The world of fact is much weirder than the world of fiction when it comes to sport.
Socio-political conflicts, tragic deaths, lives ruined by a single moment in ways you wouldn’t expect – these documentaries explore all of those, and much more. From boxing to mountain climbing, we’ve gathered a list of the best of the best in sports documentary, making for a binge session that’ll inspire you to hit the gym or go for a run.
When We Were Kings
Learn more about the greatest boxer of all time with When We Were Kings, which focuses on Muhammad Ali’s boxing match with George Foreman in a fascinating cinematic portrayal that garnered an Academy Award. In doing so, the documentary offers a frank and intriguing look into the Black Power era, African-American culture, and politics.
A documentary about doping in an amateur cycling competition that delved into something else entirely – namely, a glimpse into the international doping environment that exposes dark truths about the Russian government. Topical, fascinating, and a testament to how curiosity can lead to strange places, Icarus is one phenomenal watching experience.
One of the most well-renowned sports documentaries of all time, Hoop Dreams doesn’t concentrate on professionals in the sport – rather, it focuses on the hopes and dreams of two Chicago teens looking to establish a foothold in the college basketball world, to later go professional. With accolades from numerous documentary filmmakers, and a snub at the 1995 Academy Awards that led to a restructuring of the Best Documentary category, there’s all the reason to watch this one.
One well-known and non-disputable fact about Russia is that it is often cold – making it a great place to rear phenomenal ice hockey players. However, in the time of the Soviet Union, that tendency turned into something of a controversy with the success of five ice hockey players in the 1980s, who ended up being drafted into the National Hockey League in the U.S. and defecting from the Soviet Union. Full of history, sure, but dry? Never.
Sachin: A Billion Dreams
Many famous sports stars are revered to an almost godly degree, and Sachin Tendulkar is no different. As one of India’s cricket legends, it was only a matter of time until someone made a documentary about him – and this one, accompanied by a soundtrack crafted by the Oscar-winning A. R. Rahman, is an appreciative depiction of Tendulkar’s life that goes over all the things that made him who he is today. And for an extra dose of sweetness, in appropriately-placed childhood scenes, the young Sachin is played by his son.
One of the most significant aspects of sports culture – and the less-explored one – is that of fan culture, and how it impacts and shapes the journeys of their idols. In this case, fan Steve Bartman’s attempted catch of a baseball headed to the stands was the split-second moment that started a world of issues for him, as his beloved Cubs blamed him for their eventual defeat. Catching Hell goes into more detail about the incident and the aftermath in an absolutely fascinating exploration of the relationship between fans and their heroes.
Ayrton Senna – Brazilian, roguish, and one of the best Formula One drivers of all time until his tragic and fatal crash at the mere age of 34. Senna, in homage to that, explores what happened throughout his racing career in a way that will enrapture both racing fans and non-car enthusiasts alike, balancing the intimacy of family video with the heart-stopping daring of footage of Formula One races Senna participated in.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a household name, but not many know the gritty details of how he earned the reverence he inspires today. Pumping Iron is the place to find them – a thoughtful exploration of the rivalry Schwarzenegger shared with Lou Ferrigno as they competed for the title of the 1975 Mr Olympia, in a renowned bodybuilding competition. None of the gritty details are spared, with a stark portrayal of the psychological tricks Schwarzenegger played on Ferrigno.
The story of Donald Crowhurst is one that needs to be seen to be believed – an unpracticed sailor trying to voyage solo around the world to get the money to avoid bankruptcy, who fabricates locations before disappearing completely. The documentary goes more into depth about how he managed such a drastic feat, and plots the aftermath of his tragic disappearance.
Touching the Void
A testament to the strength of the human condition, docudrama Touching the Void tackles an almost unbearably tough question in a tricky scenario: if a mountaineer is trying to save his injured fellow climber by lowering him on a rope off a cliff, and he loses visibility, thus rendering the situation almost impossible to navigate, what should he do? Risk both of their deaths, or cut the rope? A moral question that most people would never even need to contemplate, Touching the Void is a near breathless experience for movie lovers.
Feature Image: Hoop Dreams