17 Feb The 6 most popular science documentaries of all time
Cosmos journalist Imma Perfetto looks at IMDb’s take on the top science documentaries.
While the Oscars will reward film makers for the technical and scientific aspects of film-making, they don’t have a category for Best Science Film or Documentary, but IMDb has created a list of the most popular science films of all time.
And the doco leading the list is a 2014 American TV Miniseries which follows up on the iconic work of Carl Sagan in 1980.
IMDb is an online database for information on films and television series, and the website allows users to rate titles on a scale from one to ten.
Science documentaries are important to Cosmos Science as our parent organisation, the Royal Institution of Australia, also runs SCINEMA, bringing science documentaries to as many people as possible. The festival runs during August and watching the films is free.
But now, let’s hear from the judges.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014)
According to IMDb, the most popular science documentary ever is the American television miniseries Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the show follows up the 1980 series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was presented by Carl Sagan (number 5 on the list).
Over the course of its thirteen episodes, the show takes viewers on a journey exploring the universe from its smallest scales – particles, molecules, and life forms invisible to the naked eye – to its largest: the Earth’s age, supernovas, and interstellar travel.
The series returned for a second season, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, which premiered in 2020 and is ranked number 6.
Planet Earth (2006)
Number two on the list is Planet Earth – a 2006 British miniseries narrated by David Attenborough (of course). Each of the eleven, 50 minute episodes features a global overview of a different biome or habitat: polar regions, mountains, caves, deserts, deep oceans, shallow seas, fresh water, forests, jungles, and plains.
Mythbusters, number three, was a weekly documentary series where Hollywood special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman attempted to debunk urban myths by directly testing them using elements of the scientific method.
Honourable episode mentions include attempting to escape from Alcatraz prison using an inflatable raft made from rubber raincoats, testing whether Diet Coke and Mentos can blow up a person’s stomach, and whether you can survive being marooned on an island just using duct tape.
Forensic Files (1996-2011)
Next is Forensic Files, an American TV series on how forensic science has been used to solve violent crimes, accidents, and disease outbreaks throughout history. The show, which ran for 14 seasons, helped pioneer documentary-style crime-science shows.
A Trip to Infinity (2022)
At number eight is the most recently released documentary on this list: A Trip to Infinity. During its 79 minute run time, the Netflix film explores the concept of infinity through interviews with eminent mathematicians, particle physicists, cosmologists, and philosophers around the world.
Good Eats (1999-2013)
At number 18 an American television cooking show, Good Eats, made its way to the top 20 most popular science documentaries on IMDb. Over its 252 episodes Chef Alton Brown whipped up quick recipes while exploring the science behind what makes them so tasty.