23 Of The Greatest Sports Documentaries Ever Made

The Greatest Sports Documentaries
Published by NYSB Staff
Last Updated: 15. May 2024.

Sports documentaries offer more than just a glimpse into the sports we love; they provide a deep dive into the human stories behind the scores. These films showcase the trials, triumphs, and transformations of athletes and teams, capturing moments that define sports history and resonate with all kinds of  viewers. 

Blending cinematic storytelling with real-life drama, these sports documentaries pull audiences into the hearts and minds of those who push their limits for greatness. As a viewer, you’re invited not only to witness incredible athletic feats, but also to explore the variety of dynamics that influence the sports world. 

Let’s look at some of the most impactful and entertaining sports documentaries from over the years.


1. The Last Dance (2020)


"The Last Dance" is a gripping sports docu-series released in 2020. The show details the remarkable journey of Michael Jordan’s career and the powerhouse dynasty of the Chicago Bulls by following their final season as champions between 1997-98. 

Through 10 episodes, the series expertly blends new video of the season shot with never-before-released footage of interviews with players and trainers who were alongside Jordan throughout the way. 

The show also examines Jordan’s broad influence, from his driven game to his charisma and global fame, placing him in the context of his physical environment. Overcoming adversity for victory through terrible difficulty, the series elevates Jordan’s status as an outstanding figure in the history of sports.


2. Senna (2010)


The documentary "Senna" is a fascinating depiction of the life and career of Ayrton Senna, a Brazilian Formula One racing driver known for his aggressive driving style and charming personality. Directed by Asif Kapadia, the film intricately blends racetrack footage, home videos, and personal interviews to showcase Senna's early years in kart racing and his rapid ascent in Formula One. 

The movie highlights key events in Senna's career, including his rivalry with fellow driver Alain Prost and his tragic death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. But "Senna" is more than just about races; it unveils him as a person, driven by a strong sense of national identity and a commitment to humanitarian efforts. 

This film captures the emotional depth and the essence of Senna himself, presenting a moving tribute to a man who became an icon in Brazil and a legend in the sport.


3. Welcome To Wrexham (2022)


In July of 2022, "Welcome to Wrexham," began airing. The series on Disney+ offers both entertainment and inspiration by chronicling the transformation of Wrexham AFC, a historic Welsh soccer club, following its purchase by Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. The documentary covers their efforts to rejuvenate, renovate, and evolve this previously underperforming club, guiding it through the ranks of soccer leagues.

Thanks to their leadership, Wrexham achieved back-to-back promotions and secured a place in League One for the first time since 2005 with a stunning 6-0 victory over Forest Green Rovers. Notable achievements, such as key players Elliot Lee and Arthur Okonkwo being named to the EFL Sky Bet League Two 2023/24 Team of the Season, highlight the significant impact of this new ownership. 

As Wrexham fans watch their team climb the ranks, they can also get involved by placing bets on outcomes of games at the top soccer sportsbooks. This added layer of engagement not only increases the excitement, it also allows fans to share in the team’s success. 

As well as following their performance, the series showcases the resilience and spirit of the local community, and has been instrumental in reigniting interest in the club, not just in Wrexham but with audiences around the world. This story is a prime example of how passionate and unconventional investors can profoundly influence and transform a sports club.


4. All Or Nothing: A Season With The Arizona Cardinals (2016)


"All or Nothing: A Season With The Arizona Cardinals" (2016) dives into the intense world of the NFL, centering on the 2015 season of the Arizona Cardinals. Broadcast on Amazon Prime, this documentary offers an insider's view into the professional football scene, covering everything from the rigorous practices to the crucial games that defined their season. It vividly captures the personal and professional highs and lows experienced by players and coaches.

The series highlights the leadership of Coach Bruce Arians and the tenacity of quarterback Carson Palmer, who spearheaded the team's successful run to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. 

"All or Nothing" stands out for its depth, providing a detailed look at the challenges and dedication required to compete at the highest level of the NFL. It offers a unique blend of sports action and human interest, making it a compelling watch for football fans.


