The 9 Best Sports Documentaries on Netflix
As I write this, it’s been just short of a year since COVID-19 ruined everything.
That was bad enough.
But as I live in Austin, my year got off to another great start by NOT HAVING ELECTRICITY OR WATER FOR SEVERAL DAYS!!!!
My point is that I’ve had A LOT of time to watch A LOT of Netflix.
I have not had a lot of time to be overly active.
In an attempt to make up for that, I’ve watched a lot of sports documentaries on Netflix – maybe all of them, actually.
Some of them more than once.
Many of them more than twice.
In any case, if you’re in the mood for a great sports documentary to watch on Netflix, I’d love to help.
Exercise Later. Watch These 9 Sports Documentaries on Netflix Now.
There’s always plenty of time to do sit-ups tomorrow or go for a run next weekend.
If there’s one thing 2020 taught me – and it’s beginning to look like 2021 will do the same – you’ve got nothing but time.
So, put this ambitious goals off for another time.
For now, curl up and enjoy this list of the best sports documentaries on Netflix.
1. The Last Dance
Alright, let’s get the obvious choice out of the way away. “The Last Dance” is an incredible documentary that follows the meteoric rise of one the most famous athletes – maybe, even people – of all time: Michael Jordan.
What makes this documentary great isn’t just the subject matter. Countless programs have regaled audiences with how dominant the Chicago Bulls were in their prime.
“The Last Dance” is an absolute must-watch sports documentary because Michael Jordan participates in it. Instead of pulling clips and past interviews, he sat down to walk viewers through the entirety of his career all the way to the end of his last season.
Better still, His Airness is so honest throughout the program that he actually worried "The Last Dance" would make people hate him.
Even if you’re not a huge fan of basketball, you owe it to yourself to watch one of the most successful sports documentaries in recent history.
2. Sunderland 'Til I Die
I’ll be honest with you: the only thing I know about soccer is that Europeans hate that we don’t call it “football.”
That being said…wow. “Sunderland 'Til I Die” was an emotional rollercoaster.
The docuseries follows the down-and-out team of Sunderland Association Football Club.
In many ways, it’s a familiar story here in the U.S. Sunderland was once a proud manufacturing town, one that boasted being the largest shipbuilding city in the world.
Back then, their dominance in nautical manufacturing was matched only by their soccer club’s dominance on the pitch.
But time has not been kind to Sunderland – the club, the town, and the people tied to both.
“Sunderland ‘Til I Die” shows everything that goes into trying to get this team back on its feet. Watching the front-office goings-on of a professional soccer team may not seem exciting, but the documentarians did an amazing job of keeping things fast-paced, so you feel just how much pressure everyone is under – from the managers to the players to the owner to the cooks.
There’s plenty of in-game action, too, and the editing is so well done that, even if you’re not a soccer fan, you’ll find yourself up on your feet again and again.
Finally, the fans that this documentary follow make it impossible not to root for this underdog. You can really feel just how much this team means to so many people in Sunderland.
3. Last Chance U
Speaking of football (the real thing this time), most Americans are well-aware of the Division I level of college football. Many of us are maybe a bit obsessed with it (Geaux Tigers).
But what a lot of people don’t know about is JUCO football – the junior college football league where players go when they’re not quite at the D1 level yet but also aren’t quite ready to quit.
Imagine all of the hard work and sacrifice that goes into playing at the most elite level – minus the glory and TV time that goes with it.
Every season, Last Chance U follows young men who are chasing their last chance to make it to the next level. For some, it’s all about making the next jump to the NFL (spoiler: one of them did – in a big way). For others, the goal is getting to the best possible school, so they can leave with the best possible chance of a better life.
4. Team Foxcatcher
We’ve covered before how wrestlers are slightly crazy. Their preferred pastime is nothing short of absolutely brutal. Long before they ever lock up with an opponent, they will put themselves through grueling training regimens that would make most people nauseous just to think about.
Furthermore, outside of an MMA career, there isn’t much of a future in the sport, which is why it was such a big deal when the heir to the massive du Pont family fortune decided he wanted to pay the country’s best wrestlers to train year-round at his special facility back in the 80s.
Unfortunately, du Pont proved to actually be crazy.
The tragic story that unraveled is captured in the incredible documentary, Team Foxcatcher. While it becomes clear pretty early on how this popular sports documentary will end, you won’t be able to look away as it unfolds.
5. Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
If the mixing of true crime and sports documentaries intrigues you, “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” is another one on Netflix that’s worth checking out.
