The saying "truth is stranger than fiction" is pretty hackneyed and overused at times, yet the essence contained within those five words is hard to dispute. And this is something amply demonstrated when we look at a genre like documentary, where the best documentaries ever are capable of offering some of the most intense stories based on the world around us.

best documentaries ever

As non-fiction often goes unnoticed compared to other types of productions, this list of the best documentaries ever made proves that the genre cannot only shock and awe you like any other cinematic genre, but teach you a thing or two about the real world. Here are the 10 best documentaries of all time, and some of them you can even watch for free:

Top 10 Best Documentaries Ever That Surprise and Educate You

1. When We Were Kings (1996)

Direction: Leon Gast

Boxing is probably the most "cinematic" sport ever conceived, especially when you look at the dozens of sports drama classics based on it. But beyond fiction, we have this splendid documentary in which what happened during what is considered the greatest sporting event of the 20th century is recorded: 'The Rumble in the Jungle' between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

The match transcended the ring to become a social, political, and cultural event that was perfectly captured through the lens of Leon Gast.

2. Shoah (1985)

Direction: Claude Lanzmann

The task of watching the almost ten hours that 'Shoah' lasts is not at all simple, and the narrative, which dispenses with all sorts of recreated or archival material of the Holocaust, is not the most light-hearted for the viewer on this best documentaries ever list.

There is no doubt that this extremely hard work by Claude Lanzmann is the best documentary on the horrors experienced by those who suffered in the Holocaust that we can find. An essential vivid memory of the darker side of the human race.

3. Deliver Us From Evil (2006)

Direction: Amy Berg

Few documentaries can make your stomach churn like this gem can, a feat which earned Amy Berg an Oscar nomination in 2006. A true nightmare that could well have been taken from the most horrendous horror film.

It tells the story of Father Oliver O'Grady - who raped dozens of children over two decades - and how the Catholic Church managed to cover up his crimes. The tale is told with a coldness that chills your spine.

4. Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Direction: Michael Moore

After a little more than a decade of documentary-making, Michael Moore made the final transformation into the most incendiary political documentary filmmaker with 'Bowling for Columbine', winning him an Oscar award thanks to the documentary's powerful claims and agile narrative.

It comes with an impeccable sense of humor that pushes the limits, which is necessary to deal with as lightly as possible a subject as delicate as gun control in the USA.

5. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

Director: Raoul Peck

We go from the still current North American arms problem to this exceptional essay on the history of the African-American struggle in the United States, the history of it, and a problem that continues sadly in full force.

The intense narration of Samuel L. Jackson and exceptional production and editing end up giving shape to one of the best productions that we have seen of the last decade.

6. The Square (2013)

Director: Jehane Noujaim

Journalism in its purest form is how we could describe 'The Square', which garnered a good number of awards and nominations in 2013 thanks to its chronicle of the turbulent political revolution in Egypt at the beginning of the decade.

A production whose indisputable formal and narrative qualities are shored up by its documentary value, which makes the viewer feel like participating in the suffocating social climate of the moment.

7. The Act of Killing (2012)

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn

If we are looking for the best documentaries ever in terms of relevance and significance, 'The Act of Killing' is plainly one of the best documentaries movies of all time. And make no mistake, in strictly cinematic terms it is also just that.

Joshua Oppenheimer's masterpiece has been praised, on its own merits, by titans of the medium such as Werner Herzog and Errol Morris. His look at the anti-leftist genocide committed by the Indonesian death squads is unique, shocking, overwhelming, and never quite seen before. Cinema in its purest form without the distinctions of genres or separations between fiction and reality.

8. Grizzly Man (2005)

Direction: Werner Herzog

Speaking of Werner Herzog, it must be recognized that the German has done very great works in his filmography, both in fiction and in documentary, but out of all his incredible pieces, it is 'Grizzly Man' that lays bare the point of view of the protagonist featured and its director. A masterpiece that allows us to reflect far beyond the morbidness of its premise.

9. The Triumph of the Will - Triumph des Willens (1935)

Direction: Leni Riefenstahl

As a general rule, it is very difficult to separate the content and message of a work from its cinematographic quality, especially when it comes to the documentary genre and involving highly controversial issues such as those depicted in 'The Triumph of the Will'.

It is very difficult to recommend this impeccable, glorious and terrifying piece of Nazi propaganda created by the sublime Leni Riefenstahl, but doing justice to its cinematographic qualities means it must be included in the best documentaries ever made list.

10. Hearts of Darkness (1991)

Address: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola

There are many documentaries about movie-making, but those whose quality is as outstanding as the movie itself like 'Apocalypse Now' can be counted on one finger. 'Hearts of Darkness' stands as a unique work that captures the chaos and the tremendous problems that reigned over the production of the holy grail of war movies by Francis Ford Coppola.

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