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"50 Documentaries To See Before You Die" Final Top 10 (How Many Have You Seen?)

by Tambay A. Obenson
August 29, 2011 4:52 AM
51 Comments
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Current TV is currently counting down their well-researched list of 50 Documentaries To See Before You Die, doing so in bits and pieces over what seems to be several weeks.

Morgan Spurlock hosts the series, which they are calling a celebration of the most remarkable and moving documentaries released in the past 25 years, examining how the documentary feature has evolved into an increasingly popular genre, becoming a box office draw and impacting contemporary American culture.

The series premiered August 2nd, and has been airing every Tuesday night at 9PM.

The next episode will air tomorrow night, the final episode, when Morgan Spurlock will name the Top 10.

But if you can't wait until then (and haven't been following the series), below is the list of the 50 documentaries, including tomorrow's final top 10, and the #1 doc to see before you die, which I think most of you will be familiar with. I've seen exactly 30 of these films; how many have you seen?

50. Spellbound (2002)
49. Truth or Dare (1991)
48. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
47. One Day in September (1999)
46. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998)
45. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
44. Burma VJ (2008)
43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
42. Catfish (2010)
41. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
40. When We Were Kings (1996)
39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
38. March of the Penguins (2005)
37. Inside Job (2010)
36. Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
35. Paragraph 175 (2000)
34. Brother’s Keeper (1992)
33. Tongues Untied (1989)
32. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
31. Jesus Camp (2006)
30. Farhenheit 9/11 (2004)
29. Man on Wire (2008)
28. Gasland (2010)
27. Tarnation (2003)
26. Murderball (2005)
25. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
24. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
23. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000)
22. Shut Up & Sing (2006)
21. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
20. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
19. Touching the Void (2003)
18. Food, Inc. (2008)
17. Street Fight (2005)
16. Bus 174 (2002)
15. Crumb (1994)
14. Dark Days (2000)
13. The Fog of War (2003)
12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
11. Paris Is Burning (1991)
10. Grizzly Man (2005)
9. Trouble the Water (2008)
8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
7. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
6. The War Room (1993)
5. Supersize Me (2004)
4. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
3. Roger & Me (1989)
2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

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51 Comments

  • Brooke | April 27, 2012 8:10 PMReply

    Add 'Paperclips' and 'Dive' ( doco about dumpster diving and food wastage in the US) and 'Voices of Iraq' and I would almost agree.

  • BC | March 17, 2012 4:23 PMReply

    I've already seen many and look forward to seeing the rest - already added most to my netflix queue. Some others that I'd recommend (in no particular order): God Grew Tired of Us, Born Into Brothels, Wasteland, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Crazy Love, Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Dear Zachary, Running the Sahara, Red Without Blue, My Kid Could Paint That, You're Gonna Miss Me, Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?

  • Mike | March 16, 2012 12:04 PMReply

    The Devil's Miner

  • Nadine | March 15, 2012 10:05 PMReply

    Daughter from Danang http://www.hulu.com/watch/69787/pbs-indies-daughter-from-danang

  • Robert Robinson | March 15, 2012 9:50 PMReply

    Really? Nothing from the Maysles (Salesman, Grey Gardens) ? And what about The Cove, The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Reifenstahl, Manufactured Consent, Triumph of the Nerds . . . Would also like to see representative works by Nick Broomfield (Selling of a Serial Killer), Alan Berliner (Nobody's Business), and Ross McElwee (Sherman's March) . Would also have included some more obscure films like American Movie, Dancing Outlaw, Project Grizzly. Maybe they should have done the top 100.

  • Gerald Campbell | March 10, 2012 4:12 PMReply

    Anyone have any idea where these can be seen now that the Current series is over? I'd like to see everyone of them.

  • andrea burges | February 22, 2012 5:46 PMReply

    I was very interested in no28 GASLAND as this process is being investigated in this country and it is very worrying as not many people are aware of it.

  • Stephen Levy | January 1, 2012 1:29 PMReply

    Any list that doesn't include "Capturing the Friedmans" cannot be taken too seriously.

  • Mark | March 7, 2012 7:47 PM

    Number 20.

  • tyler euk | December 16, 2011 8:51 PMReply

    wheres a good website to whatch these docs for free? tryed youtube but only a few came up

  • del walnut | February 16, 2012 1:15 PM

    *cant type: Library

  • del walnut | February 16, 2012 1:14 PM

    the Libary

  • steve | December 24, 2011 4:04 PM

    top documentry films is very good

  • artbizzy | December 10, 2011 8:23 PMReply

    I've seen about 12 of these.

