(STACKER) – Often overlooked in favor of narrative features, documentary films can be just as engaging—if not more so. If you’re someone who doesn’t normally watch documentaries but is curious to check out a few good ones, 2022 was a banner year for nonfiction filmmaking. These include films from all over the world, wide-ranging in content, style, and creator, often award-nominated and award-winning.
You could learn about the assassination attempt on a Russian presidential candidate (“Navalny”), the life of two ordinary dairy cows (“Cow”), or the history of an underground network of women who provided access to low-cost and free abortion (“The Janes”). Documentaries allow us to expand our understanding of the world in a riveting way, opening our minds to something we might never have thought to seek out. It is cinema that offers tangible discovery.
If you’re looking to find a great documentary film to throw on, Stacker has you covered with a list of the 25 best documentaries that came out in 2022. Stacker used Metacritic data on all movies released in the U.S. in 2022 to rank the top 25 nonfiction films. Data is current as of Dec. 2, and ties were broken internally by digging deeper into the data from Metacritic.
#25. Nothing Lasts Forever – “Nothing Lasts Forever” reveals the unseen conflicts rising within the world of diamonds, and director Jason Kohn ends up discovering a widespread conspiracy that threatens the value of all diamonds.
#24. Cow – This compassionate documentary takes a look at the life of two dairy cows in an attempt to grant humans a greater understanding of this often misunderstood and beautiful creature.
#23. Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues – The legacy of one of jazz music’s founding fathers is chronicled in this documentary exploring the life of Louis Armstrong.
#22. Tantura – Unearthing a controversial graduate thesis from the late 1990s, Alon Schwarz co-wrote and directed this revealing documentary that examines the founding of the state of Israel in 1948
#21. Master of Light – Black Classical painter George Anthony Morton went to prison for a decade on drug dealing charges, but was able to further hone his abilities while inside. Finally released, Morton travels back to his hometown to mend ties and paint his family members.
#20. This Much I Know to Be True – The film explores the creative process that binds Ellis and Cave as both artists and fierce friends.
#19. Hold Your Fire – In 1973, a botched robbery by four Black Sunni Muslims in Brooklyn, New York, led to the longest hostage situation in NYPD history, after a police officer was killed in an exchange of fire.
#18. Navalny – In 2020, former Russian presidential candidate Alexei Navalny fell into a coma, later discovered to have been the result of poisoning by a military-grade nerve agent.
#17. Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché – Lead singer of the British punk band X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene, died in 2011 at age 53 of cancer. Now, her daughter, Celeste Bell, the film’s co-director, searches through archival footage and interviews in order to explore the legacy and history that her mother left behind.
#16. The Janes – During the pre-Roe v. Wade era, an underground network of female activists who called themselves “JANE” established care and access to 11,000 women seeking an abortion.
#15. Is That Black Enough for You?!? – In this engaging documentary, director Elvis Mitchell traces the history and evolution of Black cinema in America, from its beginnings through the revolutionary films of the 1970s.
#14. Riotsville, U.S.A. – This documentary details how the United States took its strange first steps toward police militarization in the 1960s.
#13. Moonage Daydream– -Brett Morgen’s music documentary attempts an illuminating look at rock icon David Bowie, drawing mostly on his songs from the ’70s and using never-before-seen performances and footage.
#12. The Territory – The Territory” looks at these threats and the Indigenous peoples fighting back against the destruction of their home by setting up their own news media team.
#11. Fire of Love – Married volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft were as in love with one another as they are with the subject of their research, some of nature’s most beautiful and violent marvels.
#10. Bad Axe – In the face of COVID-19 and a growing white nationalist movement, an Asian American family in rural Michigan fights to keep their restaurant in business.
#9. All That Breathes – Two brothers dedicate their lives to saving the black kite, native birds of prey in New Delhi which have increasingly dropped from the skies due to pollution
#8. My Imaginary Country – In 2019, more than 1 million people flooded the streets of Santiago, Chile, to demand more democracy and social reform.
#7. A Night of Knowing Nothing– Exploring university life in India, this doc chronicles letters written by a student named L at the Film and Television Institute of India to her estranged boyfriend.
#6. Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America – Going back from the time of slavery up into our present era, civil rights lawyer Jeffrey Robinson paints a portrait of America as inextricably impacted by white supremacy and anti-Black racism.
#5. Aftershock – “Aftershock” takes a look at how the maternal health system in America routinely fails Black and Brown women.
#4. Descendant – The remains of the ship Clotilda—the last known illegal slave ship which arrived on the shores of Mobile, Alabama, in 1860—are discovered.
#3. Three Minutes: A Lengthening – A three-minute snippet of home movie footage from 1938, depicting residents of the town of Nasielsk in Poland offers a brief, emotional, and historically precious glimpse of Jewish life right before the start of World War II.
#2. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed – Using Nan Goldin’s own slideshows, interviews, and photography, the documentary follows the artist-activist as she works to take down Purdue Pharma owners the Sackler family
#1. Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse – In a German industrial town, middle school teacher Dieter Bachmann teaches immigrant students from nine different countries.