The BEST Episodes of Frontline
Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!
Last Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Since it began in 1983, Frontline has been airing public-affairs documentaries that explore a wide scope of the complex human experience. Frontline's goal is to extend the impact of the documentary beyond its initial broadcast by serving as a catalyst for change.
#1 - United States of Secrets (Part One)
Season 2014 - Episode 9 - Aired May 13, 2014
The history of the National Security Agency's unprecedented surveillance program is investigated.
#2 - United States of Secrets (Part Two)
Season 2014 - Episode 10 - Aired May 20, 2014
The role of Silicon Valley in the National Security Agency's surveillance program is explored.
#3 - Young & Restless In China
Season 2008 - Episode 10 - Aired Jun 17, 2008
This spring, FRONTLINE explores the generation coming of age in China today. Shot over four years, the film follows a group of nine young Chinese from across the country as they scramble to keep pace with a society changing as fast as any in history. Their stories of ambition and desire, exuberance, crime and corruption are interwoven with moments of heartache and despair. Together they paint an intimate portrait of the generation that is remaking China.
#4 - The Merchants of Cool
Season 2001 - Episode 5 - Aired Feb 27, 2001
FRONTLINE journeys into the world of the marketers of popular culture to teenagers. They spend their days sifting through reams of market research data. They conduct endless surveys and focus groups. They comb the streets, the schools, and the malls, hot on the trail of the "next big thing" that will snare the attention of their prey - a market segment worth an estimated $300 billion a year. They are the merchants of cool: the creators and sellers of popular culture, who have made teens the hottest consumer demographic in America. But are these marketers merely reflecting a growing coarseness in teen culture, or have they helped create it? Are they simply reflecting teen desires or have they begun to manufacture those desires in a bid to secure this lucrative market? And have they gone too far in their attempts to reach the hearts - and wallets - of America's youth?
#5 - Memory of the Camps
Season 1985 - Episode 18 - Aired May 7, 1985
Forty years ago, Allied troops invaded Germany and liberated Nazi death camps. They found unspeakable horrors which still haunt the world's conscience. Frontline presents the world broadcast of a 1945 film made by British and American film crews who were with the troops liberating the camps. The film was directed in part by Alfred Hitchcock and is broadcast for the first time in its entirety on Frontline.
#6 - Syria Behind the Lines
Season 2013 - Episode 6 - Aired Apr 9, 2013
An unprecedented film documents the new and perilous reality of everyday life for both Syria’s rebels and its regime.
#7 - Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
Season 2008 - Episode 14 - Aired Nov 11, 2008
In the wake of yet another hard-fought and bitter presidential campaign, FRONTLINE presents a spirited and revealing biography of Lee Atwater, the charming, Machiavellian godfather of modern, take-no-prisoners Republican political campaigns. Through eye-opening interviews with Atwater's closest friends and adversaries, the film explores the life of the controversial political operative who mentored Karl Rove and George W. Bush, led the GOP to historic victories, and wrote the party's winning playbook. The story tracks Atwater's rise from his beginnings in South Carolina as a high school election kingmaker all the way to the White House and his subsequent battle with cancer and final search for forgiveness and redemption. To Democrats, Atwater was a political assassin who one Congresswoman dubbed "the most evil man in America," but to Republicans he remains a hero for his deep understanding of the American voter and his unapologetic vision of politics as warfare.
