Best sports documentaries of all time

Written by:
February 11, 2021
Impact Partners

Best sports documentaries of all time

In the current, precarious film industry, in which the only safe bet is a superhero, Marvel films have become a shell in which to sneak in other stories. "Logan" was a Western; "Thor: Ragnarok" a comedy; "Black Panther" a place to investigate identity in diaspora. So too in the documentary space, sports are often used as vehicles by which deeper stories are delivered. As hard as the NFL owners have tried to make sport a citadel away from the concerns of politics and race, it’s a ridiculous notion. Ever since Jack Johnson won the heavyweight belt at the height of Jim Crow, sport is a place where race, class, unions, geopolitics, and gender have been inescapable in the conversation.

Any historical documentary must lean upon archival footage, and the sports genre is unbelievably privileged in both access to and quality of its historical B-roll. The genre is also privileged in the quality of its subjects. Athletes are beautiful, often strange, and exceptionally confident—even the most ancillary players were at some point the best in their orbit. Every single person who laces up, from LeBron James to Boban Marjanović, has a life filled with realizations of their gifts, doubts, hangers-on, temptation, shame, and glory. And because sport is the arena where Americans and Soviets can face off near Lake Placid, where Serbs and Croats can meet in Portland, where loudmouths from Louisville can speak out against war, and where a Hungarian striker can become a Spanish legend, don’t expect sports documentaries to go anywhere anytime soon.

Stacker compiled data on all sports documentaries to come up with a Stacker score—a weighted index split evenly between IMDb and Metacritic scores. To qualify, the film had to be listed as "sports" and "documentary" on IMDb and have a Metascore. Ties were broken by Metascore and further ties were broken by IMDb user rating. Eight movies with vote counts over 5,000 and no Metascore were included. Calculations for their Stacker Scores were made using the average Metascore of the movies on the list (69). What follows are stories of surfers and skiers, runners and running backs, and oh-so-many Muhammad Ali films.

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1 / 100
Mission Films

#100. 12 O'Clock Boys (2013)

- Director: Lotfy Nathan
- Stacker score: 73.5
- Metascore: 68
- IMDb user rating: 6.5
- Runtime: 76 minutes

In Baltimore, dirt bike riding is a big deal. This documentary tracks young riders involved in the city’s dirt bike scene, as they chase dreams of freedom and lasting hope. With its raw interviews, the film won praise at SXSW and from HBO.

2 / 100
Gratis 7 Media Group

#99. Rising from Ashes (2012)

- Director: T.C. Johnstone
- Stacker score: 74
- Metascore: 58
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 82 minutes

Years after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, many in this central African country still feel effects from the atrocity. “Rising from Ashes” chronicles Rwandans striving to create a national cycling team and create a symbol of hope and inspiration for current and future generations. Forest Whitaker serves as narrator.

3 / 100
Beachside Films

#98. Medora (2013)

- Directors: Andrew Cohn, Davy Rothbart
- Stacker score: 74
- Metascore: 64
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 100 minutes

In Indiana, basketball is life. “Medora” follows the small town Medora Hornets as they chase hoops glory among the state’s titan teams. The film was inspired by a 2009 article about the team by John Branch of the New York Times.

4 / 100
Harvey Mason Media

#97. More Than a Game (2008)

- Director: Kristopher Belman
- Stacker score: 74.6
- Metascore: 59
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 105 minutes

The shadow of The Next Michael Jordan is a suffocating one, but in hindsight, when we look back at LeBron James, it’ll be with absolute awe. James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school—and despite the mammoth fame and expectations has lived up to the hype and never had a public scandal. More Than a Game tells the story of James and his AAU teammates as they rise from an unknown team from Akron, Ohio to the top of the youth sports world. Soon after this point, James will be vaulted into another stratosphere of fame, so it’s fascinating to watch “The Chosen One” before he was chosen.

5 / 100
Fulwell 73

#96. I Am Bolt (2016)

- Directors: Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner
- Stacker score: 74.6
- Metascore: 64
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 107 minutes

Few athletes have captured the imagination like Usain Bolt, who is generally regarded as the fastest runner on the planet. “I Am Bolt” peels back the layers of this mythical figure, showing the hurdles (slight pun intended) of training and the spare moments of time alone at home. Interviews from family members, coaches, and friends provide insight on the eight-time Olympic gold medalist.

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6 / 100
SocDoc Studios

#95. Speed Sisters (2015)

- Director: Amber Fares
- Stacker score: 74.6
- Metascore: 65
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 78 minutes

A group of Palestinian drivers create their own lane in the captivating film “Speed Sisters.” As the first female streetcar racing team from the Middle East, the film’s protagonists deal with a sport and society not always accepting of their presence. Some of the racers don’t have the same travel IDs as others, creating interesting societal dynamics within their own team.

7 / 100
Blunderbust Productions

#94. The Last Race (2018)

- Director: Michael Dweck
- Stacker score: 74.6
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 5.8
- Runtime: 75 minutes

“The Last Race” details how the home of stock car racing on Long Island attempts to fight off vulturous real estate agents. The film is a slice of “vanishing Americana” as a small business tries to hold on to its valuable land. The likeability of the blue collar racers and track workers appeals to race fans and non-gearheads alike.

8 / 100
BronWa Pictures

#93. Dust to Glory (2005)

- Director: Dana Brown
- Stacker score: 75.1
- Metascore: 61
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 97 minutes

The Baja 1000 is an annual off-road race that pulls in a gamut of interesting personalities. The race is unique because it allows different classes of vehicles to compete, and “Dust to Glory” captures the 50-plus years of history associated with the Baja 100. In 2017, a sequel was released.

9 / 100
2929 Productions

#92. A League of Ordinary Gentlemen (2004)

- Director: Christopher Browne
- Stacker score: 75.1
- Metascore: 66
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 93 minutes

Bowlers sometimes get a bad rap for their leisurely physical appearance, but “A League of Ordinary Gentlemen” shows that pro bowlers can be just as intense and competitive as Super Bowl champions. Pete Weber and Walter Ray Williams Jr. are two of the stars, who are forced to adapt when a group of outsiders purchases the Professional Bowlers Association.

