We’ve had to live without sport this summer — and it’s only now that the whistles are being blown once more and the chequered flags are falling that we’re realised how much we missed it.
So if you want to take that magic and run with it, why not flick over after the next match and watch some of the best sporting documentaries ever made? From critically acclaimed masterpieces such as Senna, to newfound gems on newly minted streaming services, such as Disney+’s Free Solo, these are the best — and where to watch them…
Team Foxcatcher, Netflix
We’ve all seen the 2014 Oscar-nominated drama, Foxcatcher, starring Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum, but this is the true story behind that retold Hollywood tale. Millionaire and wrestling enthusiast John du Pont remains the only member of the Forbes 400 richest Americans to be convicted of murder — and this is the story behind the shooting that put him behind bars.
The Last Dance, Netflix
Co-produced by ESPN, there’s a reason everyone was talking about The Last Dance earlier in lockdown. Along with tiger keepers, it was possibly the biggest conversation starter of the summer — and followed the career of Michael Jordan. There’s a particular focus on his final season, with the Chicago Bulls, and countless high profile interviews with Jordan himself, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and more.
Andy Murray Resurfacing, Amazon Prime
We’ll admit, this one passed us by when it was released last year. But the documentary film — which plays on the many meanings of the word ‘resurfacing’ — follows the tennis champion after his devastating 2017 injury, through hospitals, his home and finally back to the courts. We even get front row seats at his hip resurfacing — ouch.
One of Netflix’s first big documentaries — and an Academy Award winner at that — this film pulls back the curtain on international doping scandals. As one of many disciplines’ most pervasive problems, Icarus pulls no punches in its truly gripping investigation. Don’t think you’re interested in either sport or documentaries? Think again.
All or Nothing, Amazon Prime
Now this is an interesting one. More a brand or anthology than a straight series, All or Nothing takes a team, one season at a time, and follows their blood, sweat and tears to success. From the Brazilian National Football Team or New Zealand All Blacks to the Dallas Cowboys, there’s something for everyone here — fans, casual onlookers, or simply lovers of pure can’t-look-away tension.
Hoop Dreams, Hulu
From 1994, Hoop Dreams is the GOAT when it comes to sports docs. The story of two high school students in Chicago struggling to become professional basketball players, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival — and went on to be nominated for an Academy Award. It’s a difficult watch in places, but talks frankly and importantly about race, social class and economic division.
The Endless Summer, Amazon Prime
What’s better, the shaky sixties-filmed surfing footage, or the exciting twang of the guitar-led soundtrack? Watch for yourself and make your decision. The Endless Summer follows Bruce Brown, himself a competition-level surfer, on the trail of surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August on an around-the-world surfing adventure. If this doesn’t have you yearning for the end of lockdown, we don’t know what will.
Free Solo, Disney+
Get yourself a cushion to hide behind — because your nerves will be shredded by the time you’ve finished this cliff-hanging profile of rock climber Alex Honnold. Charting Honnold’s 2017 quest to climb El Capitan in American’s Yosemite National Park, it’ll leave you with a newfound respect for safety ropes.
Over the Edge, All 4
If you thought Free Solo was terrifying, give this hidden, adrenaline-fuelled gem on All 4 a watch. Following base jumpers as they tackle some of the more terrifying leaps in the world, the best episode sees self-confessed dopamine addict Ellen tackle Chamonix’s infamous Le Brevent with nothing but a wingsuit and barrels of confidence.
Don’t scoff at this. We know it’s about cheerleading — but this could be the most intense documentary on this entire list. We dare you to start watching — because you won’t be able to stop following the 40-strong Navarro College Bulldogs Cheer Team as they prepare for the National Cheerleading Championship held annually in Daytona Beach. The fact that most of them are essentially children simply adds to the incredulity of it all.
Senna, Amazon Prime
Now this is a documentary film you should have seen when it debuted a decade ago, Senna is a high-octane, pedal-to-the-metal account of one of motorsports most enduring icons. We headed out to Brazil last year to interview Senna’s family and explore his legacy — and it’s a film that never gets less heart-rending.
Fancy some more real-life drama? Here are the best documentaries to stream tonight…
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