5. Last Chance U (2016)


Diving into the intense and gritty world of junior college football, "Last Chance U" follows the ups and downs of athletes at East Mississippi Community College (EMCC). These young players, who face academic and personal challenges, see football as their shot at redemption and a potential future in the pros.

The series gets up close and personal, showcasing not just the thrilling games and tough training but also highlighting the educational hurdles and life issues these players tackle off the field.

With its raw and honest portrayal of the pressures to perform and the tough coaching methods used to shape the players, the series peels back the curtain on the less glamorous side of football. "Last Chance U" resonates with viewers by offering a deep, unflinching look at the struggles and triumphs of chasing dreams amidst adversity. It's praised for bringing to light the real stories of athletes fighting for their futures in the world of sports.


6. Formula 1: Drive To Survive (2019)


"Drive to Survive" really brings the electrifying world of Formula 1 to life, mixing the thrill of racing with personal stories straight from the paddock. Since hitting Netflix in 2019, the series has given fans a front-row seat to the strategies, rivalries, and high stakes that fuel the sport. Viewers get up close with favorites like Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, and influential figures such as team bosses Christian Horner and Toto Wolff.

The series shines by showing the human side of the sport—how drivers and teams gear up for each race, handle the intense pressure, and manage both their cars and their emotions. It’s not just about the speed; it’s the stories of resilience and ambition that captivate fans and newcomers alike, enhancing the appreciation for the complexities of Formula 1 and the dedication behind the scenes.

For anyone interested in betting on motorsports, this series does a great job of providing an insight into the mentality of drivers and their decision making, as well as highlighting some of the key factors that can impact their performance on the track.


7. OJ: Made In America (2016)


"OJ: Made in America" is a deeply engaging documentary that delves into the complex life and trials of O.J. Simpson, setting his personal saga against the vast canvas of American society. This five-part series spans from Simpson’s days as a celebrated football star to his Hollywood career and the infamous legal battles that captured national attention in the 1990s.

What really sets this documentary apart is its exploration of the cultural factors surrounding Simpson’s story. It tackles issues of race, celebrity influence, and media impact, linking these themes to broader societal tensions. The series uses a mix of interviews, archival footage, and detailed analysis to paint a nuanced picture of how identity and public image interact with the justice system.

This in-depth look doesn't just recount the facts of Simpson’s trials; it invites viewers to consider the role of media in shaping public perception and discusses the ongoing implications for justice in America. The documentary’s comprehensive approach engages viewers, sparking important discussions on race, fame, and media in the context of American history.


8. The Dynasty (2024)


"The Dynasty: New England Patriots," streaming on Apple TV+ since February 2024, takes a deep dive into the Patriots' remarkable 20-year run as a football dynasty. Directed by Matthew Hamachek and based on Jeff Benedict's book, this series explores the highs and lows of the team through interviews with major figures like Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft. It covers their six Super Bowl wins and delves into controversies including "Spygate" and the Aaron Hernandez scandal.

The documentary is notable for its bold approach, challenging NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and others on the Patriots' most contentious moments. It doesn't shy away from the tough questions, examining the ethical complexities of the team's achievements and providing a look at the personal challenges faced by those within the franchise. 

"The Dynasty" stands out for capturing the real stories beyond the sports headlines, offering a narrative that is as thought-provoking as it is engaging, encouraging viewers to reflect on what it truly costs to maintain a legacy of success in sports.


9. Beckham (2023)


Streaming on Netflix since 2023, "Beckham" by director Fisher Stevens, takes you on a journey through David Beckham's rise from his humble beginnings to international stardom both on and off the soccer field.

The documentary provides a close look at his life, capturing moments from his career and personal challenges, including his relationship with Victoria Beckham and their experiences under the media's intense spotlight. It particularly focuses on pivotal events like Beckham's notorious 1998 World Cup red card and the severe mental health issues that followed. 

Featuring interviews with family, friends, and notable figures like Sir Alex Ferguson, the series paints a comprehensive picture of Beckham as both a sports legend and a cultural icon. Critics have applauded "Beckham" for its unfiltered and deep exploration of one of the most celebrated figures in sports.


