The 100 Best Documentaries About Movies

The 100 best documentaries about movies.  Insight into the great personalities and power players of cinema in the medium most suited to convey it (plus a few great podcasts, Youtube channels, and television series thrown in for good measure.)

  1.  Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)  Directed by Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola about the tormented production of the 1979 classic Apocalypse Now.
  2.  Histoire(s) du cinéma (1989-1999)  8-part series written and directed by Jean Luc Godard about the concept of cinema and how it relates to the 20th Century.
  3.  Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood (2010) 7-part TCM docuseries on American popular film from its earliest beginnings till the fall of the studio system.
  4.  A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995) Written and directed by Martin Scorsese and Michael Henry Wilson.  Four-part series examining the director as storyteller, illusionist, smuggler and iconoclast.
  5.  Life Itself (2014)  Directed by Steve James, based on the Roger Ebert’s memoir of the same name.
  6.  Visions of Light (1992)  Directed by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy and Stuart Samuels.  The history of cinematography and its major influencers.
  7. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (2003)  Based on the 1998 book by Peter Biskind about the rise of New Hollywood in the late sixties and early seventies.
  8.  Room 237 (2008)  Directed by Rodney Ascher about several Kubrick enthusiasts and their diverse interpretations of The Shining.
  9. Sisket & Ebert At the Movies (1982)  The iconic movie review program with films critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
  10. Five Came Back (2017)  Based on the book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris.  Three part series about the five legendary directors who took time off from their careers to shoot documentary footage overseas during World War 2.
  11.  The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)  Written and directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen.  Autobiography of film producer Robert Evans.
  12. Burden of Dreams (1989)  Directed by Les Blank about the chaotic production of Werner Herzog’s 1982 classic Fitzcarraldo.
  13.  Inside the Actors Studio (1994)  Long running show with host James Lipton as he interviews famous film actors.
  14.  Spielberg (2017)  Directed by Susan Lacy.  The life and work of Steven Spielberg.
  15.  Directed by John Ford (1971)  Written and directed by Peter Bogdanovich about his idol, film legend John Ford.
  16.  Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)  Directed by Frank Pavich.  About director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to adapt the novel Dune to the big screen.
  17. Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980) Directed by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill.  Exhaustive 13-part series on the history and major players of the American silent film era.
  18.  The Rewatchables (2015)  Ringer podcast with Bill Simmons and friends about the most rewatchable movies, broken down into fun segments like ‘what’s aged the best?’ and ‘who won the movie?’  Highlights include Heat, Jaws, King of NY, and Butch Cassidy.
  19.  The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)  Written and directed by Mark Cousins.  15-part British series that examines world cinema from its birth on through present day.
  20.  Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001) Directed by Jan Harlan about the life and work of legendary director Stanley Kubrick.
  21.  Best Worst Movie (2009)  Written and directed by Michael Stephenson.  About the making of the infamously bad Trolls 2 and its subsequent rebirth as a cult hit.
  22.  The Battle Over Citizen Kane (1996)  Directed by Michael Epstein and Thomas Lennon about newspaper mogul William Randolph Heart’s battle to bury Citizen Kane.
  23. The Movies (2019)  Six-part CNN series that takes a decade by decade approach to the major American films that mattered most.
  24.  The Pixar Story (2007)  Written and directed by Leslie Iwerks about the history of Pixar Animation Studios.
  25.  Lost in La Mancha (2002)  Written and directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. About Terry Gilliam’s failed first attempt at making The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (which he would ultimately complete almost two decades later)
  26.  American Movie (1999)  Directed by Chris Smith.  Grand Jury Prize winner for Documentary at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, American Movie follows Mark Borchardt and his haphazard production of the indy horror movie Coven.
  27.  Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015)  Directed by Kent Jones.  Written by Kent Jones and Serge Toubian.  Charts the affectionate relationship between two titans of filmmaking.
  28.  American Cinema (1995)  John Lithgow narrated 10 episodes series highlighting different aspects of the American movie landscape.  (Check out the “Edge of Hollywood” episode with a young Tarantino, Soderbergh and Coen Brother appearances)
  29.  Film Worker (2017)  Directed by Tony Zierra.  Chronicle of Leon Vitali, a man who gave up an acting career to serve for much of his life as Stanley Kubrick’s assistant.
  30.  Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (2007)  Written and directed by Kent Jones.  Scorsese narrated tribute to legendary low-budget horror producer Val Lewton.
  31.  The Men Who Made the Movies (1973)  Series covering Hitchcock, Hawks, Wellman, Walsh, Fuller, Cukor, Capra, Vidor, and Minnelli.
  32.  The Last Mogul (2005)  Directed by Barry Avrich.  The life and exploits of agent and studio executive Lew Wasserman.
  33.  Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood (1995)  Six-part series on the history of silent-era European cinema.
  34.  Inside Deep Throat (2005)  Written and directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.  Chronicle of the 1972 porn classic Deep Throat and its effect on the culture at large.
  35. Cinefix (2006)  Youtube channel with well-researched list-based dives into great directors, shots, performances, and moments.
  36.  This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)  Directed by Kirby Dick.  Discussion of how the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system effects how movies are perceived and released.
  37.  Los Angeles Plays Itself (2004)  Written and directed by Thom Anderson.   Making extensive use of film clips, a look at how the famous city has been portrayed in movies over the years.
  38.  Side by Side (2012)  Directed by Christopher Kenneally.  Explores the differences between photochemical and digital film and their impact on the industry.
  39.  Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin (2003)  Written and directed by Richard Schickel.  Sydney Pollack nominated account of the life, legend, and legacy of Charlie Chaplin.
  40.  A Decade Under the Influence (2003)  Directed by Ted Demme and Richard LaGravenese about the rise of New Hollywood in the 1970s.
  41.  By Sidney Lumet (2015)  Directed by Nancy Buirski.  The life and works of director Sidney Lumet.
  42.  Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016)  Written and directed by Matt Schrader.  Interviews with a wide array of film composers discussing the importance and technique behind a film score.
  43.  De Palma (2015)  Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow.  The life and films of director Brian De Palma.
  44. MGM: When The Lion Roars (1992) Six hour history of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios narrated by Patrick Stewart.
  45.  The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Moviemaking (2004)  Directed by Wendy Apple about the craft of movie editing.
  46.  Listen to Me Marlon (2015)  Written and directed by Stevan Riley.  Probing look at game-changing thespian Marlon Brando.
  47.  Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner (2007)  Directed by Charles de Lauzirika about the troubled production and enduring legacy of Blade Runner.
