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The Top 25 Best Documentary Feature Winners So Far (Updated for 2023)

Look out, here comes another one folks! Continuing a tradition I’ve been keen on for years, I’m ranking the new crop of Academy Award winners. For nearly all of the Oscar categories, you’ll see me list the top 25 recipients of that prize. Sometimes, our newest winner will appear. Other times, they’ll be relegated to the Honorable Mention category. Who knows, maybe one or two won’t even make the cut? It’s a list series that I’ll do each and every single year, in the weeks after the ceremony concludes. So, while this is a fun way to think about the Oscars in the aftermath of the latest telecast, it’s also a beginning for another column here on the site. Of course, definitely show us your own lists as well, in the comments section below. We’re definitely keen to know what you think!

Today, I’m looking at the Best Documentary Feature category. Non-fiction cinema is its own beast, and one look at the winners in this field reveal some all-time classics. At the same time, anyone who pays attention to how the Best Documentary races have gone in recent years will know that the best films are rarely even nominated by Oscar. So, the Academy Awards do more recently pull from a reduced field. Still, there’s tons of movies I was able to pull from. For me, Michael Moore‘s Bowling for Columbine is still the best of the bunch, but there’s no shortage of quality here. Where does the most recent winner in Navalny debut, ranking-wise? Does Summer of Soul remain on the list after winning a year ago? Find out below…

Here now are what I consider to be the 25 best winners of the Best Documentary Feature Oscar, to date:

Bowling for Columbine

25. Woodstock
24. Navalny
23. Undefeated
22. Inside Job
21. 20 Feet from Stardom
20. Searching for Sugar Man
19. The Last Days
18. In the Shadow of the Stars
17. American Dream
16. Anne Frank Remembered
15. Born into Brothels
14. Citizenfour
13. Free Solo
12. Taxi to the Dark Side
11. Harlan County, USA
10. One Day in September
9. Man on Wire
8. The Fog of War
7. March of the Penguins
6. OJ: Made in America
5. When We Were Kings
4. The Times of Harvey Milk
3. An Inconvenient Truth
2. The Cove
1. Bowling for Columbine

Honorable Mention: American Factory, Amy, I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School, Icarus, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, and Summer of Soul

Warner Bros. Pictures

Stay tuned for another category later on this week or early next week!


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Brian H.
Brian H.
4 months ago

Great job once again. One of my favorite categories to pay attention too as the year goes on and they’ve had some great winners. It’s very tight throughout the list. The first 6 on my list are what I believe a true classics. The next 13 or so are great films. So it’s a strong list. We do agree on number 1.

1.      Bowling for Columbine
2.      Fog of War, The
3.      Inside Job
4.      Taxi to the Dark Side
5.      Searching for Sugar Man
6.      Times of Harvey Milk, The
7.      Citizenfour
8.      When We Were Kings
9.      Icarus
10.  Cove, The
11.  Navalny
12.  One Day in September
13.  Undefeated
14.  Last Days, The
15.  Woodstock
16.  Harlan County, USA
17.  An Inconvenient Truth
18.  Amy
19.  In the Shadow of Stars
20.  Murder on a Sunday Morning
21.  Free Solo
22.  Common Threads
23.  Anne Frank Remembered
24.  American Factory
25.  Just Another Missing Kid
HM – American Dream, Long Way Home, Panama Deception, The, Summer of Soul and 20 Feet from Stardom.



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