Welcome to our blog post about the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. This award is given to the best real-life stories told on film. From harrowing tales of human endurance to insightful explorations of societal issues, these films represent the pinnacle of documentary filmmaking. In this article, we’re going to look at the comprehensive list of films that have won this important award as well as rank the the top ten best Oscar-winning documentary feature films.

Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature

Best Documentary Feature — Full List

The Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature has been an integral part of the Oscars since 1942. It was introduced to honor filmmakers who excel in capturing real-life events and narratives, offering audiences a glimpse into authentic stories that both educate and entertain. 

Over the years, it has spotlighted a diverse range of subjects, from significant historical events to personal human experiences, earning its place as a prestigious recognition in the film industry. This award not only celebrates outstanding documentary filmmaking, but also underscores the power of cinema to shed light on the world around us.

Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature History


  • 2022: Navalny
  • 2021: Summer of Soul
  • 2020: My Octopus Teacher
  • 2019: American Factory
  • 2018: Free Solo
  • 2017: Icarus
  • 2016: O.J.: Made in America
  • 2015: Amy
  • 2014: Citizenfour
  • 2013: 20 Feet from Stardom
  • 2012: Searching for Sugar Man
  • 2011: Undefeated
  • 2010: Inside Job
  • 2009: The Cove
  • 2008: Man on Wire
  • 2007: Taxi to the Dark Side
  • 2006: An Inconvenient Truth
  • 2005: March of the Penguins
  • 2004: Born into Brothels
  • 2003: The Fog of War
  • 2002: Bowling for Columbine
  • 2001: Murder on a Sunday Morning
  • 2000: Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport
  • 1999: One Day in September
  • 1998: The Last Days
  • 1997: The Long Way Home
  • 1996: When We Were Kings
  • 1995: Anne Frank Remembered
  • 1994: Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision
  • 1993: I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School
  • 1992: The Panama Deception
  • 1991: In the Shadow of the Stars
  • 1990: American Dream
  • 1989: Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt
  • 1988: Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
  • 1987: The Ten-Year Lunch
  • 1986: Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got and Down and Out in America
  • 1985: Broken Rainbow
  • 1984: The Times of Harvey Milk
  • 1983: He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin'
  • 1982: Just Another Missing Kid
  • 1981: Genocide
  • 1980: From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China
  • 1979: Best Boy
  • 1978: Scared Straight!
  • 1977: Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?
  • 1976: Harlan County, USA
  • 1975: The Man Who Skied Down Everest
  • 1974: Hearts and Minds
  • 1973: The Great American Cowboy
  • 1972: Marjoe
  • 1971: The Hellstrom Chronicle
  • 1970: Woodstock
  • 1979: Arthur Rubinstein – The Love of Life
  • 1968: Journey into Self
  • 1967: The Anderson Platoon
  • 1966: The War Game
  • 1965: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story
  • 1964: Jacques-Yves Cousteau's World Without Sun
  • 1963: Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World
  • 1962: Black Fox: The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler
  • 1961: Le Ciel et la Boue (Sky Above and Mud Beneath)
  • 1960: The Horse with the Flying Tail
  • 1959: Serengeti Shall Not Die
  • 1958: White Wilderness
  • 1957: Albert Schweitzer
  • 1956: The Silent World
  • 1955: Helen Keller in Her Story
  • 1954: The Vanishing Prairie
  • 1953: The Living Desert
  • 1952: The Sea Around Us
  • 1951: Kon-Tiki
  • 1950: The Titan: Story of Michelangelo
  • 1949: Daybreak in Udi
  • 1948: The Secret Land
  • 1947: Design for Death
  • 1946: No award given
  • 1945: The True Glory
  • 1944: The Fighting Lady
  • 1943: Desert Victory

After diving deep into the full list of Academy Award-winning feature documentaries, we've surfaced with the ten best of the cinematic gems. While each film on the list offers its unique perspective and storytelling prowess, there are some that have left an indelible mark on audiences and critics alike. 

These films stand out not only because of their compelling narratives but also due to their profound cultural impact and timeless relevance.

Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Rankings

10. Free Solo (2018)

Free Solo Climbing Scenes

Free Solo is a breathtaking documentary that chronicles Alex Honnold's daring, rope-free ascent of the world's most famous rock face, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The film beautifully juxtaposes the sheer physicality of Honnold's climb with the emotional journey he undergoes throughout the process. 

Sport Oscar Nominated Documentaries


Its heart-stopping visuals and intimate portrayal of Honnold's singular focus and determination make it a must-watch for documentary and adventure enthusiasts alike.

Best Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Winners

9. O.J.: Made in America (2016)

Trailer  •  O.J.: Made in America

O.J.: Made in America is an engrossing documentary that delves into the life, career, and infamous trial of O.J. Simpson. This film provides a comprehensive look at the broader implications of this case, examining issues of race, celebrity, and the American justice system. 

