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Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film

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Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film
CountryUnited States
Presented byAcademy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)
First awarded1942
Most recent winnerMstyslav Chernov
Michelle Mizner
Raney Aronson-Rath
20 Days in Mariupol (2023)

The Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film is an award for documentary films. In 1941, the first awards for feature-length documentaries were bestowed as Special Awards to Kukan and Target for Tonight.[1] They have since been bestowed competitively each year, with the exception of 1946.[2] Copies of every winning film (along with copies of most nominees) are held by the Academy Film Archive.[3]

Winners and nominees[edit]

Following the academy's practice, films are listed below by the award year (that is, the year they were released under the academy's rules for eligibility). In practice, due to the limited nature of documentary distribution, a film may be released in different years in different venues, sometimes years after production is complete.


Year Film Nominees
[note 1]
The Battle of Midway John Ford (United States Navy)
Kokoda Front Line! Ken G. Hall[4][5] (Australian News & Information Bureau)
Moscow Strikes Back Artkino
Prelude to War Frank Capra (Office of War Information)
Africa, Prelude to Victory The March of Time
Combat Report United States Army Signal Corps
Conquer by the Clock Frederic Ullman Jr. [de; fr]
The Grain That Built a Hemisphere Walt Disney
Henry Browne, Farmer United States Department of Agriculture
High Over the Borders National Film Board of Canada
High Stakes in the East The Netherlands Information Bureau
Inside Fighting China National Film Board of Canada
It's Everybody's War United States Office of War Information
Listen to Britain British Ministry of Information
Little Belgium Belgian Ministry of Information
Little Isles of Freedom Victor Stoloff and Edgar Loew
Mr. Blabbermouth United States Office of War Information
Mr. Gardenia Jones United States Office of War Information
The New Spirit Walt Disney
The Price of Victory William H. Pine
A Ship Is Born United States Merchant Marine
Twenty-One Miles British Ministry of Information
We Refuse to Die William C. Thomas
The White Eagle Concanen Films [de]
Winning Your Wings United States Army Air Force
[note 2]
Desert Victory British Ministry of Information
Baptism of Fire United States Army
The Battle of Russia United States Department of War Special Service Division
Report from the Aleutians United States Army Pictorial Service
War Department Report United States Office of Strategic Services Field Photographic Bureau
The Fighting Lady Edward Steichen (United States Navy)
Resisting Enemy Interrogation United States Army Air Force
The True Glory The Governments of Great Britain and the United States of America
The Last Bomb United States Army Air Force
Design for Death Sid Rogell, Theron Warth and Richard Fleischer
Journey into Medicine United States Department of State Office of Information and Educational Exchange
The World Is Rich Paul Rotha
The Secret Land Orville O. Dull
The Quiet One Janice Loeb
Daybreak in Udi Crown Film Unit
Kenji Comes Home Paul F. Heard


Year Film Nominees
The Titan: Story of Michelangelo Robert Snyder
With These Hands Jack Arnold and Lee Goodman [de]
Kon-Tiki Olle Nordemar
I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. Bryan Foy
The Sea Around Us Irwin Allen
The Hoaxters Dore Schary
Navajo Hall Bartlett
The Living Desert Walt Disney
The Conquest of Everest John Taylor, Leon Clore and Grahame Tharp [de]
A Queen Is Crowned Castleton Knight
The Vanishing Prairie Walt Disney
The Stratford Adventure Guy Glover
Helen Keller in Her Story Nancy Hamilton
Heartbreak Ridge René Risacher [de]
The Silent World Jacques-Yves Cousteau
The Naked Eye Louis Clyde Stoumen
Where Mountains Float The Government Film Committee of Denmark
Albert Schweitzer Jerome Hill
On the Bowery Lionel Rogosin
Torero! Manuel Barbachano Ponce
White Wilderness Ben Sharpsteen
Antarctic Crossing James Carr [de]
The Hidden World Robert Snyder
Psychiatric Nursing Nathan Zucker [de]
Serengeti Shall Not Die Bernhard Grzimek
The Race for Space David L. Wolper


