Top 10 Sports Documentaries to Watch While Live Games Are Canceled



Top 10 Sports Documentaries to Watch While Live Games Are Canceled

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Spencer Sher
With sports gone, these engaging pieces of filmmaking will help you fill the void. For this list, we're taking a look at the best sports documentaries to watch while live sports are on hiatus. Our countdown includes “Icarus”, “Iverson”, “When We Were Kings”, and more!
Script Written by Spencer Sher

Top 10 Sports Documentaries to Watch While Live Games Are Canceled

We can help you fill the void. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Sports Documentaries to Watch While Live Games Are Canceled.

For this list, we’re taking a look at the best sports documentaries to watch while live sports are on hiatus. However, we will only be considering feature-length docs, not shorts.

#10: “Iverson” (2014)

During his playing days, you could always be sure that the spectacularly talented — and outspoken — Allen Iverson was worth the price of admission. And this doc about his life does the baller justice. “Iverson” explores the life and legacy of one of the NBA’s most iconic players, tracing his rise from the crime- and drug-ridden projects of his youth, to being selected first overall in the 1996 NBA draft, to leading the Philadelphia 76ers to the 2001 NBA Finals. If you thought Allen Iverson’s crossovers were entertaining, wait until you get a load of this thrilling documentary.

#9: “Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story” (2014)

In the wake of his cheating scandal, there was no shortage of documentarians looking to pull back the veil of Lance Armstrong’s deception. Few were as successful as BAFTA winner Alex Holmes with his documentary “Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story”. The film dives headfirst into the web of lies spun by the cyclist – unravelling the mysteries that surrounded the former Tour de France winners’ infamous fall from grace. Stripped of the pomp and circumstance that typically surround these sorts of docs, “Stop at Nothing” is a raw look into the life of a man who duped and doped his way to the top of the sports world.

#8: “Senna” (2010)

If you’re a fan of sports documentaries that eschew traditional voiceover commentary and modern-day interviews in favor of archival and home video footage, then “Senna” is for you. The film tells the story of legendary Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna, who tragically perished after crashing his car during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Directed by Asif Kapadia, who has won multiple documentary film awards, “Senna” is a riveting look at one of F1’s most decorated and beloved drivers and the races and rivalries that defined his storied career.

#7: “Murderball” (2005)

As you no doubt gleaned from its title, “Murderball” is not your typical sports documentary. The Oscar-nominated film is about Paralympians competing in the sport of wheelchair rugby - specifically the members of both Team USA and Team Canada. “Murderball” delves into the personal lives of its subjects with great enthusiasm, pulling back the curtain on what it’s really like to live with a disability. From the trials and tribulations of competing in a grueling and dangerous sport, to what it’s like looking for sex and love while disabled, “Murderball” is an honest account of an oft-overlooked part of the sports world.

#6: “The Class of '92” (2013)

Rocking a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and praised for its depiction of a group of young footballers on the rise, “The Class of '92” is the Manchester United documentary you didn’t know you needed. The film explores the careers of six legendary Man U players - David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes – covering everything from their 1992 FA Youth Cup victory, to their historic taking of the trophy in 1999. As any true football fan knows, you don’t root for another club. So the fact that one critic said that “The Class of '92” is ‘so entertaining even Liverpool fans will gobble it up,’ is proof that it’s worthy of your attention.

#5: “Pumping Iron” (1977)

Featuring a couple of now-very familiar faces in Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, “Pumping Iron” is about the competitive world of professional bodybuilding. Shot in 1975 but only released two years later, due to a lack of funds, the film follows Schwarzenegger’s quest to win the Mr. Olympia competition for the sixth straight year. “Pumping Iron” is more interested in the people populating the sport than it is with merely bulging biceps and swollen necks. The film was both a critical and commercial success, and majorly introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to the moviegoing public. What better way to spend your sports-less days than by watching Arnie mug and flex for the camera?

#4: “When We Were Kings” (1996)

Widely regarded as one of the best documentaries of all time, “When We Were Kings” tells the story of the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” – the title given to the heavyweight boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, which took place in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Loaded with raw historical footage and probing interviews, the film took director Leon Gast over 20 years to complete, and it shows in the best possible way. Winner of the 1996 Academy Award for Best Documentary, “When We Were Kings” will transport you to the golden age of heavyweight boxing, and get you up close and personal with two of its most storied fighters.

#3: “Free Solo” (2018)

You know that feeling you get when you stand on the edge of a really tall building? Well prepare to have that feeling for the entirety of “Free Solo”. This epic piece of documentary filmmaking follows rock climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Oh, you’re not familiar with free soloing? It’s nothing, really. All it requires is that you climb some of the tallest and most sheer rock faces on earth with no ropes, harnesses or protective gear of any kind. Honnold is a quiet, humble man, but a badass, nonetheless; and you’ll have no problem investing a couple of hours once you see the kinds of climbs he regularly attempts. “Free Solo’s” Oscar was well deserved!

#2: “Icarus” (2017)

Simply put, Bryan Fogel’s Academy Award-winning documentary “Icarus” will shock you to your core. There, we said it. Fogel’s original plan was to dive deep into the seedy underworld of illegal sports doping, but he instead specifically uncovered one of the most infamous scandals the sports world has ever seen. The scheme was the Russian government’s state-sponsored doping, something they’d been covering up for years. John Doyle of The Globe and Mail called the film, “essential viewing for anyone interested in athletics or competitive sports of any type,” and we’re hard pressed to disagree. If “Icarus” proves anything it’s that a film’s vision and what it ultimately becomes are sometimes two very different things.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are some honorable mentions:

“Next Goal Wins” (2014)

“Minding the Gap” (2018)

“Beyond the Mat” (1999)

“Katie” (2018)

“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” (2014)

#1: “Hoop Dreams” (1994)

This deeply moving doc is the story of two American high school basketball players in Chicago who aspire to one day play in the NBA. However, the film is truly about so much more than just basketball. In truth, it’s a complex examination of race, class, and the economic divide that existed and continues to exist in the United States. Filmed over a period of five years, the film was a both critical and commercial success, topping Roger Ebert’s list of the best films of 1994. You owe it to yourself as a sports fan not to miss this one.