    Here are some standouts:
    "Capturing The Friedman's" disturbed me for about two days. Great, truly moving documentary, well worth seeing.

    "Crumb" is also excellent. R. Crumb's family is something else.

    "Truth or Dare" loved this one, too. Takes me back to that club scene in the early 90's.

  • steve | December 10, 2011 8:03 PMReply

    I have seen 18 (grizzly man my favorite ,love Werner just saw his latest Cave of forgotten dreams and it was excellent). Think I would of included Paperclips ,The cove and If a tree falls (story of the earth liberation front). I would not count Waltz with Bashir a doc but I guess some might. Good list . I will be checking out the ones Ive not seen. Thanks

  • JM Harrison | November 23, 2011 8:16 PMReply

    Some truly great movies get the respect they deserve! I'm surprised that Jamie Johnson's "The Top Ten Percent" didn't make the list (or the comments so far). It may not be that well known. It an inside perspective on the perception on the wealthy and their different world. The inequality it covers is the big issue, at the heart of the socioeconomic problems covered in the Moore movies, like "Farenheit 9/11," "Roger & Me," "Sicko," and "Capitalism: A love Affair." It movingly reveals the mentality of the rich, Yet it's a family story, a personal account of what it's like to be in the top 1%. I loved it!

  • jm harrison | November 23, 2011 8:18 PM

    can't believe my slip! "The Top One Percent," of course.

  • Eric | November 14, 2011 12:05 PMReply

    Any list with more Moore than Herzog is flawed

  • Dan Leon | November 1, 2011 9:23 AMReply

    How about Who Killed the Electric Car?

  • Mali Irvin | September 29, 2011 3:22 AMReply

    Some great ones that haven't been mentioned:

    1. China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
    2. Mardi Gras: Made in China
    3. DAM/AGE: Arundhati Roy and the Narmada Dam Project
    4. Mississippi Burning - I CAN"T BELIEVE THEY LEFT THIS ONE OUT!!!
    5. Good Hair
    6. The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo
    7. On the Edge: The Femicide of Ciudad Juarez
    8. Promises: The Israel-Palestine Conflict from the Perspective of Children
    9. Smile PINKI
    10. The Abortion Pill
    11. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
    12. Project Pipe(line) Dreams
    13. A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains
    14. The Lazarus Effect

    Perhaps these films were controversial, even for Current TV.

  • Jeff | September 21, 2011 12:16 PMReply

    Where on earth is Gates of Heaven, the pet cemetery doc?

  • Thirteen | September 13, 2011 7:19 AMReply

    There is one doc miss in my opinion:

    The Vanishing of the Bees narrated by Ellen Page

  • Fckthewrld420 | September 7, 2011 9:43 AMReply

    What about Super HIGH me with Doug benson????
    Great doc about medical marijuana!!!! 420 all day

  • Kimberly | September 5, 2011 2:53 AMReply

    It was a pretty good list of documentaries though I thought it was missing a few such as Capitalism: A Love Story, Paper Clips, My Run, Facing Ali, Trekkies and The Last Waltz!

  • Hart Noecker | September 3, 2011 5:54 AMReply

    NOT A SINGLE MENTION OF THE DOC THAT CREATED THE ENTIRE GENRE: HEARTS AND MINDS? FOR SHAME!!!!!!!!!

  • Ken with Muse | September 3, 2011 5:11 AMReply

    50 Docs to See List Before you Die is missing one of the all time best documentary movies...The 11th Hour ...this 2007 documentary film, produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio... What the H-E- double hockey sticks Current TV !. Get with the program...

  • TerryG | September 2, 2011 10:22 AMReply

    Proud to say I've seen 39 of them. I'm a doc addict.

    Only missed these:
    46. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998)
    45. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
    44. Burma VJ (2008)
    39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
    35. Paragraph 175 (2000)
    33. Tongues Untied (1989)
    28. Gasland (2010)
    24. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
    19. Touching the Void (2003)
    16. Bus 174 (2002)
    7. The Celluloid Closet (1995)

    Really feel they overlooked some gems: Michael Apted's Up series, the Maysles, Frederick Wiseman, Ross McElwee;s Sherman;s March

  • Annie | September 2, 2011 3:58 AMReply

    One glaring omission: "The Cove" (2009) Oscar Winner, Best Documentary. An unbelievable film.

