In 1998, Wide World of Sports, ABC’s weekly anthology of athletics went off the air after 37 seasons. Thankfully, Netflix has picked up the baton and now boasts over 100 sports documentaries. With all those choices, it’s a crowded field for the casual viewer, so we’ve hand-picked the 11 best sports documentaries on offer from the streaming platform.
11. G.L.O.W.: the Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012)
Once a week, women with nicknames like Mountain Fiji, Godiva, and Matilda the Hun wrestled for supremacy on the television series G.L.O.W.. The odd and wonderful show, which ran from 1986-1990, was a hit and, for a short while, bigger than its only competitor, the male-dominated World Wrestling Federation. G.L.O.W. follows the rise and fall of the show from the women who were there; it’s an oral history of a cultural phenomena that was both politically incorrect and empowering at the same time. Be sure to check out the documentary before watching Netflix’s new comedy about the league, which premieres this Friday, June 23rd.
10. Last Chance U (2016)
The road to the NFL is notoriously competitive and challenging. Any given player’s success hangs on a lot of factors, and competing in a top Division 1 school is almost a prerequisite. Last Chance U follows the stories of students at East Mississippi Community College, an unheralded powerhouse that looks to put its football squad of talented but misguided or troubled students on the path towards household recognition, or at least a better life.. The thrilling docu-series returns for a second season next month, premiering on July 21st.
9. The Endless Summer (1968)
This is the movie that put surfing on the map, introducing the wave-riding sport to a wider audience. For almost 50 years now, this has been the beginner’s guide to surfing and the culture that surrounds it. From the music, which includes an original theme song by The Sandals, to the dripping Technicolor shots of glassy waves and exotic locales, The Endless Summer irrevocably instilled into the popular imagination surfing’s laid-back cool and insatiable itch for the perfect wave.
8. No No: A Dockumentary (2014)
This is the complete story of the man behind one of baseball’s strangest stories, in his own words. For the uninitiated: On June 12, 1970, ace Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter… while tripping on LSD for the entire game. Outspoken, Ellis was woke to the pop culture and racial tensions of the time, and this documentary surveys his pointed and stormy career. If you haven’t heard of Dock Ellis, now’s the time to get to know the “Muhammad Ali of baseball.”
7. Iverson (2014)
Allen Iverson rose from crushing poverty to dominate the world of basketball for more than a decade with his inimitable style and polarizing personality. This documentary follows Iverson’s highs and lows, largely through his own perspective. An icon who almost literally stepped over the constrictions of the conservative NBA, he was unabashed in his style and openly embraced hip-hop culture. That the most recent NBA Finals featured promos using new music from Kendrick Lamar, is due largely to Iverson’s verve.
6. Pumping Iron (1977)
Long before he was a Hollywood superstar and then governor of California, you could tell that Arnold Schwarzenegger was made for the spotlight. Or, at he least he pumped himself up for it. This documentary follows the five-time Mr. Olympia winner as he competes for his sixth title, squaring off against, among others, the future Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno. Pumping Iron is notable for being one of the first docs to seriously examine the professional bodybuilding circuit, becoming a commercial success, and in the process launching Schwarzenegger’s career.
5. The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)
This is one of those documentaries that seems implausible, the stuff of cinematic fiction. But it really happened. And it did so, ironically, with the help of some Hollywood muscle. Bing Russell — father of Kurt Russell and who starred in Bonanza and The Magnificent Seven — founded the Portland Mavericks, the most successful minor league baseball team in history. The story is a classic, featuring a rambunctious group of misfits who just loved to play the game. Fan of Everybody Wants Some! or The Longest Yard? Then The Battered Bastards of Baseball will definitely connect.
4. Team Foxcatcher (2016)
The true story behind the 2014 hit movie Foxcatcher, this documentary focuses on wrestling facility owner John du Pont’s descent from philanthropist to murderer. Ambition, paranoia, and tragedy all play out in du Pont’s wrestling compound, with a former Olympian falling victim. Boasting never-before-seen footage, Team Foxcatcher looks even more thrilling than the Hollywood tale.
3. Sunshine Superman (2014)
New sports don’t catch on all too often. In Sunshine Superman, witness how the pioneering skydiver Carl Boenish, along with his wife, created the sport of BASE jumping. While heart-racing, this is also the story of a captivating individual, a teacher and spiritual leader to many extreme sports enthusiasts, who pushed the boundaries of human fear, imagination, and exhilaration.
2. The Summit (2012)
In The Summit a group of explorers seek to climb K2, the deadly, and for us mortals, seemingly unscalable Himalayan mountain; it is second in height only to Everest. This documentary ponders a big, intriguing question that had never been answered: “Why did, on a perfect day for mountaineering, 11 climbers not make it back?”
1. Trophy Kids (2016)
The soccer mom is a welcoming figure, bearing snacks, a minivan, and an overall good spirit. When compared to the parents in this documentary, they all may as well apply for sainthood. Trophy Kids follows a few parents who relentlessly push their children to excel at sports. What we see is tragic, as these profiles illustrate the psychological and social damage such pressure induces on young kids, often irreparably tearing at the family.