Sports documentaries don’t have any drama; they don’t even show us real sports matches most of the time, and most of all, those documentaries won’t even glorify sports the way full-feature films do, so why do we watch them? We watch these documentaries because they show us what’s real. They show us what goes on in the minds of real sports personalities just by showing us the reality of their lives. Sports documentaries don’t inspire us by showing intense training sessions with cheesy heavy bass hip hop music, but they inspire us by showing the everyday disciplined lives of these athletes. Some documentaries even show us the darker side of sports. They expose things that we wouldn’t know otherwise because all of that happens behind the screens.
If the real stuff inspires you more than the overly dramatized versions of sports movies, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve made a list of the best sports documentaries out there on Netflix that will be good enough to fire you up for your own good. Some will also give you a dash of the reality we don’t usually see on other sports channels.
23. The Deepest Breath (2023)
Based on one of the deadliest sports in the world, free diving, ‘The Deepest Breath’ is a documentary that follows professional swimmer/diver Alessia Zecchini and expert safety diver Steve as they come together and try to break the world record in free diving. The risks, the threats, the thrill, and the happiness of chasing a dream that takes one to the deepest point under the ocean, which any human has free-dived to, are portrayed in a brilliant manner. Directed by Laura McGann, ‘The Deepest Breath’ can be streamed here.
22. Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive (2022)
‘Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive’ is a short sports documentary film directed by Ian Derry. In this short docufilm, we follow Johanna Nordblad, a Finnish designer turned ice diver and freediver, as she embarks on a perilous journey to shatter the world record for distance traveled under ice in a single breath. As the icy waters envelop her, every second becomes a testament to human endurance and determination. The chilling visuals combined with Nordblad’s fearless spirit and portrayal of the unforgiving force of nature make it a riveting watch. You can stream it here.
21. Beckham (2023)
‘Beckham’ is a Netflix Original documentary Series directed by Fisher Stevens. Delving deep into the life of football legend David Beckham, this documentary series takes viewers on a journey from his modest East London origins to becoming a global icon. Showcasing never-before-seen footage, the series offers an intimate glimpse into Beckham’s life – his struggles, achievements, and personal relationships. With appearances from football greats like Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, and more, the series dives into his footballing career. The series also sheds light on his tumultuous relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, which culminated in his move to Real Madrid. A candid exploration of the man behind the legend, ‘Beckham,’ is essential viewing for understanding the sacrifices and dedication that made him a football legend. You may do so here.
20. A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story (2020)
‘A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story’ is a documentary film directed by Francisco Macri. The documentary delves into the 1950s world of F1 racing, celebrating Juan Manuel Fangio, who astonishingly won five championships driving for four distinct car manufacturers. Juan Manuel Fangio, a legend in the world of Formula 1, is recognized for his unmatched driving skills and strategic mind. With interviews and contributions from prominent figures like Fernando Alonso, Jackie Stewart, Mika Häkkinen, Alain Prost, and Toto Wolff, the film paints an engaging and thrilling portrait of an era dominated by Fangio’s genius. It’s a riveting deep dive into the golden era of racing, brought to life by the stories and accolades of a true legend. Feel free to check out the film here.
19. Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story (2018)
‘Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story’ is a sports documentary film directed by Frank W Chen. This poignant documentary journeys through the ups and downs of Chien-Ming Wang, the only Taiwanese player to ever be signed by the New York Yankees. After sustaining multiple career-altering injuries, the film details Wang’s tireless determination to re-enter the Major Leagues. In a deeper exploration, viewers are privy to his multifaceted roles: an international player, a father, a son, and a reluctant yet revered national icon.
As per the NYPost, when asked about the message he aims to convey with the documentary, Wang stated, “To not give up so easily when you face trials and tribulations. It is just a process everyone goes through, but how you face and overcome the challenges along the way counts.” This documentary offers a riveting insight into the world of professional sports and stands as an emblem of unyielding perseverance, making it an essential viewing for both sports aficionados and those seeking an inspirational narrative. You can check out the film here.
18. Team Foxcatcher (2016)
This one came about one year after Channing Tatum’s film ‘Foxcatcher,’ capturing all the events that later led to David Schultz’s murder. The incident is recounted from the eyes of his widowed wife. The movie offers a very deep insight into Du Pont’s paranoia and how all the events led him to feel the way he did through player interviews and also home videos that show us the direction from which all of these events came. The documentary has been pulled off perfectly by showing nothing but the straightforward truth that can be recalled by anyone who was there at that point in time. The full-feature film was also very well done, but this one is surely a level above, and if you want to know about Team Foxcatcher, then this is the film you should go for first. You can watch the documentary here.
17. Zion (2018)
‘Zion’ is a short documentary film directed by Floyd Russ. This short film chronicles the inspiring journey of Zion Clark, a young athlete born without legs. Having spent his childhood shuffling between foster homes, he faced neglect and disdain. However, his indomitable spirit led him to discover a passion for competitive wrestling. In its brief 11-minute duration, the documentary packs an emotional punch, showcasing Zion’s resilience and determination. A testament to the human spirit’s power to overcome adversity, ‘Zion’ deserves a watch for its raw portrayal of triumph over trauma. You may watch it here.