  48. The Shark Is Still Working (2007)  Directed by Erik Hollander.  Jaws and its place in the culture.
  49.  Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light (2006)  The history and hallmarks of the film noir.
  50.  Casting By (2012)  Directed by Tom Donahue.  The history of the casting profession, with particular attention paid to the impactful work of Marion Dougherty.
  51. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired/Odd Man Out (2008/2013)  Directed by Marina Zenovich about the sexual abuse case of director Roman Polanski.
  52.  I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (2009)  Directed by Richard Shepard.  The life and career of acting legend John Cazale, who in the 1970’s appeared in five Best Picture-nominated films in six years.
  53.  78/52 Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (2017)  Written and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe.  All about the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 suspense classic Psycho.
  54.  Vice Guide to Film (2016)  Multi-season series on today’s great directors and film movements.
  55.  These Amazing Shadows (2011)  Directed by Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton.  The history and importance of the National Film Registry.
  56.  Altman (2014)  Directed by Ron Mann and written by Len Blum.  The life and career of director Robert Altman.
  57.  The Great Buster (2018)  Written and directed by Peter Bogdanovich about the seminal comic actor/director Buster Keaton.
  58.  My Voyage to Italy (1999)  Directed by Martin Scorsese about Rossellini, de Sica, Fellini, and the history of Italian neorealism.
  59. Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014)  Directed by Chuck Workman about legendary actor/director Orson Welles.
  60.  Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)  Directed by Don Hahn about the Disney animation renaissance from 1984-1994.
  61.  My Best Fiend (1999)  Werner Herzog film about his tumultuous yet fruitful relationship with actor Klaus Kinski.
  62. Hal (2018)  Directed by Amy Scott.  The career of director Hal Ashby.
  63. How Did This Get Made (2010)  Podcast hosted by Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas in which a different bad film is dissected each episode.
  64. Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)  The wild story of the disastrous production behind the 1996 film The Island of Doctor Moreau.
  65.  Full Tilt Boogie (1997)  Directed by Sarah Kelly.  Chronicles the production of the 1996 film From Duck till Dawn.
  66.  Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven’s Gate (2004)  Directed by Michael Epstein.  The story behind Michael Cimino and the greatest flop in movie history.
  67.  They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018)  Directed by Morgan Neville.  Film about the making of The Other Side of the Wind, an experimental film by Orson Welles released in 2018 after forty years in development.
  68. That Guy…Who Was in That Thing (2012)  Directed by Ian Roumain and Michael Schwartz about the lives of sixteen character actors.
  69.  Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019)  Written and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe about how Ridley Scott’s Alien came into being.
  70.  Becoming Mike Nichols (2016)  Interview with legendary director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Catch-22)
  71.  Every Frame a Painting (2014)  28 video essays from Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou, to be found on Youtube.
  72.  Goldwyn: The Man and His Movies (2001)  The life of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn.
  73.  Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream (2005)  Directed by Stuart Samuel and covering six landmark “midnight” movies (Rocky Horror, Eraserhead, Pink Flamingos etc) from the 1970’s and how they forever changed cinema.
  74.  Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematography (2019)  Directed by Daniel Raim.  TCM doc on the early history of cinematography.
  75.  American Grindhouse (2010)  Written and directed by Elijah Drenner about the history of the exploitation film from cinema’s first beginnings to present day.
  76.  Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011)  Written and directed by Alex Stapleton about the career of filmmaker Roger Corman and the generation of great directors he helped give rise to.
  77.  You Must Remember This: The Warner Brothers Story (2008)  A 4-hour history of the famous movie studio from director Richard Schickel.
  78.  Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann (1992)  A look at one of the greatest film composers in movie history.
  79.  James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction (2018)  Six-part series about the history of the science fiction genre.
  80.  Overnight (2003)  Written and directed by Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith about the rise and fall of Troy Duffy, writer-director of Boondock Saints.
  81.  The Movies That Made Us (2019)  Netflix series created by Brian Volk-Weiss covering popular movies and the stories behind them.
  82.  Seduced and Abandoned (2013)  Directed by James Toback.  Explores the process of film financing by following Toback and Alec Baldwin as they attempt to shop a movie concept at Cannes.
  83. Marlene (1984)  Academy award nominated film from Maximillian Schell about iconic golden age actress Marlene Dietrich.
  84.  Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019)  Directed by Midge Costin and written by Bobette Buster.  Examination of the craft of sound design.
  85.  The Godfather Legacy (2012)  Directed by Kevin Burns about the legend and cultural impact of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy.
  86.  And the Oscar Goes To… (2014)  Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman about the history of the Academy Awards.
  87. For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism (2009)  Interviews with an array of journalists and writers to chart the history of film criticism.
  88.  Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008)  Exploration of the Australian exploitation movement of the 1970’s and ’80s.
  89.  Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015)  The life and career of famed Japanese actor Tashiro Mifune.
  90.  Room 666 (1982)  During the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, Wim Wenders sets up a camera in room 666 of the Hotel Martinez and proceeds to invite 16 different directors to enter one by one and answer questions about the future of cinema.
  91.  Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010)  The legacy of influential cinematographer Jack Cardiff.
  92.  David Lynch: The Art Life (2016)  Director David Lynch shares the formative years that would help shape his outlook on life and filmmaking.
  93.  Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché (2018)  Pamela Green investigates the life and legacy of pioneering (female) film director Alice Guy-Blaché.
  94.  No Subtitles Necessary: Lazlo & Vilmos (2008)  The lifelong friendship of two of the greatest cinematographers of our time, László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond.
  95.  Cinemania (2002)  Follows five obsessive cinephiles in New York City.
  96.  Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (2013)  Directed by Erik Sharkey about the career of famous movie poster artist Drew Struzan.
  97.  The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)  Probing look at the life of Leni Riefenstahl, the greatest director and film propagandist of the Third Reich.
  98.  You Must Remember This (2014)  Podcast series by Katrina Longwood covering topics like The Hollywood Blacklist, Joan Crawford, Howard Hughes and other topics.
  99. One Hundred Years of Cinema (2016) Youtube series covering significant cinematic moments and turning points for each of the past hundred years.
  100. Tales From the Script (2009)  Directed by Peter Hanson.  Dozens of popular screenwriters talk about their craft.