Year Film Nominees
The Horse with the Flying Tail Larry Lansburgh
Rebel in Paradise Robert D. Fraser
Le Ciel et la Boue (Sky Above and Mud Beneath) Arthur Cohn and René Lafuite [de]
La Grande Olimpiade (Olympic Games 1960) dell Istituto Nazionale Luce, Comitato Organizzatore Del Giochi Della XVII Olimpiade
Black Fox Louis Clyde Stoumen
Alvorada (Brazil's Changing Face) Hugo Niebeling
[note 3][6]
Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World Robert Hughes
Le Maillon et la Chaine (The Link and the Chain) Paul de Roubaix [de; fr]
The Yanks Are Coming Marshall Flaum
Jacques-Yves Cousteau's World without Sun Jacques-Yves Cousteau
The Finest Hours Jack Le Vien
Four Days in November Mel Stuart
The Human Dutch Bert Haanstra
Over There, 1914–18 Jean Aurel
The Eleanor Roosevelt Story Sidney Glazier
The Battle of the Bulge... The Brave Rifles Laurence E. Mascott [de; fr]
The Forth Road Bridge Peter Mills
Let My People Go Marshall Flaum
To Die in Madrid Frédéric Rossif
The War Game Peter Watkins
The Face of a Genius Alfred R. Kelman
Helicopter Canada Peter Jones and Tom Daly
The Really Big Family Alex Grasshoff
Le Volcan Interdit (The Forbidden Volcano) Haroun Tazieff
The Anderson Platoon Pierre Schoendoerffer
Festival Murray Lerner
Harvest Carroll Ballard
A King's Story Jack Le Vien
A Time for Burning William C. Jersey [de]
[note 4][6][7]
Journey into Self Bill McGaw
A Few Notes on Our Food Problem James Blue
The Legendary Champions William Cayton
Other Voices David H. Sawyer [de]
Arthur Rubinstein – The Love of Life Bernard Chevry [de]
Before the Mountain Was Moved Robert K. Sharpe
In the Year of the Pig Emile de Antonio
The Olympics in Mexico Comite Organizador de los Juegos de la XIX Olimpiada
The Wolf Men Irwin Rosten


Year Film Nominees
Woodstock Bob Maurice
Chariots of the Gods Dr. Harald Reinl
Jack Johnson Jim Jacobs
King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis Ely Landau
Say Goodbye David H. Vowell
The Hellstrom Chronicle Walon Green
Alaska Wilderness Lake Alan Landsburg
On Any Sunday Bruce Brown
The RA Expeditions Lennart Ehrenborg [de; sv] and Thor Heyerdahl
The Sorrow and the Pity Marcel Ophüls
Marjoe Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan
Ape and Super-Ape Bert Haanstra
Malcolm X Marvin Worth and Arnold Perl
Manson Robert Hendrickson and Laurence Merrick
The Silent Revolution Eckehard Munck [de]
The Great American Cowboy Kieth Merrill
Always a New Beginning John D. Goodell [pl]
Battle of Berlin Bengt von zur Muehlen
Journey to the Outer Limits Alexander Grasshoff
Walls of Fire Gertrude Ross Marks [de] and Edmund F. Penney
Hearts and Minds Peter Davis and Bert Schneider
Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman Judy Collins and Jill Godmilow
The Challenge... A Tribute to Modern Art Herbert Kline [de; fr]
The 81st Blow Jacquot Ehrlich, David Bergman and Haim Gouri
The Wild and the Brave Natalie R. Jones and Eugene S. Jones
The Man Who Skied Down Everest F. R. Crawley, James Hager and Dale Hartlebe[8]
The California Reich Walter F. Parkes and Keith F. Critchlow
Fighting for Our Lives Glen Pearcy
The Incredible Machine Irwin Rosten
The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir Shirley MacLaine
Harlan County, U.S.A. Barbara Kopple
Hollywood on Trial James Gutman and David Helpern Jr.
Off the Edge Michael Firth
People of the Wind Anthony Howarth and David Koff
Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry Donald Brittain and Robert Duncan
Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? John Korty, Dan McCann and Warren L. Lockhart
The Children of Theatre Street Robert Dornhelm and Earle Mack
High Grass Circus Bill Brind, Torben Schioler and Tony Ianzelo
Homage to Chagall: The Colours of Love Harry Rasky
Union Maids Jim Klein [de], Julia Reichert and Miles Mogulescu
Scared Straight! Arnold Shapiro
The Lovers' Wind Albert Lamorisse
Mysterious Castles of Clay Alan Root
Raoni Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, Barry Williams and Michel Gast
With Babies and Banners: Story of the Women's Emergency Brigade Anne Bohlen, Lyn Goldfarb and Lorraine Gray
Best Boy Ira Wohl
Generation on the Wind David A. Vassar
Going the Distance Paul Cowan and Jacques Bobet
The Killing Ground Steve Singer and Tom Priestley
The War at Home Glenn Silber and Barry Alexander Brown


