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A definitive ranking of the 30 best sports documentaries ever made


best sports documentaries

How many have you seen? Follow along as we list the 30 best sports documentaries ever made. Our series has seen us rank the best basketball documentaries, best football documentaries and best Australian sports documentaries.

So much of sports exists in moments and memories. Relished or loathed in the moment, these feats are then committed to memory, re-visited after the fact to be revisited after the fact. For this reason, sports documentaries are amazing. They remind us of what made certain moments, achievements and athletes so special, without shying away from the negative or painful aspects of their story.

On top of this, so much of what makes sports, and its athletes, so great happens beneath the surface, away from the bright lights and hidden from the public eye. Only time provides the security for such stories and events, both beautiful, tragic and even deceitful, to be told by those who experienced them.

Not every documentary on our list has a happy ending. In sports, as in life, such a reality is impossible. Yet, regardless of this fact, all serve to educate an audience and make them feel, whether it be hope or sadness. After all, that’s what makes sports great, the feeling, the high highs and the low lows.

Follow along as we rank our 30 best sports documentaries ever. Do you agree with our selections?

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The 30 best sports documentaries, ranked

Honourable mentions:

Untold: The Race of the Century, More Than a Game, Freeman, Shaq, Shadow Boxers, Fearless: The Inside Story of the AFLW, Last Chance U, Girls Can’t Surf, Rising Phoenix, Lionel Messi: The Greatest, Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers, The Redeem Team, 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible, Fearless, The Art of Flight, Dogtown and Z-Boys, 100 Foot Wave, Conor McGregor: Notorious and The Endless Summer could all consider themselves unlucky to miss our list.

30. Gazza, 2022

To many, Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne is the most talented English footballer of all time. A wizard with the ball at his feet, and a larrikin off the field, many not only celebrated with Gazza’s on-field antics but identified with his character off the pitch.

Of course, immense talent brought with it a turbulent private life, which included struggles with alcoholism, and a manic media obsession with the midfielder that threatened to send him further off the rails. This series chronicles the life and times of one of England’s great sporting icons.

29. The Dawn Wall, 2017

Free climbers are some of the craziest individuals in the world. Their goal, to scale impossible heights without much support or consideration of their life, is inconceivable to the overwhelming majority of the global population.

Yet, they pursue their death-defying feats with unrivalled passion and vigour. The Dawn Wall follows two climbers as they attempt to scale the 914-metre-high Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

28. OJ.: Made in America, 2016

By now, everyone knows the story of OJ Simpson. We need not introduce it further. OJ.: Made in America provides an in-depth look at the Trial of the Century.

27. The Fab Five, 2011

Few things capture the American sporting imagination quite like a highly promising and dominant college basketball side. In 1991, it was Michigan’s Fab Five, which included future NBA stars Chris Webber and Jalen Rose, who captured America’s attention. This documentary illuminates the high highs and low lows the revolutionary team endured then, and now.

26. Messi, 2022

Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer of all time. There can be no doubt about that, especially considering his 2022 World Cup win.

Messi, the documentary, shows the Argentine ‘as you’ve never seen him before.

25. Touching the Void, 2003

In 1985, two climbers attempted a perilous journey to the peak of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. They succeeded on the way up. On the way down, their journey took a near-tragic turn. Touching the Void regales their story of survival.

24. Schumacher, 2021

Michael Schumacher is one of the greatest races of all time. A man who became one with his car and reached speeds few dared to match, Schumacher’s brilliance earned him seven world titles. This film provides viewers with an in-depth understanding of what it took to be Michael Schumacher.

23. Shane, 2022

There is no single Australian athlete as exceptional as Shane Warne. On the pitch, there’s never been a bowler like him, and likely never will be. Off it, there will never be anyone like him. A true larrikin. Shane explores everything about Warnie; the excellence, the flaws, the spin and the wickets.