16. The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2013)
Back in 1973, Kurt Russell’s father, Bing Russell, had started an independent minor league baseball team that included players of the major league that no one else wanted. He was highly criticized for doing this, and most baseball fanatics believed that this team would be a definite failure. But the team proved everyone else wrong and went way above everyone’s expectations. Later, even Kurt Russell became a part of the team as a player and also the Vice President of the team, which again proved to be a great asset for the team overall. This film is not just for baseball fans but for everyone; just start watching, and you’ll flow along with the plot of the movie. You can stream it here.
15. FIFA Uncovered (2022)
‘FIFA Uncovered’ is a sports documentary series directed by Daniel Gordon and written by Miles Coleman. Digging deep into the intricate web of FIFA’s politics and alleged corruption, the series reveals a side of football that’s often overshadowed by the glitz of the game. From the reign of Havelange to the contentious tenure of Sepp Blatter, the documentary sheds light on the shady deals, political maneuvers, and the sheer magnetism of money within the institution. Featuring interviews with key players and backed by incisive research, it’s a no-holds-barred exposé. The series isn’t just about football—it’s a commentary on power, politics, and the price of ambition. You can stream the series here.
14. Icarus (2017)
‘Icarus’ is an outstanding documentary and truly stands out from most others on this list because it does not send out a positive message. It starts with the story of filmmaker Bryan Fogel, who only wanted to make this documentary to reveal the truth about doping in professional sports. But on his journey to expose the truth about doping, he runs into a Russian scientist, which turns the entire phase of this story in a completely different direction and lands Bryan Fogel in the middle of one of the darkest sports conspiracies ever known. This documentary shows us a reality that is rarely shown anywhere else. It sends out a message that a lot goes on behind closed doors and behind the screens, things we are not at all aware of, and things that go beyond our imaginations. You can watch the documentary here.
13. Sisters on Track (2021)
‘Sisters on Track’ is a sports documentary film directed by Tone Grøttjord-Glenne and Corinne van der Borch. The film chronicles the poignant journey of the Sheppard sisters, Tai, Rainn, and Brooke, who catapulted into the limelight after being chosen as the Sports Illustrated Kids of the Year. Living in a homeless shelter with their single mother, these young athletes are determined to overcome personal and societal challenges, aided by their compassionate coach, Jean Bell. The documentary beautifully captures the essence of family, empowerment, and aspiration. This inspirational narrative is not just about sports but is a heartfelt tale of triumph, tenacity, togetherness, and the spirit of three young girls facing life head-on. You may watch the film here.
12. Pelé (2021)
‘Pelé’ is a biographical documentary film directed by Ben Nichols and David Tryhorn. Detailing the life and unparalleled success of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, famously known as Pelé, this documentary transports audiences from his humble beginnings to the zenith of his football career, culminating with the New York Cosmos soccer team. Against Brazil’s tumultuous backdrop, Pelé emerges as a beacon of hope, bridging football and socio-political landscapes. Through archival footage, interviews, and narratives from family members, journalists, and politicians, viewers gain comprehensive insights into Pelé’s personal and professional journey. This film is a vivid tapestry of Brazil’s most celebrated footballer and resonates with enthusiasts of the sport, history buffs, and admirers of the human spirit. If you want to experience the life of the legend, you can do so here.
11. Break Point (2023)
‘Break Point’ (2023) is a documentary series by showrunner Kari Lia. In collaboration with Netflix, ATP, and WTA, ‘Break Point’ offers an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at tennis. The series captures underdog stars’ journeys as they compete in Grand Slams and ATP/WTA tours. Offering candid insights from tennis legends like Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, and John McEnroe, viewers are treated to the hidden aspects of the sport – tackling deeper issues like racism, mental health, and sexism. The series features a stellar cast from both ATP and WTA tours, including Félix Auger-Aliassime, Paula Badosa, Nick Kyrgios, and Ons Jabeur, among others. A deep dive into the world of professional tennis, ‘Break Point’ stands out for showcasing the raw emotions, physical demands, and psychological challenges faced by players. You can check out the series here.
10. The Redeem Team (2022)
‘The Redeem Team’ is a sports documentary film directed by Jon Weinbach. After their disheartening bronze finish in 2004, the US men’s basketball team desperately desired redemption in Beijing 2008. Leveraging over 70 years of Olympic history, this film grants unparalleled access to the team’s journey in the 2008 Olympic Games. It captures the tension, determination, and ambition that drove them by featuring candid interviews with icons like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the late Kobe Bryant. This film’s compelling narrative highlights a pivotal moment in US basketball history, underlined by raw emotion and unprecedented archival footage. You can watch ‘The Redeem Team’ here.
