Top 20 documentaries of the 2010s so far

Over the last 5 years, I watched quite a lot of documentaries. In 2015, I've been catching up on documentaries I missed. You may have noticed the marathon I've been doing on the blog over the last few months.
This list is a collection of my personal favorites from the decade so far. I'm probably overlooking some good ones, you can't watch everything.
The ranking is based on how impactful and memorable they were. Many of them were nominated for awards, others are lesser known yet of value to me.  Of course, what is deemed "best" is different for everyone, depending on what moves you, what you are interested in, and what you find important.

1.)  The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Documentary TV Series) (Mark Cousins) (review)

2.) Dreams of a Life (Carol Morley) (review)

3.)  The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer) (review)

4.)  Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy) (review)

5.)  The Imposter (Bart Layton) (review)

6.) Armadillo (Janus Metz Pedersen) (review)

7.)  Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog) (review) (review)

8.)  Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (Stevan Riley) (review)

9.) Senna (Asif Kapadia) (review)

10.)  Amy (Asif Kapadia) (review)

11.)  Drone (Tonje Hessen Schei) (review)

12.) Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite) (review)

13.) Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney)

14.) Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Alex Gibney) (review)

15.)  Metal Evolution (Documentary TV Series) (Sam Dunn) (review)

16.)  Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)

17.)  Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul) (review)

18.) Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape (Jake West) (review)

19.) Marley (Kevin Macdonald) (review)

20.) The People vs. George Lucas (Alexandre O. Philippe) (review) (this 10 min clip is hilarious)

Honorable mentions:
Finding Vivian Maier (multiple directors) (review)
Woody Allen: A Documentary (Robert B. Weide) (review)
Reagan (Eugene Jarecki) (review)
Maidentrip (Jillian Schlesinger)
Miss Representation (Jennifer Siebel Newsom) (review)
Bobby Fischer Against the World (Liz Garbus) (review)
Undefeated (multiple directors) (review)
Sinatra: All or Nothing at All (Alex Gibney) (review)
TT3D: Closer to the Edge (Richard De Aragues) (review)
A Story of Children and Film (Mark Cousins) (review)
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer) (review)
Kraftwerk - Pop Art (multiple directors) (review)
20,000 Days on Earth (multiple directors) (review)
Bully (Lee Hirsch)  (review)
56 Up (Michael Apted) (review)
The Swell Season (multiple directors) (review)
Mistaken for Strangers (Tom Berninger) (review)
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley) (review)
Life in a Day (Kevin Macdonald) (review)
Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg)
Patience After Sebald (Grant Gee) (review)
Sound City (Dave Grohl) (review)
Life Itself (Steve James) (review)
The Other Dream Team (Marius Markevicius)
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (Brett Morgen) (review)
Citizenfour (Laura Poitras) (review)
Palme (multiple directors) (review)
Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich) (review)
Rewind This! (Josh Johnson) (review)
Michael H – Profession: Director (Yves Montmayeur) (review)
Video Nasties: Draconian Days (Jake West) (review)
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky) (review)
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Martin Scorsese)
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (multiple directors)
Hawking (Stephen Finnigan) (review)
Salinger (Shane Salerno) (review)

New additions:
The Wolfpack (2015) (Crystal Moselle) (review)
Listen to Me Marlon (2015) (Stevan Riley) (review)
De Palma (2015) (Noah Baumbach) (review)
50 Years of Star Trek (2016) (Ian Roumain) (review)
From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years (2016) (Caulfield's) (review)

Yet to watch list

Have you seen any of these titles, any favorites? Which are your favorite documentaries of the 2010s so far?


  1. Great list here Chris! Man I still need to see The Story of Film, sounds like a must-see. I was very impressed by The Act Of Killing, Senna, The Armstrong Lie and Everything or Nothing, which was a lot of fun as I'm a big Bond fan.

    1. Thanks Ruth! Has been a strong decade for documentaries. Haven’t seen Armstrong Lie, enjoyed the other ones you mention.
      The Bond doc was both entertaining and enlightening about Ian Fleming’s life, I’ve seen it twice and could easily watch a third time at some stage.

  2. Really great list! I was actually surprised how moved I was by Amy this year...really powerful and unsettling doc!

    1. @Courtney: Glad you like the list! Agree Amy was moving.

  3. Of the 20, I've seen 8 of these while I'm half-way done on The Story of Film series which I hope to finish by the end of the year.

    1. @thevoid99: I love The Story of Film series

  4. I am currently in the middle of The Story of Film and once you get past the way Cousins speaks it is awesome and you really learn a lot. Looking at the rest of the titles you have picked a lot of really good ones. Haven't seen Dreams of a Life, Everything or Nothing, Drone, Mea Maxima, Metal Evolution and Video Nasties. So a couple added to my watchlist :)

    Like you I'm a big fan of documentaries, so nice to see you doing a post like this.

    1. @Nostra: I wasn’t bothered by Mark Cousins voice, as you say you get used to it, and I agree you learn a lot from him. Watching The Story of Film got me interested in A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), which was good too. Now I need to see the one Scorsese did on Italian cinema.
      Dream of a Life was very moving and something I’ll never forget. Mea Maxima is unsettling yet important.
      Will look out for your reviews of those documentaries you mention. Glad you appreciate the post!

  5. Looking at your list again I miss Dear Zachary...have you seen that?

    1. @Nostra: Dear Zachery is a 2008 film according to IMDb, so doesn’t meet the criteria of getting released in the 2010s. I see on your site you gave it a lot of praise, so I should give it a watch :)

  6. Nice list! I don't watch many docs, but Exit Through the Gift Shop, Senna, and Amy are some of my all-time favorites. Great to see less popular ones like The Swell Season, Woody Allen: A Documentary, and Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 get mentions, too.

    1. @Josh: Thanks, and happy you are a fan of those docs as well! Yeah, there are some very good documentaries I included in the honorable mentions. I could have done a top 25.

  7. I love documentaries and am glad to see a few on this list I don't recognize, so I have something to look up tonight!

    1. @Jay: A mix of popular and lesser known documentaries is what the list turned out to be!

  8. Amazing list, Chris! I've been on a bit of a documentary drought of late. Need to do some serious catching up. Seen 6 out of your Top 20 - Think Senna would be in my Top 5 - it's such a powerful film and so amazingly put together. I've got Citizen Four, Virunga, Alive Inside, Last Days in Vietnam, Life Itself and The Nightmare on my to-watch list.

    1. @Jaina: Thanks for checking out the post! 6 out of 20 is not bad. Senna is high up on my list as well. Citizenfour is an important and Life Itself is a doc to see for film enthusiasts and those interested in Ebert's life. Virunga is on my watchlist but the message about saving the gorillas looked kind of obvious, so that’s why I skipped it. Will look up the others you mention.


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