10. When We Were Kings (1996)


"When We Were Kings" takes you back to the epic 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Released in 1996 by director Leon Gast, this documentary dives into the heavyweight championship that took place in Zaire, capturing the tense political climate of the 1970s and the huge cultural impact surrounding the event.

The film highlights Ali’s tactical genius and charm, especially his famous rope-a-dope strategy that led to his victory. Beyond the fight, the documentary also covers the big personalities and the music festival that happened alongside the bout, painting a picture of how this event was more than just a boxing match—it was a significant cultural moment.

Widely regarded as a crucial piece of sports history, "When We Were Kings" won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and remains a testament to Ali's legacy, showing just how much one match can influence sports and cultural identity.


11. Icarus (2017)


"Icarus" kicks off as a bold experiment by filmmaker Bryan Fogel to dig into how doping impacts sports performance but quickly morphs into something much bigger and riskier. Fogel teams up with Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran Russia's anti-doping lab, and uncovers a massive state-backed doping program aimed at dominating the Olympics.

The film takes you on a rollercoaster ride with Rodchenkov, from his central role in the doping world to turning whistleblower, fearing for his life. "Icarus" doesn't just shed light on the scandal; it challenges the very integrity of international sports competitions. 

Winning an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, this film is praised for its gripping narrative that transforms a personal exploration into a riveting geopolitical saga. It's a stark expose on the lengths to which athletes and countries will go to clinch Olympic glory, highlighting the serious consequences of cheating and the perilous road to uncovering the truth.


12. Diego Maradona (2019)


For a deeper dive into the life of one of soccer's true icons, the "Diego Maradona" documentary is a must-watch. It traces Maradona's ascent from his roots in Buenos Aires' shantytowns to achieving global fame, capturing the brilliance and chaos that followed him both on and off the pitch.

The film showcases his legendary feats, including his pivotal role in Argentina's 1986 World Cup victory and the notorious 'Hand of God' goal, while not shying away from his struggles with addiction and the pressures of his high-profile existence. 

Filled with exclusive interviews and rare footage, this documentary paints a vivid picture of Maradona as a flawed genius whose spectacular talent and turbulent life left an indelible mark on the world of sports. It’s an engaging portrait that blends personal tragedy with professional triumph, revealing the complex layers of Maradona's character and his enduring legacy in soccer.


13. Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story (2014)


"Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story" is a compelling documentary that delves into the rise and fall of one of cycling's most celebrated and controversial figures, Lance Armstrong. The film provides an in-depth look at Armstrong's journey from his triumphant battle against cancer to the pinnacle of professional cycling, and eventually to his dramatic downfall following doping allegations. Through interviews with former teammates, journalists, and other key figures, the documentary exposes the culture of performance-enhancing drug use in the sport and Armstrong's role in perpetuating it.

The film does not hold back in its critique of Armstrong's deceit and the lengths he went to protect his reputation, including legal battles and public denials. "Stop At Nothing" portrays a man who was once a global icon for resilience and victory, only to become a symbol of deceit. It's an unflinching exploration of ambition, fame, and the consequences of a win-at-all-costs mentality. 

This documentary is a thorough examination of how Armstrong's actions impacted the cycling world and the lives of those around him, making it a fascinating watch for anyone interested in the complexities of modern sports scandals.


14. Fastball (2016)


"Fastball" is all about the magic and mystery of baseball's hardest throw—the fastball. This documentary isn't just for die-hard baseball fans; it's a cool, insightful look at how a simple pitch can define the legacy of the game’s greatest heroes.

The film mixes science, history, and personal stories to explore why the fastball is more than just speed—it's a battle of wits between pitcher and hitter.

You get to hear from legends like Nolan Ryan and Justin Verlander, who break down why hurling a small leather ball over 100 mph is as much about art as it is about muscle. The film also dives into the physics behind why a fastball is so tough to hit, making it super accessible whether you're a sports fan or just love a good story about competition and strategy. So, if you're looking for a laid-back yet fascinating watch, "Fastball" definitely hits it out of the park.