10 / 100
Mediadante

#91. The Workers Cup (2017)

- Director: Adam Sobel
- Stacker score: 75.1
- Metascore: 67
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 92 minutes

Hosting major international sporting events often leads to bribes, billions spent in investments, and thousands of hours of unseen work by low-wage laborers. “The Workers Cup” tells the story of the laborers building facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and how they maintained their own love for the game of soccer while being underappreciated by the sport’s influential power figures.

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11 / 100
Jody Lee Lipes

#90. Ballet 422 (2014)

- Director: Jody Lee Lipes
- Stacker score: 75.1
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 6.2
- Runtime: 75 minutes

At 26, Justin Peck was hired to choreograph the New York City Ballet’s 422nd original performance. “Ballet 422” records Peck’s journey from creation to performance, shedding light on the intricacies of mind and body working as one to reach creative nirvana.

12 / 100
Pentagrama Films

#89. Maradona by Kusturica (2008)

- Director: Emir Kusturica
- Stacker score: 75.7
- Metascore: data not available
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Runtime: 90 minutes

Emir Kusturica, a two-time winner of the Palme d'Or, helmed this project about legendary footballer Diego Maradona (who died in 2020). The film provides never before released insight into the revered figure, but also received some criticism for excessive fawning on screen for both the director and the film’s star.

13 / 100
ESPN

#88. Through the Fire (2005)

- Directors: Alistair Christopher, Jonathan Hock
- Stacker score: 75.7
- Metascore: 65
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 103 minutes

Sebastian Telfair was once as highly touted in high school as LeBron James (they appeared together on a famous cover of SLAM Magazine). The film follows Telfair as a star at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn and leads up to his decision to declare for the NBA Draft or accept a college scholarship. Telfair is a cousin of former NBA star Stephon Marbury and parts of “Through The Fire” eerily mimic the 1998 film “He Got Game” (which starred Ray Allen as a hoops phenom at Lincoln).

14 / 100
Cinephil

#87. Watermarks (2004)

- Director: Yaron Zilberman
- Stacker score: 75.7
- Metascore: 67
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 80 minutes

Before World War II, the Hakoah Vienna swim club was home to some of the top athletes in Europe. This documentary tells their story—their triumphs in the water, Jewish life in Austria before the war, and the destruction of their community—and also provides reflection from the athletes decades after the club’s disbandment.

15 / 100
CNEX Foundation

#86. China Heavyweight (2012)

- Director: Yung Chang
- Stacker score: 75.7
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 6.0
- Runtime: 94 minutes

Boxing was once banned in China, but today, many of combat sports’ top performers hail from China. This documentary follows two young fighters in pursuit of glory, and takes a look at China’s rigid sports system and the struggles of rural life within the borders of this world power. Miao, one of the doc’s central figures, idolizes American boxing legend Mike Tyson.

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16 / 100
Bettmann // Getty Images

#85. This Old Cub (2004)

- Director: Jeff Santo
- Stacker score: 76.2
- Metascore: 53
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Runtime: 86 minutes

Ron Santo was one of the Chicago Cubs’ most beloved players. “This Old Cub” recounts his battle with diabetes and shows how deeply fans—including Bill Murray—and members of the Cubs organization cared about the Baseball Hall of Famer.

17 / 100
Carbon

#84. You Cannot Kill David Arquette (2020)

- Directors: David Darg, Price James
- Stacker score: 76.2
- Metascore: 66
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 91 minutes

In the early 2000s, after filming a wrestling-themed movie, David Arquette became a pro wrestler for World Championship Wrestling, even becoming their heavyweight champion. “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” follows Arquette, in his late 40s, as he attempts to get back in the squared circle almost two decades after his heyday. The movie also explores how Arquette’s film career stalled after he became a wrestler, although these days many former wrestlers have become some of Hollywood’s biggest stars (The Rock and Dave Bautista included).

18 / 100
Fork Films

#83. The Iran Job (2012)

- Director: Till Schauder
- Stacker score: 76.2
- Metascore: 67
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 90 minutes

Before civil unrest hit Iran in 2009, Kevin Sheppard traveled to the Middle Eastern country to continue his basketball career. “The Iran Job” reveals what life is like for a player overseas and details how it feels to be in a country simmering with political tension. As an example of the culture clash awaiting Sheppard, moments after he lands in the Middle East, he spots graffiti reading “Down With U.S.A.”

19 / 100
Larry Busacca // Getty Images

#82. Lenny Cooke (2013)

- Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
- Stacker score: 76.2
- Metascore: 70
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Runtime: 88 minutes

The Safdie brothers, famous for their 2019 hit “Uncut Gems,” told the life story of former basketball phenom Lenny Cooke in this documentary. At one point, Cooke was rated higher than LeBron James, until a poor showing at a showcase camp for high schoolers sent Cooke’s career into a downward spiral. Former NBA All-Star Joakim Noah had an integral role in getting the movie produced.

20 / 100
Scissor Kick Films

#81. Sunshine Superman (2014)

- Director: Marah Strauch
- Stacker score: 76.8
- Metascore: 70
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 100 minutes

The life of Carl Boenish, often considered the father of BASE jumping, is chronicled in “Sunshine Superman.” Boenish entered the Guinness Book of World Records for his feats, but his love of BASE jumping also led to tragedy. The film includes 16mm footage from Boenish’s exploits.

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21 / 100
Broadview TV

#80. Klitschko (2011)

- Director: Sebastian Dehnhardt
- Stacker score: 77.3
- Metascore: 63
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 118 minutes

It’s fascinating to think of how we would understand the Klitschkos if they had held their heavyweight boxing belts at any moment but when they did. That belt was once the most prestigious award in sports, but the two gigantic brothers from Ukraine reached the top of the boxing world at a time when America was sick of the sport. Still, director Sebastian Dehnhardt’s film shows the genius, the drive, and the unlikelihood of two mammoth brothers raised in poverty in Ukraine grabbing the belts once held by Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, and Mike Tyson.

22 / 100
Moxie Firecracker Films

#79. Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton (2017)

- Director: Rory Kennedy
- Stacker score: 77.3
- Metascore: 66
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 118 minutes

Director Rory Kennedy previously made films about the AIDS crisis and Abu Ghraib, but went with lighter fare in telling the story of surfer Laird Hamilton. That doesn’t mean Hamilton has an easy, breezy story, and the documentary reveals the life of a complex character. The film, naturally, includes breathtaking shots of some of the bluest waves in the world.

