You think you love sports? You think you know sports? Let’s see how many of these must-see cinematic gems you’ve seen. Hold on tight, because these athletes will push their limits and show you what the human body is really capable of doing.
We have compiled a list of the best sports documentaries in the world. Ranging in different sports and levels of professionalism. These documentaries are a great way to spend a few hours and it also opens your eyes up to elements of a sport that otherwise would go unnoticed. Get some popcorn, drinks, a comfy chair and sit back, relax and enjoy.
When We Were Kings
“When We Were Kings” presents a time in boxing history unlike any other. The documentary follows the 1974 boxing trip of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to Zaire and offers detailed portraits of two of the most celebrated boxing stars – one in his decline and the other still in his prime. The movie has been praised as ‘a penetrating emotional analysis of the boxing’ and it deserves a spot in your watch list.
Starring: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, James Brown, B.B. King, and Norman Maile
Director: Leon Gast
Duration: 84 min
Hailed by Washington Post as ‘the most powerful movie about sports ever made,’ “Hoop Dreams” takes you to Chicago to see first-hand the struggles two young black teens face as they fight for their professional basketball dreams. Poverty, drug addictions and violence stack up to trip both William Gates and Arthur Agee, but both boys rise to the occasion, proving that sports isn’t just about skill, it’s about the unbreakable human spirit.
Starring: William Gates, Arthur Agee, Emma Gates, Isiah Thomas, Spike Lee
Director: Steve James
Duration: 170 min
Formula One fan’s can’t truly live without watching “Senna” – the ‘captivating, chilling, and surprisingly sublime’ life story of Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian race driver who never stepped off the gas pedal. An international sensation, Ayrton Senna is a triple world champion who has now ascended to godhood among fans of professional racing. This celebrated documentary explores the ten years of his reign, including his fatal race at the San Marino Grand Prix.
Starring: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Frank Williams
Director: Asif Kapadia
Duration: 106 min
The Endless Summer
“The Endless Summer” is a laid-back documentary about the journey of self-exploration as the director Bruce Brown takes on two surfers and follows summer around the globe. The movie captures the free-spirit nature of surfing and gives audiences glimpses of other cultures around the world in a way that critics have described as ‘visually fascinating’ and ‘breathtaking’.
Starring: Robert August, Michael Hynson, Lord ‘Tally Ho’ Blears
Director: Bruce Brown
Duration: 95 min
You know Arnold Schwarzenegger as the former Governor of California and the action star who created some of the most memorable movie catchphrases in pop culture. But before he was all that, he was Mr Olympia – six-time world champion bodybuilder. “Pumping Iron” gives you Arnold before Conan, a charming athlete who takes his body through hell to secure his glory at the top.
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Mike Katz
Director: George Butler, Robert Fiore
Duration: 85 min
Dogtown and Z Boys
“Dogtown and Z-Boys” examines the early steps of skateboarding in Southern California in the 70s with the formation of the Zephyr Skateboarding Team and its rise to prominence. The movie charts the evolution of the culture, its ties to surfing and transformation of one team into an icon. Narrated by Sean Penn, this documentary is described as ‘giddy, thrilling, [and] rock ‘n’ roll-saturated’ – in short, a must-see.
Starring: Sean Penn, Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk, Henry Rollins
Director: Stacy Peralta
Duration: 91 min
The Crash Reel
Are you willing to sacrifice your life to the sport you’ve spent most of your conscious life trying to master? Snowboarder Kevin Pearce faces the dilemma – either retire from extreme sports and live, or push himself and risk certain death – as he recovers from life-threatening head trauma after an accident during his training for the 2010 Winter Olympics. “The Crash Reel” has been praised as a ‘spectacular feat’ and ‘one of the year’s best documentaries’ for a reason.
Starring: Kevin Pearce, Shaun White, Mason Aguirre, Danny Davis, Scotty Lago
Director: Lucy Walker
Duration: 108 min
Where The Trail Ends
Man and nature clash when burning rubber tires meet the most inhospitable mountainous terrains from the Gobi Desert to Nepal’s Mustang regions. The documentary charts the top freeriders as they go off to blaze their own trails, discover themselves and even teach you a thing or two about life. Who can say no to rugged men in leather taking on the breathtaking danger of Mother Nature.
Starring: Darren Berrecloth, James Doerfling, Andreu Lacondeguy, Kurt Sorge, Cam Zink
Director: Jeremy Grant
Duration: 81 min
Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Winning isn’t important, it’s all there is and in “Bigger, Stronger, Faster”, Chris Bell reveals the seedy nature of professional bodybuilder competitions as experienced first-hand as he and his brothers involve themselves in the subculture. In short, eating egg whites and pumping hard get you nowhere without steroids. Critics praise it as both hilarious and at times angry.