From getting flogged around the park on Test debut to bowling the Ball of the Century and taking his 700th wicket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of his home crowd, few cricketing careers were littered with glory like Warnie’s.

Vale, King.

22. The Crash Reel, 2013

Kevin Pearce and Shaun White were childhood friends who became the two best snowboarders in the world. The Crash Reel explores the pair’s rise while chronicling the dangers of extreme sports and Kevin’s recovery from a crash that almost ended him.

21. Dark Side of the Ring, 2019

Professional wrestling seems like all fun and games. Dark Side of the Ring reveals that’s far from the truth. In reality, the sport has a dark underbelly which includes mysterious deaths and unsolved homicides.

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20. Pele, 2021

For many, Brazilian forward Pele is the greatest footballer of all time. A trailblazer, named the Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee in 1999, and a three-time World Cup winner with his native Brazil, there weren’t many career achievements Pele did not win.

In 2021, a documentary exploring his remarkable rise from poverty to global stardom was released, peeling behind the curtain of Pele to reveal the life of Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

19. Team Foxcatcher, 2016

Team Foxcatcher, the 2016 film, tells the story of how billionaire John Du Pont helped build the US Olympic wrestling Team through facilities on his mammoth American property. Ultimately, this story takes a tragic turn.

18. Untold: Malice at the Palace, 2021

The Untold series has produced some of the finest modern sports documentaries. Untold: Malice at the Palace is a fantastic example of this fact. Many basketball fans know how the Malice at the Palace transpired. But, until the film’s release, few understood the full story.

17. All or Nothing: Manchester City, 2018

All or Nothing: Manchester City is a truly pioneering documentary. For the first time, cameras were allowed into the day-to-day lives of one of football’s biggest clubs, offering fans a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into what makes the great players, coaches and clubs thrive.

16. Once Brothers, 2010

In our humble opinion, Once Brothers should be much higher. As far as sporting documentaries, few explore the complexities of geo-political issues and how they impact very deep, personable friendships, just as they did with Serbian NBA star Vlade Divac and his Croatian compatriot Drazen Petrovic, as expertly as this film.

Friends via their participation with the Yugoslav national team, Divac and Petrovic’s relationship crumbled during the Yugoslav Wars. Petrovic passed away in 1993, meaning the pair could never reconcile their differences. The film follows Divac’s regret at how it all played out.

15. The Test, 2020-2024

There is no Australian side that captures the collective national pride quite like the Australian cricket team. It truly is Australia’s national team, beloved by everyone in every corner of the nation. The Test takes fans behind the scenes of the side as it progresses through different phases.

From the dark days of the ball-tampering scandal, the Justin Langer-led rebound, right through to the 2023 Ashes. The series has it all, providing fans with unprecedented access into the minds and lives of the world’s top cricketers, revealing everything; from how they deal with stress, to what life is like on tour, right through to some questionable eating habits.

It’s a must-watch.

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14. The Battered Bastards of Baseball, 2014

In 1973, Hollywood actor Bing Russell starts an independent minor league baseball team in Portland consisting of outcasts and misfits, and turns them into unlikely overnight success. The Battered Bastards of Baseball tells their story.

13. Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals, 2010

To many, it was the rivalry of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and their Boston Celtic and LA Lakers sides, that saved the NBA from extinction in the 1980s. Without them, there would be no Michael Jordan, no Lebron James, and no Nikola Jokic.

Magic and Bird: A Courtship of Rivals explores the pair’s fierce rivalry which began in college and extended throughout an entire decade of the NBA culminating in clashes in the 1984 and 1985 NBA Finals.

12. Sunderland Til I Die, 2018-2023

One thing about most soccer documentaries is they’re almost always triumphant tales. There is always a happy ending, success or something that makes the viewer feel good. Someone hoisting a trophy or scoring a winning goal of some kind.