Back in 2014, the sports world was stunned to learn that one of its most talented up-and-coming stars, Aaron Hernandez, had been charged with murder. That shock only grew as the facts about the case came out. Not only had Hernandez killed a man, but he then went on to play an entire season of football.
In “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez”, the documentarians do their best to answer the question, “Why?”
Why would someone who had so much going for him throw it all away to do the unthinkable?
Honorable Mentions for the Best Sports Documentaries on Netflix That Also Feature True Crime:
I probably could have made an entire list about the best movies on Netflix that combine sports with crime, but I’m going to leave it at just two.
Nonetheless, here are three others that I strongly considered giving an official ranking on this list.
Icarus – What starts as your run-of-the-mill documentary where the director decides to see if he can cheat at a sport by taking steroids and going undetected by their anti-doping tests quickly becomes something pretty crazy. In "Icarus", director Bryan Fogel unveils the absolutely absurd number of athletes who are on steroids and the mind-boggling lengths many people (including politicians) will go to make it look otherwise.
- Screwball – This is another documentary about how steroids play such a big role in sports, this time about baseball. Also, this time the reenactments are all done by children. It’s adorable. And also a little weird. But, also, “Screwball” is a pretty good documentary.
- Athlete A – No jokes to be made here. “Athlete A” is a documentary that covers one of the biggest – and worst – scandals in sports history. Dr. Larry Nassar was entrusted with the health and safety of Team USA’s female gymnasts. He betrayed this trust in the most unimaginable way possible. “Athlete” A profiles the monster responsible for these heinous crimes but also shines a light on a culture that allowed him to commit them.
6. The Dawn Wall
If wrestlers are crazy, mountain climbers are certifiably insane. So, to be considered one of the crazier mountain climbers on the planet, well, you’re going to make for a great subject of a sports documentary.
“The Dawn Wall” is the story of Tommy Caldwell, a man who’s been climbing to terrifying heights since he was a boy.
As you’ll see, this passion has put his life at risk more than once and not always for the giant, glaringly obvious reason you’d expect.
There have been some absolutely fantastic documentaries in recent years about this captivating sport, but “The Dawn Wall” stands apart for focusing just as much on the climber as the harrowing climb he’s attempting. Caldwell has seemingly faced as much adversity on land as he does when he’s climbing far from it. The documentarians do an excellent job of interspersing his plans for a daunting climb up the Dawn Wall with a look at what led him to this point.
When it comes to sports that are known to push participants to their brink, two we’ve already mentioned seem obvious: wresting and rock climbing.
But there’s another that is regularly overlooked.
If you already know that cheerleading can be one of the hardest sports, “Cheer” will leave you feeling vindicated.
If you’re having a hard time associating pom poms with pain, wait until you see what this world-class cheer squad puts themselves through in order to remain at the top of a very competitive mountain.
Similar to “The Dawn Wall”, this popular documentary doesn’t focus solely on the sport. What makes this film so touching is its stars, young men and women who don’t always have a lot to feel so cheery about. At the centerpiece of this squad is coach Monica Aldama, a woman who is tough as nails but fiercely protective of her athletes.
It’s no surprise that this documentary’s director has already appeared on our list. Greg Whitely was also behind the camera for “Last Chance U” and has a real knack for capturing what makes athletics so incredibly compelling.
8. The 24 Hour War
“The most dangerous sporting event of any kind.”
That’s how the Le Mans is described in this heart-pounding documentary about this world-famous race that lasts for 24 hours.
“When you got in the car, you had to be ready to die,” is another choice line that sets up the stakes for this one-of-a-kind Netflix sports documentary I highly recommend.
It follows the real-life story behind the 2018 film, Ford vs. Ferrari, which was nominated for Best Picture. While I definitely loved that movie, this documentary takes things to a whole new level. You get a real sense for just how dangerous this sport is and how much pressure was on both teams back when this race was a worldwide event on par with a heavyweight boxing match with much more on the line.
9. The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Finally, let’s leave off with a feel-good documentary that has plenty of emotion in it and will definitely leave you smiling.
Back in 1973, actor Bing Russell bought the Mavericks, a minor league team out of Portland that showed absolutely no prospects other than burning a hole in his pocket.
But Bing saw potential and his dedication to the team soon drew players from all over the country, culminating in a cast of characters that would rival any he shared the screen with during his days on Bonanza and The Magnificent Seven.
As a group, they created a baseball team that is still talked about throughout the country, one that didn’t always win but always entertained.
You can tell “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is a true passion project for directors, Chapman and Maclain Way, who are Bing’s grandsons. His famous son, Kurt Russell, also features prominently in the film, telling stories about what it was like to hang around these characters when he was only in his mid-20s.