    "Interesting" that Gore's & Spurlock's films made the top ten.

  • Dee | September 1, 2011 12:32 PMReply

    I think there were docs that were grossly overlooked, specifically ones dealing with race and subcultures. I do applaud them for putting dark horses in the category like Tarnation but there was still a lack of diversity among the 50 docs. Inconvenient Truth should have been drop for some more prolific and profound documentaries. But after viewing it made me think of my own list, here’s my list :

    50 Documentaries Ya Need to See Before You Die:

    1. Fahrenheit 9/11
    2. Waiting for Superman
    3. Sicko
    4. Thin Blue Line
    5. Gasland
    6. Food, Inc.
    7. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in 4 Acts
    8. The War Room
    9. Bowling for Columbine
    10. Born into Brothels
    11. Deliver Us From Evil
    12. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
    13. The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till
    14. The Life and Times of Harvey Milk
    15. Jesus Camp
    16. Triumph of Will
    17. Paradise Lost: The Robin Hood Hills Murders
    18. Religulious
    19. Classified X
    20. 4 Little Girls
    21. This Film is Not Yet Rated
    22. ZOO
    23. Crumb
    24. Paris is Burning
    25. Supersize Me
    26. The Kid Stays in Pictures
    27. Crazy/Love
    28. Paragraph 175
    29. Tarnation
    30. Murderball
    31. The Eyes of Tammy Faye
    32. Capturing the Friedmans
    33. The Celluloid Closet
    34. Hoop Dreams
    35. Grey Gardens
    36. Gimme Shelter
    37. Standing in the Shadows of Motown
    38. My Kid Could Paint That!
    39. Wanted and Desired
    40. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
    41. White Light, Black Rain
    42. There’s something Wrong with Aunt Diane
    43. Inside Deep Throat
    44. WoodStock
    45. Absolut Warhola
    46. Stan Lathan’s Save The Children and/or Watts Stax
    47. US Vs. John Lennon
    48. Sick: The Life and Times of Supermasochist Bob Flanagan
    49. Good Hair
    50. The Right To Be Left Alone: Larry Flynt
    *Honorable Mention: BOFFO! Tinseltown’s Bombs and Blockbusters *
    *Honorable Mention: Truth or Dare *
    *Honorable Mention: Southern Comfort *
    *Honorable Mention: RIZE *

  • Dee | September 1, 2011 8:00 AMReply

    I was a little upset by the lack of race and subculture documentaries on Current's list. I was hoping for the inclusion of things like Pebble's Classified X, 4 Little Girls and Good Hair, but of the ones shown, I've seen 80% of this list in the following order:

    49. Truth or Dare (1991)
    48. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
    45. The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
    44. Burma VJ (2008)
    43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
    39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
    35. Paragraph 175 (2000)
    32. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
    31. Jesus Camp (2006)
    30. Farhenheit 9/11 (2004)
    28. Gasland (2010)
    27. Tarnation (2003)
    26. Murderball (2005)
    25. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
    24. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
    23. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000)
    20. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
    15. Crumb (1994)
    12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
    11. Paris Is Burning (1991)
    9. Trouble the Water (2008)
    8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
    7. The Celluloid Closet (1995)
    5. Supersize Me (2004)
    2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
    1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

  • Steve | September 1, 2011 6:38 AMReply

    "Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media"
    "The Corporation"

    These two docs (sadly) may not have had the cultural impact of most of the docs on the list, but, honestly, I don't even mean it as hyperbole when I say that only in a world doomed to catastrophe would they be ignored for a list like this. The first is the most incisive look at one of the most dominent propaganda forces (major media) in the world today, as well as one of the greatest thinkers in American history (Chomsky, who will be remembered as a 20th-century Socrates if the world ever gets its act together)...

    The 2nd is a similarly incisive look at the most dominant and destructive institution in the world (corporations).

  • KushSmokin | August 31, 2011 11:46 AMReply

    Can't they believe they left out "There's something wrong with Aunt Diane!" it's a great doc, a must-see!! TRUST!!! Look it up...*person of interest: Diane Shuler

  • Neziah | August 31, 2011 11:08 AMReply

    Hoop Dreams is one of the finest films ever made, so its number 1 spot is more than well deserved, but I'm disappointed at the exclusion of "4 Little Girls".

  • Judd | August 31, 2011 8:09 AMReply

    Wow, ''A Lion in the House'', should be in the top ten, but I seriously have no understanding of why they missed it completely. Oops!

