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Reddit’s 15 Best Documentaries Are Essential Watches

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Reddit’s 15 Best Documentaries Are Essential Watches

Key Points

  • Reddit is a trustworthy source for documentary recommendations due to its diverse user base and unique perspectives.
  • Some subreddits may have blind spots and be less active, so it’s best to browse multiple subreddits for a clearer picture.
  • The top 15 documentaries mentioned on Reddit include ‘As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty’, ‘Tokyo Olympiad’, ‘Grey Gardens’, ‘Chronicle of a Summer’, and ‘Titicut Follies’.
  • Other notable documentaries on the list are ‘F for Fake’, ‘Koyaanisqatsi’, ‘The Thin Blue Line’, ‘Hoop Dreams’, and ‘Paris Is Burning’.
  • The top three documentaries are ‘Close-Up’, ‘Man with a Movie Camera’, and ‘Shoah’, with ‘Shoah’ being named the best documentary ever made.

The truth is much stranger than fiction. And, as over a century of film history has shown us, narrative fiction can get pretty strange as it is. This oft-repeated expression is a testament to the power of documentary filmmaking. But, for those not well-versed in documentary, how do you know to begin? Turns out, Reddit has plenty of recommendations for you to check out. We’ve scoured several subreddits to round up the 15 best documentaries Reddit mentions the most. Have you seen any of these 15? And which one will you watch next?

Can You Trust Reddit for Recommendations?

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Reddit is a great place for streaming, reading, listening, and gaming recommendations.

Reddit can be an excellent place to find tips and suggestions for a variety of different needs. With so many different subreddits and communities to choose from, you’re likely to find unique tips and tricks in every thread you peruse. This is what makes Reddit so trustworthy. The user base consists of diverse people from all over the world. All of these different life experiences and individual perspectives come together to form recommendations you can trust.

Of course, as with any social media site, there are some things to be wary of. For one, some subreddits have serious blind spots compared to others. For example, some communities are decidedly more rooted in America or the Western world than others. This could lead to the exclusion of many international users, and, as a result, many international films. That’s why it’s worth hopping around several subreddits to get a clearer picture.

Likewise, some subreddits are much less active than others. When this happens, you may only get a few responses to a post as opposed to hundreds or thousands in a more popular thread. This is another reason to browse multiple subreddits to get the best idea of a given subject. That’s how we determined Reddit’s best documentaries, after all; by examining multiple subreddits from throughout the site and keeping track of the documentaries mentioned most.

15. As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000)

Personal Introspective
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If the question was the longest documentary movie title, then Jonas Mekas’s 2000 film As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty would likely be in the top spot. Alas, the real question is Reddit’s best documentaries of all time, and Mekas’s exceptional doc comes in at #15. This documentary is a personal and introspective journey by the documentarian, composed of his own home movies and recordings that capture the fleeting moments of beauty in everyday life. Reddit users love the way Mekas reflects on memories, family, and the passing of time.

14. Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

More Than Sport
Tokyo Olympiad (Blu-Ray)
$21.83
  • Runtime: 170 minutes
  • Directed by: Kon Ichikawa
  • Criterion Collection special edition
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02/22/2024 09:39 am GMT

Of all the sports documentaries out there — of which there are many — Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad remains Reddit’s favorite. The documentary chronicles the 1964 Summer Olympics, held that year in Tokyo, Japan. Despite how it sounds, Tokyo Olympiad goes far beyond the typical sports coverage. Ichikawa’s doc is a visually stunning and poetic exploration of human strength, determination, and cultural significance. Reddit admires the film for its artistic and stylistic achievements alike.

13. Grey Gardens (1975)

Reality in the Hamptons
Grey Gardens (Blu-Ray)
$22.14
  • Runtime: 95 minutes
  • Directed by: Albert and David Maysles
  • Criterion Collection special edition
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02/22/2024 09:39 am GMT

This hit documentary from Albert and David Maysles provides an intimate portrait of an eccentric mother-daughter duo living in a dilapidated mansion in the Hamptons. Their relation to the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy is hardly the strangest thing about Big and Little Edie. With a mix of humor and pathos, the film captures their isolated existence and crumbling surroundings. Redditors are drawn to the film’s fascinating characters, their complex relationship, and the documentary’s ability to evoke empathy and raise questions about social class and mental health.

12. Chronicle of a Summer (1961)

Happiness in Paris
Chronicle of a Summer (Blu-Ray)
$27.99
  • Runtime: 87 minutes
  • Directed by: Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch
  • Criterion Collection special edition
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02/22/2024 09:40 am GMT

Many Redditors gave a shout-out to the influential French documentary Chronicle of a Summer. Directed by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, the Vérité-style film explores the lives and perspectives of various Parisians through interviews and candid shots. The film aims to examine the nature of happiness and truth, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. The film’s innovative approach and its realistic depiction of ordinary people are both relatable and thought-provoking alike. Plus, it was a foundational work in the future of the storytelling style.