Crime Oscar Nominated Documentaries


O.J.: Made in America peels back the layers of one of the most sensationalized criminal trials in American history, presenting a gripping epic of race, fame, and justice.

Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature List

8. Inside Job (2010)

Inside Job  •  Official Trailer HD 

Peeling back the curtain on the 2008 global financial meltdown, Inside Job stands as a sobering testament to the destructive power of unchecked greed. The documentary's meticulous dissection of the crisis and the systemic corruption that fueled it, offers invaluable insights into the workings of modern economics. 

Best Documentary Oscar Nominations


Its ability to render complex financial concepts into an accessible narrative underscores its importance as a piece of investigative journalism and a must-watch documentary.

Best Academy Award Documentary Features

7. March of the Penguins (2005)

March of the Penguins  •  Protecting the Egg (2005)

Ever wondered about the incredible journey of Emperor Penguins in the heart of Antarctica? March of the Penguins is a heartwarming documentary that beautifully captures this awe-inspiring trek through the harshest conditions on Earth. 

Animal Oscar Nominations Best Documentary


With stunning cinematography and an intimate look at these remarkable creatures, this film will leave you with a profound appreciation for the resilience and beauty of nature.

Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Rankings

6. The Fog of War (2003)

The Fog of War opening

Venturing into the labyrinth of decision-making during wartime, The Fog of War offers a riveting exploration of the complexities and consequences of military action. Through a series of revealing interviews with former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, the film provides an unprecedented look at the inner workings of power and policy. 

Best Documentary Oscar Nominees


It's a compelling and thought-provoking documentary that brings fresh insights into the nature of war and leadership.

Music Academy Award Documentary

5. Amy (2015)

Amy  •  In the Studio with Mark Ronson 

Amy Winehouse was a musical force to be reckoned with, her soulful voice and raw lyrics resonating with fans worldwide. Amy (2015) is a poignant documentary that intimately explores the life, talent, and tragic demise of this iconic artist.

It's a heartrending tribute that underscores the deep loss of her untimely death while celebrating her enduring musical legacy.

Oscar Shortlist Documentary


Amy offers a soul-stirring journey that beautifully encapsulates the brilliance and tragedy of Amy Winehouse, making it a must-watch for music lovers and documentary enthusiasts alike.

Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature List

4. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

An Inconvenient Truth  •  Science of Global Warming (2006)

An Inconvenient Truth is a seminal documentary that brought the urgency of climate change to the forefront of public consciousness. Through former Vice President Al Gore's engaging narrative, the film elucidates the stark realities of global warming and its potential impact on our planet. 

Best Documentary Oscar Nominees


More than a decade later, its message remains crucially relevant, serving as a stark reminder of the ongoing environmental crisis and the collective action needed to combat it.

Oscar Nominations Best Documentary Ranked

3. American Factory (2019)

American Factory  •  A Short Conversation with the Obamas

American Factory is an enlightening documentary that delves into the intricate dynamics of global economy, labor rights, and cultural clashes. It sheds light on the challenges and changes that occur when a Chinese company reopens a former General Motors plant in Ohio, bringing together two vastly different work cultures. 

Romantic Oscar Best Picture Winners


In today's rapidly globalizing world, the film's exploration of economic realities and workforce adjustments remains incredibly relevant and thought-provoking.

Best Documentary Oscar Nominations in History

2. When We Were Kings (1996)

When We Were Kings 1996 Trailer 

Muhammad Ali was more than a legendary boxer; he was a cultural icon and a transformative figure in history. When We Were Kings masterfully encapsulates this persona, focusing on the famous 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" bout with George Foreman. 

Best Oscar Nominations for Documentary


The film not only captures the drama and strategy of the boxing ring but also underscores Ali's impact on society, making it a timeless piece of cultural and sports history.

Best Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature 

1. Man on Wire (2008)

Man on Wire  •  Once in a Lifetime (2008)

Philippe Petit's audacious high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 was an act so daring it borders on the unbelievable. Man on Wire chronicles this breathtaking feat, immersing viewers in the tension and exhilaration of Petit's illegal quest.

The film's exploration of human audacity, fearlessness, and the pursuit of dreams makes it a thrilling and inspiring watch that continues to captivate audiences today. It stands not only as one of the best documentary feature films to win an Oscar, but one of the best documentaries of all time.

Best Oscar Shortlist Documentary


Man on Wire is arguably the best Oscar-winning feature documentary of all time due to its riveting storytelling that masterfully blends suspense and inspiration, bringing to life Philippe Petit's audacious high-wire act in a way that captivates, thrills, and deeply resonates with audiences.


Best Documentaries of All Time

Stay tuned for our next post, "Best Documentaries of All Time, Ranked," where we'll explore a range of exceptional films that have left their mark on the genre, including some hidden gems that, despite their brilliance, did not receive recognition from the Academy.

Up Next: Best Documentaries Ranked →
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