#8 - Bush's War, Part 1
Season 2008 - Episode 5 - Aired Mar 23, 2008
9/11 and Al Qaeda, Afghanistan and Iraq, WMD and the Insurgency, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and the Surge. For six years FRONTLINE has been revealing those stories in meticulous detail, and the political dramas played out at the highest levels -- George W. Bush and Tony Blair, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Osama Bin Laden. Now, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the full saga will unfold in a special four-hour broadcast over two consecutive nights on PBS, titled Bush's War. Drawing on one of the richest archives in broadcast journalism (FRONTLINE's 40+ films), veteran producer Michael Kirk (Cheney's Law; Endgame; The Lost Year in Iraq; The Dark Side; The Torture Question; Rumsfeld's War; The Man Who Knew; The War Behind Closed Doors; Gunning for Saddam, Target America) also delivers new reporting and fresh interviews. Bush's War will be the definitive documentary analysis of one of the most challenging periods in the nation's history. "Parts of this history have been told before -- the invasion of Afghanistan, torture, flawed intelligence and the invasion of Iraq, failures in the American occupation, and the saber-rattling over Iran," Kirk says, "But no one has laid out the entire narrative to reveal in one epic story, the scope and detail of how this war began and how it has been fought, both on the ground and deep inside the government."
#9 - Japan's Nuclear Meltdown
Season 2012 - Episode 6 - Aired Feb 28, 2012
FRONTLINE continues its investigation of nuclear safety with an unprecedented account of the crisis inside the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex after a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011. With exclusive eyewitness testimony from key figures in the drama -- including the Japanese Prime Minister and senior executives at the power company Tepco -- FRONTLINE tells the story of the workers struggling frantically to reconnect power inside the plant's pitch-dark and highly radioactive reactor buildings; the nuclear experts and officials in the Prime Minister's office fighting to get information as the crisis spiraled out of control; and the plant manager who disobeyed his executives' orders when he thought it would save the lives of his workers. The story profiles the Japanese soldiers and firefighters drafted to cool the reactors, who were wounded when the reactor housings exploded; and the families living near the nuclear plant, who unknowingly fled in the same direction as the radioactive plume, exposing themselves to dangerously high radiation levels.
#10 - Inside Obama's Presidency
Season 2013 - Episode 2 - Aired Jan 15, 2013
A probing look at the first four years of Barack Obama's presidency examines his key decisions.
#11 - Prison State
Season 2014 - Episode 8 - Aired Apr 29, 2014
A look at the impact of mass incarceration in America focuses on a housing project in Kentucky.
#12 - Cheney's Law
Season 2007 - Episode 14 - Aired Oct 16, 2007
For three decades, Vice President Dick Cheney has waged a secretive, and often bitter battle to expand the power of the presidency. Now in a direct confrontation with Congress, as the administration asserts executive privilege to head off investigations into domestic wiretapping and the firing of U.S. attorneys, FRONTLINE meticulously traces the behind-closed-doors battle within the administration over the power of the presidency and the rule of law.
#13 - Showdown with Iran
Season 2007 - Episode 15 - Aired Oct 23, 2007
As Iraq descends into chaos and civil war, FRONTLINE examines the rise of its neighbor -- Iran -- as one of America's greatest threats and most puzzling foreign policy challenges. Through interviews with key players on both sides, FRONTLINE traces the tumultuous history of U.S.-Iran relations since 9/11 -- from unprecedented early cooperation in Afghanistan, to the growing crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions and Tehran's open threats to drive America out of the Middle East.
#14 - Return Of The Taliban
Season 2006 - Episode 12 - Aired Oct 3, 2006
FRONTLINE reports from the lawless Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and reveals how the area has fallen under the control of a resurgent Taliban militia. Despite the presence of 80,000 Pakistani troops, the Taliban and their supporters continue to use the region as a launching pad for attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Off limits to U.S. troops by agreement with Pakistan's president and long suspected of harboring Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, the area is now considered a failed state. President Pervez Musharraf tells FRONTLINE reporter Martin Smith that Pakistan's strategy, which includes cash payments to militants who lay down their arms, has clearly foundered. In a region little understood because it is closed to most observers, FRONTLINE investigates a secret front in the war on terror.