Year Film Nominees
From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China Murray Lerner
Agee Ross Spears
The Day After Trinity Jon H. Else
Front Line David Bradbury
The Yellow Star: The Persecution of the Jews in Europe 1933-45 Bengt von zur Mühlen and Arthur Cohn
Genocide Arnold Schwartzman and Rabbi Marvin Hier
Against Wind and Tide: A Cuban Odyssey Suzanne Bauman, Paul Neshamkin and Jim Burroughs
Brooklyn Bridge Ken Burns
Eight Minutes to Midnight: A Portrait of Dr. Helen Caldicott Mary Benjamin, Susanne Simpson and Boyd Estus
El Salvador: Another Vietnam Glenn Silber and Tete Vasconcellos
Just Another Missing Kid John Zaritsky
After the Axe Sturla Gunnarsson and Steve Lucas
Ben's Mill John Karol and Michel Chalufour
In Our Water Meg Switzgable
A Portrait of Giselle Joseph Wishy
He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' Emile Ardolino
Children of Darkness Richard Kotuk and Ara Chekmayan
First Contact Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson
The Profession of Arms Michael Bryans and Tina Viljoen
Seeing Red James Klein and Julia Reichert
The Times of Harvey Milk Rob Epstein and Richard Schmiechen
High Schools Charles Guggenheim and Nancy Sloss
In the Name of the People Alex W. Drehsler and Frank Christopher
Marlene Karel Dirka and Zev Braun
Streetwise Cheryl McCall
Broken Rainbow Maria Florio and Victoria Mudd
Las Madres: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Susana Blaustein Muñoz and Lourdes Portillo
Soldiers in Hiding Japhet Asher
The Statue of Liberty Ken Burns and Buddy Squires
Unfinished Business Steven Okazaki
[note 5]
Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got (TIE) Brigitte Berman
Down and Out in America (TIE) Joseph Feury and Milton Justice
Chile: Hasta Cuando? David Bradbury
Isaac in America: A Journey with Isaac Bashevis Singer Kirk Simon and Amram Nowak
Witness to Apartheid Sharon I. Sopher [de]
The Ten-Year Lunch: The Wit and Legend of the Algonquin Round Table Aviva Slesin
Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years/Bridge to Freedom 1965 Callie Crossley and James A. DeVinney
Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima John Junkerman and John W. Dower
Radio Bikini Robert Stone
A Stitch for Time Barbara Herbich and Cyril Christo
Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie Marcel Ophüls
The Cry of Reason – Beyers Naudé: An Afrikaner Speaks Out Robert Bilheimer and Ronald Mix
Let's Get Lost Bruce Weber and Nan Bush
Promises to Keep Ginny Durrin [de]
Who Killed Vincent Chin? Renee Tajima-Peña and Christine Choy
Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt Rob Epstein and Bill Couturié
Adam Clayton Powell Richard Kilberg and Yvonne Smith
Crack USA: County Under Siege Vince DiPersio and William Guttentag
For All Mankind Al Reinert and Betsy Broyles Breier
Super Chief: The Life and Legacy of Earl Warren Judith Leonard and William C. Jersey [de]


Year Film Nominees
American Dream Barbara Kopple and Arthur Cohn
Berkeley in the Sixties Mark Kitchell
Building Bombs Mark Mori and Susan Robinson
Forever Activists: Stories from the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Judith Montell
Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter's Journey Robert Hillmann and Eugene Corr
In the Shadow of the Stars Allie Light and Irving Saraf
Death on the Job Vince DiPersio and William Guttentag
Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House Alan Raymond and Susan Raymond
The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Within Germany 1933-1945 Hava Kohav Beller
Wild by Law Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey
The Panama Deception Barbara Trent and David Kasper
Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker David Haugland
Fires of Kuwait Sally Dundas
Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II Bill Miles and Nina Rosenblum
Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann Margaret Smilow [de] and Roma Baran
I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School Susan Raymond and Alan Raymond
The Broadcast Tapes of Dr. Peter David Paperny and Arthur Ginsberg
Children of Fate Susan Todd and Andrew Young
For Better or For Worse David Collier and Betsy Thompson
The War Room D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus
Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders
Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter Deborah Hoffmann
D-Day Remembered Charles Guggenheim
Freedom on My Mind Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford
A Great Day in Harlem Jean Bach
Anne Frank Remembered Jon Blair
The Battle Over Citizen Kane Thomas Lennon and Michael Epstein
Small Wonders Allan Miller and Walter Scheuer
Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream Michael Tollin and Fredric Golding
Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher
When We Were Kings Leon Gast and David Sonenberg
The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story Susan W. Dryfoos
Mandela Jo Menell [cs; sk] and Angus Gibson
Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson [de; fr]
Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press Rick Goldsmith [de; pt]
The Long Way Home Marvin Hier and Richard Trank
4 Little Girls Spike Lee and Sam Pollard
Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life Michael Paxton
Colors Straight Up Michèle Ohayon and Julia Schachter
Waco: The Rules of Engagement Dan Gifford and William Gazecki
The Last Days James Moll and Kenneth Lipper
Dancemaker Matthew Diamond and Jerry Kupfer
The Farm: Angola, USA Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus
Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth Robert B. Weide
Regret to Inform Barbara Sonneborn and Janet Cole [de]
One Day in September Arthur Cohn and Kevin Macdonald
Buena Vista Social Club Wim Wenders and Ulrich Felsberg [de; pl]
Genghis Blues Roko Belic and Adrian Belic
On the Ropes Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen
Speaking in Strings Paola di Florio and Lilibet Foster