11. Titicut Follies (1967)

The Insane Truth
Titicut Follies (DVD)
$23.79
  • Runtime: 84 minutes
  • Directed by: Frederick Wiseman
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02/22/2024 09:43 am GMT

Reddit regards Frederick Wiseman as the greatest documentary filmmaker you’ve probably never heard of. His first doc, Titicut Follies, was impossible to see for many years after its release. This was due to its incredibly controversial nature. It takes an unflinching look inside Massachusetts’s Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. The film exposes the harsh and dehumanizing conditions endured by the inmates, sparking discussions about mental health treatment and legal investigations into institutional abuse.

10. F for Fake (1974)

Art vs. Truth
F for Fake (Blu-Ray)
$27.99
  • Runtime: 87 minutes
  • Directed by: Orson Welles
  • Criterion Collection special edition
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02/22/2024 09:43 am GMT

While Orson Welles is best known for his narrative films, his genre-bending documentary F for Fake still ranks among his very best work. Reddit agrees. By blending fact and fiction, Welles investigates notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory and his biographer Clifford Irving to get at the heart of art as a whole. Reddit users are drawn to the film’s playful and enigmatic style, as it challenges traditional documentary conventions and raises philosophical questions about the nature of truth and artistry.

9. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

Silent Film
The Qatsi Trilogy (Blu-Ray)
$39.99
  • Includes Koyaanisqatsi (1983), Powaqqatsi (1988), and Naqoyqatsi (2002) on Blu-Ray
  • Directed by: Godfrey Reggio
  • Criterion Collection special edition box set
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02/22/2024 09:44 am GMT

Koyaanisqatsi was directed by Godfrey Reggio and features a score by the inimitable Philip Glass. This experimental documentary uses stunning time-lapse and slow-motion cinematography to depict the relationship between humanity, nature, and technology. In other words, Reddit’s appreciation of the film is not hard to understand. The film’s lack of dialogue and reliance on visual imagery creates a mesmerizing and immersive experience. Viewers are instantly captivated by its unique visual storytelling. It’s both visually striking and seriously thought-provoking.

8. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

For Justice
The Thin Blue Line (Blu-Ray)
$21.82
  • Runtime: 101 minutes
  • Directed by: Errol Morris
  • Criterion Collection special edition
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02/22/2024 09:49 am GMT

Love true crime? Reddit believes you need to see The Thin Blue Line, directed by Errol Morris, this documentary single-handedly defined the true crime genre as we know it. The film investigates the wrongful conviction of Randall Dale Adams for the murder of a police officer, raising doubts about the case and exposing flaws in the criminal justice system through interviews and reenactments. Documentary-loving Redditors praise the film’s meticulous research and its role in shedding light on a miscarriage of justice, sparking discussions about the power of documentaries to effect change.

7. Hoop Dreams (1994)

America Dreams of Basketball
Hoop Dreams (Blu-Ray)
$21.72
  • Runtime: 171 minutes
  • Directed by: Steve James
  • Criterion Collection special edition
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02/22/2024 09:50 am GMT

Steve James’s Hoop Dreams is so much more than just a sports documentary. The film follows the lives of two Black high school students who aspire to become professional basketball players after graduation. James’s documentary explores issues of race, class, and the pursuit of the American Dream, providing an intimate and honest portrayal of their struggles and triumphs. Reddit users find it impossible not to be deeply moved by the film’s compelling storytelling and its ability to illuminate the complexities of social mobility and the dedication required to achieve your dreams in America.

6. Paris Is Burning (1990)

Freedom in Paris
Paris is Burning (Blu-Ray)
$27.99
  • Runtime: 78 minutes
  • Directed by: Jennie Livingston
  • Criterion Collection special edition
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02/22/2024 09:50 am GMT

Directed by Jennie Livingston, Paris Is Burning explores the vibrant drag ball culture of New York City in the 1980s. Livingston’s documentary celebrates the creativity, resilience, and personal expression of the LGBTQ+ community at a time when doing so wasn’t nearly as acceptable as it is today. The documentary also addresses the intersectional issues of race, gender, and identity. Paris Is Burning makes you fall in love with its captivating subjects, its exploration of marginalized communities, and the celebration of self-acceptance and empowerment.

5. Sans Soleil (1983)

Poetry
La Jetee & Sans Soleil (Blu-Ray)
$21.72
  • Runtime: 100 minutes
  • Directed by: Chris Marker
  • Criterion Collection special edition
  • Includes influential short film "La Jetée"
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02/22/2024 09:54 am GMT

Sans Soleil is an experimental documentary by Chris Marker. Considered a poetic meditation on memory, time, and cultural differences, many Redditors think quite highly of this unconventional doc. Through a collage of images and philosophical musings, the film takes the viewer on a global journey, contemplating the nature of existence and the human experience. Its enigmatic and intellectually stimulating nature will intrigue you, letting you appreciate the film’s ability to provoke contemplation and invite personal interpretation.