23 / 100
Passion Pictures

#78. Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)

- Directors: Paul Crowder, John Dower
- Stacker score: 77.3
- Metascore: 67
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 97 minutes

Before the 1994 World Cup was held in the United States, soccer had trouble gaining a foothold in this country. The New York Cosmos got as close to mainstream popularity as any soccer entity, playing in the North American Soccer League and featuring an aging Pelé as its star. Matt Dillon narrates “Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos.”

24 / 100
Jigsaw Productions,

#77. The Armstrong Lie (2013)

- Director: Alex Gibney
- Stacker score: 77.3
- Metascore: 67
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 124 minutes

Plenty of articles, films, and books have come out about Lance Armstrong since the former Tour de France champion was busted for using performance enhancing drugs. “The Armstrong Lie” digs deep into Armstrong’s life and portrays a man much different than the one who advertisers propped up as a symbol of hope through much of the 1990s and early 2000s.

25 / 100
Arts+Labor

#76. No No: A Dockumentary (2014)

- Director: Jeffrey Radice
- Stacker score: 77.3
- Metascore: 68
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 100 minutes

Dock Ellis was a star baseball player who battled substance abuse and fought vigorously for Black athletes. He also claimed to have thrown a no-hitter on LSD, and “No No: A Dockumentary” tells this wild story and more about one of sports’ most interesting men.

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26 / 100
Banyak Films

#75. Ping Pong (2012)

- Directors: Anson Hartford, Hugh Hartford
- Stacker score: 77.9
- Metascore: 68
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 80 minutes

“Ping Pong” follows senior citizens as they try to win the Over 80s World Table Tennis Championships in Asia. The stories are just as engrossing as the shots of competition, and the documentary elevates what many consider a recreational game to another level of emotional capacity.

27 / 100
Triple Play Pictures

#74. Go Tigers! (2001)

- Director: Kenneth A. Carlson
- Stacker score: 77.9
- Metascore: 69
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 103 minutes

In the vein of “Friday Night Lights,” this documentary aptly tells a story about the impact of football on small town America. Taking place in Ohio, “Go Tigers!” is full of relatable personal relationships, dreams, and rivalries that can keep a viewer captivated for close to two hours.

28 / 100
HMS Projects

#73. Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator (2002)

- Director: Helen Stickler
- Stacker score: 77.9
- Metascore: 69
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 82 minutes

Mark "Gator" Rogowski was a skateboarding icon, who was sent to prison on various charges of assault and murder. The documentary includes many of skateboarding’s top names, like Tony Hawk and Stacy Peralta, recalling the once-promising career of Gator.

29 / 100
4th Row Films

#72. Fake It So Real (2011)

- Director: Robert Greene
- Stacker score: 77.9
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Runtime: 95 minutes

“The Wrestler” was credited for its authentic dramatization of the world of professional wrestling and “Fake It So Real” makes for a primo tag team wrestling movie experience. The documentary highlights the theatrical talent of pro wrestlers, and the real-life highs and lows they face while chasing the big stage of World Wrestling Entertainment.

30 / 100
Hattasan Productions

#71. Team Foxcatcher (2016)

- Director: Jon Greenhalgh
- Stacker score: 78.5
- Metascore: data not available
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 90 minutes

Two years after the Hollywood film “Foxcatcher” was released, this documentary takes a deeper look at the career of the Schultz brothers and the murder of Dave Schultz by John du Pont. “Team Foxcatcher” not only recounts this harrowing tale, but shows the pain and suffering involved as amateur athletes chase Olympic gold.

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31 / 100
ZCDC

#70. T-Rex (2015)

- Directors: Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper
- Stacker score: 78.5
- Metascore: 69
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 91 minutes

Claressa Shields’ pursuit of Olympic gold is captured mesmerizingly in “T-Rex.” Shields grew up poor in Flint, Michigan, and escaped danger by turning to boxing, becoming a phenom in the process.

32 / 100
Hager Moss Film

#69. Am Limit (2007)

- Director: Pepe Danquart
- Stacker score: 79
- Metascore: 71
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 95 minutes

Director Pepe Danquart follows the Huber brothers as they attempt to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. “Am Limit” has top-notch cinematography featuring one of America’s great landscapes, and delves into the maniacal pursuit to conquer one of climbing’s most daunting peaks.

33 / 100
Dickhouse Productions

#68. Being Evel (2015)

- Director: Daniel Junge
- Stacker score: 79.6
- Metascore: 72
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 99 minutes

For all the aspiring daredevils out there, “Being Evel” is a must-see. The documentary retells the story of Evel Knievel, perhaps the most famous thrillseeker in recent U.S. history. The film includes input from Johnny Knoxville and reveals the P.T. Barum-esque style of Knievel, who died in 2007.

34 / 100
Consolidated Documentaries,

#67. Surfwise (2007)

- Director: Doug Pray
- Stacker score: 79.6
- Metascore: 72
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 93 minutes

Doc Paskowitz was one of surfing’s most unique characters, and “Surfwise” captures his eccentric stylings. Paskowitz died in 2014, but the legacy of his influential surfing school lives on through this documentary.

35 / 100
Diamond Images // Getty Images

#66. Knuckleball! (2012)

- Directors: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
- Stacker score: 79.6
- Metascore: 73
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 93 minutes

Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey became two of the top pitchers in baseball thanks to their use of the knuckleball. The pitch confounds hitters, but is hard to master, and “Knuckleball!” details the lengths pitchers go to learn the knuckler. In 2012, Dickey mastered the knuckleball so well that he won the National League Cy Young Award.

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36 / 100
Gabriel Polsky Productions

#65. Red Penguins (2019)

- Director: Gabe Polsky
- Stacker score: 79.6
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Runtime: 80 minutes

After the fall of the Soviet Union, few sports benefitted like ice hockey. “Red Penguins” retells how North American teams (including the Pittsburgh Penguins) pursued Russian hockey stars. The Penguins even formed a relationship with CSKA Moscow, Russia’s top hotbed of talent.