Year Film Nominees
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer
Legacy Tod Lending
Long Night's Journey into Day Deborah Hoffmann and Frances Reid
Scottsboro: An American Tragedy Daniel Anker and Barak Goodman
Sound and Fury Josh Aronson and Roger Weisberg [de]
Murder on a Sunday Morning Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Denis Poncet
Children Underground Edet Belzberg
LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton Deborah Dickson [de; fr] and Susan Froemke
Promises B.Z. Goldberg and Justine Shapiro
War Photographer Christian Frei
Bowling for Columbine Michael Moore and Michael Donovan
Daughter from Danang Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco
Prisoner of Paradise Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender
Spellbound Jeffrey Blitz and Sean Welch
Winged Migration Jacques Perrin
The Fog of War Errol Morris and Michael Williams
Balseros Carles Bosch [es; ca] and Josep Maria Domenech
Capturing the Friedmans Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling
My Architect Nathaniel Kahn and Susan R. Behr
The Weather Underground Sam Green and Bill Siegel
Born into Brothels Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
The Story of the Weeping Camel Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni [de]
Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock
Tupac: Resurrection Karolyn Ali and Lauren Lazin
Twist of Faith Kirby Dick and Eddie Schmidt
March of the Penguins Luc Jacquet and Yves Darondeau
Darwin's Nightmare Hubert Sauper
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room Alex Gibney and Jason Kliot
Murderball Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
Street Fight Marshall Curry
An Inconvenient Truth Davis Guggenheim
Deliver Us from Evil Amy Berg and Frank Donner
Iraq in Fragments James Longley and John Sinno
Jesus Camp Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
My Country, My Country Jocelyn Glatzer [de] and Laura Poitras
Taxi to the Dark Side Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
No End in Sight Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience Richard Robbins
Sicko Michael Moore and Meghan O'Hara
War/Dance Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
Man on Wire Simon Chinn and James Marsh
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
Encounters at the End of the World Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
The Garden Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Trouble the Water Carl Deal and Tia Lessin
The Cove Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
Burma VJ Anders Østergaard [da; de] and Lise Lense-Møller [de]
Food, Inc. Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein [de]
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
Which Way Home Rebecca Cammisa


Year Film Nominees
Inside Job Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Exit Through the Gift Shop Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
Gasland Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic [de; no; pt]
Restrepo Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Waste Land Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley [no; pt]
Undefeated T. J. Martin, Daniel Lindsay and Rich Middlemas
Hell and Back Again Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Pina Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
Searching for Sugar Man Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn
5 Broken Cameras Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
The Gatekeepers Dror Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky [de; pt], and Estelle Fialon [de]
How to Survive a Plague David France and Howard Gertler
The Invisible War Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering
20 Feet from Stardom Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers
The Act of Killing Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cutie and the Boxer Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
Dirty Wars Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
The Square Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
Citizenfour Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
Finding Vivian Maier John Maloof and Charlie Siskel [de; pt]
Last Days in Vietnam Rory Kennedy and Kevin McAlester
The Salt of the Earth Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
Virunga Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
Amy Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees
Cartel Land Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
The Look of Silence Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
What Happened, Miss Simone? Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor
O.J.: Made in America Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow
Fire at Sea Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo
I Am Not Your Negro Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety [de; pt] and Hébert Peck
Life, Animated Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman
13th Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish
Icarus Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail Steve James, Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman
Faces Places Agnès Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda
Last Men in Aleppo Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and Søren Steen Jespersen
Strong Island Yance Ford and Joslyn Barnes
Free Solo Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, Evan Hayes, and Shannon Dill [de]
Hale County This Morning, This Evening RaMell Ross [pt], Joslyn Barnes, and Su Kim
Minding the Gap Bing Liu and Diane Quon
Of Fathers and Sons Talal Derki, Ansgar Frerich [de], Eva Kemme [de], and Tobias N. Siebert [de]
RBG Betsy West and Julie Cohen [de; fr; pt]
American Factory Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert and Jeff Reichert
The Cave Feras Fayyad, Kirstine Barfod [de] and Sigrid Dyekjær [da; de]
The Edge of Democracy Petra Costa, Joanna Natasegara, Shane Boris and Tiago Pavan [pt]
For Sama Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts
Honeyland Ljubo Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska and Atanas Georgiev


Year Film Nominees
My Octopus Teacher Pippa Ehrlich [de], James Reed and Craig Foster
Collective Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana [de]
Crip Camp Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder
The Mole Agent Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibáñez [de]
Time Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino [de] and Kellen Quinn
Summer of Soul Questlove, Joseph Patel [de], Robert Fyvolent [de] and David Dinerstein [de]
Ascension Jessica Kingdon, Kira Simon-Kennedy and Nathan Truesdell
Attica Stanley Nelson and Traci A. Curry [de]
Flee Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen and Charlotte De La Gournerie
Writing with Fire Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh
Navalny Daniel Roher, Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller and Shane Boris
All That Breathes Shaunak Sen, Aman Mann and Teddy Leifer
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed Laura Poitras, Howard Gertler, John Lyons, Nan Goldin and Yoni Golijov
Fire of Love Sara Dosa, Shane Boris and Ina Fichman
A House Made of Splinters Simon Lereng Wilmont and Monica Hellström
20 Days in Mariupol Mstyslav Chernov, Michelle Mizner and Raney Aronson-Rath
Bobi Wine: The People's President Moses Bwayo, Christopher Sharp and John Battsek
The Eternal Memory Maite Alberdi
Four Daughters Kaouther Ben Hania and Nadim Cheikhrouha
To Kill a Tiger Nisha Pahuja, Cornelia Principe and David Oppenheim

Shortlisted finalists[edit]

Finalists for Best Documentary Feature are selected by the Documentary Branch based on a preliminary ballot. A second preferential ballot determines the five nominees.[11] Prior to the 78th Academy Awards, there were twelve films shortlisted. These are the additional films that were shortlisted.