#15 - The Enemy Within
Season 2006 - Episode 13 - Aired Oct 3, 2006
Five years after the attacks on 9/11 and the massive, multibillion-dollar reorganization of government agencies which followed, FRONTLINE and New York Times reporter Lowell Bergman investigates the domestic counterterrorism effort and asks whether we are any better prepared to prevent another catastrophic attack. Relying on interviews with high-level sources in the U. S. government, Bergman looks into the major cases brought inside the United States and reveals troubling flaws in what has been the largest reorganization of the government in half a century. The documentary focuses on who is the real enemy within the United States and whether we are prepared to defeat him.
#16 - The Lost Year in Iraq
Season 2006 - Episode 14 - Aired Oct 17, 2006
In the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein, a group of Americans led by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III set off to Baghdad to build a new nation and establish democracy in the Arab Middle East. One year later, with Bremer forced to secretly exit what some have called "the most dangerous place on earth," the group left behind lawlessness, insurgency, economic collapse, death, destruction--and much of their idealism. Three years later, as the U.S. continues to look for an exit strategy, the government the Americans helped create and the infrastructure they designed are being tested. FRONTLINE Producer Michael Kirk follows the early efforts and ideals of this group as they tried to seize control and disband the Iraqi police, army and Baathist government--and how they became hardened along the way to the realities of postwar Iraq. The Lost Year in Iraq is based on numerous first-person interviews and extensive documentation from the FRONTLINE team that produced Rumsfeld's War, The Torture Question and The Dark Side.
#17 - A Hidden Life
Season 2006 - Episode 15 - Aired Nov 14, 2006
On May 5, 2005, the residents of Spokane, Washington, awoke to one of the strangest headlines in the town's history: "West Tied to Sex Abuse in '70s, Using Office to Lure Young Men." The popular, socially conservative Republican mayor of Spokane, Jim West, had been outed by the town's newspaper The Spokesman-Review. The paper told the sordid story of a man with two lives: in public, he had once sponsored legislation forbidding gays from teaching in public schools, while in private, the paper alleged, he was trawling for young men online, using the trappings of his office to lure them into sexual relationships. But as bizarre as the revelations were, so too were the newspaper's methods. For months, a middle-aged "forensic computer specialist" had posed as an 18-year-old boy online, engaging the mayor in a relationship that became more and more intimate, ultimately exploding on the front page of the newspaper. In a media climate where sexual scandals dominate the headlines, FRONTLINE producers Rachel Dretzin and Barak Goodman investigate the complex relationship between politics, sexuality, fear, and judgment in one all-American town.
#18 - Living Old
Season 2006 - Episode 16 - Aired Nov 21, 2006
With 35 million elderly people in America, "the old, old" -- those over 85 -- are now considered the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. While medical advances have enabled an unprecedented number of Americans to live longer and healthier lives, this new longevity has also had unintended consequences. For millions of Americans, living longer also means serious chronic illness and a protracted physical decline that can require an immense amount of care, often for years and sometimes even decades. Yet just as the need for care is rising, the number of available caregivers is dwindling. With families more dispersed than ever and an overburdened healthcare system, many experts fear that we are on the threshold of a major crisis in care.
#19 - Hand of God
Season 2007 - Episode 1 - Aired Jan 16, 2007
In recent decades, more than 10,000 children reportedly were sexually abused by Catholic priests in the United States. From behind the headlines, filmmaker Joe Cultrera tells the very personal story of how the crisis affected his own family in Salem, Mass. It is the intimate story of how his brother, Paul, was molested in the 1960s by Father Joseph Birmingham, who also reportedly abused nearly 100 other children. Paul Cultrera would keep his secret for 30 years until he decided to finally confront the church and launched his own investigation into how the Archdiocese of Boston had covered up allegations against Father Birmingham and moved the priest from parish to parish, placing more and more children in danger. In a sometimes raw and emotional film, the Cultrera family tells their story of faith betrayed by the scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church.