37 / 100
Gravitas

#64. The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2014)

- Directors: Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane
- Stacker score: 80.1
- Metascore: 67
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 89 minutes

Director Annika Iltis’ documentary tells the story of an unlikely race that’s become a favorite among a special breed of masochistic ultrarunner. The tiny race, which accepts only 35 runners per year, sends competitors all over a rural Tennessee property looking for books on a largely unmarked path. The film follows a few of the competitors as they attempt to complete a course only 10 finished in the race’s first quarter-century, which takes runners up and down the equivalent of two Mount Everests. The cast of characters—quirky, driven, and obsessed with pain—make this documentary a must-watch.

38 / 100
Bobbito Garcia and Kevin Couliau

#63. Doin' It in the Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC (2012)

- Directors: Kevin Couliau, Bobbito Garcia
- Stacker score: 80.1
- Metascore: 71
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 83 minutes

Bobbito Garcia is one of New York streetball’s most famous figures and he banks on almost 40 years of knowledge to tell long-lost stories in this 2012 documentary. From Rucker Park to Dyckman and The Cage at West 4th Street, New York is full of streetball landmarks. Garcia puts you directly in the paint with a love letter to hoops.

39 / 100
MeMo Films

#62. Palio (2015)

- Director: Cosima Spender
- Stacker score: 80.1
- Metascore: 73
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 91 minutes

Based in Italy, “Palio” reveals the stories behind the oldest continuous horse race in the world. With beautiful ancient Italian scenery as the backdrop, “Palio” delivers “‘Rocky’ on horseback,” according to the New York Times.

40 / 100
Bruce Brown Films

#61. The Endless Summer (1965)

- Director: Bruce Brown
- Stacker score: 80.7
- Metascore: data not available
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 95 minutes

Director Bruce Brown’s "The Endless Summer" is one of the true classics of the sports documentary genre. The 1966 film follows young surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August around the world in search of the perfect wave. The film looks gorgeous, with that colorful 1960s feel to it, and the surf spots were wonderfully pristine at the time. Everything about the film is legendary; the cover itself is recognizable in an instant.

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41 / 100
Cowboy Films

#60. Fire in Babylon (2010)

- Director: Stevan Riley
- Stacker score: 80.7
- Metascore: 69
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 87 minutes

Director Stevan Riley’s "Fire in Babylon" has all the ingredients of a great sports documentary. The film—which tells of the rise of the West Indies Cricket Team of the 1970s and 1980s—is awash with heroes, a few villains, origin stories (an embarrassing loss to Australia that taught the coach the value of fast bowling), and ultimately historic victories. It also uses sports as a way to address themes of race and discrimination.

42 / 100
Rollie Robinson

#59. Pumping Iron (1977)

- Directors: George Butler, Robert Fiore
- Stacker score: 80.7
- Metascore: 72
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 86 minutes

Centering on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pursuit of the Mr. Olympia title, “Pumping Iron” is the definitive film about bodybuilding. Lou Ferrigno, who also went on to attain some movie fame, is featured opposite Schwarzenegger, but it was the future Terminator who had the star turn with his honest and entertaining insights.

43 / 100
Bill Simmons Media Group

#58. Andre the Giant (2018)

- Director: Jason Hehir
- Stacker score: 81.2
- Metascore: data not available
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 85 minutes

André René Roussimoff became a giant in the world of professional wrestling. Known as Andre the Giant, he helped make the World Wrestling Federation (then known as WWF) into a megapower, but he also had a sweet and sensitive side. Andre the Giant was regarded for his unbelievable feats of strength and mass consumption of food and drink, but as the documentary reveals, he also suffered from much physical pain because of his size.

44 / 100
Seanbonner  // Wikimedia Commons

#57. Bones Brigade: An Autobiography (2012)

- Director: Stacy Peralta
- Stacker score: 81.2
- Metascore: 66
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 90 minutes

Director Stacy Peralta dives back into his history in skateboarding with "Bones Brigade," which begins where "Dogtown and Z-Boys" ends. In this documentary, Peralta tells the story of the early 1980s formation of the Bones Brigade, a motley crew of ultra-talented outsider skaters (Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill and more), who vaulted the sport to the mainstream. Peralta is a central character in his documentary, so the story is a bit overly congratulatory, but seeing the ultra-talented young legends skate makes the film riotously fun to watch.

45 / 100
Alex Productions

#56. Icarus (2017)

- Director: Bryan Fogel
- Stacker score: 81.2
- Metascore: 68
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 120 minutes

This Academy Award winner for Best Documentary is a great example of how sports can be the best way into otherwise cloistered or untellable stories. In the film, director Bryan Fogel, an amateur biker, decides to try to dose himself with performance enhancing drugs to compete at the highest level. In the course of his search for a doctor, he is put in touch with the former director of Russia’s anti-doping agency, who helps Fogel uncover decades of corruption. The documentary, which begins as a sort of gonzo journalism venture, turns into an international spy caper with life-and-death stakes.

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46 / 100
New Visual Entertainment

#55. Step Into Liquid (2003)

- Director: Dana Brown
- Stacker score: 81.2
- Metascore: 72
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 88 minutes

After working with his father Bruce Brown on the sequel to the classic surfing documentary "Endless Summer," director Dana Brown made a surf doc of his own: "Step Into Liquid." The documentary is structured as a kind of survey of the surfing world, taking the audience to spots around the world and meeting fascinating surfing legends along the way. A year later, director Stacy Peralta’s Riding Giants would take a slightly more focused look (at only big wave surfers) to even greater effect—but both films are fun for lovers of surfing.

47 / 100
Kissaki Films

#54. The Eagle Huntress (2016)

- Director: Otto Bell
- Stacker score: 81.2
- Metascore: 72
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 87 minutes

“The Eagle Huntress” is a tantalizing documentary about a girl who wants to become the first female eagle hunter at a famous festival in Mongolia. The film received widespread acclaim, with the 13-year-old Aisholpan emerging as a breakout star.

48 / 100
Kartemquin Films

#53. The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013)

- Director: Bill Siegel
- Stacker score: 81.2
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 86 minutes

Few athletes merged race, politics, and sports like Muhammad Ali. This documentary focuses on how race and politics entwined in Ali’s career, and how he became one of the most targeted, yet beloved and respected voices of his generation.

