Sports Documentaries to Stream Right Now

Even if you’re not an avid sports fan, the appeal of a sports movie is undeniable. Humans achieving remarkable feats of greatness under vast amounts of pressure, usually with an ending that’s at least inspiring if not totally happy—it’s the perfect recipe for a satisfying film experience. But while it’s fun to spend time with fictional athletes, there’s something even more satisfying about the real thing, even if it ends in tragedy.

Some of the most important sports documentaries have been released in the past decade, such as Last Dance, O.J.O.J.Please see the following: Singles Get FreeEach of them won critical acclaim and numerous Emmys, Oscars, Emmys and other awards. Sports documentaries, which help us understand the motivations of great athletes, are better than narrative sports films. You can see films such as Athlete A IcarusSometimes, they can help athletes and their families by uncovering serious crimes. If you’re in need of some inspiration—or maybe just two hours with very interesting characters—check out one of these sports documentaries you can stream right now.

Last Dance (2020)

Where? Last Dance premiered in April 2020, it immediately gripped viewers in part because the coronavirus pandemic had scuttled all live sports—but also because it was just fascinating. This 10-episode series features Michael Jordan, along with other larger-than life personalities like Scottie Pippen or Dennis Rodman as he tries to win the sixth Chicago Bulls championship. Stay for Carmen Electra’s recollection of Jordan hiding from Rodman while she was on a Vegas vacation with Rodman.

You can watch it on Netflix

Athlete A (2020)

Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s harrowing movie is as much a sports documentary as it is a true-crime film. Athlete A Tracks the unravelling of USA Gymnastics (USAG), as several young women made allegations about Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of them. Nassar worked at USAG for almost 20 years until he was arrested. USAG still struggles as new athletes bring forward additional allegations, but Nassar is currently behind bars. He is likely to remain so for the rest of their lives.

You can watch it on Netflix

Singles Get Free (2018)

Title Singles Get Free refers to the practice of climbing a rock face without a harness, rope, or any other kind of equipment, and yes, it’s as dangerous as it sounds. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Oscar-winning documentary follows expert climber Alex Honnold as he attempts a free solo climb of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, which is 3,000 feet tall. Watching safely at home can still inspire plenty of terror, as the movie’s copious wide shots make it very clear just how high—and unprotected—Honnold really is.

It’s on Disney+

Hoop Dreams (1994)

Even though it runs almost three hours, Hoop Dreams This is one of many documentaries sports journalists often refer to as their source of inspiration. Steve James’ 1994 classic spotlights two Black teens as they begin playing basketball for an elite program at a predominantly white prep school in the Chicago suburbs. This film chronicles the lives of the two high school seniors for the entire four-years. It shows how they deal with injury, tuition fees, and pressure to be recruited into a college basketball team.

It’s available on HBO Max

The Gold Price (2014)

Before I, Tonya brought a fictionalized version of the Tonya Harding story to the big screen, this entry in ESPN’s 30 for 30 The series looked at the circumstances leading to Nancy Kerrigan’s attack just prior to the 1994 Olympics. Harding, as she is revealed in an interview, appears to be a much more complex person than was shown by the media. Kerrigan’s lack of participation can make the movie feel slightly one-sided at times, but it’s still a necessary watch for any figure-skating fan (or scholar of ’90s pop culture).

Amazon: Rent It

O.J.O.J. (2016)

It feels odd to categorize Ezra Edelman’s Oscar-winning, eight-hour masterpiece as a sports documentary, but it does in fact devote a large chunk of its run time to O.J. Simpson’s career as a hall-of-fame running back at USC and a record-breaking pro with the Buffalo Bills. That context is also necessary for understanding what happened later—the murder trial, the acquittal, and the aftermath.

You can watch it live on ESPN+

Icarus (2017)

Bryan Fogel, the director of Fogel’s documentary on drug testing in sport, met Grigory Rodchenkov (a Russian scientist) to help him test his hypothesis. As the pair became friends, Rodchenkov revealed that he was actually in charge of a state-sponsored doping program for Russia’s Olympic athletes. Fogel, Rodchenkov and their team worked together to expose the scandal while trying to stop Rodchenkov being silenced from the Russian government. The allegations led to the country’s partial ban from the 2016 and 2018 Olympics—and to Rodchenkov living under witness protection to this day.

You can watch it on Netflix

LFG (2021)

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s (USWNT) title-winning performance at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup was impressive by any measure, but it was all the more so because of what was happening off the field: since 2016, the team had been fighting the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for equal pay. Interviews with Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press as well as other top athletes. LFG documents the USWNT’s battle for respect in an arena that’s notoriously hostile to women. (Fans will never forget or forgive USSF’s assertion that men’s soccer “requires a higher level of skill” than women’s does.) What’s the good news? In February 2022, the USWNT settled with the USSF—and the federation has to pay men and women equally going forward.

It’s available on HBO Max

Beyond the Mat (1999)

You don’t have to know a single thing about wrestling to appreciate Beyond the Mat, which follows three wrestlers in very different stages of their careers: Terry Funk, who’s thinking about retiring; Mick Foley, a.k.a. “Mankind,” who’s hitting his stride; and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who’s at a low point. The film has been criticized for appearing fake. However, Vince McMahon (WWF chairman) refused to permit ads for the movie on WWF broadcasts. An added bonus? Beyond the Mat marks the first film appearance of one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Amazon: Rent It

We Were Kings (1996)

Leon Gast was Director for 22 Years. We Were KingsThe wait is worth the reward, as many sports fans will agree. The film explores the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, as well as the fraught decision to hold the fight in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), which was then under the control of the brutal dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. In addition to providing tons of context for Ali and Foreman’s careers at the time, the movie features interviews with personalities including Spike Lee, Norman Mailer, and George Plimpton.

Criterion has it.

Venus and Serena (2013)

Fast a decade earlier King Richard, this documentary explored the careers of two of the greatest athletes of all time, who are now so legendary that their last name isn’t necessary as an identifier. As a companion piece, the documentary becomes even more intriguing. King RichardIt is especially evident when the actors in real life say lines that seem too unbelievable to be true. Richard Williams’ quip about having the next two Michael Jordans, for example, wasn’t invented by a screenwriter—which you’ll know when you hear Rick Macci talk about the first time he heard it.

It’s available on HBO Max

Senna (2011)

Before Formula 1: Drive to Survive Asif Kapadia introduced Formula 1 racing to a new audience. He focused his camera on Brazilian champion Ayrton Sena who, at 34, died from injuries suffered in a crash. Because Kapadia relies mostly on archival footage rather than “talking head” interviews or narration, the film paints an impressionistic portrait of a man who eventually gave his life to the sport he loved.

Amazon: Rent It

Hillsborough (2014)

Daniel Gordon directs. Hillsborough The film examines the stampede which resulted in 97 deaths and over 700 injuries at a British soccer game. It examines what caused the overcrowding of the stadium and how it was subsequently dealt with. In fact, the document could not have been shown in the U.K. two years after it was released because of the ongoing inquest.

You can watch it live on ESPN+

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