Top 10: Best Documentaries That Should Have Been Nominated For Best Picture

Ava DuVernay, Frank Capra, and Michael Moore are all filmmakers whose documentary work was worthy of consideration for the top Oscar.


Documentaries weave beautiful stories, expose the darker side of humanity, examine popular culture and challenge communities and viewers alike. Films of this ilk regularly make critics’ year-end Top 10 lists and sometimes they even make dividends at the box office. But no documentary feature has ever been nominated for Best Picture (although nine foreign-language films and even three animated features have broken into the Best Picture category). 

Documentaries can be every bit as compelling as their narrative counterparts. While a number of docs become critical favorites (e.g. “Grizzly Man”), there are quite a few that even become box office smashes (e.g. “Fahrenheit 9/11”). And fewer still that become both (e.g. “Hoop Dreams”). So why can’t these documentaries make the transition to the Best Picture conversation?

Here, we offer a list of some of the documentaries that should have made the leap. There are a number of inspiring, compelling and thought-provoking documentaries out there and these docs deserve an Honorable Mention: “Paris is Burning,” “Thin Blue Line,” “Bowling For Columbine,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” and “The Act of Killing.”

10“Blackfish” (2013)                                             
dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite 

9“Prelude to War” (1942)                                   
dir. Frank Capra & Anatole Litvak

8“13th” (2016)                                                     
dir. Ava DuVernay

7“Amy” (2015)                                                     
dir. Asif Kapadia

6“March of the Penguins” (2005)                       
dir. Luc Jacquet

5“Hoop Dreams” (1994)                                       
dir. Steve James

4“Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” (1996)                                             
dir. Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky

3“Minding the Gap” (2018)                                 
dir. Bing Liu

2“The Square” (2013)                                         
dir. Jehane Noujaim

1“Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004)                                   
dir. Michael Moore