49 / 100
Makuhari Media

#52. Ballplayer: Pelotero (2011)

- Directors: Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, Jon Paley
- Stacker score: 81.2
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 77 minutes

The Dominican Republic has become a haven for young baseball prospects and “Ballplayer: Pelotero” follows a couple of big league dreamers on the island. One of the players, Miguel Sanó, debuted with the Minnesota Twins in 2015. Former manager and player Bobby Valentine was one of the film’s producers.

50 / 100
A&E IndieFilms

#51. Happy Valley (2014)

- Director: Amir Bar-Lev
- Stacker score: 81.2
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 98 minutes

Named after the home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, “Happy Valley” retells the events surrounding former football coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children. Penn State was once one of college football’s storied programs, and the pull of big time sports glory held major influence over the Sandusky trial. “Happy Valley” also reveals the aftermath of Sandusky’s crimes and the effects it had on many in the community.

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51 / 100
Marshall Curry Productions LLC

#50. Racing Dreams (2009)

- Director: Marshall Curry
- Stacker score: 81.2
- Metascore: 78
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 93 minutes

Like many sports, NASCAR has minor leagues and feeder systems for aspiring drivers looking to reach the highest levels of their sport. “Racing Dreams” follows drivers in the World Karting Association who dream of one day revving their engines at the Daytona 500. The film was executive produced by a former athlete with his own dreams of stardom—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

52 / 100
Moxie Pictures

#49. AlphaGo (2017)

- Director: Greg Kohs
- Stacker score: 81.8
- Metascore: data not available
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 90 minutes

Go has been played for centuries in Asia and is one of the most challenging games of the mind. How would artificial intelligence systems fare in Go? “AlphaGo” explores this possibility in a stunning film about competition, culture, and technology.

53 / 100
Zipper Bros Films

#48. Undefeated (2011)

- Directors: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin
- Stacker score: 81.8
- Metascore: 71
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 113 minutes

"Undefeated" definitely fits nicely into the underdog sports film collection beside "Remember the Titans" and "Coach Carter." This documentary by director Daniel Lindsay follows a terribly underfunded high school football team from Memphis and the coach who arrives and changes everything. After premiering at South by Southwest, "Undefeated" went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

54 / 100
Woodland Park Productions

#47. Swim Team (2016)

- Director: Lara Stolman
- Stacker score: 81.8
- Metascore: 72
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 90 minutes

Swim Team” is an inspiring look at a team of athletes with autism who find solace and pride in the pool. Watching the swimmers make waves in the water is comforting and even serene, but it's their stories and grit that won over many audiences.

55 / 100
Major League Baseball

#46. Fastball (2016)

- Director: Jonathan Hock
- Stacker score: 81.8
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 87 minutes

Narrated by Kevin Costner, “Fastball,” not unlike “Knuckleball!,” looks at the mystique behind the fastest pitch in baseball. A plethora of Hall of Fame hitters and flamethrowers add their insight, and the documentary should serve as a nice holdover for baseball diehards before Spring Training starts.

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56 / 100
UFO Production

#45. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (2018)

- Director: Julien Faraut
- Stacker score: 81.8
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Runtime: 95 minutes

John McEnroe was one of the more enigmatic players in tennis history and this documentary follows his run at the 1984 French Open. McEnroe was at the height of his career around the 1984 Grand Slam tournament at Roland Garros, and the mix of interviews and archival footage goes deep into the mind of one of the sport’s most cerebral minds.

57 / 100
Boundless

#44. The Class of '92 (2013)

- Directors: Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner
- Stacker score: 82.3
- Metascore: data not available
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 99 minutes

Director Benjamin Turner understood well that if you’re going to focus on a documentary on someone, they should be hard to take your eyes off when they are on screen. "The Class of '92" tells the story of a young, ultra-talented class of Manchester United soccer players who came to prominence together from 1992 to 1997. Five of those players (Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Phil and Gary Neville) are fascinating and fantastic talents—the sixth, a young David Beckham, makes the film a captivating watch. The story focuses on the exploits on the pitch, but also gets into the relationships between the young stars, which elevates it as a film.

58 / 100
Universal Family and Home Entertainment

#43. Beyond the Mat (1999)

- Director: Barry W. Blaustein
- Stacker score: 82.3
- Metascore: 73
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 102 minutes

Though it has the unfortunate uncinematic look of a late ’90s documentary, "Beyond the Mat" offers an interesting window into the day-to-day lives of pro wrestlers. Director Barry W. Blaustein follows wrestlers at different stages of their careers—current star Mick Foley, recent retiree Terry Funk, and washed-up legend Jake “The Snake” Roberts—to show the highs and the costs of the lifestyle. Foley is the standout of the film, and it’s fascinating to see the intricacies and the toll of his brand of gross-out, extreme wrestling. The film did a lot to demonstrate that though the storylines are written, wrestling is not play-fighting—these are real athletes with real injuries and exceptional tolerances for pain.

59 / 100
Woody Creek Productions

#42. The Heart of the Game (2005)

- Director: Ward Serrill
- Stacker score: 82.3
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 97 minutes

Director Ward Serrill’s documentary focuses upon an unlikely Seattle girls' high school basketball team’s run for a state championship and their run-in with the state’s bureaucracy. The film follows a University of Washington professor with no experience who volunteers to coach the high school team and implements a play-hard, always-press mentality that works. It also focuses on the team’s standout star, Darnellia Russell, who drops out to have a child and must fight to get her eligibility back when she returns to school to graduate. In 2014, Russell was named head coach of Shoreline Community College after playing and coaching at North Seattle Community College.

60 / 100
 Archer's Mark

#41. Next Goal Wins (2014)

- Directors: Mike Brett, Steve Jamison
- Stacker score: 82.9
- Metascore: 71
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 97 minutes

Director Mike Brett’s documentary follows American Samoa’s quixotic quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. The action starts with a humiliating and record-breaking 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001. From there, we see Dutch-born and American-based coach Thomas Rongen arrive to a team he explains as “the lowest standard.” Throughout the film, the team learns under Rongen and finally has a chance to play for the right to go to Brazil. Brett’s film is somewhat about soccer, but just as much about the struggle to make it and what it means for a tiny island to find pride through sport.

