ShortList is supported by you, our amazing readers. When you click through the links on our site and make a purchase we may earn a commission. Learn more

The best sports documentaries to stream

Sport's greatest rivalries, biggest personalities and most momentous events, captured on film

The best sports documentaries to stream
Jon Mundy
01 June 2024

A good sports documentary will go well beyond simply appealing to fans of the sport. At a basic level, they can serve as a window into an unfamiliar culture, revealing the unique appeal of a particular sport to an otherwise indifferent audience.

At the very bleeding edge of the art, a sports documentary will expand its remit well beyond the confines of sport and provide invaluable social and political insight.

That’s why recommending the best sports documentaries is more than an exercise in preaching to the converted. Whether you care about sport or not, these are all fascinating films about extraordinary people and powerful institutions.

One of the biggest flaws of the current streaming era is the spotty access to older and more niche films, which means that many of the best sports documentaries simply aren’t readily available. In putting this list together, then, we’ve gone beyond simply reciting the best sports documentaries ever made.

This is a practical guide, highlighting those top-end productions that are out there now on the major streaming services. Most can be watched as part of a subscription, while a couple will require a rental, but all are worth the effort.

Remember to vote for your favourite sports documentary below.

20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

1. Free Solo

Watch now at Amazon

Free Solo tracks mountain climber Alex Honnold and his attempt to climb the 900-metre rock face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. The title of the documentary refers to the practice of doing so without any ropes, which is an extreme form of climbing that had not been achieved on El Capitan prior to this effort. The climb itself is suitably stomach-churning stuff, and the documentary makers quite appropriately take some time to reflect on the ethical and psychological implications of filming what could very well turn out to be someone’s death.

12
1
Thanks for voting

Brazilian motor racer Ayrton Senna was a mercurial talent who lit up the often stuffy and insular world of Formula 1 during the late ’80s, right through to his tragic death at the wheel in 1994. Asif Kapadia offers a compelling overview of his decade-long career, including Senna’s intense rivalry with French racer Alain Prost. Thanks to the heavy use of archival footage and home videos, Senna does a brilliant job of placing you in the room (or indeed the pitlane) while Senna was working his magic.

10
1
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

3. The Last Dance

Watch now on Netflix

This ten-episode documentary series proved to be an absolute slam dunk for Netflix over the lockdown period. The Last Dance’s elevated status is wholly earned, as it follows the extraordinary Chicago Bulls team and in particular their talisman, Michael Jordan, as they seek to win the 1997–98 NBA season. There’s been some backlash over the excessive focus on Jordan from his former teammates, but this is undoubtedly an expertly crafted deep dive into one of the most celebrated eras of basketball.

9
0
Thanks for voting

Playwright and amateur cyclist Bryan Fogel stumbled upon the story of the century while investigating illegal doping in sports. In the process of proving how simple it was to evade scrutiny while using illegal substances to gain an advantage, he discovered solid proof of a Russian state-sponsored doping program, straight from the mouth of the scientist (Grigory Rodchenkov) who ran the programme. In terms of international intrigue and pure escalation, no other sports documentary can touch Icarus.

9
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

5. Diego Maradona

Watch now on NOW

After thrilling with 2010’s Senna (see elsewhere on this list), Asif Kapadia returned to the world of sports documentaries in 2019 with Diego Maradona. Rather than track the Argentinian football ace’s entire career, it choses to home in on the player’s seven-year spell at unfashionable Italian club Napoli. Maradona’s time in Naples had its ups and its downs, to put it mildly, with the ups seeing the little magician dragging the team to league and UEFA Cup victory, and the downs involving unsavoury ties to the local mob and a ban for cocaine use.

9
1
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

6. Pumping Iron

Watch now at Amazon

This legendary 1977 weight lifting documentary is perhaps most famous for introducing the world to a certain Austrian mound of muscle with the unwieldy name of Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as future Incredible Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno. Tracking the progress of competitors in the lead up to the 1975 Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions, it became un unlikely box office success, introducing the sport of body building to a mass audience and greatly increasing the number of gym openings across America.

6
0
Thanks for voting

Beckham might lack the rigour and intrigue of some of the other films on this list, but it concerns itself with the man who mixed footballing excellence with international celebrity like no other. This officially endorsed documentary mirrors the man himself: slick, good looking, not especially deep, but very effective at what it does. How could it not be entertaining when you examine the man’s life to date: he won everything with one of the world’s greatest teams, married a Spice Girl, and became a national pariah before an almighty redemption arc and global adoration.

6
1
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

8. Dogtown and Z-Boys

Watch now at NOW

As monumental as many of these documentaries are, only one deals with the effective formation of an entire sport. Directed by former professional skater Stacy Peralta, Dogtown and Z-Boys tracks the emergence of skateboarding from its roots among ’60s California surfers to the distinct urban subculture of today. In particular, it hones in on the Zephyr skateboard team of the ’70s, who cruised around neighbourhoods draining pools so that they could hone their fledgling art. It’s a film rich with the sights and sounds of a bygone age, but the energy remains palpable.

5
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

9. When We Were Kings

Watch now on Amazon

Leon Gast won an Oscar for his documentary on the famous 1974 boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire, famously dubbed The Rumble in the Jungle. Some 20 years in the making, the film brilliantly encapsulates the febrile political climate of the time, as well as the delicate racial dynamics that Ali, looking to recapture his title from a ferocious young champion, managed to capitalise on. It all culminates in the fight itself, a masterful exhibition of unorthodox boxing that saw Ali once again ascending to the peak of his game.