15. Schumacher (2021)


"Schumacher" is a heartfelt documentary that dives into the life and career of Michael Schumacher, one of Formula 1's greatest legends. It offers a personal and intimate look at his journey, both on and off the track, capturing the triumphs and challenges of his racing career.

Available on Netflix, the film features rare interviews and archival footage that highlight Schumacher's relentless drive, his championship-winning moments, and the devastating skiing accident that significantly impacted his life and his family.

This documentary is a must-watch if you're interested in the man behind the helmet. It paints a picture of Schumacher not just as a fearless competitor on the circuit but as a dedicated family man and a deeply passionate racer. Whether you're a racing enthusiast or new to the world of Formula 1, "Schumacher" provides an inspiring look at resilience and dedication, making it a compelling story of a true sports icon.


16. The Redeem Team (2022)


Back in 2008, the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team, stacked with stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, headed to the Beijing Olympics determined to redeem themselves after a less-than-stellar performance in 2004. Their journey to reclaim Olympic gold is captured in a documentary that explores not just their victories on the court but also the personal and collective challenges they faced along the way.

The documentary provides an insightful look into the intense preparation and behind-the-scenes dynamics of this talented team. It highlights how each player brought not only their skills but also their personal stories and motivations to the team, contributing to a powerful narrative of redemption and national pride. 

By focusing on their strategic comebacks and the emotional highs of their journey, the film paints a compelling portrait of resilience and teamwork, making it a captivating watch for anyone interested in the intersection of sports and human experience.


17. Ice Guardians (2016)


In 2016, the documentary "Ice Guardians" brought to light the tough and often controversial role of enforcers in ice hockey. These players, sometimes seen as just the brawlers of the NHL, are integral to their teams, not just for their physical presence but also for the protection they offer star players. The film delves into the lives of these enforcers, exploring the physical risks and emotional toll their role takes on them and their families.

Rather than just glorifying the fights, "Ice Guardians" seeks to understand the rationale behind the enforcers' place in hockey, questioning the balance between violence and protection in the sport. It provides an intimate look at the players' perspectives, their career struggles, and the brotherhood they share with their teammates. 

Through personal stories, the documentary gives viewers a more nuanced view of what it means to be an enforcer, beyond the ice rink battles, highlighting their dedication and the deep-seated traditions of physical play in hockey.


18. Athlete A (2020)


"Athlete A" first graced our screens in 2020, bringing to light the harrowing stories of young gymnasts and the systemic abuse they faced within USA Gymnastics. Centered around the investigative journalism of The Indianapolis Star and the courageous testimony of the gymnasts, the film primarily focuses on the scandal surrounding Dr. Larry Nassar, the team doctor who abused athletes under the guise of medical treatment.

The documentary delves into the culture of silence and complicity that allowed such abuses to persist and highlights the brave individuals who fought to expose the truth. Through interviews with the gymnasts, their families, and journalists, "Athlete A" paints a disturbing yet important picture of the struggles these athletes faced not only in their sport but also in their fight for justice. 

It's a powerful exploration of resilience and the critical importance of speaking out against wrongdoing, providing a voice to those who were long silenced.


19. Stephen Curry: Underrated (2023)


Offering a deep dive into the life and career of NBA superstar Stephen Curry, “Stephen Curry: Underrated” hit the screens in 2020. This documentary traces Curry's journey from a college player often overlooked by top schools to his rise as a transformative figure in basketball.

Despite doubts about his size and potential at the professional level, Curry's remarkable skill set and unwavering determination have shattered expectations and redefined the game.

The film celebrates his achievements, including multiple NBA championships and MVP awards, while also highlighting his impact off the court. Through a mix of game footage, interviews, and personal stories, "Stephen Curry: Underrated" not only showcases his incredible talent and playing style, but also his role as a leader and innovator in the sport. This documentary paints a portrait of a player who continues to inspire and excite basketball fans around the world, proving that true greatness often comes from the most unexpected places.


