Documentaries are a major and important part of films and film history. The Academy Award has a category for Best Documentary Feature, and “My Octopus Teacher” won this year. There is also one for Best Documentary Shorts. Most of these are obscure movies, compared to those that win such categories as Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor and Actress. Few make it into theater distribution across America’s 4,000 plus theaters. They are also rarely promoted by streaming services like Amazon and Netflix.
To identify the best documentary of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the 22,407 movies in our database for which data was available from both IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator. We developed an index using average IMDb ratings and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes. Ties were broken based on the number of IMDb votes. Directorial credits come from IMDb.
Some of those we considered are heart-wrenching narratives straight from the mouths of people who survived some of the worst atrocities of our times, including the Holocaust and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many are concerts and band biographies. Others are inspiring accounts of great athletic feats and the perseverance of those who accomplished them.
Many of the documentaries we considered are calls to arms, delving into current crises with empathy and urgency and covering topics such as racism, income inequality and environmental devastation. At their best, documentaries have the power to shape how we view the world and to motivate change.
The best documentary of all time is “O.J.: Made in America” (2016), directed by Ezra Edelman. It has an IMDb average rating of 8.9 (18,706 votes) and a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 98% (1,747 votes).
This five-part miniseries explores racial tensions, violence, celebrity and achievement in America through the story of former football star O.J. Simpson, delving not only into his trial for the murder of his ex-wife but also his conviction for robbery in 2008.