Sports Documentaries To Stream After "The Last Dance"

"The Last Dance" may be over, but there are plenty more sports documentaries that can teach, entertain, and inspire.

"The Last Dance," the popular ESPN documentary series about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty, ended over the weekend and people who were glued to every episode are starved for something new. The series would have been well-watched before the pandemic, but with stay-at-home orders in place across most of the country, it became a focal point for people desperate for sports, entertainment, and something to talk about other than the novel coronavirus.

So now what?

While ESPN’s 30-for-30 series is well-known and critically acclaimed, there are other sports documentaries worthy of watching. While some cover the greatest athletes of all time (like Jordan), others explore more obscure sports, events, and athletes. They can also be valuable teaching tools—exploring issues of culture in different countries, geography, civil rights, war, the environment, the reach of poverty, the impact of systemic racism and sexism, and the force for change that can come from individual human beings or teams bound with purpose. They are often the stories of struggles, perseverance, awe-inspiring achievement, and heartbreaking failures. Many have even been nominated for or won Oscars.

Here are some to stream:

Hoop Dreams (available on Hulu, HBO Now, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes)

This 1994 doc that follows the lives of two African-American Chicago high school students with dreams of playing in the NBA is arguably the best sports documentary ever made. It won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury and Audience awards, and its exclusion from Oscar best feature documentary nominations (it was given a film editing nod) not only caused huge controversy, but it was also the impetus to change the nominating process in the documentary category.

Here are some that did earn Academy Award nominations and wins for best feature documentary, in reverse chronological order.

Free Solo, 2018 winner (available on Disney+, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube)
Follow Alex Honnold as he attempts to become the first person to ever free solo climb El Capitan.

Icarus, 2017 nomination (available on Netflix)
Not a sports fan? No problem. This is a story of doping, international intrigue, and Olympic scandal. 

Undefeated, 2011 winner (available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, iTunes)
An inner-city Memphis high school football team hadn't won a playoff game in more than 100 years of play as the film crew arrived to document the season of a volunteer coach and players struggling to survive through poverty and all the obstacles that come with it.

Murderball2005 nominated (available on Amazon Prime, Tubi)
Spend two years with the U.S. team of quadriplegics who play full-contact wheelchair rugby and work toward competing in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, and learn about their struggles on and off the field, rivalries, and the saving grace of finding the game.

One Day in September, 1999 winner (available on Vudu, Amazon Prime)
The 1972 Munich Olympics were interrupted by Palestinian terrorists taking 11 Israeli athletes hostage and killing all of them. This film includes footage taken at the time, interviews with the surviving terrorist, and officials' accounts of the failed police operation to save the athletes.

When We Were Kings,1996 winner (available on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video)
The story of the 1974 heavyweight championship boxing match in Zaire called "The Rumble in the Jungle," between champion George Foreman and a believed to be past-his-prime 32-year-old underdog named Muhammad Ali. There was also a three-night musical festival featuring James Brown, B.B. King, and more, leading up to the bout, which was watched by an estimated one billion people worldwide.

Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream1995 nomination  (available on Vudu, iTunes, Amazon)
Learn more about the life and career of the man who broke Babe Ruth's home run record and had to endure racism and harassment the whole way.

Off the Edge, 1976 nomination (available on Amazon Prime)
Follows the adventures of two friends extreme skiing and hang gliding throughout New Zealand.

On Any Sunday 1971 nomination (available on Tubi, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play)
Racers and fans, including actor Steve McQueen, takes a deep dive into the dangerous sport of on-track and off-road motorcycle racing.

 

There are no female athletes to be found in the feature docs listed above, but one won for best documentary short in 2019: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl) takes viewers into the lives of these young girls in Afghanistan, learning to read, write, and skateboard as they try to survive war. It is available on Hoopla, DirectTV, Amazon, Vudu, Apple)

For those looking for other documentaries about women sports and athletes, ESPN's nine-episode Nine for IX series is available on Amazon and features short films on tennis champion Venus Williams' fight for equal pay, the 1999 U.S. Women's National Team, female sportswriters' fight for access to the locker room to do their jobs, and more.

Author Image
Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RELATED 

ALREADY A SUBSCRIBER?

We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing

ALREADY A SUBSCRIBER?