Year Finalists
1999 Amargosa, American Movie, Beyond the Mat, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., Pop & Me, Smoke and Mirrors: A History of Denial, The Source[12]
2003 The Agronomist, Bus 174, Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, Heir to an Execution, Inheritance: A Fisherman's Story, Lost Boys of Sudan, My Flesh and Blood[13]
2004 Home of the Brave, Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, In the Realms of the Unreal, Riding Giants, The Ritchie Boys, Tell Them Who You Are, Touching the Void[14]
2005 After Innocence, The Boys of Baraka, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Favela Rising, Mad Hot Ballroom, Occupation: Dreamland, On Native Soil: The Documentary of the 9/11 Commission Report, Rize, 39 Pounds of Love, Unknown White Male[15]
2006 Blindsight, Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?, The Ground Truth, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, Shut Up & Sing, Sisters in Law, Storm of Emotions, The Trials of Darryl Hunt, An Unreasonable Man, The War Tapes[16]
2007 Autism: The Musical, Body of War, For the Bible Tells Me So, Lake of Fire, Nanking, Please Vote for Me, The Price of Sugar, A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, The Rape of Europa, White Light/Black Rain[17]
2008 At the Death House Door, Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, Fuel, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, I.O.U.S.A., In a Dream, Made in America, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Standard Operating Procedure, They Killed Sister Dorothy[18]
2009 The Beaches of Agnès, Every Little Step, Facing Ali, Garbage Dreams, Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, Mugabe and the White African, Sergio, Soundtrack for a Revolution, Under Our Skin, Valentino: The Last Emperor[19]
2010 Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Enemies of the People, Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, The Lottery, Precious Life, Quest for Honor, This Way of Life, The Tillman Story, Waiting for "Superman", William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe[20]
2011 Battle for Brooklyn, Bill Cunningham New York, Buck, Jane's Journey, The Loving Story, Project Nim, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, Sing Your Song, Under Fire: Journalists in Combat, We Were Here[21]
2012 Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Bully, Chasing Ice, Detropia, Ethel, The House I Live In, The Imposter, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, This Is Not a Film, The Waiting Room[22]
2013 The Armstrong Lie, Blackfish, The Crash Reel, First Cousin Once Removed, God Loves Uganda, Life According to Sam, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, Stories We Tell, Tim's Vermeer, Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington[23]
2014 Art and Craft, The Case Against 8, Citizen Koch, The Internet's Own Boy, Jodorowsky's Dune, Keep on Keepin' On, The Kill Team, Life Itself, The Overnighters, Tales of the Grim Sleeper[24]
2015 Best of Enemies, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, He Named Me Malala, Heart of a Dog, The Hunting Ground, Listen to Me Marlon, Meru, 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets, We Come as Friends, Where to Invade Next[25]
2016 Cameraperson, Command and Control, The Eagle Huntress, Gleason, Hooligan Sparrow, The Ivory Game, Tower, Weiner, The Witness, Zero Days[26]
2017 Chasing Coral, City of Ghosts, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Human Flow, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, Jane, LA 92, Long Strange Trip, One of Us, Unrest[27]
2018 Charm City, Communion, Crime + Punishment, Dark Money, The Distant Barking of Dogs, On Her Shoulders, Shirkers, The Silence of Others, Three Identical Strangers, Won't You Be My Neighbor?[28]
2019 Advocate, The Apollo, Apollo 11, Aquarela, The Biggest Little Farm, The Great Hack, Knock Down the House, Maiden, Midnight Family, One Child Nation [29]
2020 All In: The Fight for Democracy, Boys State, Dick Johnson Is Dead, Gunda, MLK/FBI, Notturno, The Painter and the Thief, 76 Days, The Truffle Hunters, Welcome to Chechnya[30]
2021 Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry, Faya Dayi, The First Wave, In the Same Breath, Julia, President, Procession, The Rescue, Simple as Water, The Velvet Underground[31]
2022 Bad Axe, Children of the Mist, Descendant, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song, Hidden Letters, The Janes, Last Flight Home, Moonage Daydream, Retrograde, The Territory[32]
2023 32 Sounds, American Symphony, Apolonia, Apolonia, Beyond Utopia, Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy, Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, In the Rearview, Stamped from the Beginning, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, A Still Small Voice[33]


For this Academy Award category, the following superlatives emerge:[34]

  • Most awards:

Arthur Cohn3 awards (resulting from 4 nominations); Simon Chinn2 awards; Jacques-Yves Cousteau2 awards; Walt Disney2 awards (resulting from 7 nominations; Disney has an additional 2 wins in the Documentary Short Subject category); Rob Epstein2 awards; Marvin Hier2 awards; Barbara Kopple2 awards

Process controversies[edit]

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, at the time the highest-grossing documentary film in movie history, was ruled ineligible because Moore had opted to have it played on television prior to the 2004 election. Previously, the 1982 winner Just Another Missing Kid had already been broadcast in Canada and won that country's ACTRA award for excellence in television at the time of its nomination.

