The life of a famous athlete or team can be a very good topic for a documentary as many people are curious about their lives on and off the field. The best sports documentaries show details we haven’t known before from highs to lows. They also tell the stories of extraordinary performances and the dark sides of sports.
The most famous documentaries usually follow the lives of top star athletes from Muhammad Ali to Ayrton Senna. They try to go behind the scenes and show the background of some of their biggest victories or defeats. Through watching these films we can get a bigger understanding of professional athletes and the world of sports. But some documentary makers choose different types of topics and concentrate on extraordinary achievements like climbing a mountain without any rope or sailing across the ocean alone.
1. Free Solo – An extraordinary human performance
You might not have heard about Alex Honnold, but the documentary made about him might ring a bell. It’s called Free Solo and actually won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2018. The film recorded his climb of El Capitan which is a 3000 feet high rock in the Yosemite National Park. But what made his attempt extremely dangerous was that he climbed without any rope or any other safety equipment. It is a thrilling film, as he can easily die at any moment, which will keep up your interest until the end.
2. Deep Water – Story of the first round-the-world yacht race
Though yacht racing might sound fun, Deep Water is not about some easy sailing between millionaires. It tells the story of the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race and Donald Crowhurst who was one of the participants. It was a very tough race with big storms and heavy waves, with only one person finishing it from the nine starters. The filmmakers used footage and audio recordings of the racers and interviews to follow the strange course of Crowhurst.
3. Senna – A worthy tribute to one of Formula 1’s greatest
Ayrton Senna was one of the best Formula 1 drivers of all time who died tragically in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. No wonder that a documentary was made about the legendary Brazilian but director Asif Kapadia did a brilliant job. He only used archive footage with no commentaries or captions, focusing on Senna’s racing career and his rivalry with Alain Prost. The BAFTA and Sundance winner film is a great tribute to the legend, which every Forma 1 fan will love. Hopefully fans can also see current top drivers like Lewis Hamilton in a Formula 1 race soon. Online sportsbooks in the UK are still giving the smallest odds for his win in the world championships this season.
4. When We Were Kings – The story of Muhammed Ali’s greatest fight
This documentary shows the surroundings of the The Rumble in the Jungle, as the fight between 32-year old Muhammed Ali and a decade younger heavyweight champion George Foreman. The fight is only one part of the film as it also tells the story of the dictator of Zaire and a music festival which was going on at the same time. It also features interviews with Ali and other celebrities like James Brown, BB King and Spike Lee.
5. An Impossible Job – A film about the English team’s World Cup qualifying
The title already predicts that the English team was not in top form before the 1994 World Cup. We can learn from this documentary that they failed to qualify for it. English manager at that time, Graham Taylor resigned after the failure, but we can see how much pressure he was in his job. Online gambling sites in the UK are hoping for a much better result in Euro2021, where England is in the favorites to win the tournament.
6. Undefeated – A touching film about American football
You might have some preconceptions about American football and the players, but this film will change them for sure. Undefeated is the story of a small high school team, the Manassas Tigers, which won the championship as underdogs. Thanks to their volunteer coach, Bill Courtney who made a great team from the players. The story of the team also won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2012.
7. Hoop Dreams – A great documentary about basketball
One of the best sports documentaries of all time, Hoop Dreams was made in 1994. It inspired many other future filmmakers with its honest and deep storytelling of two basketball talents coming from inner-city Chicago. The crew followed their lives for five years from playing on the streets to professional basketball. It is a very powerful film which confirms that sport can be a great way to get a better life.
8. A Sunday in Hell – The first documentary about cycling
This documentary was made in 1977 and was about the Paris-Roubaix race in 1976. At that time doping didn’t overshadow the sport and cyclists were really suffering as normal human beings. We can see Eddie Merckx racing on one of the toughest one-day races thanks to its horrible roads and cobbled tracks. We get to know the rivalry between the teams and riders, and the views of the team directors and spectators in one of the best documentaries about cycling. Though this year’s race was canceled, Tour de France was rescheduled for the end of August.
9. Icarus – A thrilling tale of doping
This film made by Netflix is about the dark side of the sport, in a way we have never seen it before. Amateur cyclist American Bryan Fogel and the director of the film tried to win a race with doping. He received help from the director of the Russian anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov who became his friend and revealed the secret of the Russian state-sponsored doping system. In 2018 the film also received the Academy Awards, while Rodchenkov was placed under protective custody in the US.
10. Murderball – Great athletes fighting for the Paralympics
In this inspiring film we can get to know the lives of wheelchair rugby players. Also the rivalry between the US and Canadian teams. They are just as tough as their healthy mates and give everything for a place in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. It’s a great example of how sports can be more than just a game for people and give a new sense of their lives.