The 10 Best Sports Documentaries

Feb 13, 2024 | Best Of, Sports

Die-hard sports fans are constantly yearning for their beloved games.

Yet when there are no live games to watch and reruns of classic games or mastering virtual courts in NBA 2K23 has gotten old, an array of captivating sports documentaries awaits exploration.

Like any cinematic genre, certain sports documentaries shine brightly, standing out amidst the competition. Among these selections, ranging from tales of soccer to the realm of international cycling, lie Oscar-winning masterpieces in the realm of documentary filmmaking. So, don your favorite team’s apparel and prepare the snacks, for a cinematic journey awaits.



Released: 2017

Director: Bryan Fogel

What commences as director Bryan Fogel’s personal quest to navigate the world of doping and enhance performance in a cycling race evolves into an unprecedented exposé, casting doubts upon professional and Olympic achievements. With a riveting narrative that delves deep into the intricate web of doping scandals, Fogel’s journey intertwines with the unveiling of the Russian state-sponsored doping program, led by the enigmatic figure of Grigory Rodchenkov. This Netflix original, an Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature, promises twists and turns that enthrall both sports aficionados and geopolitical enthusiasts alike.


‘Pumping Iron’

Released: 1977

Directors: George Butler, Robert Fiore

Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his indomitable spirit, propelled bodybuilding into the spotlight like no other athlete. “Pumping Iron” offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of bodybuilding, exploring the essence of top-tier athleticism with a blend of inspiration and humor, courtesy of Schwarzenegger’s charismatic presence among fellow competitors. This behind-the-scenes journey not only enlightens fans about bodybuilding as an art form but also introduces Schwarzenegger as a charismatic figure, laying the foundation for his future triumphs in Hollywood. Available for rent or purchase on Vudu, this documentary remains a timeless classic.


‘What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali’

Released: 2019

Director: Antoine Fuqua

HBO’s two-part original presents an immersive exploration of the legendary life and career of Muhammad Ali from his own perspective. Through a tapestry of archival interviews, television appearances, and riveting fight footage, director Antoine Fuqua crafts a comprehensive portrait of Ali, narrated by the fighter’s own voice. With the greatest and most vocal fighter of all time recounting his triumphs and tribulations, this documentary is essential viewing for anyone intrigued by the enigmatic persona that made Ali an icon both in and out of the ring.


‘Facing Ali’

Released: 2009

Director: Pete McCormack

While “What’s My Name” delves into Muhammad Ali’s narrative, “Facing Ali” offers a unique perspective by exploring the mindset of the fighters who confronted the boxing legend. Featuring insights from classic Ali opponents such as Joe Frazier and George Foreman, this documentary, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, delves deep into the psyche of athletes preparing to face formidable challenges. By allowing these boxers to narrate their experiences of confronting Ali, the film provides a compelling narrative that extends beyond the ring, offering poignant insights into the human spirit.



Released: 2014

Directors: Jeff Cerulli and Barry Rothbart

While everyone eats, only a select few elevate eating to the level of sport. “Hungry,” available for rent on YouTube and Amazon, offers an intriguing glimpse into the world of competitive eating and its deep-rooted connection to American patriotism. Featuring interviews with legendary eaters and tracing the history of events like the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, directors Jeff Cerulli and Barry Rothbart unveil the motivations and training regimens behind these extraordinary athletes. “Hungry” serves as a compelling exploration of the human capacity for dedication and the pursuit of excellence, even in the most unconventional of arenas.


‘Free Solo’

Released: 2018

Directors: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

Few endeavors rival the adrenaline rush and peril of free solo climbing. “Free Solo” documents climber Alex Honnold’s audacious quest to conquer Yosemite’s towering El Capitan without the aid of ropes or safety equipment. Streaming on both Disney+ and Hulu, this Oscar-winning documentary offers a breathtakingly immersive experience, capturing Honnold’s harrowing journey in stunning detail. As Honnold braves the vertical expanse of El Capitan, the filmmakers skillfully convey the intensity and complexity of his ascent, making “Free Solo” a must-watch for adventure enthusiasts and documentary aficionados alike.


‘Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns’

Released: 1994

Director: Ken Burns

Ken Burns’s 11-part opus, “Baseball,” available for streaming on Amazon Prime and PBS’s website, traces the evolution of America’s pastime from its humble origins to its status as a cultural institution. Through a meticulous blend of archival footage, interviews, and narration, Burns offers a sweeping panorama of baseball’s rich tapestry, exploring its triumphs, tragedies, and enduring significance in American society. Beyond celebrating the sport’s iconic moments and legendary figures, “Baseball” confronts complex issues such as racism, highlighting the transformative power of sports during tumultuous times.



Released: 2010

Director: Asif Kapadia

“Senna” chronicles the meteoric rise and tragic demise of Ayrton Senna, one of Formula One’s most revered champions. Through a masterful blend of archival footage and intimate home videos, director Asif Kapadia paints a vivid portrait of Senna’s extraordinary talent, fierce competitiveness, and unwavering commitment to safety advocacy within the sport. Available on Netflix, this documentary offers a poignant reflection on Senna’s enduring legacy, capturing the essence of his indomitable spirit and the profound impact of his untimely passing.


‘O.J. Made in America’

Released: 2016

Director: Ezra Edelman

The recipient of the 2016 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, “O.J. Made in America” presents a comprehensive examination of O.J. Simpson’s life, from his storied football career to his tumultuous legal battles. Initially conceived as a multi-part entry in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, the documentary transcends mere biography, delving into the larger societal issues of race, celebrity, and justice. Through archival footage and insightful interviews, director Ezra Edelman crafts a gripping narrative that resonates far beyond the confines of the sports arena, shedding light on the enduring legacy of Simpson’s tumultuous life.


Operation Flagnat Foul

Released: 2020

Director: David Terry Fine

In a recent installment, “Operation Flagrant Foul,” the sports documentary series “Untold” delves into the notorious 2007 NBA Betting Scandal, reigniting discussions surrounding allegations of NBA referees colluding with certain interests for personal gain. While these accusations cast a shadow over the integrity of the sport, only Tim Donaghy was ultimately convicted, leaving lingering suspicions and unanswered questions. Many speculate about potential involvement from the NBA itself and its former commissioner, David Stern, further complicating the scandal’s narrative. With meticulous detail and captivating storytelling, “Operation Flagrant Foul” sheds light on these perplexing events, prompting viewers to reconsider the intricacies of one of basketball’s darkest chapters. Ironically, legal sports betting now prevalent across most the US, Donaghy has become a popular sports handicapper selling his pics on several websites.

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Thomas B.