That’s not the case in Sunderland ‘Til I Die, which follows Sunderland as they drop out of the Premier and struggle to return. Truly, it’s in a class of its own as one of the best sports documentaries ever.

11. Athlete A, 2020

In a poignant film, Athlete A explores the abuse US gymnasts suffered at the hands of team doctor Larry Nassar and the failure of multiple parties that led to such horrendous crimes happening.

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10. When We Were Kings, 1996

To many, the extremely charismatic Muhammad Ali is the greatest boxer of all time. And to many, the Rumble in the Jungle is the most iconic bout of all time. When We Were Kings tells the full story of Ali’s victory, including archival footage featuring the likes of James Brown and iconic boxing promoter Don King.

9. Hoop Dreams, 1994

Hoop Dreams follows two inner-city Chicago kids in their struggles to achieve their dreams and become NBA superstars.

Based on a true story, the production reflects inner-city culture in America, at a time that undoubtedly etched itself in how basketball and culture cross over in modern times.

best sports documentaries

8. Drive to Survive, 2019-

An iconic show that takes audiences behind the scenes of the Formula One grid, revealing the personalities that make the sport so great. Not only is this series dramatic and entertaining, but it also opened the sport up to a larger global audience and has been cited as a key reason behind F1’s recent growth in the American market.

7. Icarus, 2017

In the 2017 documentary, Icarus, filmmaker Bryan Fogel sets out to explore doping to help win an amateur cycling race. Yet, the story he uncovers is much larger than he, or anyone, would’ve perceived from the outset.

Fogel’s journey eventually illuminates a Russian state-sponsored doping program that has allowed the nation and its athletes the cheat the Games for decades. Wild.

6. Welcome to Wrexham, 2022

What do you get when two Hollywood stars shockingly decide to purchase a non-league Welsh side? Welcome to Wrexham.

The documentary follows Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s ownership journey.

5. Beckham, 2023

David Beckham will be remembered as one of the greatest English footballers of all time. A man with a wand of a right foot, capable of whipping crosses where they need to be and darting free kicks into top corners, far from the goalkeeper’s reach.

David Beckham was also the first footballer to cross into the world of pop culture celebrity. How did he handle the pressure? Beckham shows you how.

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4. Diego Maradona, 2019

Diego Maradona could pass as a Hollywood film, that’s how amazingly dramatic. This documentary explores the turbulent life of Argentine footballing superstar Diego Armando Maradona, particularly his struggles during his time in Naples, a stronghold for the Italian Mafia.

Despite mixing with the wrong crowd off the pitch, and on it Maradona delivers unprecedented success to the city’s club, Napoli. Hundreds of hours of archival footage from the 1980s is whittled down into an emotional and awe-inspiring portrait of the life and struggles of Maradona.

3. Free Solo, 2018

Free Solo is the kind of documentary you watch with your heart in your mouth. Even people extremely comfortable with heights would feel extremely uncomfortable watching free soloist Alex Honnold as he attempts the greatest challenge of his career; becoming the first person to free solo El Capitan.

2. The Last Dance, 2020

Everyone knows Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Throughout the 1990s, they were the dominant basketball team, sweeping all before them with relative ease. While their rise wasn’t meteoric by any means, their downfall was.

The Last Dance unpacks the rapid, fracturing dismantling of the late-1990s Chicago Bulls, and features unseen footage and interviews with some of the team’s key members many years after the fact. It’s intense. It’s emotional. It’s insightful. It’s everything you need in a documentary, which explains why it took the world by storm upon release.

1. Senna, 2010

Ayrton Senna may not be the greatest Formula One driver of all time but he’s certainly its most charismatic character. A Brazilian who captured the heart of his home nation in a manner usually reserved for the national football team, Senna’s life and career were for the ages.

Forever etched in sporting history, Senna’s life was tragically cut short during a race. This film explores what Senna meant to the Brazilian people, and sporting world, and how his tragic death impacted Formula One for the better.

Picture of Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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