#20 - So Much So Fast
Season 2007 - Episode 6 - Aired Apr 3, 2007
When he was 29 years old, Stephen Heywood was diagnosed with ALS -- also called Lou Gehrig's disease -- and told he had two to five years to live. But Stephen and his family refused to accept the doctors' death sentence. So Much So Fast follows the Heywoods' passionate, acerbic, and relentlessly hopeful reaction to a disease that transforms their lives. Stephen's older brother, Jamie, starts a foundation dedicated to finding a cure through fast-paced guerrilla science that attracts both praise and controversy. Stephen gets married and he and his wife, Wendy, have a son. They confront the encroaching paralysis of ALS with a mix of courage and humor, and, surrounded by friends and family, upend the cliches of their situation. From Oscar-nominated (Troublesome Creek) filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, So Much So Fast tells a haunting story of one family's unexpected answers to some of life's biggest questions.
#21 - Gangs of Iraq
Season 2007 - Episode 7 - Aired Apr 17, 2007
Day after day scores of bodies litter the streets of Baghdad. To staunch the violence, the U.S. has spent billions to "stand up" the Iraqi forces. In Gangs of Iraq, a joint production of FRONTLINE and the "America at a Crossroads" series, FRONTLINE takes a hard look at how the four-year training effort has fared and how the coalition-trained forces have themselves been infiltrated by various sectarian militias. Now, with President Bush sending new U.S. troops to Iraq, it remains to be seen if America and its allies can build a national Iraqi army and police and restore order.
#22 - Hot Politics
Season 2007 - Episode 8 - Aired Apr 24, 2007
FRONTLINE and the Center for Investigative Reporting go behind the scenes to explore how bi-partisan political and economic forces prevented the U.S. government from confronting what may be one of the most serious problems facing humanity today. The film examines some of the key moments that have shaped the politics of global warming, and how local and state governments and the private sector are now taking bold steps in the absence of federal leadership.
#23 - The Mormons (1)
Season 2007 - Episode 9 - Aired Apr 30, 2007
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of America's fastest growing religions, and its influence circles the globe. The church has 12 million members today and over half of them live outside the United States. Yet the birth of Mormonism and its history is one of America's great neglected narratives. This four-hour documentary brings together FRONTLINE and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE in their first co-production to provide a searching portrait of this fascinating but often misunderstood religion. Produced by award-winning filmmaker Helen Whitney ("Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero," "John Paul II: The Millennial Pope"), the film will explore the richness, the complexities, and the controversies of the Mormons' story as told through interviews with leaders and members of the church, with leading writers and historians, and with supporters and critics of the Mormon faith.
#24 - When Kids Get Life
Season 2007 - Episode 11 - Aired May 8, 2007
The U.S. is one of the very few countries in the world that allows children under eighteen to be prosecuted as adults and sentenced to life without parole. In Colorado, between 1992 and 2005, 45 juveniles between fifteen and eighteen were sentenced to prison without the hope of ever being released. Last spring, the state's legislature eased its tough laws targeting juvenile offenders. The state passed a bill that made parole possible after 40 years in prison, but the measure did not apply retroactively to the 45 former juveniles now in Colorado's prison system. Producer Ofra Bikel visits five young men in Colorado sentenced to life without parole to examine their crimes and punishment, the laws that sanctioned their convictions, and the prospect of never being free again.
#25 - Spying on the Home Front
Season 2007 - Episode 12 - Aired May 15, 2007
FRONTLINE addresses an issue of major consequence for all Americans: Is the Bush administration's domestic war on terrorism jeopardizing our civil liberties? Reporter Hedrick Smith presents new material on how the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program works and examines clashing viewpoints on whether the president has violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and infringed on constitutional protections. In another dramatic story, the program shows how the FBI vacuumed up records on 250,000 ordinary Americans who chose Las Vegas as the destination for their Christmas-New Year's holiday, and the subsequent revelation that the FBI has misused National Security Letters to gather information. Probing such projects as Total Information Awareness, and its little known successors, Smith discloses that even former government intelligence officials now worry that the combination of new security threats, advances in communications technologies, and radical interpretations of presidential authority may be threatening the privacy of Americans.