Since the release of Hoop Dreams back in 1994, sports documentaries have become a major part of the film industry. Over the years, we’ve seen these sports documentaries take on a variety of formats and we’ve watched as they’ve covered some of the biggest people and moments in sports history. Not only do these projects tap into people’s love for sports, but they also show the world of athletics from an angle that would otherwise be inaccessible to the general public. Thanks to Netflix, many of these awesome films are easier to watch than ever before. The best sports documentaries have the ability to capture the essence of the sport while also connecting to more universally relatable themes, and that’s exactly what our favorite ones do. Here are the 10 best sports documentaries on Netflix.
Released in 2018, Zion follows the story of a high school wrestler named Zion Clark who was born without legs. In addition to that, he also grew up in the foster care system. Despite the fact that life didn’t hand him the easiest circumstances, Zion has always been the kind of person who refuses to let anything stand in his way. In the documentary, we see Zion continuously beat the odds as he finds success on the wrestling mat. Even though the documentary is 12 minutes long, it accomplishes a lot in that time. The film is a great story about determination and overcoming obstacles. Things in Zion’s life have continued to go well since the documentary’s release. According to the bio on his website, “Zion was recruited by several colleges to wrestle and chose to attend Kent State (Tuscarawas)…where he spent the following 2 years steadily improving his skills and finding success at the varsity level. With his confidence and national ranking on the rise, Zion decided to embark on his toughest mission to date…becoming the first American athlete to compete in both the Olympic (wrestling) and Paralympic (wheelchair racing) Games in Tokyo (2020).”
9. Blood Brothers
Blood Brothers is one of the newest sports documentaries to hit Netflix. Unlike many of the other documentaries on this list, sports isn’t entirely at the center of this one. The film follows the friendship between boxing legend Muhammad Ali and civil rights activist, Malcolm X. Unfortunately, the pressure of the spotlight would weigh on their relationship and the two would eventually find themselves on separate pages. Blood Brothers includes archival footage as well as interviews from people who knew both men. This movie is a great example of how sports can have a universal impact.
8. The Short Game
Released in 2013, The Short Game followed the best young golfers in the world as they traveled to compete in the Kids Golf World Championship. Despite being just 7 and 8 years old, these kids were already on track to become golf legends. Even if golf isn’t your thing, you might still find yourself intrigued by this documentary. Unlike some other documentaries that focus on young athletes, The Short Game wasn’t the kind of film that showed kids being pressured to play sports. Instead, the children came from supportive and understanding families. In fact, The Short Game highlighted many of the positive things that can happen when children become dedicated to a sport at an early age.
7. Last Chance U
Last Chance U is a docuseries that premiered on Netflix in the summer of 2016. For the first two seasons, the show followed East Mississippi Community College’s football team. Many of the places on the team had previously been Division I prospects but had lost their opportunities for various reasons. Playing at East Mississippi Community College was literally the last chance they had to get a shot possibly making it to the pros one day. The final two seasons of the show took place at Independence Community College in Kansas. Many of the players on this team were in the same situation as those in the first two seasons. Although being a college athlete is often glamourized, the reality for players at the community college is much different. Some of them were commuting more than an hour every day just to go to school and practice while others were struggling to make ends meet.
6. A Kid From Coney Island
Over the years, there have been some professional athletes who have had large impacts in and out of their sports. Stephon Marbury was one of them. Born and raised on New York’s Coney Island, this documentary tells the story of Stephon’s journey from a kid who loved the game of basketball to a professional athlete. Although there was a time when Stephon was one of the most popular players in the league, his perceived bad attitude often held him back. However, after a successful career in the NBA, Marbury went on to become a super star in China where he played for the Beijing Ducks and the Beijing Flying Dragons. His documentary is one that shows the importance of perseverance and second chances. A review from The Undefeated reads, “Telling Marbury’s story as a documentary was a smart choice, even though much of his career and his life has been told in hundreds of headline-grabbing stories. The archival footage in the documentary and interviews from rapper Fat Joe, ESPN host Stephen A. Smith, rapper Cam’ron, former NBA star Chauncey Billups and the timeline unfolding throughout the film is mind-blowing.”
5. Athlete A
For nearly two decades, Larry Nassar was the doctor for the United States women’s gymnastics team. Little did people know, he was sexually abusing several of the young women on the team. In the fall of 2016 allegations came to the surface when Nassar was arrested and indicted on sexual assault charges from situations that took place over the course of nearly a decade. The following year, Nassar was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Athlete A was released in 2020 and it takes a deep dive into the abuse that Nassar inflicted on many members of the women’s gymnastics team. The film also highlighted how Nassar’s abuse had been covered up throughout the years.
4. The Ronda Rousey Story: Through My Father’s Eyes
During the 2010s, Ronda Rousey was the biggest name in women’s MMA. Her undefeated record earned her fans from all over the world. Although she always made it look easy, the truth is that she put in a lot of hard work to earn all of her accomplishments. The documentary The Ronda Rousey Story: Through My Father’s Eyes takes a glimpse into Rousey’s life and her journey towards becoming one of the most elite fighters in MMA history. The documentary gives viewers the chance to see Rousey in a different light. When Rousey steps onto the mat, she’s a fierce competitor who can do some serious damage. However, The Ronda Rousey Story: Through My Father’s Eyes gives her a human quality that makes her relatable and interesting.
Untold is a docuseries on Netflix in which each segment highlights different athletes/moments in sports history. One of the things that makes the Untold series so special is that it doesn’t just focus on one sport. The first episode, “Malice at the Palace” chronicled the 2004 brawl that broke out at a Pacers vs Pistons game. Even though this event was widely publicized when it occurred, Untold presented the story from a different perspective. Through a combination of old footage and new interviews, former players shared their memories of the experiences as well as the way it impacted their careers afterward. Untold has also covered subjects such as Caitlyn Jenner and the now-defunct hockey team, the Danbury Trashers. No matter what kind of sports you’re into, Untold has something to offer you. Each of the documentaries is interesting and insightful and they really do share things that were previously untold.
2. Sisters On Track
For many young people who come from low-income backgrounds, sports are considered a way out. Sisters On Track follows the lives of three young sisters, Tai, Rainn, and Brook Sheppard. All three of them are very talented, and they hope that rack will eventually help them have a better life. Although things are going well for them in sports, things at home aren’t as easy. When we’re introduced to the Sheppard family, it’s clear that they are struggling financially. The sisters are living in a local shelter with their mother, and they don’t know when things will get better. As the documentary continues, we see them go through a series of ups and downs. In addition to the support of their mother, they also have a very close relationship with their track coach, Jean Bell. Not only does coach Bell help the girls become better athletes, but she’s also focused on making sure they become great people. Sisters on Track will definitely tug on your heartstrings, but it will also give you hope – and that might be the mark of a truly great documentary.
1. The Last Dance
The Last Dance originally aired on ESPN in April of 2020, people all over the world were still on lockdown due to COVID-19. New TV shows were few and far between and live sports had come to a screeching halt. Needless to say, The Last Dance instantly became a hit. However, the documentaries success wasn’t just the product of boredom, it’s actually really good. The 10-part docu-series centers around Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls. The Last Dance has exclusive interviews with Michael Jordan, his former teammates, and some of his biggest rivals. Over the years, many fans have wondered why Michael Jordan decided to walk away when he was still at the top of his game, but The Last Dance provides insight into Jordan’s thought process at the time. Although most documentaries would start to get a little dry over the course of 10 installments, The Last Dance is amazing from start to finish.
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