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61 / 100
Docutainment Films

#40. Harry & Snowman (2015)

- Director: Ron Davis
- Stacker score: 82.9
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 84 minutes

Harry & Snowman” recounts Harry deLeyer’s story of turning a scrawny pony into a champion thoroughbred. DeLeyer later got involved in show jumping, but delights in retelling this Cinderella story in a film that has major Seabiscuit vibes.

62 / 100
Wildfremd Production

#39. This Ain't California (2012)

- Director: Marten Persiel
- Stacker score: 82.9
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 100 minutes

Based in the “mockumentary” genre, “This Ain’t California” tells an engrossing story of East German skateboarders. Controversy arose after the film’s release about how much was real and fiction in the documentary, but the skating shots are likely to delight any fan of ollies and grinding.

63 / 100
HBO Documentary Films

#38. Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)

- Director: Liz Garbus
- Stacker score: 82.9
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 93 minutes

This documentary takes another look at the fascinating life of chess wizard Bobby Fischer. Based around interviews with some of the sport’s top players, it also includes rare footage from the 1972 World Chess Championship. The climactic scenes feature Fischer’s memorable matchup with Russian Boris Spassky.

64 / 100
Brain Farm Digital Cinema

#37. The Art of Flight (2011)

- Director: Curt Morgan
- Stacker score: 83.4
- Metascore: data not available
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 80 minutes

Director Curt Morgan’s film follows snowboarder Travis Rice and his friends as they take on some of the most remote, extreme peaks around the world. The film elevates itself slightly above an extended snowboard video because the cinematography is jaw-dropping, and Morgan spends some time on the logistics of finding and deploying upon the unridden mountainsides.

65 / 100
 MSP Films

#36. McConkey (2013)

- Directors: Rob Bruce, Scott Gaffney, Murray Wais, Steve Winter, David Zieff
- Stacker score: 83.4
- Metascore: 68
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 100 minutes

"McConkey" tells the life story of legendary skier and extreme athlete Shane McConkey. The film touches on McConkey’s father—himself a skiing legend who was absent from his son’s life—as well as the many risks that Shane took while changing the entire sport of extreme skiing and BASE jumping. We see McConkey reach the top of his sport, win awards, put out highly regarded extreme skiing films, and start a family, and then cringe as we approach the inevitable end—he died during a ski-BASE jump in Italy in 2009.

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66 / 100
Ciesla Foundation

#35. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998)

- Director: Aviva Kempner
- Stacker score: 83.4
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 90 minutes

This documentary leans heavily on beautiful black-and-white archival footage to tell the story of the greatest Jewish slugger to ever play in the Major Leagues. Director Aviva Kempner looks at the ways the Detroit Tigers’ Hank Greenberg was able to overcome virulent anti-Semitism to become a Hall of Fame baseball player and a beloved star in Henry Ford’s 1930s Detroit.

67 / 100
Kevin Rafferty Productions

#34. Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (2008)

- Director: Kevin Rafferty
- Stacker score: 83.4
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 105 minutes

The 1968 Harvard-Yale football game is well-known for its dramatic action, but also for the headline in The Harvard Crimson that serves as this documentary’s title. Among the interviewees in the flick is Tommy Lee Jones, who was a lineman for Harvard. We won’t spoil the ending (the title might give you a hint), but the voyage there is well worth the wait.

68 / 100
Highway Films

#33. On the Ropes (1999)

- Directors: Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen
- Stacker score: 83.4
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 94 minutes

Boxing is a sport filmmakers seem to naturally gravitate to for its brute force, intensity, and dedication. “On the Ropes” follows young boxers aiming for glory while trying to duck uppercuts and the pull of the streets. Trainer Harry Keitt stars as a patriarchal figure in a documentary that resembles the seminal hit “Hoop Dreams.”

69 / 100
Exhibit A

#32. Wrestle (2018)

- Directors: Suzannah Herbert, Lauren Belfer
- Stacker score: 84
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 96 minutes

Wrestle” follows a group of Alabama high school grapplers pursuing a state title. Coming from different racial and economic backgrounds, the boys bond over grueling practices and commiserate about uncertain futures.

70 / 100
The Basketball Future Foundation

#31. The Other Dream Team (2012)

- Director: Marius A. Markevicius
- Stacker score: 84.5
- Metascore: 69
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 89 minutes

Director Marius A. Markevicius brings the incredible, unlikely story of a team recently out from under the Iron Curtain, wearing tie-dyed jerseys and winning a bronze medal at the Barcelona games, into sharp focus. The film manages to be both meaningful and fun, and it’s endlessly entertaining to watch Lithuanian stars Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis.

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71 / 100
Solar Productions

#30. On Any Sunday (1971)

- Director: Bruce Brown
- Stacker score: 84.5
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 96 minutes

Like "Road," Bruce Brown’s "On Any Sunday" follows the wild subculture of motorcycle racers. Much less specific than the film about the North Irish stars of road racing, Brown’s film follows many different racers—including the actor Steve McQueen—and tries to understand why they risk it all for the sport. Brown made this film five years after "Endless Summer," and it’s clear he feels a similar admiration for these motorcyclists that he does for surfers. The film is much less beautiful than "Endless Summer," but the look of the 1970 racers makes it absolutely great to watch.

72 / 100
Agi Orsi Productions

#29. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)

- Director: Stacy Peralta
- Stacker score: 84.5
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 91 minutes

In the same way that 1960s and 1970s France makes any bike-racing documentary a dream to watch, 1970s Venice Beach, California has a similar effect when it comes to skateboarding. In "Dogtown and Z-Boys," director Stacy Peralta (himself one of the Z-Boys) tells the story of Zephyr skateboarding team, and how surf culture influenced their groundbreaking skating style. The film, narrated by Sean Penn, is an incredibly fun watch, and Peralta does a pretty good job of taking on the grimmer details as they arrive for some of his fellow Z-Boys later in life. This is skating documentary, but feels a bit like a rock ’n’ roll documentary as well—sex, drugs, and skating in empty pools.

