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Top 10 Documentary Films: What To Watch While “Waiting for Superman”

Documentaries offer filmmakers a chance to influence opinion and in many cases, bring attention to an overlooked subject. By their very nature, good documentaries can be both controversial and extremely enlightening. This is definitely the case for Davis Guggenheim whose latest film Waiting for Superman hits theaters this weekend.

In Waiting For Superman director Davis Guggenheim reveals how bad American students have fallen behind — among 30 developed countries, U.S. students rank 25th in math and 21st in science.

Waiting For Superman tackles the very real issues currently facing America’s public school system (lack of funding and low graduation percentages, just to name a few) and is sure to get people thinking and debating the topic for months to come.

Thanks to people like Micheal Moore, over the past decade the documentary film has truly become a regular fixture in local theaters – no longer taking second or third billing in some local art house cinema or Sunday matinee.  Now we live in an age where society wants information served in a bowl of multimedia and because of that, documentary films are ready to take an even more prominent place in our lives and theaters.

So while you’re Waiting for Superman check out our picks for the ten of the best documentaries:

1. Fahrenheit 9/11

Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t argue with the numbers Michael Moore puts up at the box office — and this one is probably one of his best and most talked about films. Moore may be known for his liberal views, but he brings some pretty brutal facts to the screen as he digs into the political motivation behind the Iraq war.

Jaw-dropping fact: With a worldwide gross of $222,446,882, it’s the highest grossing documentary of all time. It’s also the most commercially successful documentary or feature film based on the events of 9/11.

2. Religulous

Bill Maher, armed with logic and objective view points, travels the world playing devil’s advocate while discussing world religions and some of their more outlandish beliefs. If you’re a religious fanatic of any faith you might want to skip this one, but if you’re open minded and interested in dissecting some of the strange beliefs various faiths hold close to their hearts, then by all means, hit play.

Jaw-dropping fact: Bill Maher doesn’t believe in Santa Claus.

3. Super Size Me

Man versus food, and food almost wins.

Morgan Spurlock puts his health on the line in an attempt, and rather successful one at that, to reveal the true consequences of America’s fast food diet. This doc follows Morgan on a 30 day mission as he eats only at McDonalds, morning, noon and night. If you consider yourself a fast food connoisseur watch this before your next drive through the the drive thru.

Jaw-dropping fact: You have to walk for seven hours to burn off the calories from a Supersized Coke, Fries and Big Mac. 

4. An Inconvenient Truth

Called by one producer “the clearest explanation of global warming” he had ever seen, this film follows former vice-president Al Gore around the nation as makes his case for global warming. It’s informative, well organized and in places, downright frightening. It’s worth watching regardless of your stance on the vanishing ozone layer.

Jaw-dropping fact: Ice flows are melting and seas are rising at an alarming rate – and if we don’t do something about now we’re all going to be living on Waterworld.

5. Food, Inc.

In Food Inc. Old McDonald uses modernization and Barcode Betsy to make a faster and cheaper hamburger.

This one is not for the faint of heart (or stomach). If you watched Super Size Me and wanted to kick up the queasy meter then throw this one in your movie queue. Troubling facts and extremely disturbing imagery will literally make you sick as you find out how the food business mass produces our groceries. Go into this one assuming you’ll come out a vegetarian – we’re not kidding, it’s that scary.

Jaw-dropping fact: The film’s producer contacted 50 of America’s largest food producers, including Tyson and Smithfield Farms, none of them would allow interviews or let cameras anywhere near their food factories.

6. The Corporation

Looking for more reasons to stick it to the Man? This documentary will make you shake your head in disbelief as it demonstrates there’s no stoop too low for a corporation stand on if it means making a buck. The film follows the rise of “corporations” and why megaliths like Fox News are interested in only one thing – themselves.

Jaw-dropping fact: IBM supplied machines to Hitler that helped him keep track of the millions of Jews he held and ultimately executed in concentration camps during World War II.

7. Who Killed the Electric Car?

Actor and electric car advocate Ed Bagley Jr. makes a plea to save the electric car.

This documentary investigates the birth and death of the electric car….in the 90′s. That’s right, over a decade ago. If you’re looking to get fired up about the automotive industry, especially after GM’s recent bailout, then see this documentary – in it you’ll learn how oil companies afraid of losing trillions of dollars in potential profits encouraged GM to destroy the first generation of mass-produced electric cars.

Jaw-dropping fact: A visit to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan reveals not only electric cars but also cars that ran on soybeans.

8. Why We Fight

This doc outlines the rise and ongoing cost of maintaining the machine that is the United States military. The documentary explores the idea of American Foreign Policy and why its driven by an appetite for military supremacy. After spending nearly a decade in two wars that were increasingly difficult to define our reasons for being there, this film will certainly make you question what mission they’re talking about when Washington’s politicians say “Mission Accomplished.”

Jaw-dropping fact: Billions of taxpayer dollars go toward maintaining the U.S. military every year.

9. 11th Hour

At one point Leonardo DiCaprio was “King of the World!” as he rode high above the Atlantic on the deck of the Titanic. Times of changed. In this doc, produced and narrated by Leo, finds him trying to save the world by sharing with us both visionary and practical solutions for restoring the ecosystems of our dear Mother Earth.

Jaw-dropping fact: Global warming, mass species extinction, deforestation and damage to our oceans are just a few things we have to be proud of as a civilization.

10. Gimme Shelter

“Who’s fighting and what for?” Mick Jagger addresses the on-edge crowd at Altamont.

This rocking Rolling Stones doc from their 1969 tour captures the intense magic of a live Stones show against the backdrop of the historic and tragic concert at Altamont. No narrator is needed as you are immersed in a movie that gives you a eerie “you are there” feeling. The concert highlights? Great Rolling Stones songs, guest appearances by rock band legends like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and concert security provided by, uh, the Hell’s Angels? This won’t end well… and it doesn’t.

Jaw-dropping fact: A young George Lucas was a cameraman at the show – unfortunately due to a camera malfunction, none of what he shot made the cut.

Have you seen a great documentary that didn’t make the list? Then tell us about it or share with us something you learned from it.


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