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The Top-Grossing Sports Documentaries of All Time

The Top-Grossing Sports Documentaries of All Time

indieWIRE has a new weekend feature: A retrospective box office chart, based on one of the top indie titles opening this weekend. Today, iW is taking a look at the track record of sports documentaries, in honor of “Senna,” Asif Kapadia’s documentary about racecar driver Ayrton Senna.

Listed below are the top 10 grossing sports-related documentaries of all time, without adjusting for inflation. Clearly, there may be some contention as to what defines a “sports-related documentary.” Included are 2005’s “Mad Hot Ballroom,” which deals with the dancesport of ballroom dancing, 2009’s “Man on Wire,” which depicts tightrope walker Philippe Petit, and “mind sport” docs like “Spellbound” and “Wordplay,” which take on spelling bees and crossword puzzles, respectively. One could definitely make the argument for others not included, from “Paris is Burning” (vogueing) to “Buck” (horse whisperering).

Either way, Marilyn Agrelo’s “Ballroom” is the overall top grosser, taking in an impressive $8,117,961. Close behind is Steve James’ intensely acclaimed 1994 doc “Hoop Dreams,” which grossed $7,830,611 (though if one does adjust for inflation, that’s $14,349,600 by today’s standards and the overall highest grossing sports doc).

Here’s the overall top ten; figures are for North America only and not adjusted for inflation. If an oversight has occurred, kindly let iW know.

1. Mad Hot Ballroom (ballroom dancing, 2005) – $8,117,961
2. Hoop Dreams (basketball, 1994) – $7,830,611
3. Spellbound (spelling bee, 2003) – $5,728,581
4. Touching The Void (mountain climbling, 2004) – $4,593,598
5. Step Into Liquid (surfing, 2003) – $3,681,803
6. Wordplay (crossword puzzles, 2006) – $3,121,270
7. Man On Wire (tightrope walking, 2008) – $2,962,242
8. Freeriders (skiing, 1998) – $2,750,064
9. Snowriders II (snowboarding, 1997) – $2,287,639
10. Riding Giants (surfing, 2004) – $2,276,368

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bob hawk

Since this is going to be a weekly feature, I am moved to ask: why NOT adjust for inflation? Dollar amounts quickly become meaningless. Isn’t the point the number of paid admissions? To quote myself. the following is extracted (with some minor tweaks) from a post I made on June 27th:

“With all such lists — whether Woody Allen’s top grossers or (as in yesterday’s Lost Boy blog) the 25 top grossing documentaries of all time—everything is relative. Just take a look at the following two lists from Box Office Mojo:

1. Avatar/2009 ($760,507,625)
2. Titanic/1997 ($600,788,188)
3. The Dark Knight/2008 ($533,345,358)
4. Star Wars/1977 ($460,998,007)
5. Shrek 2/2004 ($441,226,247)
6. E.T./1982 ($435,110,554)
7. Star Wars: Phantom Menace/1999 ($431,088,301)
8. Pirates: Dead Man’s Chest/2006 ($423,315,812)
9. Toy Story 3/2010 ($415,004,880)
10. Spider-Man/2002 ($403,706,375)

1. Gone with the Wind/1939 ($1,588,070,800)
2. Star Wars/1977 ($1,400,020,000)
3. The Sound of Music/1965 ($1,119,384,900)
4. E.T./1982 ($1,114,975,100)
5. The Ten Commandments/1956 ($1,029,660,000)
6. Titanic/1977 ($1,008,798,700)
7. Jaws/1975 ($1,006,699,500)
8. Doctor Zhivago/1965 ($975,704,700)
9. The Exorcist/1973 ($869,069,700)
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs/1937 ($856,740,000)

[all figures as of 6/27]

“Interesting to note is that GONE WITH THE WIND, still #1 when adjusted for inflation, has dropped to #113 on the first list, while AVATAR, #1 on the first list, is just a tad below the top ten (at #14) on the second list.

“Admittedly, some of the older titles existed before home television, let alone the many different ways you can view a film today. But even with some adjusting for those variables (which I imagine would be impossible to calculate), I’m pretty sure that dollar amounts increase at a much higher rate than the number of butts in theater seats.”

I’m just sayin’ . . .

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