Academy Award for Documentary Feature

The Academy Award for Documentary Feature is among the most prestigious awards for documentary films.


The Award for Documentary Feature is arguably the most controversial of the Academy Awards. Many critically acclaimed documentaries are not nominated. Examples include The Thin Blue Line, Roger & Me, and Hoop Dreams. The controversy over Hoop Dreams was enough to force the Academy Awards to change their documentary voting system.

Whether the new rules are successful is still debated, since 2005's Grizzly Man, a documentary strong enough to appear on many critics' top 10 lists was not nominated, and did not even make the Academy's internally distributed top 15 list. Grizzly Man's exclusion was actually revealed as the result of an Academy rule disqualifying documentary films that are constructed entirely out of archive footage. However, Grizzly Man included new interviews and other footage shot exclusively for the film.

There is debate over the role television distribution should play in the selection process. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, at the time the highest grossing documentary film ever made, was ineligible because Moore had opted to have it played on television prior to the 2004 Election. Conversely, the 1982 winner Just Another Missing Kid, directed by John Zaritsky, was created by editing together footage he originally shot for the Canadian investigative journalism TV show The Fifth Estate.

Winners and nominees

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.


In 1942, there was one Documentary category and four winners.

From 1943 there were two separate documentary categories (features and short films)








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