 

Honorable Mentions: Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (2020), Irving Thalberg: Prince of Hollywood (2005), Hollywood The Golden Years: The RKO Story (1987), Cinerama Adventure (2002), Hollywood on Trial (1976), Everything or Nothing (2012), Cleanflix (2009), The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened (2015), Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust (2004), Filmspotting (2005), The American Nightmare (2000), Notfilm (2015), Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood (1998), 21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014), Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011), Cecil B. Demille: American Epic (2004), The First 100 Years: A Celebration of American Movies (1995), John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs (2017), This Changes Everything (2018), Max Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema (2018), Billy Wilder: The Human Comedy (1998), The Perverts Guide to Cinema (2006), Naked Hollywood (1991), Preston Sturges: Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (1990), The Making of Lawrence of Arabia (2000), Cinemability: The Art of Inclusion (2018), Waldo Salt: A Screenwriters Journey (1992), Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010), D.W. Griffith: Father of Film (1993), Cinematographer Style (2006), Milius (2013), Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006), James Dean: The First American Teenager (1975), Two in the Wave (2010), Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood (2001), Hollywood: The Dream Factory (1972), They Gotta Have Us (2018), Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004), Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (2000), The Celluloid Closet (1995), QT8: The First Eight (2019), McKellen: Playing the Part (2017), Everything is Copy (2015), Romantic Comedy (2019), Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014), Becoming Bond (2017), A Letter to Elia (2010), Birth of the Living Dead (2013), The Dying of the Light (2015), Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2011), Industrial Light and Magic: Creating the Impossible (2010), Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film (2008), The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys (1996), Women He’s Undressed (2015), Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks (2019)

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