73 / 100
Delpire Productions

#28. Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee (1969)

- Director: William Klein
- Stacker score: 84.5
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 94 minutes

In 1969, during the years Muhammad Ali was kept from fighting for his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War, director William Klein put out "Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee," a sometimes artsy, always enlightening look at the young, boisterous, incredibly magnetic heavyweight champ. Klein shot an extra section about his 1974 fight against George Foreman in Zaire, and released the updated film as "Muhammad Ali, The Greatest." Klein is best known for his fashion photography for Vogue—and it shows in how beautifully the film was shot.

74 / 100
Little Monster Films

#27. Meru (2015)

- Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
- Stacker score: 85.1
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 90 minutes

This documentary is one of the best of the mountain-climbing doc genre (which is saying a lot). In "Meru," we follow three elite climbers (with many Everest summits between them) taking on an absolutely deadly big wall climb in the Himalayas. The footage throughout "Meru" is mesmerizing and the climbers, overcome with fear and fatigue, speak eloquently and honestly about death and obsession and the cost of trying to conquer a mountain. Author Jon Krakauer, whose book "Into Thin Air" is the best mountain climbing story ever written, guides the narrative as a talking head throughout.

75 / 100
200 Not Out

#26. Sachin - A Billion Dreams (2017)

- Director: James Erskine
- Stacker score: 85.6
- Metascore: data not available
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 138 minutes

Sachin Tendulkar was one of the greatest batsmen in cricket history, and this documentary tells his story unknown to many western moviegoers. Viewers learn about the intensity of the India-Pakistan rivalry, Sachin’s exploits on the field, and his personal struggles throughout his career.

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76 / 100
Netflix

#25. The Battered B***ards of Baseball (2014)

- Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way
- Stacker score: 85.6
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 80 minutes

Brother directors Chapman and Maclain Way uncovered the wonderful true story of the Portland Mavericks, a 1970s independent baseball team dreamed up by actor Bing Russell that tried everything (open tryouts, the first woman general manager, signing shunned reliever Jim Bouton, and more) and turned into one of the most beloved, if short-lived, teams in history. Bing Russell is Kurt Russell’s dad, and Kurt played for the Mavericks during the 1970s. It’s incredible to watch the young man who would one day portray Jack Burton play a damn good second base. Today, the Way brothers are better known for their fantastic documentary mini-series "Wild Wild Country," released in 2018.

77 / 100
Film4

#24. Diego Maradona (2019)

- Director: Asif Kapadia
- Stacker score: 85.6
- Metascore: 78
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 130 minutes

This documentary separates itself from Kusturica’s film with its focus on the 1980s and Maradona’s club soccer career. Kapadia, the director, excellently differentiates between the private and public lives of Maradona, who was one of the world’s most famous athletes.

78 / 100
All Rise Films

#23. Nossa Chape (2018)

- Directors: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist, Julián Camilo Duque
- Stacker score: 85.6
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 101 minutes

After losing the heart of its team in a plane crash, Brazil’s Chapecoense football club seeks to rebuild in “Nossa Chape.” The Zimbalist brothers previously directed “The Two Escobars,” another soccer documentary, and delivered again with a touching look at a community heartbroken and looking to heal.

79 / 100
Pinewood Pictures

#22. TT3D: Closer to the Edge (2011)

- Director: Richard De Aragues
- Stacker score: 86.2
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 104 minutes

First-time director Richard De Aragues tells the story of the runup to 2010 Isle of Man motorcycle road race. The film, shot in 3D and narrated by Jared Leto, focuses on John McGuinness, Guy Martin, Ian Hutchinson, and other competitors as they take on one of the most dangerous and unique races on Earth. The film does a little dive into the racers’ interior lives, but it's mainly about the fun of watching motorcycle road racing in 3D.

80 / 100
Madman Films

#21. Bigger Stronger Faster* (2008)

- Director: Chris Bell
- Stacker score: 86.2
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 105 minutes

Director Chris Bell’s fast-paced documentary takes on the history of performance enhancing drugs in sports by zooming in on how his two brothers began to take steroids to chase their big-league dreams. Arriving in 2008, on the heels of Major League Baseball’s steroid controversy and congressional hearings/involvement in cleaning up sports, the documentary does a great job looking at the roots of the issue and the hypocrisy of how the controversy has been dealt with. The story of the Bell brothers is interesting, but the archival footage (featuring the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, George W. Bush, and 1960s Olympians) is the real star.

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81 / 100
Arts+Labor

#20. The Russian Five (2018)

- Director: Joshua Riehl
- Stacker score: 86.7
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 102 minutes

In the 1980s, the Detroit Red Wings began their climb out of hockey’s basement by turning to Russia. With the Iron Curtain down, National Hockey League teams began scouring the former U.S.S.R. for talent, and the Red Wings struck gold with five Russian stars. More than just a sports story, “The Russian Five” also delves into Cold War politics and the hardships of immigration after the war.

82 / 100
HTYT Films

#19. Rising Phoenix (2020)

- Directors: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui
- Stacker score: 86.7
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 105 minutes

Nine paralympic athletes star in “Rising Phoenix” with stories of determination, sadness, and success. Their physical prowess is stunning and they prove throughout the duration of the film that they are among the best athletes in the world. Much of the film takes place at the 2012 Paralympics in London, but the directors also give an extensive history lesson on the hurdles paralympic athletes have faced over the years.

83 / 100
 Pathe Pictures International

#18. Deep Water (2006)

- Directors: Louise Osmond, Jerry Rothwell
- Stacker score: 87.3
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 92 minutes

In 1968, a round-the-world solo yacht race was held. Most of the sailors were the best in the world, but one was a novice who’d bet everything on the event. Louise Osmond’s film tells the story of that racer, Donald Crowhurst, who risked his life as he took an unfit boat (and skill set) into the most treacherous boat race in history, all to avoid financial ruin. The film is gorgeous and tragic, telling an overlooked story with archival footage and interviews with family members and participants.

84 / 100
Fyodor Productions

#17. Tyson (2008)

- Director: James Toback
- Stacker score: 87.3
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 90 minutes

For a period in the 1980s, Mike Tyson was the most feared and most famous athlete on Earth. Fleet-footed, ferocious, and completely unpredictable, every Tyson fight was must-see entertainment—though many were so short you’d miss them if you blinked. For 2008’s "Tyson," director James Toback managed to get an older, retrospective Tyson to go deep on his life, mixing his insights with incredible archival footage.