In 1990, a group of 45 filmmakers filed a protest to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over a potential conflict of interest involving Mitchell Block. They noted that Block was a member of the Documentary Steering Committee, which selects films as nominees, but he had a conflict of interest because his company Direct Cinema owned the distribution rights to three of the five films (including eventual winner Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt)[35] selected that year as nominees for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. They noted that Michael Moore's Roger & Me (distributed by Warner Brothers) was omitted from the nominees, although it had been highly praised by numerous critics and was ranked by many critics as one of the top ten films of the year.[36]

The controversy over Hoop Dreams' exclusion was enough to have the Academy Awards begin the process to change its documentary voting system.[37] Roger Ebert, who had declared it to be the best 1994 movie of any kind, looked into its failure to receive a nomination: "We learned, through very reliable sources, that the members of the committee had a system. They carried little flashlights. When one gave up on a film, he waved a light on the screen. When a majority of flashlights had voted, the film was switched off. Hoop Dreams was stopped after 15 minutes."[38]

The academy's executive director, Bruce Davis, took the unprecedented step of asking accounting firm Price Waterhouse to turn over the complete results of that year's voting, in which members of the committee had rated each of the 63 eligible documentaries on a scale of six to ten. "What I found," said Davis, "is that a small group of members gave zeros (actually low scores) to every single film except the five they wanted to see nominated. And they gave tens to those five, which completely skewed the voting. There was one film that received more scores of ten than any other, but it wasn't nominated. It also got zeros (low scores) from those few voters, and that was enough to push it to sixth place."[39]

In 2000, Arthur Cohn, the producer of the winning One Day in September boasted "I won this without showing it in a single theater!" Cohn had hit upon the tactic of showing his Oscar entries at invitation-only screenings, and to as few other people as possible. Oscar bylaws at the time required voters to have seen all five nominated documentaries; by limiting his audience, Cohn shrank the voting pool and improved his odds. Following protests by many documentarians, the nominating system subsequently was changed.[40]

Hoop Dreams director Steve James said "With so few people looking at any given film, it only takes one to dislike a film and its chances for making the short list are diminished greatly. So they've got to do something, I think, to make the process more sane for deciding the shortlist."[41] Among other rule changes taking effect in 2013,[42] the academy began requiring a documentary to have been reviewed by either The New York Times or Los Angeles Times, and be commercially released for at least one week in both of those cities. Advocating the rule change, Michael Moore said "When people get the award for best documentary and they go on stage and thank the Academy, it's not really the Academy, is it? It's 5% of the Academy."[41]

The awards process has also been criticized for emphasizing a documentary's subject matter over its style or quality. In 2009, Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman wrote about the documentary branch members' penchant for choosing "movies that the selection committee deemed good because they're good for you... a kind of self-defeating aesthetic of granola documentary correctness."[43]

In 2014, following the announcement of the shortlist of eligible feature documentary nominees, Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard publicly criticized Academy documentary voters after they excluded SPC's Red Army from the shortlist. "It's a sign of some really old people in the documentary area of the Academy. There's a lot of people who are really up in their years. It's shocking to me that that film (Red Army) didn't get in," Bernard said.[44] Additionally, in his reporting of the Oscar documentary shortlist exclusions that year, The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg reacted to Red Army's omission: "...no matter which 15 titles the doc branch selected, plenty of other great ones would be left on the outside. That is the case, most egregiously, with Gabe Polsky's Red Army (Sony Classics), a masterful look at the role of sports in society and Russian-American relations".[45] (Icarus, another documentary related to sports and Russian-American relations, later won the Oscar.)

In 2017, following the win of the eight-hour O.J.: Made in America in this category, the academy announced that multi-part and limited series would be ineligible for the award in the future, even if they are not broadcast after their Oscar-qualifying release (as was O.J.: Made in America).[46]

Various other acclaimed documentaries have not been nominated.[47][48]

Documentaries with wins or nominations in other categories[edit]

Though Academy rules do not expressly preclude documentaries from being nominated in other competitive categories,[49] documentaries are typically considered ineligible for nominations in categories that presume the work is fictitious, including Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, and acting. To date, no documentaries have been nominated for Best Picture,[50] or Best Director. The Quiet One was nominated for Best Story and Screenplay.

No documentary feature has yet been nominated for Best Picture, although Chang was nominated in the "Unique and Artistic Production" category at the 1927/28 awards.

