Documentaries can fulfill any number of purposes. Some of them advocate for specific positions, delivering passionate and even polemical arguments for their cause. Some seek to tell an intrinsically interesting story, and some portray specific corners of life or culture. And they’re as varied in style as they are in content. Direct interviews, voiceovers, asynchronous footage without explanations, reenactments, animation — the sheer breadth and depth of the field made assembling this list a definite challenge, but we did our best to round up the all-time best documentaries from all across the spectrum. The one thing these have in common is that they’re all excellent in their own particular ways.
Updated on August 6, 2021: Even as we’re writing this, new documentaries are being released, so it’s our goal to make sure that we only feature the best of the best. We’ll update this article periodically to account for any new hits or recently rediscovered gems — films that will make you learn something, feel something, or both.