  • daniel gallardo | August 31, 2011 4:10 AMReply

    where the heck is cocaine cowboys on this list

  • Chad | August 31, 2011 3:15 AMReply

    DEAR ZACHARY!!!!

  • Karen Gehres | August 30, 2011 11:55 AMReply

    Yes!
    AMERICAN MOVIE! Another truly great doc not on the list.
    Also, Errol Morris' Gates of Heaven & Vernon Florida.
    A real beauty called Benjamin Smoke too......I could go on.....

  • Mike Shank | August 30, 2011 5:23 AMReply

    It's a crime that American Movie is not on the list, ANYWHERE!!!!!!!

  • Sam Gadoodle | August 30, 2011 5:17 AMReply

    I would have to say that the Decline of Western Civilization (original, LA punk scene) is the superior film. Both the scene and the music is wayyyyyyy more compelling than watching Paul Stanley lay in a bed made of supermodels.

  • BluTopaz | August 30, 2011 3:50 AMReply

    no Eyes on the Prize-wtf?

    I counted 12, so i have some watching to do also. Capturing the Friedmans is so eerie, and with that crime doc genre I would include The Staircase, which gave me chills. Kid Stays in the Picture created a method of animation that I love, glad to see it on the list with Waltz with Bashir also. My fave on this list is Paris is Burning.

  • Dankwa Brooks | August 30, 2011 3:12 AMReply

    The only ones I saw were-
    43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
    39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
    37. Inside Job (2010)
    30. Farhenheit 9/11 (2004)
    29. Man on Wire (2008)
    12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
    9. Trouble the Water (2008) EXCELLENT little known doc!
    8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
    5. Supersize Me (2004)

  • Leon Breckenridge | August 30, 2011 2:22 AMReply

    Straight out of Hunter's Point is a good one too. That is one that started the Hood DVD.

  • Tovah | August 29, 2011 10:20 AMReply

    I counted 17. Guess, I've got a bit of watching to do.

    My favorites:
    When The Levees Broke
    Street Fight
    The Celluloid Closet
    Paris is Burning

    How 'Catfish" made the list over "For the Bible Tells Me So", "Four Little Girls", or "Grey Gardens" is beyond me.

  • Cynthia | August 29, 2011 9:38 AMReply

    Even to my surprise...I counted 24.

  • Karen Gehres | August 29, 2011 9:15 AMReply

    Seen 26 of 'em.
    Some personal faves not on this list are "Grey Gardens","ItalianAmerican" & "You See Me Laughin'?".
    And so many more.....

  • Ladybug | August 29, 2011 7:04 AMReply

    50. Spellbound (2002)
    49. Truth or Dare (1991)
    48. The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
    43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
    40. When We Were Kings (1996)
    38. March of the Penguins (2005)
    37. Inside Job (2010)
    31. Jesus Camp (2006)
    30. Farhenheit 9/11 (2004)
    21. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
    18. Food, Inc. (2008)
    17. Street Fight (2005)
    12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
    10. Grizzly Man (2005)
    9. Trouble the Water (2008)
    8. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
    5. Supersize Me (2004)
    3. Roger & Me (1989)
    1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

    Not bad . . . not bad at all

  • Ash | August 29, 2011 6:25 AMReply

    Holy Hell, only seen 6 of them...

    43. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
    39. Biggie & Tupac (2002)
    30. Farhenheit 9/11 (2004)
    18. Food, Inc. (2008)
    12. Bowling for Columbine (2002)
    10. Grizzly Man (2005)

    and I LOVE documentaries so this list gives me some more to think about

  • LvFlg | August 29, 2011 6:21 AMReply

    my fav - Man On Wire

  • LvFlg | August 29, 2011 6:20 AMReply

    Great list! Great films. Long live the documentary!

  • JMac | August 29, 2011 5:44 AMReply

    Don't agree with the order but definitely some jewels in that list. Don't know how Hoop Dreams is #1. And Super Size me is #5? Suck-ups.

    I've only seen 12 of these docs but everyone needs to watch the Enron one. Plays on CNBC sometimes.

    One Day in September should've been ranked higher.

  • Vanessa Martinez | August 29, 2011 5:21 AMReply

    I feel like I've barely seen anything. I've seen:

    Supersize me
    Trouble the Water - awesome!
    Bowling for Colombine
    Farhenheit 9/11
    When the Levees Broke
    Truth or Dare
    When We Were Kings

    What happened to these two which I love?
    Four Little Girls -Spike Lee
    African American Lives

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