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25 Best Sports Documentaries Ever Made

The 25 Greatest Sports Docs of All Time

The 25 Greatest Sports Docs of All Time
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This current era is a golden-age for documentaries, particularly when the proper amount of time and attention is given to subjects. Sports are not a forgotten sub-category in this golden-age. In fact, there have been a number of exceptionally quality sports documentaries hitting screens in recent years. In honor of this golden age, these are the 25 best sports documentaries of all time.

25. The Art of Flight (2011)

25. The Art of Flight (2011)
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25. The Art of Flight (2011)

25. The Art of Flight (2011)
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It’s always impressive to see some of the things snowboarders are able to pull off, but “The Art of Flight” took that to a whole new level. Under the sponsorship of Red Bull, the film gives an enthralling look at some of the most extreme examples of extreme sports while viewers’ eyes never leave the screen.

24. Tyson (2008)

24. Tyson (2008)
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24. Tyson (2008)

24. Tyson (2008)
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There aren’t many figures in sports more polarizing than Mike Tyson. He accomplished almost everything a boxer could hope to, but all while leading an undeniably controversial life. This chronicle of his self-discovery as he grows older is riveting and surprisingly touching.

23. More Than a Game (2008)

23. More Than a Game (2008)
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23. More Than a Game (2008)

23. More Than a Game (2008)
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Before he was a perennial NBA MVP candidate, LeBron James was a high school phenom that ruled both the Ohio high school and AAU circuits. “More Than a Game” offers a look into the lives of LeBron and his teammates as they rose to fame and immense success.

22. Through the Fire (2005)

22. Through the Fire (2005)
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22. Through the Fire (2005)

22. Through the Fire (2005)
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Sebastian Telfair may have never had the NBA career that his early fame would have led you to believe he would, but his journey to the NBA is nonetheless remarkable. “Through the Fire” gave us a great look into what it’s like for just a kid to be dealing with that kind of pressure and expectations.

21. Doin’ It in the Park (2012)

21. Doin’ It in the Park (2012)
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21. Doin’ It in the Park (2012)

21. Doin’ It in the Park (2012)
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Pick-up basketball in New York City is a near-religious experience. Taking that to heart, Kevin Couliau and Bobbito Garcia went to 180 separate courts in all the different boroughs of the city to encompass the essence of pick-up hoops in the Big Apple. The results were mesmerizing to say the very least.

20. Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008)

20. Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008)
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20. Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008)

20. Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008)
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The use of performance-enhancing drugs and that use becoming an issue hit the sporting world universally and swiftly. “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” looks at PEDs from every angle and examines how pervasive they’ve become in sports culture as athletes look to gain an edge and beat the system.

19. Soul in the Hole (1997)

19. Soul in the Hole (1997)
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19. Soul in the Hole (1997)

19. Soul in the Hole (1997)
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Booger Smith was a streetball icon in the mid-90s and “Soul in the Hole” gave us a look at what Smith and his teammates had to deal with on and off-the-court leading up to the Soul in the Hole tournament. Fantastic work that encapsulates the lives of these players.

18. Murderball (2005)

18. Murderball (2005)
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18. Murderball (2005)

18. Murderball (2005)
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When you think of a film that chronicles wheelchair sports, you likely imagine a film that unenthusiastically pulls at heartstrings. Covering the 2004 USA wheelchair rugby team, “Murderball” did no such pulling of heartstrings. The film covers the sport as a competition fierce and demanding for any person and inspires viewers in the process.

17. Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)

17. Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)
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17. Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)

17. Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)
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Chess and drama don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but Bobby Fischer’s story undoubtedly turned that notion on its head. He was an icon for the Cold War generation, but quickly turned into a man on the run. The documentary does a wonderful job of taking viewers through the mysterious journey of Fischer.

16. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

16. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
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16. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

16. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
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Playing Donkey Kong in the arcade isn’t a sport in a traditional sense, but “The King of Kong” sure makes it feel like it is. Taking viewers into the world of trying to set records for classic video games, “Kong” is a masterful look at just how many games are played while trying to be the master of a single game.

15. 9 Innings to Ground Zero (2004)

15. 9 Innings to Ground Zero (2004)
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15. 9 Innings to Ground Zero (2004)

15. 9 Innings to Ground Zero (2004)
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The September 11, 2001 attacks devastated the entire United States with New York City essentially serving as the epicenter. Just over one month later, though, the Yankees were playing in the World Series with a nation behind them. This film examines the emotion and everything else that went into that series for the Yanks.

14. Senna (2010)

14. Senna (2010)
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14. Senna (2010)

14. Senna (2010)
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Ayrton Senna was a force that many couldn’t contain in Formula One racing from the mid-80s to mid-90s. However, when a crash ended his life at only 34 years of age, the racing world and his native Brazil were shaken up. This film does a fantastic job of honoring Senna while also looking at everything leading up to and after the crash.