At the 3rd Academy Awards, prior to the introduction of a documentary category, With Byrd at the South Pole won the award for Best Cinematography, becoming the first documentary both to be nominated for and win an Oscar.[51][52] 1952's Navajo would become the first film nominated for both Best Documentary and Best Cinematography.

Woodstock was the first documentary to be nominated for Best Film Editing[53] while Hoop Dreams was the second (although it was, controversially, not nominated for Best Documentary Feature).[54][55] Woodstock is also the only documentary to receive a nomination for Best Sound.[56]

Honeyland became the first documentary to be nominated for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature.[57] The following year, Collective would accomplish the same double nomination.[58][59][60] Prior to this, Waltz with Bashir became the first documentary and first animated film nominated for Best International Feature Film, although it was not nominated for Best Documentary Feature.[61][62] The Danish-language animated documentary Flee was later nominated for Best International Feature, Best Documentary Feature, and Best Animated Feature, the first film to accomplish this feat.

Nine documentaries have received nominations for Best Original Song: Mondo Cane (for Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero's "More"),[63] An Inconvenient Truth (for Melissa Etheridge's "I Need to Wake Up", the only nominee from a documentary to win),[64] Chasing Ice (for J. Ralph's "Before My Time"), Racing Extinction (for Ralph and Anhoni's "Manta Ray"), Jim: The James Foley Story (for Ralph and Sting's "The Empty Chair"), Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (for Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond's "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"), The Hunting Ground (for Lady Gaga and Diane Warren's "Til It Happens To You"), RBG (for Warren's "I'll Fight")[65] and American Symphony (for Batiste's "It Never Went Away").

Documentaries nominated for their scores include This is Cinerama, White Wilderness (which also won for Documentary Feature[66]), Let It Be, and Birds Do It, Bees Do It.

Five documentary filmmakers have received honorary Oscars: Pete Smith, William L. Hendricks, D. A. Pennebaker, Frederick Wiseman, and Agnès Varda.[67]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In 1942, documentary features and short subjects competed together for Best Documentary. Four special awards were bestowed among the 25 nominees.
  2. ^ A preliminary list of eight films were announced as nominees, but the Documentary Award Committee subsequently narrowed the field to five titles included on the final ballot. The films that did not advance were: For God and Country (United States Army Pictorial Service), Silent Village (British Ministry of Information), and We've Come a Long, Long Way (Negro Marches On, Inc.).
  3. ^ Terminus was originally announced as a nominee, but the nomination was rescinded after it was discovered the film had been released prior to the eligibility period.
  4. ^ Young Americans, produced by Robert Cohn and Alex Grasshoff, won this award on April 14, 1969. On May 7, 1969, the win and nomination were rescinded after it was discovered the film had been released prior to the eligibility period. First runner-up Journey into Self was named the winner the following day.
  5. ^ A tie in voting resulted in two winners.