4
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

10. The Deepest Breath

Watch now at Netflix

Laura McGann’s film tracks Alessia Zecchini as she attempts to break a world record in freediving – that is, deep sea diving without the aid of any breathing apparatus. The documentary expertly captures the serenity of being deep underwater, while mixing in first hand insights into these astonishing athletes and their zen-like mastery over mind and body. However, the stakes are very real indeed, especially when close relationships are thrown into the mix. The Deepest Breath is awash with both beauty and tragedy.

4
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

11. O.J.: Made in America

Watch now at Disney Plus

It’s easy to forget in amongst all the infamy that O.J. Simpson made his name as an elite sports star. This documentary miniseries provides a detailed look at the controversial American’s life and career, a good portion of which was committed to athletic pursuit. This led to a successful 11-year career as an NFL running back for the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers. Simpson’s career would then move into acting before the events that resulted in his high profile murder trial. Ezra Edelman’s Oscar-winning miniseries ties these disparate strands together expertly.

3
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

12. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Watch now at Amazon

Can video games really be classed as sport? Watch The King of Kong, and you’ll be left in no doubt they can. The documentary follows a titanic rivalry that’s every bit as fiery and ill-spirited as Prost vs Senna, Ali vs Foreman, or Connors vs McEnroe. In this instance it’s the fire-and-ice clash between nice guy Steve Wiebe and egotistical Billy Mitchell as they scrap it out for the world record in Donkey Kong. The King of Kong is packed full of heart, humour, and indeed sporting endeavour.

3
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

13. Hoop Dreams

Watch now on Apple TV

Steve James’s beloved documentary tracks two Chicago teens, Arthur Agee and William Gates, as they attempt to break into professional basketball via a college scholarship. Filmed across a five year period in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the film is heartbreakingly frank in its depiction of the economic inequality and racial disparity that both spurs and hampers the sporting dreams of such underprivileged kids. It also shows how brutally exacting and unsentimental elite sport can be for those striving to get to the very top.

2
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

14. Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Edge of Everything

Watch now at Amazon

Snooker is the nichest of niche sports, which means it can be difficult for most people (especially those from outside the UK) to appreciate what Ronnie O’Sullivan represents. Imagine if Lionel Messi or Michael Jordan didn’t stop playing at the very top level in in their mid 30s, but rather continued to dominate their respective sports deep into their 40s – all while suffering from very well publicised mental health issues. This documentary grants a strikingly intimate insight into O’Sullivan’s rare and unorthodox genius, even going so far as to mic him up during a crunch match.

2
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

15. Team Foxcatcher

Watch now at Netflix

Released two years after the film Foxcatcher, which dramatised the story to Oscar-nominated effect, Team Foxcatcher tracks oddball billionaire John du Pont and his involvement with the US Olympic Wrestling Team during the early 1990s. Jon Greenhalgh’s film serves as a moving portrait of the socially maladjusted du Pont, who funded the career of wrestling superstar Dave Schultz, seemingly in a bid for acceptance and companionship, before infamously and fatally falling out with his champion.

2
1
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

16. Next Goal Wins

Watch now at Disney Plus

There’s really no point watching Taika Waititi’s 2023 movie Next Goal Wins. The 2014 documentary that shares both its name and subject matter is a much better depiction of this unlikely story. It concerns the national football team of American Samoa which, amidst routine trouncings by their neighbours (a 31–0 hiding by Australia representing the nadir), hires tough Dutch coach Thomas Rongen to whip them into shape. It’s a genuinely beautiful story of small victories, team spirit, and extracting the most from whatever life has given you.

1
1
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

17. The Battered Bastards of Baseball

Watch now at Netflix

The story of a Hollywood actor buying a no-hope minor-league baseball team and inspiring them to glory sounds like the subject of a movie. But that very thing happened to Bing Russell (Kurt’s dad) in the 1970s, when he upped sticks for the North West of America and established the Portland Mavericks. As this lively documentary shows, Russell was much more than a bored dilettante, applying his unique mixture of skills and experience to help produce a string of title wins and record crowds.

0
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

18. Athlete A

Watch now at Netflix

Sadly, not all sports documentaries are about the pinnacle of human physical achievement. Athlete A deals with the shocking misconduct that lay at the heart of USA Gymnastics for the best part of two decades, during which there was a sustained and sinister effort to cover-up numerous allegations of sexual abuse. The case ultimately hinges on gymnast Maggie Nichols, who in 2015 came forward with allegations about team doctor Larry Nassar, only to be dropped from the 2016 Olympics team.

0
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

19. Minding the Gap

Watch now at Amazon

Even compared to some of the better sports documentaries on this list, Minding the Gap is about so much more than sport. This Oscar-nominated film follows first time filmmaker Bing Liu as he documents the skateboarding exploits of himself and his two childhood buddies, Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan. As time move on, it becomes clear that skateboarding is serving as a means of escape from their troubled home lives. The film follows our trio into adulthood, which brings its own poignant trials and tribulations.

0
0
Thanks for voting
20 Best sports documentaries (and where to watch them)

20. Formula 1: Drive to Survive

Watch now at Netflix

No documentary on this list has fundamentally enhanced the sport it covers like Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Formerly viewed as the preserve of obnoxious petrol heads, car bores, and social elites – and that’s just the drivers – Drive to Survive supplies the kind of context and narrative structure that turns the sport into a gripping six-season (to date) box set. Its cloistered participants have become mainstream celebrities almost overnight, attracting a ream of casual fans to the sport. True, a fair amount of artistic license has been taken in the edit, but it sure is exciting.

3
4
Thanks for voting