13. Undefeated (2011)

13. Undefeated (2011)
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13. Undefeated (2011)

13. Undefeated (2011)
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There’s a reason that “Undefeated” won an Academy Award for Best Documentary. The movie takes an endearing look at the Manassas Tigers football team in Memphis, TN and focuses on the drama that is high school football and the lives of high school football players and coaches.

12. Touching the Void (2001)

12. Touching the Void (2001)
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12. Touching the Void (2001)

12. Touching the Void (2001)
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Sometimes mountain-climbing documentaries are hokey and drag out a bit. “Touching the Void” is not one of those movies as it tells the true account of two climbers and their scaling of Siula Grande where seemingly everything goes wrong. This is one that will leave you white-knuckled, without a doubt.

11. Riding Giants (2004)

11. Riding Giants (2004)
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11. Riding Giants (2004)

11. Riding Giants (2004)
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Surfing documentaries have a tendency to all look the same, but “Riding Giants” gives depth to that in a way that had never been seen before. Directed by Stacy Peralta of Dogtown fame, the film is one of the most revolutionary of the genre despite what you may think from the title.

10. The Endless Summer (1966)

10. The Endless Summer (1966)
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10. The Endless Summer (1966)

10. The Endless Summer (1966)
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Speaking of revolutionary surfing docs and documentaries in general, “The Endless Summer” changed everything. Rather than having the classroom feel many documentaries had before, the film chronicles a surfing trek around the world in a first-person way that gives the viewers the feelings of joining the journey rather than just viewing it.

9. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004)

9. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004)
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9. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004)

9. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004)
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Jack Johnson was at the top of boxing during his prime, but his flamboyant nature outside of the ring and his success as an African American made him a target for injustice and hatred. Famed director Ken Burns gives viewers a tremendous look into Johnson’s polarizing life and tales.

8. Beyond the Mat (1999)

8. Beyond the Mat (1999)
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8. Beyond the Mat (1999)

8. Beyond the Mat (1999)
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Entertainment-based wrestling may be “fake,” but “Beyond the Mat” undeniably proves that the physical and emotional tolls taken on pro wrestlers is all too real. Imagine what “The Wrestler” fictionalized, only amplified by 100 and being hauntingly real.

7. Once In a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)

7. Once In a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)
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7. Once In a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)

7. Once In a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)
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The New York Cosmos were the team that initially gave the USA soccer-fever. This documentary takes a fantastic look at the entrancing team full of some of the biggest stars in the sports and their exploits both on and off of the pitch.

6. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)

6. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
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6. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)

6. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
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Before “Lords of Dogtown” there was Peralta’s “Dogtown and Z-Boys” documentary that told the true story of the revolutionary figures in skateboarding. “Lords” was certainly given the Hollywood treatment, but the real story of the kids from Venice Beach honestly didn’t need it as it’s an equally gripping tale when it holds to form.

5. When We Were Kings (1996)

5. When We Were Kings (1996)
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5. When We Were Kings (1996)

5. When We Were Kings (1996)
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Muhammad Ali is and always will be able to draw viewers’ eyes to a screen. This film chronicling the titanic bout between Ali and George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” brings the entire spectacle into a graspable perspective in a beautiful and enthralling manner.

4. Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)

4. Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)
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4. Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)

4. Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994)
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You’ll need a full day’s worth of time to watch Burns’ documentary miniseries, but it’s entirely worth it. No one has ever or probably will ever again tackle a single sport with the attention to detail and expansiveness that Burns’ did with “Baseball.”

3. Pumping Iron (1977)

3. Pumping Iron (1977)
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3. Pumping Iron (1977)

3. Pumping Iron (1977)
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First off, putting Arnold Schwarzenegger on film (at this time in his life particularly) is gold. “Pumping Iron” takes a look at the Mr. Olympia competition and the bodybuilders looking to take the crown. The storytelling of this doc is near unmatched by any other film in the genre.

2. Hoop Dreams (1994)

2. Hoop Dreams (1994)
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2. Hoop Dreams (1994)

2. Hoop Dreams (1994)
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“Hoop Dreams” would be the near the top of the list for greatest documentaries, not just greatest sports documentaries. The tales of William Gates and Arthur Agee are gripping not only for the sports, but also for the insight into race, schools, and many other topics that fully give a view into the lives of these two young men.

1. ESPN’s 30 for 30 Series

1. ESPN’s 30 for 30 Series
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1. ESPN’s 30 for 30 Series

1. ESPN’s 30 for 30 Series
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Any single documentary from ESPN’s 30 for 30 series may not make the top-five, but much of the list would be comprised of these documentaries. The series has continually put on a fantastic show with great insight. The entire of body work is just too impressive to ignore and not put at the top of the list.