Sports movies have an undeniable appeal, even if you’re not a die-hard fan. These films depict humans accomplishing extraordinary feats under immense pressure, often with an uplifting or inspiring ending. They provide a satisfying cinematic experience. However, while fictional athletes are enjoyable to watch, there’s something even more gratifying about real-life sports stories, even when they end tragically.
Over the past decade, some of the greatest sports documentaries ever made have been released. Examples include “The Last Dance,” “O.J.: Made in America,” and “Free Solo.” These documentaries have received critical acclaim and have been honored with Oscars, Emmys, and other prestigious awards.
If narrative sports films are like appetizers, sports documentaries are the main course. They offer insights into what sets exceptional athletes apart. Movies like “Athlete A” and “Icarus” have even uncovered serious crimes, sometimes leading to justice for the athletes involved.
If you’re seeking inspiration or want to spend two hours with intriguing characters, consider streaming one of these captivating sports documentaries.
The Last Dance
Year of Release: 2020
Watch it on Netflix
ESPN’s latest documentary series, The Last Dance, comprehensively examines the golden era of the Chicago Bulls. This captivating 10-part series offers viewers a rare glimpse into the team’s final championship-winning season in 1997-1998, featuring never-before-seen footage. The series has received widespread acclaim for its in-depth exploration of the illustrious career of Michael Jordan, widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes in the world.
In this documentary, viewers witness a more vulnerable side of Jordan as he reflects on the years that propelled him to international fame and solidified his status as the greatest basketball player of all time. Throughout the series, Jordan can enjoy a cigar and a glass of Cincoro tequila, adding a touch of authenticity to his recollections. And while basketball’s hero didn’t have the luxury of a Caesars sportsbook promo code back in the nineties, we also get a glimpse into his love for gaming at the casino.
Year of Release: 2018
Sport: Freestyle Climbing
Watch it on: Disney+
This movie will induce heart palpitations, excessive perspiration, and anxiety while subtly evoking the desire to partake in mountain climbing. Free Solo may not incite individuals to engage in free soloing, a form of climbing without a rope or harness, but witnessing Alex Honnold’s ascent against the breathtaking backdrop will undoubtedly inspire anyone to plan a visit to the nearest mountain.
Free Solo chronicles Honnold’s life and his audacious endeavor to become the first person to free solo climb El Capitan, a towering 3,000-foot vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park.
An intriguing subplot of Free Solo revolves around filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, who exhibit complete transparency regarding the risks associated with Honnold’s climb. Both directors express a sense of duty to capture the endeavor’s triumph or tragedy. Nevertheless, it is uncommon to observe a documentary where the directors openly hope that the film’s protagonist avoids pursuing his objective.
Year of Release: 1977
Watch it on: Vudu
Arnold Schwarzenegger played a significant role in popularizing bodybuilding. This insightful exploration of the sport and the qualities needed to excel is both motivating and amusing, thanks to Schwarzenegger’s playful interactions with fellow athletes.
The behind-the-scenes footage offers a revealing glimpse into the world of bodybuilding, captivating fans who appreciate it as an art form. More importantly, it introduced Schwarzenegger as a charming prankster to a wider audience. Without the success of this film, Schwarzenegger’s subsequent achievements in Hollywood, such as his iconic role in Terminator, may not have been as impactful.
O.J. Made in America
Year of Release: 2016
Watch it on: Disney+
Ezra Edelman’s comprehensive five-part documentary series delves into the life and career of O.J. Simpson, which may initially seem unconventional. However, the focus on Simpson’s journey from a promising football player at the University of Southern California to his success in the NFL sets it apart.
The series also extensively covers the infamous murder trial, providing intricate details. While other documentaries have explored the O.J. story, Edelman excels at providing a broader perspective, offering insights into the racial tensions, political climate, and celebrity culture of the 1990s that surrounded this monumental trial.
Year of Release: 2016
Sport: Freestyle Wrestling
Watch it on: Netflix
You may have already watched Foxcatcher, the Academy Award-nominated portrayal of billionaire John du Pont’s involvement with the US Olympic Wrestling Team in the early 1990s.
Here is a documentary that delves deeper into the tragic and intricate details, shedding new light on the relationship between du Pont and coach Dave Schultz, who was once recognized as the world’s best freestyle wrestler (for those more familiar with WWE, he famously trained Kurt Angle before Angle transitioned into professional wrestling).
This documentary focuses less on the Foxcatcher Farm, the multi-million dollar training facility owned by du Pont and named after his father’s stable, and more on du Pont’s descent into erratic behavior that culminated in him fatally shooting Schultz in front of his wife.