With coverage of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics launching tonight stateside on NBC with tonight’s opening ceremony, we’ve compiled a list of ten great sports documentaries available to stream online for those living in the US. The titles, that span a wide variety of sports from basketball to race car driving, are listed below in alphabetical order.
“A Fighting Chance”
In this inspiring documentary, 23-year-old Kyle Maynard, born without arms or legs, takes on the shocking mission of becoming a Mixed Martial Arts winner by fighting against an able-bodied fighter, while taking on the egregious challenge of defending himself off the mat against all those who see him as nothing more than a disabled body.
The saying goes “too much money, ain’t enough money.” That phrase is true for many professional athletes who find their financial situations to be dire once they retire. “Broke” canvases the lives of several former athletes who simply do not have the financial means to justify a lifestyle they can no longer live. According to a Sport’s Illustrated study, 60% of NBA players are financially unstable within five years of retirement. The documentary delves into the problem of readjusting to a life of normalcy, coupled with the acknowledgement of the inevitability of time. Watch on Netflix here.
“The Fab Five”
The University of Michigan Men’s Basketball Team. Five freshman. All heralded. All starters. Back to back defeats in the NCAA Division 1 Championship Game. Chris Webber’s generation changing time out. Often called “the greatest recruiting class of all time,” this is the story of The Fab Five. Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, and Juwan Howard, took the world of basketball by storm, upsetting the game’s purists with their baggy shorts and black socks that are now synonymous with the game as it’s known today. If there was ever a moment that could be pointed to that changed a sport’s trajectory, these five freshman and their crusade on the game is most definitely a catalyst. Watch on Netflix here.
Steve James, director of the acclaimed “Hoop Dreams” (which also tops this list), directs “Head Games,” a documentary film based on the Christopher Nowinski book that exposes the effects of concussions and head trauma on athletes. The film mainly focuses on American football and hockey, but also explores the head damage that can be caused by soccer, boxing, lacrosse and wrestling.
So many superlatives have been thrown at Steve James’s 1994 documentary, but none of them feel unearned. “Hoop Dreams” follows Chicago teenagers William Gates and Arthur Agee as they enroll in a primarily white private high school with an excellent basketball program. From high school to college, they deal with injuries, massive racial and economic inequalities, and the hard truth that for every talented athlete who makes it in the NBA, there’s a dozen whose hopes remain unfulfilled, their passions stifled. The film was infamously ignored by the Academy Awards in the Best Documentary category (though it did receive a Best Editing nomination), but it remains one of the defining films about race, class and the American Dream, and the high water mark for sports docs.
“Kicking It” (2008) follows the lives of seven homeless people who take part in the Homeless World Cup, an international soccer competition. Directed by Susan Koch, the documentary film follows these athletes from Afghanistan, Kenya, Ireland, the U.S., Spain, Russia (joining 500 others in 48 teams) who compete for the 2006 Cup in South Africa. The film premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Colin Farrell narrates.
“The Marinovich Project”
What if you could build the perfect quarterback? Imagine creating a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady, grooming him from a very early age to become the next great signal caller. “The Marinovich Project” tells the story of a man, Todd Marinovich, who was trained and drilled to become an NFL quarterback by his father Marv, and the lasting effects that his upbringing had on his life. Dubbed “Robo QB,” Todd had it all. He started at University of Southern California, and was drafted in the first round by his hometown Los Angeles Raiders. However, the spotlight was too much for this young man, and he developed a terrible drug addiction that nearly took his life. In a game of hard hits, “The Marinovich Project” sucker punches the viewer until it hurts, but it will also leave you cheering. Watch on Netflix here. View trailer below.
While most are familiar with the rules and regulations behind traditional hockey, “Pond Hockey” explores the culture behind a slightly different game, one played on an iced over natural body of water. Directed by Tommy Haines and produced by Northland Films, “Pond Hockey” is a 2008 documentary that analyzes the ins and outs of the sport, focusing on two teams competing for the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. The film also provides interviews with legends Wayne Gretzky and Neal Broten.
Last year, Ron Howard chronicled the extraordinary drive for success amidst great danger in his racing drama “Rush”, but more remarkable is Asif Kapadia’s 2011 documentary “Senna.” Chronicling the life of Brazilian racing champion Ayrton Senna, the film paints a vivid portrait of a man whose appetite for life and incredible skill behind the wheel makes his death in a 1994 crash all the more tragic. Kapadia’s use of archival footage, as well as his eschewing of commentary and new interviews, helps give the film a thrilling sense of immediacy that puts most narrative films to shame. Watch on Netflix here.
This Oscar-winning documentary depicts the archetypal underdog story of Memphis high school football team the Manassas Tigers, whose coach Bill Courtney turns the team around both athletically and academically. Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s first documentary feature zeroes in on three of team’s players who exemplify the multitude of obstacles each member of the team is dedicated to — and successful in — overcoming. Watch on Netflix here.
[Editor’s Note: Ziyad Saadi, Max O’Connell, Eric H. Edelstein, Emerson Gordon and Nigel M. Smith contributed to this article.]