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7 best sports documentaries you should watch

Venus and Serena
Venus and Serena. Photo/Ebony Magazine
  • The science in the films is a perfect formula for a pleasant cinema experience
  • Spending time with made-up athletes is entertaining
  • You appreciate the value of sports even more

The allure of a sports film is unmistakable, even if you aren’t a huge sports enthusiast, but the best sports documentaries get you in the mood.

Science is a perfect formula for a pleasant cinema experience involving human beings accomplishing extraordinary feats of greatness. Usually, they do this while under enormous strain but end with a happy ending.

Spending time with made-up athletes is entertaining, but watching the actual thing, even if it ends tragically, is more rewarding.

In this vein, here are the best documentaries.

THE LAST DANCE (2020)

The Last Dance

The Last Dance. Photo/Boston University

When The Last Dance began in April 2020 went out, it immediately gripped viewers in part. Then, the coronavirus pandemic derailed all live sports but bridged the gap with its fascination.

The 10-part documentary chronicles Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls as he tries to win his sixth championship.

The film also focuses on outsized characters, including Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. You realize why it’s one of the best sports documentaries ever.

HOOP DREAMS (1994)

Hoop Dreams is frequently cited as an inspiration by filmmakers in the sports documentary genre. Two African-American high school students are the focus of Steve James’s attention as they enrol in a largely white prep school in the Chicago suburbs.

They have a lot of hopes of joining the school’s premier basketball program. The film follows the two lads for all four years of their high school.

They battle with injuries, expensive tuition fees, and the pressure to get recruited by a tough college team.

FREE SOLO (2018)

Climbing a rock face without a harness, rope, or any other equipment is known as “Free Solo.

It is risky as it sounds. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Oscar-winning documentary follows renowned climber Alex Honnold in this.

He attempts a free solo ascent of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, which is 3,000 feet tall. Even from the comfort of your own couch, the movie’s frequent use of wide vistas will impress upon you.

You can tell exactly how high and unprotected Honnold is, actually, terrifying.

THE PRICE OF GOLD (2014)

The Price of Gold

The Price of Gold. Photo/Amazon

This episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series looked at the events leading up to the infamous attack on Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Olympics.

It was long before the fictionalized version of the tale was taken to the big screen by Tonya Harding.

Harding is interviewed at length in the video, and she comes across as a more nuanced and interesting character than the one presented by the media at the time of the assault. This makes it one of the best documentaries in the sporting world.

A figure skating enthusiast would be remiss to skip this film, despite the occasional one-sidedness caused by Kerrigan’s absence.

LFG (2021)

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup victory by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) was remarkable.

It was so by the fact that the team had been fighting the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for equal pay since 2016.

Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, and other top athletes are interviewed in LFG, which chronicles the USWNT’s fight for recognition in a field traditionally inhospitable to female athletes.

Fans will always hold the United States Soccer Federation accountable for its claim that men’s soccer “needs a higher level of talent” than women’s soccer.

And the good news is? The USWNT and the USSF reached a settlement in February 2022, and the federation agreed to pay male and female players the same amount moving forward.

ICARUS (2017)

Icarus

Icarus. Photo/International Documentary Association

Bryan Fogel, the film’s director, consulted with Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov to devise a mechanism to test his theory.

It was that current drug testing procedures in sports are insufficient. As the couple became friends, Rodchenkov confessed that he was actually in head of a state-sponsored doping program for Russia’s Olympic athletes.

The two subsequently collaborated to expose the scandal, with Fogel doing so to protect Rodchenkov’s voice from the Russian authorities.

The charges caused Russia to be suspended from participating in the 2016 and 2018 Olympics. Rodchenkov continues to live under witness protection as a result.

VENUS AND SERENA (2013)

About two decades before King Richard, this film examined the lives and careers of two of the greatest athletes of all time. Both are now household names without even needing their surnames to identify them.

Hearing the real-life actors utter the lines that seemed too good to be true in the fictional version makes the documentary an even more compelling companion piece to King Richard.

For instance, if you listen to Rick Macci describe the first time he heard Richard Williams’ you can tell it’s among the best sports documentaries.

Teresa is a journalist with years of experience in creating web content. She is a wanderlust at heart, but an outgoing sports writer with focus on tennis, athletics, football, motorsports and NBA.

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