Between his guerrilla-style filmmaking, ironic sense of humor and explosive rhetoric, Michael Moore has come to be either a folk hero or a political pariah, depending on where you sit. And yet hailing from Flint, Mich. has made him uniquely positioned to address a wide swath of America's woes. You may not agree with any of his politics, but it's hard to call Moore's movies un-entertaining, and no one does agitprop better. This ranking of his theatrical, feature documentaries, including his latest "Fahrenheit 11/9," may prove polarizing -- just like his movies.
10. "Slacker Uprising" (2007):
Merely a collection of footage from Michael Moore's stadium tour ahead of the 2004 Kerry-Bush election, "Slacker Uprising" lacks much of a focus or even a strong thesis. But far worse is how Moore positions himself as a rock star, editing in endless applause breaks of his fans or even multiple introductions by actual rock stars, like Eddie Vedder and Steve Earl. The only thing Moore did right with this film was release it for free online.
9. "Michael Moore in Trumpland" (2016):
Less of a documentary and quite literally a taping of his one-man stage show in Ohio, "Trumpland" plays like Moore's half-hearted attempt at stand-up comedy. It's filled with lots of uneasy clapping and stern-looking white dudes crossing their arms as they silently boil with rage. The film is not without insight, and Moore makes a good case that Hillary Clinton is secretly more progressive than she ever let on to be. But Moore made this appeal to Trump country in the hopes they would wake up and recognize their buyers' remorse. How did that go?
Overture Films/Paramount Vantage
8. "Capitalism: A Love Story" (2009):
"Capitalism: A Love Story" marries Moore's best ideas and worst impulses. He was tackling the housing crisis and calling out One Percenters before most caught wind, even talking with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders before they were cool. But in order to paint capitalism as the scourge of society, he blames it for a deadly plane crash, and he stops short at actually explaining derivatives. He also makes simplistic analogies comparing America to the Roman Empire, and he even briefly rehashes "Roger & Me" for a punch line. Fans of his films won't find much to disagree with, but Moore looks like a parody of himself here.
7. "The Big One" (1997):
Here's another movie where Moore documents his own tour, this time to promote his book. But "The Big One" is both insightful and a lot of frivolous fun. His scrappy, guerrilla style is very much on display, swooping in on strikes and plant closings and speaking with everyone from ex-cons to the then CEO of Nike. There are even some hilarious moments where Moore hangs out at Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen's house and uses Rick's advice to prank his media escort.
Lions Gate Films
6. "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004):
Not only is "Fahrenheit 9/11" the highest-grossing documentary ever made
, it is also among the most debated. Now, in the Trump era, George W. Bush's actions look almost quaint. Moore himself sounds like a conspiracy theorist asking open-ended questions, drawing tenuous connections between Bush and the bin Laden family. It even lacks some of Moore's wit and visual intrigue. But "Fahrenheit 9/11" eventually evolves into a sobering portrait of the American military. Moore shines a terrifying light on predatory recruitment agents, on soldiers taking glee from killing and on a patriotic mother who realizes she's lost her son in an unjust war. Moore didn't ultimately swing the election for Kerry, but the importance of the film, in its time, can't be oversold.
5. "Where to Invade Next" (2015):
"Where to Invade Next" opens with a red herring. Six years removed from his previous film, Moore makes it seem like he's now on a war path, saying America's generals and top officials have "no idea what the f--- we're doing," and only he can save the day. But the film is actually surprisingly optimistic for Moore, a world tour to see how the other half lives. American audiences will be genuinely surprised at what French kids have for school lunches, how Norway treats its most dangerous criminals and how Portugal handles its drug users -- and is better for it. It's not meant to criticize America, but rather to champion and borrow the best ideas from abroad.
4. "Sicko" (2007):
Moore's films are always emotional, but rarely are they this heartwarming. Rather than tell the story of those without insurance, he tells the countless, baffling horror stories of all those in America who do. Their stories are not just stunning but instantly relatable, and Moore taps into every angle of how insurance companies have screwed over sick people in need. And the film's closing stunt may be his best, taking a boat of 9/11 first responders to Guantanamo Bay and Cuba to get better healthcare than would be available to them at home.
3. "Bowling for Columbine" (2002):
For the last 15 years, we've watched every late-night show and news program basically remake portions of Moore's "Bowling for Columbine." The film was scarily ahead of the curve on the gun debate, and the raw surveillance footage of the Columbine attacks blended with 9-1-1 calls is harrowing filmmaking that Moore does more effectively than anyone. But for Moore, it's not just the number of guns America has, he also questions the media, the NRA and our culture of violence. Between interviews with Marilyn Manson, Charlton Heston and friendly Canadians, Moore succeeds in making "Bowling for Columbine" a movie not just about guns, but about the culture behind them.
2. "Fahrenheit 11/9" (2018):
There's only so much even Michael Moore could say about Trump that hasn't been endlessly repeated in the media since 2016. Amazingly, he doesn't, going a full hour without mentioning Trump's name. He returns to Flint to make a convincing argument that their water crisis is a preview for what Trump is capable of doing. He even points the finger at legacy Democrats and is critical of President Obama. Moore isn't hopeful that Robert Mueller will save the day or that things won't get much worse, painting a scary parallel between how the media reacted to the rise of Hitler. But he is optimistic. Moore spends time with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Parkland students and the West Virginia teacher's union to see how change is still possible, even if he wants you to leave with the idea that the American ideal never really existed.
1. "Roger & Me" (1989):
Moore's first film is still his finest. No one had ever seen a guy, so calmly persistent with the camera, waltz into institutions of wealth and power. Those iconic shots have literally followed him his entire career, and his simple, sarcastic logic, devilish wit and nasally Midwestern accent helped make him an icon. The juxtaposition of a cheery Beach Boys tune set to a montage of abandoned homes and rats running through the town, and hearing a GM executive prioritize profits over people, remains heartbreaking. But somewhere between human statues at a Great Gatsby party and a woman skinning alive a rabbit for meat, "Roger & Me" still feels like a timeless portrait of the class divide and the gobsmacking lengths Americans go through to get by.