  1. ^ Fisher, Bob (2012). "The Drive to Archive: Academy Pushes to Preserve Docs". International Documentary Association. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  2. ^ 19th Academy Awards (1946): Nominees and Winners-Cinema Sight by Wesley Lovell
  3. ^ "Academy Award-Winning Documentaries". Academy Film Archive. 4 September 2014.
  4. ^ De Souza, P. "Kokoda Front Line! (1942)". australianscreen (National Film and Sound Archive Australia). Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  5. ^ Taylor, B. "Australias First Oscar". National Film and Sound Archive Australia. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  6. ^ a b c "The Official Academy Awards Database". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on February 27, 2009. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  7. ^ Documentary Winners: 1969 Oscars
  8. ^ "The 48th Academy Awards". 4 October 2014. Retrieved September 29, 2015.
  9. ^ "Academy Awards 2017: Complete list of Oscar winners and nominees". Los Angeles Times. February 26, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  10. ^ Hipes, Patrick (January 23, 2018). "Oscar Nominations: 'The Shape Of Water' Leads Way With 13". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  11. ^ "93rd Academy Award of Merit Rules" (PDF). Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 2, 2020. Retrieved May 3, 2020.
  12. ^ "Academy Announces Films Remaining in Competition for Best Documentary Feature". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. January 3, 2000. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  13. ^ Kilday, Gregg (November 21, 2003). "Oscar's documentary dozen". Today.com. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  14. ^ "Academy Announces Documentary Films in Competition for 78th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. November 17, 2004. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  15. ^ "Academy Announces Documentary Films in Competition for 78th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. November 15, 2005. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  16. ^ "15 Docs Advance in 2006 Oscar Race". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. November 15, 2006. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  17. ^ "15 Docs Move Ahead in 2007 Oscar Race". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. November 19, 2007. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  18. ^ "15 Docs Continue in 2008 Oscar Race". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. November 17, 2008. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  19. ^ Brooks, Brian (November 18, 2009). "Academy Names 15 to Documentary Shortlist; Moore Snubbed". IndieWire. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  20. ^ Knegt, Peter (November 18, 2010). "Academy Announces Characteristically Controversial Documentary Feature Shortlist". IndieWire. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  21. ^ Finke, Nikki (November 18, 2011). "Oscars: 15 Documentary Features Rise". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  22. ^ "Oscars: 15 Films On Docu Feature Shortlist". Deadline Hollywood. December 3, 2012. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  23. ^ "15 Documentary Features Advance in 2013 Oscar Race". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. December 3, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  24. ^ "15 Documentary Features Advance in 2014 Oscar Race". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. December 1, 2014. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  25. ^ "15 Documentary Features Advance in 2015 Oscar Race". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. December 1, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  26. ^ "15 Documentary Features Advance in 2016 Oscar Race". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. December 6, 2016. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  27. ^ "Oscars: The 15 Films on the Documentary Feature Shortlist". The Hollywood Reporter. December 7, 2017. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  28. ^ "91st Oscar Shortlists". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 14 December 2018. Retrieved May 3, 2020.
  29. ^ "92nd Oscar Shortlists". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 10 December 2019. Retrieved May 3, 2020.
  30. ^ "93rd Oscars Shortlists". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 9 February 2021. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
  31. ^ "94th Oscars Shortlists". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 20 December 2021. Retrieved February 8, 2022.
  32. ^ "95th Oscars Shortlists Announced for 10 Categories".
  33. ^ Bergeson, Samantha (2023-12-21). "2024 Oscar Shortlists Unveiled: 'Barbie,' 'Poor Things,' 'Maestro,' and 'The Zone of Interest' Make the Cut". IndieWire. Retrieved 2023-12-21.
  34. ^ Academy Award Statistics Archived 2009-03-01 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ With Direct Cinema Limited (Sorted by Release Date Ascending) – IMDb
  36. ^ Collins, Glenn. "Film Makers Protest to Academy", The New York Times, 24 February 1990. Accessed March 6, 2011.
  37. ^ "Steve James, Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert: Hoop Dreams: from short subject to major league"; current.org; July 30, 1995. Archived June 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The great American documentary – Roger Ebert's Journal – Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com.
  39. ^ Pond, Steve, The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards, pg. 74, Faber and Faber, 2005
  40. ^ Ebert, Roger. "One Day In September Movie Review (2001) – Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com.
  41. ^ a b Team, Indiewire (9 January 2012). "Michael Moore: Best Documentary Oscar Will Be Chosen By the Full Academy – IndieWire". www.indiewire.com.
  42. ^ "The OTHER Oscars: Best Documentary Feature –". CraveOnline. 31 January 2014.
  43. ^ "Oscar documentary scandal: The real reason that too many good movies got left out". ew.com. 20 November 2009.
  44. ^ "Sony Classics' Tom Bernard Slams Oscar Voters for Snubbing Russian Hockey Doc 'Red Army'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  45. ^ "Oscar Doc Shortlist: A Brutal Year to Have to Select Just 15 Finalists". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  46. ^ McNary, Dave (2017-04-07). "Oscars: New Rules Bar Multi-Part Documentaries Like 'O.J.: Made in America'". Variety. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
  47. ^ Oliver, Lyttelton (18 February 2014). "Great Documentariees That Weren't Nominated for an Oscar". IndieWire.
  48. ^ Oscars Have No Hidden 'Agenda' to Thwart Popular Documentaries – Los Angeles Times
  49. ^ "Rules & Eligibility". Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 2014-07-28. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
  50. ^ "Oscars: A Best Picture Nom for a Documentary? Why Not?". The Hollywood Reporter. 2 December 2016. Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  51. ^ "With Byrd at the South Pole (1930)". catalog.afi.com. American Film Institute. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  52. ^ "Movie Reviews". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-06-16.
  53. ^ 1971|Oscars.org
  54. ^ 1995|Oscars.org
  55. ^ Forrest Gump Wins Film Editing: 1995 Oscars
  56. ^ The Opening of the Academy Awards in 1971 – Oscars on YouTube
  57. ^ Martinelli, Marissa (2020-01-13). "A Documentary About Beekeepers Just Made Oscar History". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
  58. ^ 2021|Oscars.org
  59. ^ "Another Round" Wins Best International Film|93rd Oscars
  60. ^ "My Octopus Teacher" Wins Best Documentary Feature|93rd Oscars
  61. ^ 2009|Oscars.org
  62. ^ "Departures" Wins Foreign Language Film: 2009 Oscars
  63. ^ "80th Annual Academy Awards Oscar Quiz". old.post-gazette.com. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
  64. ^ 2007|Oscars.org
  65. ^ "The 91st Academy Awards | 2019". Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 15 April 2019. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
  66. ^ 1959|Oscars.org
  67. ^ Sheehan, Paul (2018-09-06). "Honorary Oscars: Full list of 132 winners from Charlie Chaplin to Cicely Tyson". GoldDerby. Retrieved 2020-02-02.

External links[edit]