100 Movies You Need To See Before You Die - Animation & Documentaries

100 Movies You Need To See Before You Die - Animation & Documentaries

Lists, as you probably know, are completely subjective.

At its core, it's a recommendation based on one's own opinion. It can have omissions, sometimes glaring ones. There can be exhaustive arguments as to what and where things place on said list, not to mention debates on the very nature of lists itself.

For this list, we've kept it broad as we can - but it's not a ranking. These are 100 movies that you should get to see at some point. Some are comedies, some are documentaries, some are action movies, some are horrors. We've divided the 100 movies into categories, the first being documentaries and animation.

While the entries are numbered from 100 down to 1, we've grouped them into genres for ease of reading. Again, we're not ranking them as one better than the other. As we said, it's simply a recommendation of 100 movies, without placing them in any order other than genre.

As always, we want to hear from you about our choices. You can tweet us at @entertainmentie, message us on Instagram, or you can e-mail us.

Here we go.


1. 'RED ARMY' (2014)

What sets 'Red Army' apart from other sports documentaries is that it doesn't necessarily give you an indication or lesson on the sport itself. In fact, the sport itself is essentially a tack-on to what it's really about - the Cold War. Told by those who lived through it, 'Red Army' plays out like a sharp political thriller that just happens to be about ice hockey. The interviewees are just as colourful as you'd expect, including a grandfather - complete with white hair and cute little daughter - who's actually a former KGB operative, and a hard-as-nails player who turned his back on the Soviet Union to go professional in the US.


2. 'BLACKFISH' (2013)

One of the greatest nature documentaries we've seen to date, 'Blackfish' almost has you forgetting that the interviewees are talking about an orca whale. There are a few moments when you think, honestly believe, that they're talking about a serial killer instead of a sea creature. The documentary explores the dark underbelly of theme park attractions like SeaWorld and the surprising level of intelligence these creatures have. It's riveting stuff, and sparked a massive backlash against SeaWorld in the wake of its release.


3. 'WHEN WE WERE KINGS' (1996)

Muhammad Ali is a fascinating character and, as you can imagine, has been the subject of many films and documentaries. However, the best of them has to be 'When We Were Kings'. Telling the story of Ali's iconic battle with George Foreman, 'When We Were Kings' manages to take in soul music, the Black Power movement, Pan-Africanism and Norman Mailer's wife getting hit on by Ali. You don't have to be into boxing and you don't even have to know who Ali or Foreman are to appreciate this film. The talking-head interviews with Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, two old journalists who were covering the fight in Zaire, explain everything about the mechanics of the fight and are filled with anecdotes with enthusiasm and wit. One of the greatest sporting movies - documentary or otherwise - ever made.


4. 'BEST OF ENEMIES' (2015)

If you ever wanted to figure out why political TV interviews are conducted are the way they are nowadays, or how the US has become so polarised and entrenched in its views, 'Best Of Enemies' is the best possible primer. Set against the backdrop of the US Presidential Election of 1968, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley - two political commentators who couldn't be further apart - take part in a series of two televised debates and, in doing so, shape the future of politics in America. That might sound like heady stuff, but the editing and interviews zip the whole thing along and makes it as much a character study as it does an examination of the gap between ideologies in the world, not to mention foreshadowing the current plight of a deeply divided nation that's endlessly at war with itself.


5. 'MAN ON WIRE' (2008)

For a film that's about the Twin Towers in New York, there isn't a single mention made of 9/11 or its reconstruction. In fact, 'Man On Wire' earnestly sets out that it isn't about the building. It's about what happened between them - namely one man tightrope-walking between them in 1974. Phillipe Petit is a renowned circus performer who's a penchant for tightrope-walking in public places. On a trip to New York, he becomes utterly fascinated by the World Trade Center and sets about a plan to perform his greatest act, or as it became known, the artistic crime of the century. Petit's narration and the use of archival footage, together with recreations, brings you fully into the story. It's equal parts hilarious, heartwarming and bittersweet. Just don't mention Robert Zemeckis' adaptation.



If you're any kind of serious movie fan, 'Hearts of Darkness' is essential, required viewing. The production and shoot for Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' was nothing short of legendary and had, well, everything going wrong for it. Near-death experiences, Communist insurgencies, a prima-donna actor, inflated budgets and a director slowly going insane from heat exhaustion - all of it caught on camera for your perverse enjoyment. 'Community' even based an entire episode on it. It's an intriguing insight into what it's like to actually make one of the greatest movies of our time, complete with all the agony, anguish and the eventual triumph.

