The Best Documentary of All Time

Documentaries are considered their own genre by much of the film industry. There is even an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature Film. Perhaps it is an oversimplification, but while most films are fictional, documentaries are about the “real world.”

The age of streaming has made nonfiction movies more popular (and lucrative) than ever before. Documentaries have become more accessible to audiences, and streaming platforms and production houses are putting more and more money into true crime docuseries, celebrity biographies and cult exposés.

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 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 best documentaries of all time 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,” released in 2016 and directed by Ezra Edelman. Here are the details:

  • IMDb average rating: 8.9 (18,706 votes)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 98% (1,747 votes)

This five-part miniseries explores racial tensions, violence, celebrity and achievement in America through the story of former football star and celebrity O.J. Simpson, delving not only into his trial for the murder of his ex-wife but also his conviction for robbery in 2008.

Click here to see which are the 50 best documentaries of all time.

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