20. Pumping Iron (1977)


"Pumping Iron," the classic 1977 docudrama, takes you inside the world of competitive bodybuilding, focusing on the intense preparation for the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest. It's famed for bringing Arnold Schwarzenegger into the spotlight, showcasing his charisma and determination on his journey to becoming the top bodybuilder in the world.

The film also features other bodybuilding legends like Lou Ferrigno, capturing their rigorous training routines, personal struggles, and the psychological games they play as they vie for the ultimate muscle title.

The documentary is more than just a look at the sport—it delves into the broader culture of bodybuilding and the dedication required to sculpt the perfect physique. With its blend of raw workout footage and candid interviews, "Pumping Iron" paints a compelling portrait of the pursuit of physical perfection and the mental toughness needed to achieve it. It's a fascinating glimpse into a niche sport that turned Schwarzenegger into a global icon and helped popularize bodybuilding as we know it today.


21. Team Foxcatcher (2016)


"Team Foxcatcher" is a deeply unsettling documentary that tells the chilling story of the events leading up to the murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz by John du Pont.

Released in 2016 on Netflix, the film delves into the bizarre and tragic relationship between du Pont, a wealthy and mentally unstable benefactor, and the team of wrestlers he sponsored on his estate, Foxcatcher Farm.

The documentary uses home video footage, interviews with the wrestlers and Schultz's family, and other archival materials to piece together how du Pont's initial support of the sport turned into a dark and obsessive influence, culminating in tragedy. "Team Foxcatcher" not only explores the crime but also provides a psychological portrait of du Pont, offering insights into his troubled mind and the factors that may have led to his horrific actions. The film is a sobering look at the dangers of unchecked power and mental illness in the world of sports.


22. Conor McGregor: Notorious (2017)


Conor McGregor turned his life around when he stepped into the world of UFC, transforming from a welfare recipient in Dublin to a UFC champion. "Conor McGregor: Notorious" documents this remarkable journey, offering an intimate look at his rise through the ranks of mixed martial arts. The film spans four years, capturing key moments from his intense training, pivotal fights, and personal life, including behind-the-scenes footage that highlights his relationships and strategic fight preparations.

This documentary reveals McGregor's relentless ambition, charismatic personality, and the sheer willpower that have made him a standout figure in the sport. It’s a close-up view of his highs and lows, providing a comprehensive look at what it takes to become a legend in the competitive arena of MMA.

For fans and bettors, this film offers valuable insights into McGregor’s approach and mindset, providing a comprehensive look at what it takes to become a legend in the fiercely competitive arena of MMA. As such, McGregor's fights are not just about sport but also about understanding the dynamics that make UFC betting so thrilling.


23. Pelé (2021)


The story of Pelé, one of soccer's most iconic figures, is beautifully showcased in the 2021 documentary "Pelé." This film tracks his monumental rise from the slums of São Paulo to becoming a global symbol of soccer through his extraordinary achievements with Brazil's national team. It not only highlights his three World Cup victories but also delves into his impact both on and off the field, capturing his influence as a national hero during a turbulent era in Brazil's political history.

The documentary features interviews with Pelé himself, providing personal insights into his thoughts and emotions throughout his career, as well as archival footage that brings his stunning athletic prowess back to life for new generations. 

This film is not just about his technical skill and unforgettable goals; it explores the cultural significance of Pelé’s legacy, showing how he transcended the sport and became a beacon of hope and pride for an entire country. 


Deep Dives into Sports Legends: Insights for Fans and Bettors

So, there you have it! Whether you're a seasoned sports fan or new to the excitement, diving into these iconic sports documentaries can give you a richer perspective on the games and players you love. Next time you're tuning in to the journeys of sporting legends and teams, why not also consider the strategic side of sports? 

For those in the Empire State, insights from these documentaries could help to enhance your experience using some of the top sportsbooks in New York. Understanding the stories behind athletes and their sports can provide you with that extra bit of context to help you when making your picks. 

Whether it's for fun or to get more involved in the sports betting scene, these documentaries ensure you're well-equipped with knowledge and ready to engage with the sports world more deeply.

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