Starring: Chris Bell, Mike Bell, Mark Bell
Director: Chris Bell
Duration: 105 min
Beyond The Mat
Possessing a ‘hypnotic quality’, Beyond The Mat pulls back the curtain of the most ludicrous performance sport – wrestling. Barry Blaustein proves his passion for the sport as he follows three wrestlers in different walks of their life and career to reveal the men behind the masks and spandex costumes. What you see here may be more shocking than the body slams you see on TV.
Starring: Terry Funk, Mick Foley, Jake Roberts, Chyna
Director: Barry W. Blaustein
Duration: 102 min
The Two Escobars
True crime intersects with sports drama as “The Two Escobars” tracks the rise of two men who share one last name, but couldn’t be any more different – one ruled the underworld, while the other rose to international fame as a soccer legend. Yet somehow both Escobars managed to cross each other’s path in what the A.V. Club calls a “meticulously researched and beautifully interwoven” movie.
Starring: María Ester Escobar, Francisco Maturana, Alexis García V.
Director: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Duration: 104 min
If you ever felt compelled to learn all there is about the bodybuilding community and their ways, then “Generation Iron” gives you an intimate glimpse into the social connections and culture of these oversized men. Gaining all that muscle is not simple. It takes discipline, it takes tenacity and huge levels of testosterone – plenty of which you can savour in this documentary.
Starring: Phil Heath, Kai Greene, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mickey Rourke, Lou Ferrigno, Dennis Wolf, Phil Heath, Mike Katz, Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman
Director: Vlad Yudin
Duration: 106 min
Into the Mind
To say “Into the Mind” is a documentary about skiers attempting the most suicidal descent in human civilization would be selling the movie short. How is it more bad-ass than suicidal dare devils poking the most treacherous mountains with a stick? Well, you get to be there in mind, spirit and thanks to the incredible camera work and realism, almost inbody.
Starring: Callum Pettit, Kye Petersen, J.P. Auclair
Director: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Duration: 83 min
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
“The King of Kong” is the sweet pill for the nostalgia crowd, who miss the adrenaline of old-fashioned arcade gaming and the intensity of achieving the top score. The documentary follows a middle school science teacher and a hot sauce mogul as they battle it out in the arcade for the World Guinness Record. It may not be the football finals, but this competition is just as raw and contested.
Starring: Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Mark Alpiger
Director: Seth Gordon
Duration: 79 min
You know Mike Tyson as the ear-biting, face-tattooed and occasionally abusive giant who’s become a caricature in pop culture, but he’s so much more than that. “Tyson” reveals a very intimate portrayal of the sports icon. Described as a ‘fascinating psychological study’, this documentary deconstructs Tyson the media image and reveals Tyson, the man and the athlete.
Starring: Mike Tyson
Director: James Toback
Duration: 90 min
Next Goal Wins
Who doesn’t love a story about underdogs fighting against all odds, especially when it’s all true and the underdogs in question are statistically the worst soccer team in the whole wide world. Described as ‘shamelessly heart-warming’, “Next Goal Wins” follows the attempt of Dutch coach Thomas Rongen to transform the Samoan team into professionals.
Starring: Thomas Rongen, Jaiyah Saelua, Nicky Salapu
Director: Mike Brett, Steve Jamison
Duration: 97 min
Class Of 92
It’s time to go to England and chart the rise of Manchester United during the 90s thanks to it’s six incredibly talented players who have since become household names – David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville. “Class Of 92” is a ‘shamelessly indulgent’ in the words of The Huffington Post that not only tells the story of the best players in the 90s but also reveals much about football culture in the UK.
Starring: David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes
Director: Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner
Duration: 99 min
Bobby Fischer Against The World
You never thought chess could be an intense sport, but “Bobby Fischer Against the World” presents ‘a cracked, conflicted genius trapped in his ceaseless endgame’. The movie follows the life of chess legend Bobby Fischer who become a champion at 29, only to withdraw from society and lose control. A riveting story enhanced through rare archival footage and video interviews with those closes to Fischer.
Starring: Bobby Fischer, David Edmonds, Anthony Saidy
Director: Liz Garbus
Duration: 93 min
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
“Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” give’s you the riveting story of the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, during a time when ‘white supremacist thinking [was] at its American pinnacle’, according to Variety. Tragedy, triumph and the will of a man who will not be denied intertwine into one of the greatest sports stories you’ll ever see in your life.
Starring: Jack Johnson, Keith David, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Ken Burns
Duration: 214 min
9 Innings From Ground Zero
“9 Innings From Ground Zero” offers an honest look at a grieving nation only weeks after the 9/11 attacks and how they kick off their healing through sports. The documentary examines how a whole country can find it within themselves to move on and carry on with the World League only 9 miles away from ground zero. Complete with interviews with baseball managers and video footage of President Bush pitching at a game, this is the very definition of bittersweet.
Starring: John Ashcroft, Bob Brenly, Scott Brosius, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Derek Jeter
Director: Ouisie Shapiro
Duration: 60 min