Seven Great Sports Documentaries to Watch Ahead of The Last Dance’s Release
In June this year, one of the most highly anticipated sports documentaries of recent years will be released. The Last Dance, a 10-part docuseries co-produced by ESPN and Netflix, details the Chicago Bulls throughout their defining 1997-98 season as Michael Jordan and Co aimed to win a historic three-peat of NBA championships.
Featuring unrivalled behind-the-scenes access and interviews with the most important characters in the story – as well as sit-downs with the likes of former US President Barack Obama and the late, great Kobe Bryant – The Last Dance looks set to be the next great sports documentary.
So, ahead of its release, here are seven must-see sports-related documentaries and how to watch them.
What started out as filmmaker Bryan Fogel’s exploration into doping to win an amateur cycling race, evolved into the central story of the biggest doping scandal in sports history, when Fogel meets with Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory and a key figure behind the state-sanctioned Olympic doping programme. Part sports documentary, part political thriller, Icarus is one of the great documentaries of any genre and was deservedly awarded the 2018 Academy Award.
Undefeated (2011/Netflix/Amazon Prime)
Another Oscar-winning documentary, Undefeated follows high school American football team Manassas Tigers and their coach Bill Courtney as the previously struggling team attempts to win the first play-off game in the school’s 110-year history. A documentary full of characters you will fall in love with, there have been many other high-school and college American football documentaries before and since, but none can match Undefeated.
Depicting the life, death, and career of Brazilian Formula One legend Ayrton Senna, Senna delves deep into the man, myth and legend of one of the great athletes of the 20th century. Relying primarily on archived race footage and home video clips provided by the Senna family, this documentary does justice in portraying the enormous impact made by Senna both on F1 and on society, while relaying his fascinating rivalry with Alain Prost. Packed full of emotion, Senna earned numerous Film Festival awards and won the BAFTA for best documentary.
The life of a professional poker player is full of pitfalls and trepidation, including turbulent finances and against-the-odds scenarios, while some players even run the risk of developing a gambling addiction. Nosebleed offers a fascinating insight into the lives of two French poker players, Alex Luneau and Sebastian Sabic, and their ambitions to turn their online poker dominance (and riches) into a run at the ultimate prize: winning the 2014 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. A character-led documentary full of heart that delves beneath the glamour of the poker world and uncovers the truth about what it really takes to get to the top.
Free Solo (2018/Amazon Prime/National Geographic)
Rock climbing documentaries are often full of high drama and tension, causing the palms to sweat throughout viewing. Yet, none are quite as dramatic or tense as Free Solo, which follows famed rock climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to become the first rock climber to scale the notorious El Capitan’s 900-metre vertical face in a free solo climb – meaning no ropes, harnesses or support. Winner of the 2018 Academy Award, Free Solo was directed by wife and husband pair Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, who also directed and starred in another extraordinary climbing documentary worth mentioning called Meru.
Allen Iverson was tipped as the next great NBA superstar who was expected to define the post-Michael Jordan era. For a while, it looked as though he would do exactly that, but his stratospheric career was tempered with a rocky personal life – founded on his impoverished childhood – as his genius and originality was met with great resistance by the NBA, his teams, and teammates. Iverson is an enthralling documentary that perfectly portrays the rollercoaster rise and fall of a once-in-a-generation talent and personality and helps viewers better understand this troubled and fascinating star.
The Crash Reel (Amazon Prime / HBO)
Kevin Pearce was a loveable, popular and extremely talented snowboarder destined for greatness. That was before a traumatic brain injury sustained in a crash while preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics turned his life upside down. After narrowly escaping death, Pearce sets about attempting to return to snowboarding. The Crash Reel documents this entire story, from before the crash, during the accident, and his long and painful rehab process. A documentary that will pull at your heart strings as Pearce and his family come to terms with his new reality. The Crash Reel is an emotional rollercoaster every bit as thrilling as Pearce’s snowboarding skills.
Dave has over 20 years experience in the digital industry, and is founder and editor of Geektown. Obviously a huge geek himself, he can often be found in front of the latest tv show or movie, on various video games, or with his head in a comic book.