Marlon Brando allegedly refused to be interviewed for the documentary, and claimed that Francis Ford Coppola still owed him a considerable amount of money following his time on the movie itself.



If you've never heard of 'Titicut Follies', you've definitely heard of the documentaries and filmmakers it inspired. In fact, the whole idea of investigative journalism and documentaries would be nothing without it. In 1966, Frederick Wiseman received permission to film in Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. However, when the movie was completed, a lengthy legal battle that spanned almost twenty years was waged in order to stop the film seeing the light of day. It's easy to see why, in retrospect. The documentary shone a light on an area of America that it was perfectly willing to ignore - mental health in prisons. The film showed inmates routinely tied down and force-fed drugs and food, being harassed and taunted by guards, and being strip-searched on a whim. It's still a hot-button topic to this day and is a reminder that institutions of every stripe, particularly ones such as these, require transparency in order to maintain human dignity.



As parts of the world begin to experience the very real impacts of global warming and climate change, Al Gore's calm, rational documentary feels slightly out of step with the reality we know today. Carefully constructed, done with the pacing and the deliberateness of a college tutorial, 'An Inconvenient Truth' ended up becoming a blockbuster in the documentary world. It's now standard in scientific curricula around the world. It shone a spotlight on the climate movement and inspired countless actions and political shifts. Did it any of it work? That's debatable, but it took a subject that people ignored, made them see it in it a new light, and energised them to do something about it.


9. 'HOOP DREAMS' (1994)

When discussing sports documentaries, there's a few that will always have to come up - the aforementioned 'When We Were Kings', the likes of 'Senna', 'Class Of '92', the more recent 'Red Army', but it truly flourished with 'Hoop Dreams'. At just under three hours long, 'Hoop Dreams' really is an odyssey. Following two African-American teenagers who are recruited to a predominantly-white high school, they struggle against adversity and socio-economic hardships to pursue their dreams, all supported by their family and friends along the way. It's an incredible story, one that's almost too Hollywood to be real - but it is.


10. 'THE THIN BLUE LINE' (1988)

Errol Morris investigates the murder of a police officer in Dallas and uses re-enactment to investigate and ultimately overturn the conviction that would have saw two young men put to death. You have to understand that, back in 1988, this type of documentary was completely unheard of. 'The Jinx', 'Making A Murderer', 'Serial' - all these and many, many more owe their origin to 'The Thin Blue Line'. Morris' tenacious interviewing style, mixed with a dogged persistence makes 'The Thin Blue Line' as engaging and thrilling as any police procedural you'd see on TV. As much as it is about investigating a crime and revealing the facts,  it is about the power of the truth to overturn evil in society.


11. 'SHOAH' (1985)

How can a movie, or a documentary, even hope to grapple with the greatest evil of the modern era? 'Shoah' does not shy away from the utter horrors of the Holocaust, yet it fully embraces the beauty and the humanity that existed. Described by contemporary reviews not as a documentary or a movie, but "an act of witness", any discussion about how the Holocaust is portrayed on screen begins and ends with 'Shoah'. Over five hours long, and taking a decade to make, it has no equal. Nor should it.



Despite the fact the show is still running with no sign of it being cancelled, 'South Park: The Movie' continues to be referenced more and is the most popular “episode” of the long-running series. The suitably daft plot – the US invades Canada in order to bring about the apocalypse – is matched only by the musical numbers. In fact, the score was written by Marc Shaiman, a famous Broadway writer who adapted 'Hairspray' and has worked on a number of hugely successful musicals. The song Blame Canada was even nominated for an Oscar.


13. 'PERFECT BLUE' (1997)

Anime often addresses issues that are Japan-centric, but the emotional factors of them are global. Although the setup for 'Perfect Blue' seems somewhat conventional – a J-pop singer, eager to forge a career as an actress, is stalked by a deranged fan – it goes far beyond that. It deals with existentialism, perceptions of reality, feminism, sexuality, personal regrets and artistic credibility. Not only that, but it also addresses the nascent issue of privacy and the Internet – even though the movie itself is seventeen years old, long before social media even existed. It's dark, adult and visually powerful.



Chuck Jones is rightfully considered one of the fathers of American animation. The brains behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and the entire Looney Tunes cast, he is one of the most respected animators of our time. This short, which was theatrically-released, is among his most well-known and influential. Mixing romance, mathematics, art and animation, it's a beautiful little short about a straight line who falls in love with a carefree dot. Yes, really. Released in 1966, it was then entered into Cannes Film Festival and won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short.