4. The Act of Killing (2012)

Genocide in Reflection
The Act of Killing [Blu-ray]
$12.01
  • Runtime: 115 minutes
  • Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer
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02/22/2024 09:54 am GMT

The most recent title on this list of Reddit’s best documentaries, The Act of Killing, was seen as an instant classic from the moment it was released in 2012. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, this documentary confronts the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s by having the perpetrators reenact their crimes in cinematic styles of their choosing. It offers a chilling examination of power, guilt, and the nature of evil unlike anything else captured on film before — narrative, documentary, or otherwise. It’s audacious and provocative at once, landing it a coveted spot in Reddit’s top five.

3. Close-Up (1990)

Who's Real?
Close-Up (Blu-Ray)
$27.10
  • Runtime: 98 minutes
  • Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
  • Criterion Collection special edition
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02/22/2024 09:59 am GMT

Rounding out Reddit’s top three best documentaries is Close-Up by Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. This docudrama blurs the line between fiction and reality, recounting the true story of a man who impersonated real filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The film combines reenactments, interviews, and actual courtroom footage, raising questions about identity, art, and the role of cinema as a whole. Film scholars and Redditors alike admire the film’s captivating narrative structure and its exploration of the transformative power of storytelling.

2. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Trailblazer
Man With a Movie Camera (Blu-Ray)
$19.49
  • Runtime: 67 minutes
  • Directed by: Dziga Vertov
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02/22/2024 09:59 am GMT

You won’t find an older, more historic film on Reddit’s list of the best documentaries. Directed by influential experimental filmmaker Dziga Vertov in 1929, this pioneering silent documentary captures the essence of urban life in Soviet cities through a series of visually innovative and experimental techniques that still feel fresh to this day. The film celebrates the power of filmmaking and the possibilities of the medium at a time when it was just starting as an art form. First-time viewers and longtime fans admire the way it pushes the boundaries of cinematic language.

1. Shoah (1985)

Confronting the Holocaust
Shoah (Blu-Ray)
$99.99
  • Runtime: 566 minutes
  • Directed by: Claude Lanzmann
  • Criterion Collection special edition
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02/22/2024 10:04 am GMT

If you know a thing or two about documentary, then you may have seen this #1 pick coming. Reddit named Shoah the best of the best documentaries ever made, and for a good reason. Directed by Claude Lanzmann and clocking in at nearly nine and a half hours long, this monumental documentary is an extensive exploration of the Holocaust through interviews with survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators. The film does away with archival footage and relies on long takes. This creates an immersive and haunting experience that confronts the atrocities of the past.

Summary Table

RankDocumentary
#15As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000)
#14Tokyo Olympiad (1965)
#13Grey Gardens (1975)
#12Chronicle of a Summer (1961)
#11Titicut Follies (1967)
#10F for Fake (1974)
#9Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
#8The Thin Blue Line (1988)
#7Hoop Dreams (1994)
#6Paris Is Burning (1990)
#5Sans Soleil (1983)
#4The Act of Killing (2012)
#3Close-Up (1990)
#2Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
#1Shoah (1985)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a documentary?

Defining a documentary is a lot more difficult than you might think. In the most basic of terms, a documentary is a film or video that aims to inform, educate, or raise awareness about real-life events, people, or issues. However, many filmmakers attempt to bend or redefine these basic principles to create entirely unique projects under the banner of documentary.

How is a documentary different from fiction?

Documentaries differ from narrative films because most focus on real-life subjects rather than fictional narratives. Beyond this, they often use interviews, archival footage, and observational techniques to present an authentic depiction of their subject matter. While fictional films entertain through storytelling, documentaries strive to educate, provoke thought, or advocate for social change.

How do you make a documentary?

Most documentaries are made by researching the subject, conducting interviews, gathering relevant footage, and editing the material to create a coherent narrative. Filmmakers often have a specific point of view or message they want to convey, and they use storytelling techniques to engage the audience and present their perspective on the topic. However, there are no real rules to documentary filmmaking that you must abide by.

Are there different genres of documentary?

Yes, documentaries can cover a wide range of topics and adopt various styles while doing so. Some common types include observational documentaries that observe and capture real-life situations, historical documentaries that explore past events, biographical documentaries that focus on the lives of specific individuals, and social issue documentaries that shed light on societal problems or advocate for change.

Why do documentaries matter?

Documentaries play a crucial role in informing and educating viewers about real-world issues. They provide a platform for marginalized voices, raise awareness about social, environmental, and political challenges, and encourage viewers to examine and question the world around them critically. Documentaries can also inspire empathy, foster understanding, and promote positive change by shedding light on important stories and perspectives that might otherwise go unnoticed.

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