Top Documentaries to watch before you die

We love documentary films at Copse Magazine and although there are many top ten documentaries lists or top 100 documentary films lists, don’t worry – we have the definitive list of the top documentaries to watch before you die and this list is regularly updated.

Rather than rank our list by popularity or worse by rating (and make you wade through pages of adverts to get to the top ten documentaries) we have decided to list our top docs chronologically, from oldest to newest, so that as you watch through our list, you will see the world, the people, and our horizons change.

Top Documentaries List

Christo’s Valley Curtain (1974) [28 minutes]

Michael Palin: Around the World in 80 Days (1989) [Series]

Artland: USA (2006)

Grizzly Man

Big Easy Express

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011)

How much does your building weigh, Mr Foster

Chuck Norris vs Communism

The Polygon

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Blackfish (2013) [90 minutes]

Finding Vivian Maier

Rich Hill (2014) [90 minutes]

A documentary that touches you deeply about a subject that’s difficult to view – that of rural poverty in America.

The overwhelmingly sad feeling I was left with was that it seemed that the documentary crew were the closest thing to a friend and positive adult influence that these children had outside of their immediate family; the only adults who cared about these children. The system doesn’t care.

Expedition Happiness (2017)

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013) [118 minutes]

Cathedrals of Culture (2014)

At 2 hours and 45 minutes, I have to admit to having listened to parts with my eyes closed which doesn’t bode well for inclusion on the top documentaries list, however the 5th part of this documentary opened my eyes to both a place and a societal concept – so that secured its inclusion.

Episode 5 of Cathedrals of Culture is directed by Michael Madsen and focused on the Halden Fengsel maximum security prison in Norway – reputedly one of the most humane prisons in the world. When compared to Louis Theroux’s exploration of the United States of America’s prison system then the differences are made even more stark.

Russia on Four Wheels (2014) [2 episodes]

The Russian Woodpecker (2015)

Roof Culture Asia (2017) [113 minutes]

Free Solo (2018)

Pedal the World

Expedition Happiness

The Mighty Redcar (2018) [4 episodes]

You can read our full review of The Mighty Redcar here.

Three Identical Strangers (2018) [96 minutes]

Featured image: Valley Curtain, 1972. Bruce McAllister, 1936-, Photographer (NARA record: 3823134) • Public domain