The short was adapted almost verbatim from the book of the same name by Norman Juster, and has inspired countless animators, artists, musicians, and even jewellery design.


15. 'THE IRON GIANT' (1999)

Based on Ted Hughes' children's novel, 'The Iron Giant' is one of animation's most heartfelt and truly affecting stories. A young child discovers a massive talking robot that's fallen to Earth and befriends it. The robot's memory has been wiped and is unsure of himself or why he's even on the planet. Soon enough, the government finds out and tries to destroy it. The movie has obvious parallels with 'ET: The Extra-Terrestrial', but more than that, it works on using the time period it's set in – the '50s – to great advantage. It's beautifully animated and director Brad Bird's talent for making emotionally affecting stories is unmatched.


16. 'FRITZ THE CAT' (1972)

Few animated movies have been more controversial, or explicitly courted controversy, than 'Fritz The Cat'. Created by maverick animator Ralph Bakshi, it's the easily one of the most adult, sexually exploitative, politically-charged animated movies ever made, or is ever likely to be made. The plot – for lack of a better word – focuses on a talking cat on the run from a police force made up of pigs. He enjoys cannabis, hallucinogens, and “free love” - and isn't afraid to show himself enjoying these. Some may dismiss 'Fritz The Cat' as actively baiting controversy with its hedonistic exploits, but it addressed issues that the world wasn't prepared to look at. At least not in the context of an animated movie. An early precursor to adult-themed animation such as 'Family Guy', 'Bob's Burgers' and 'South Park', it was also the first animated film to be given a X-rating by US censors.


17. 'WATERSHIP DOWN' (1978)

'Watership Down' is often remembered, and perhaps reduced to its final act – the bloody battle between warrens that's as graphic as anything in animation – but there's more to it than just that. It was one of the first major animated movies to choose character actors over established voice actors. John Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, Joss Ackland, and Denholm Elliot all lent their voices to this adventure film. Based on the popular novel, it tells the story of Hazel and Fiver, two rabbits who attempt to flee their warren before a building development destroys them all.


18. 'SPIRITED AWAY' (2001)

Studio Ghibli is often a by-word for beautifully animated and deeply layered stories. Although they're deeply rooted in Japanese mythology, they very often transcend this by making stories that instantly connect with audiences - but also challenges them. The top layer of 'Spirited Away' is pretty out there, to say the least - a young girl's parents are magically turned into pigs and she has to navigate the spirit world in which they're kept. It doesn't offer easy answers, but it's made with such delicateness and affection, you really get a sense that there's a real sense of art and soulfulness behind each and every frame.


19. 'UP' (2009)

'Up' is one of those films that will almost always be referenced for its opening sequence. To be fair, you'd have to be some sort of a robot not to feel something from it. It's not that it's schmaltzy or even fake – it just that it feels so authentic for a movie by Pixar that you're taken off-guard completely by it. Telling the story of Carl, a widower who resolves to leave his life behind and move on with a pudgy boyscout in tow, 'Up' is up there as one of Pixar's greatest achievements. Like all of Pixar's output, there's more going on under the surface and the allegories and themes in 'Up' are plentiful. You've got ageism, regret, relationships and talking dogs, not to mention a noted dig at the creeping corporate world on artistic expression - which seems rich coming from the House of Mouse.


20. 'AKIRA' (1988)

Although anime films have been more than just sci-fi or fantasy-based, its most successful and critically-acclaimed films have been of that ilk - none more so than 'Akira'. Set in the dystopian future of 2019, it focuses on a group of teenagers in Neo-Tokyo who are being hunted by the oppressive military-dominated government as one of their own discovers he has psychic powers. 'Akira' helped to popularise anime with Western audiences and was a crossover hit when it was initially released. Not only that, countless mainstream sci-fi movies have borrowed liberally from it, most notably the found-footage superhero movie, 'Chronicle'.


21. 'TOY STORY' (1995)

'Toy Story' truly began the revolution in animation from conventional, hand-drawn animation to computer-driven, 3D animation that we're all familiar with today. And while the technical prowess of Pixar can't be denied, what's made them the reigning titans of animation is that their stories are human and relatable - even when they're about talking toys, monosyllabic robots in a post-apocalypse world or even a family of superheroes. 'Toy Story' was the blueprint that Pixar worked out from. Make a funny story, make it believable. It's hard to imagine what the world would be like without 'Toy Story'.