Kharkov (1942)" which IMDB has no knowledge of.

EW here refers to a 1962 documentary titled "The Battle of Stalingrad."

30. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)

R | 96 min | Documentary

Documentary that chronicles how Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) was plagued by extraordinary script, shooting, budget, and casting problems--nearly destroying the life and career of the celebrated director.

Directors: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola | Stars: Dennis Hopper, Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, George Lucas

Votes: 17,200 | Gross: $1.32M

31. The Civil War (1990)

TV-14 | 680 min | Documentary, History, War

A comprehensive survey of the American Civil War.

Stars: David McCullough, Sam Waterston, Julie Harris, Jason Robards

Votes: 11,677

32. Oratorio for Prague (1968)

26 min | Documentary, Short, War

A unique document of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the movie was begun as a documentary about the liberalization of Czechoslovakia and then became a record of the entry of ... See full summary »

Director: Jan Nemec | Star: Gene Moskowitz

Votes: 102

33. Paris Is Burning (1990)

R | 71 min | Documentary

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.

Director: Jennie Livingston | Stars: Brooke Xtravaganza, André Christian, Dorian Corey, Paris Duprée

Votes: 10,060 | Gross: $3.78M

34. General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait (1974)

Not Rated | 92 min | Documentary

A documentary on the military dictator of Africa's Uganda.

Director: Barbet Schroeder | Stars: Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Golda Meir

Votes: 1,529

35. Pumping Iron (1977)

PG | 86 min | Documentary, Sport

72 Metascore

From Gold's Gym in Venice Beach California to the showdown in Pretoria, amateur and professional bodybuilders prepare for the 1975 Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe contests in this ... See full summary »

Directors: George Butler, Robert Fiore | Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Matty Ferrigno, Victoria Ferrigno

Votes: 20,224

36. Visions of Light (1992)

92 min | Documentary, History

Cameramen and women discuss the craft and art of cinematography and of the "DP" (the director of photography), illustrating their points with clips from 100 films, from Birth of a Nation to... See full summary »

Directors: Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, Stuart Samuels | Stars: Conrad L. Hall, John Bailey, Vilmos Zsigmond, Charles Lang

Votes: 2,904 | Gross: $0.80M

37. Streetwise (1984)

91 min | Documentary

Gritty documentary that looks at the lives of teenagers living on the streets of Seattle.

Director: Martin Bell | Stars: Roberta Joseph Hayes, Baby Gramps, Erin Blackwell, Lou Ellen Couch

Votes: 1,480 | Gross: $0.01M

38. Four More Years (1972 TV Movie)

62 min | Documentary

This witty and startlingly candid look at the 1972 Republican National Convention is a classic work of guerrilla television, and an alternative time capsule of an era of dramatic change in American politics, media, and culture.

Stars: Spiro Agnew, Walter Cronkite, Gerald Ford, Herbert Kaplow

39. The Search for Robert Johnson (1992 TV Movie)

Not Rated | 72 min | Documentary, Biography, Music

A UK television documentary film about the legendary Delta blues musician Robert Johnson.

Director: Chris Hunt | Stars: Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, John Hammond, Gayle Dean Wardlow

Votes: 134

40. American Dream (1990)

PG-13 | 98 min | Documentary

Chronicles the six-month strike at Hormel in Austin, Minnesota, in 1985-86. The local union, P-9 of the Food and Commercial Workers, overwhelmingly rejects a contract offer with a $2/hour ... See full summary »

Directors: Barbara Kopple, Cathy Caplan, Thomas Haneke, Lawrence Silk | Stars: Jesse Jackson, Juan Munoz, Ray Rogers

Votes: 688 | Gross: $0.27M

41. Thank You and Good Night (1991)

83 min | Documentary

Documentary on family issues of elders, aging, and death.

Director: Jan Oxenberg | Stars: Mae Joffe, Helen Oxenberg, James Biberi

Votes: 41

42. 28 Up (1984 TV Movie)

136 min | Documentary, Biography

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

Director: Michael Apted | Stars: Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield

Votes: 2,335

43. 35 Up (1991 TV Movie)

123 min | Documentary, Biography

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 ... See full summary »

Director: Michael Apted | Stars: Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield

Votes: 2,050 | Gross: $0.92M

44. Mother Teresa (1986)

81 min | Documentary, Biography

We follow the daily activities of Mother Teresa and her nuns, in service to the poor of India and the world. Mother Teresa attends to the basic needs of her nuns and the poor, while at the ... See full summary »

Directors: Ann Petrie, Jeanette Petrie | Stars: Richard Attenborough, Mother Teresa, Mohandas K. Gandhi

Votes: 85

45. Down and Out in America (1986)

Unrated | 57 min | Documentary

A recession in the mid-1980s affects Minnesota farm workers, unemployed urban workers and the newly homeless in Los Angeles and New York.

Director: Lee Grant | Stars: Lee Grant, Jeff Farmer, Bob Hanson, Robert Hayes

Votes: 72

46. Hearts and Minds (1974)

R | 112 min | Documentary, History, War

68 Metascore

An examination of the conflicting attitudes of the opponents of the Vietnam War.

Director: Peter Davis | Stars: Tin Chan, Chau Diem, Ngo Dinh Diem, John Foster Dulles

Votes: 4,980 | Gross: $0.03M

47. The Story of America's Classic Ballparks (1991 Video)

56 min | Documentary, Sport

Documentary traces the history of four classic American baseball ballparks using archive footage and modern film.

Director: Bob Hercules | Stars: Jeff Daniels, Ernie Harwell, Eddie Forester, Charlie Gehringer

Votes: 12

48. CBS Reports (1959– )
Episode: Harvest of Shame (1960)

60 min | Documentary, News

In this CBS News production broadcast on Thanksgiving 1960, Edward R. Murrow points out the plight of migrant farm workers in America. Topics range from the harsh living conditions, endless... See full summary »

Director: Fred W. Friendly | Stars: Edward R. Murrow, Harriet Beeman, Michael Cassidy, Louis Cramp

Votes: 155