9. Untold (2021-)
‘Untold’ is an anthology docuseries created by Netflix. It narrates lesser-known sports stories, each film delving into a unique tale. From basketball and tennis to football and yachting, the series has illuminated events like the Pistons-Pacers brawl and the baffling story of Manti Te’o’s nonexistent girlfriend. Featuring episodes like ‘Malice at the Palace,’ ‘Deal with the Devil,’ and ‘Jake Paul and the Problem Child,’ it’s a comprehensive collection of sports phenomena. This docuseries provides a fresh perspective on familiar sports narratives, showing the more profound and often overlooked stories behind the headlines. You may watch it here.
8. Rising Phoenix (2020)
‘Rising Phoenix’ is a sports documentary film helmed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui. The film paints a powerful portrait of nine Paralympic athletes, showcasing their incredible journeys from personal adversities to the competitive arena. Far from being just another sports documentary, it challenges our perceptions of disability, proving that physical limitations don’t define potential. With appearances from influential figures like Prince Harry and testimonies from the athletes themselves, it’s both an inspirational and educational voyage that provides a humbling and inspiring look into the lives of athletes who redefine what it means to be a champion. The documentary has brilliantly captured the essence of the Paralympics, emphasizing determination over disability. You may watch ‘Rising Phoenix’ here.
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7. Athlete A (2020)
‘Athlete A’ is a sports documentary film directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. A profound investigation into the dark side of elite gymnastics, the film chronicles the commendable efforts of The Indianapolis Star journalists who exposed the shocking sexual abuse allegations against doctor Larry Nassar, implicating USA Gymnastics (USAG) and its then-CEO Steve Penny. At the heart of this scandal was gymnast Maggie Nichols, initially identified as ‘Athlete A’ to shield her identity. With gripping interviews and extensive research, the film meticulously unravels the institutional negligence and cover-ups while showcasing the courage of survivors coming forward. The haunting tale provides a deep dive into the importance of journalism, integrity, and the pursuit of justice. More than just a sports documentary, it’s a searing exploration of institutional failure and the indomitable spirit of survivors. You can stream the film here.
6. Full Swing (2023)
‘Full Swing’ is a docudrama series that offers an unprecedented view into the rigorous PGA tour, including all major golf championships. It follows pro golfers as they navigate professional challenges and personal dynamics. While it reveals the highs and lows on the green, it also delves into the lives of these golfers, spotlighting their families and the unforeseen drama off the course. This series is an intimate, behind-the-scenes exploration of the world of professional golf that showcases the genuine stakes involved. You can stream it here.
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5. Tour de France: Unchained (2023)
‘Tour de France: Unchained’ is a sports documentary series directed by Jamie Batten. Following the 2022 edition of the revered Tour de France, this series captures the emotional and physical tribulations of eight teams over a three-week expedition. While the absence of the defending champion, Tadej Pogačar, is notable, the series, akin to Netflix’s hit ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive,’ paints an intricate portrait of the world’s toughest bike race. This series dives deep into the psychology and strategy of professional cycling and witnesses the raw emotions behind every pedal stroke. You can watch the series here.
4. Quarterback (2023)
‘Quarterback’ is a docuseries by showrunner Joe Zucco. This documentary offers an unparalleled look into the intense world of the NFL’s star quarterbacks – Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, and Marcus Mariota during the 2022 season. This documentary provides the viewers with beyond-the-field access to the players’ intimate moments shared with their families, friends, and trainers. The series reveals the pressures of being under the stadium spotlight, the physical threats posed by opponents, and the personal sacrifices demanded from their loved ones. Insight from Peyton Manning sheds light on why some quarterbacks embraced this documentation of their careers. A unique, inside perspective on the sacrifices and challenges faced by the NFL’s leading men, ‘Quarterback’ is a must-watch for fans who wish to see beyond the helmet. Feel free to check out the series here.
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3. Formula 1: Drive to Survive (2019-)
‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ is a sports documentary series by showrunners Luke Campbell and Sophie Todd. Launching in 2019, this series has fueled Formula 1’s soaring popularity in the US. Delving into the adrenaline-fueled world of F1 racing provides an in-depth view of the entire grid, including stalwarts like Ferrari and Mercedes. Charting intense rivalries between racers, including legends like Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, the series offers a rare look into the challenges faced by teams and drivers. This docuseries is a thrilling blend of speed, strategy, and human drama that makes F1 more than just a race. You can stream it here.
2. Captains of the World (2023)
This 6-episode mini-series offers an exclusive exploration, from the locker rooms to the field, of all the 32 teams that took part in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Following the most famous football players across the world and their teams, the series is a must-watch for football fans who are bent on knowing more about their idols and the game. You can watch ‘Captains of the World’ here.
1. The Last Dance (2020)
This 10-episode limited series, co-produced by Netflix and ESPN, tracks the rise of world-famous basketball player Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls, and their quest for the 6th NBA title in 1998. It would be their 6th win in 8 years. It also throws light on the tension that was in the air that resulted from the possibility that it would be Jordan’s last season. Directed by Jason Hehir, the series uses never-before-seen footage to give the viewers an authentic taste of the atmosphere of that time. You can watch the series right here.
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