85 / 100
StudioCanal

#16. Riding Giants (2004)

- Director: Stacy Peralta
- Stacker score: 87.8
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 105 minutes

Director Stacy Peralta, who put out the legendary skate documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys," tells the story of the big wave surfing world in the beautiful and epic "Riding Giants." Using archival footage to tell the sport's history and then spending time focusing on the founder of the Mavericks Surf Contest and standout star Laird Hamilton, Peralta gives a compelling survey of a strange and dangerous passion. Hearing about monster waves is one thing, but Peralta’s ability to capture the surfers on top of the 50-foot waves is jaw-dropping.

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86 / 100
New Black Films

#15. Maiden (2018)

- Director: Alex Holmes
- Stacker score: 87.8
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 97 minutes

The Maiden yacht featured an all-female crew in the 1989-1990 Whitbread Round the World Race. This documentary goes into detail about each crew member’s journey to the pinnacle of yacht racing, and the obstacles they overcame along the way. “Maiden” also includes picturesque shots of some of the most colorful waters in the world.

87 / 100
Gabriel Polsky Productions

#14. Red Army (2014)

- Director: Gabe Polsky
- Stacker score: 87.8
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 84 minutes

In sports, it’s tempting to dehumanize the opponent, but in reality, they're still people—with stories, fears, and interior lives on both sides of every game. Gabe Polsky’s documentary looks at the Soviet Union’s "Red Army" hockey team, a fearsome, unbeatable force that would become the perfect foil for the "Miracle On Ice" American squad. But Polsky looks deeper at men behind the caricature and the glory they gained and cost they paid to be one of the Soviet Union’s greatest exports.

88 / 100
Passion Pictures

#13. One Day in September (1999)

- Director: Kevin Macdonald
- Stacker score: 88.4
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 94 minutes

Director Kevin Macdonald’s film tells the terrifying story of the 1972 Munich Olympics, where a Palestinian terrorist organization took a group of Israeli athletes hostage. The documentary chronicles the botched response by the German police and supplements its incredible archival footage with an interview with the last surviving terrorist. Six years later, "Munich" would tell the same story as a feature film. "One Day in September" won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

89 / 100
Impact Partners

#12. The Crash Reel (2013)

- Director: Lucy Walker
- Stacker score: 89
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 108 minutes

The world of competitive snowboarding is a relatively small one, and this documentary takes us through 15 years of footage charting the rise of Shaun White and Kevin Pearce, two childhood best friends who became the best two snowboarders on the planet. The story builds toward the Vancouver Olympics—soon before the event, Pearce gets seriously injured in a half-pipe and is recovering as White wins the gold. The film is a beautifully intimate look (much of the archival footage is taken with handheld cameras) at a friendship—and what happens when a terrible injury makes paths diverge.

90 / 100
Red Bull Media House

#11. The Dawn Wall (2017)

- Directors: Josh Lowell, Peter Mortimer
- Stacker score: 89.5
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 100 minutes

El Capitan stars again as a seemingly insurmountable foe in “The Dawn Wall.” This time, climber Tommy Caldwell seeks redemption in climbing the 3,000-foot rock. The documentary was praised for its shots of El Capitan and the vigor with which directors explored Caldwell’s failures and his drive for success.

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91 / 100
FIlmFour

#10. Touching the Void (2003)

- Director: Kevin Macdonald
- Stacker score: 89.5
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 106 minutes

Based on the book by climber Joe Simpson, "Touching the Void" tells the incredible, haunting story of Simpson and Simon Yates’ unprecedented ascent and unbelievable descent of Siula Grande in Peru. Simpson breaks his leg on the way down the west face; Yates works to get him back to basecamp by letting out 30 feet of slack and then climbing down to him. But when Simpson is let off a ledge and unable to climb his way back, Yates makes the decision to cut him loose. The documentary recounts the unbelievable story of how Simpson made it back, and wrestles with the way the men must deal with Yates’ decision.

92 / 100
Actual Films

#9. Athlete A (2020)

- Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
- Stacker score: 89.5
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 103 minutes

Athlete A” follows the journalists who broke the story of Larry Nassar’s repeated abuse of female gymnasts. There are many intriguing stories at play—of the journalists, the athletes, and their families. For as heartbreaking as it is to listen to recounts of the crimes Nassar committed, the work of the investigative reporters and strength of the athletes in telling their story are worth the watch.

93 / 100
Das Films

#8. When We Were Kings (1996)

- Director: Leon Gast
- Stacker score: 90.1
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 88 minutes

Arguably the greatest Muhammad Ali documentary, director Leon Gast’s "When We Were Kings" focuses on “The Rumble in the Jungle”—the heavyweight title bout in Zaire between Ali and George Foreman. The archival footage in this documentary is jaw-dropping—Zaire is awash in color, Ali is beautifully handsome, Foreman is terrifyingly strong, and Don King is an absolute trip. The most memorable scenes are Foreman hitting the heavy bag and leaving a divot the size of a watermelon where his fist hits, and Ali running through Zaire, trailed by a group of children, screaming, “Ali bomaye! Ali bomaye! [Ali, kill him!].” The film has the most ridiculous cast of talking heads, including an exceptionally animated Norman Mailer. "When We Were Kings" won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards in 1997.

94 / 100
Universal Pictures

#7. Senna (2010)

- Director: Asif Kapadia
- Stacker score: 90.6
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Runtime: 106 minutes

Director Asif Kapadia, who won the Oscar for 2015’s "Amy," tells the beautiful, heartbreaking story of Brazilian Formula 1 champion Ayrton Senna, who died tragically at the age of 34. Senna was a handsome, magnetic character, and the world of late ’80s, early ’90s Formula 1 racing is a fun one to get lost in for a while. "Senna" is fast-paced, but never forgets to take into account the interior life of the driver—and what he leaves behind when his luck on the track runs out.

95 / 100
LargeLab

#6. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

- Director: Seth Gordon
- Stacker score: 90.6
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 79 minutes

This incredible documentary about the world of competitive arcade gaming has no business working as well as it does. But director Seth Gordon finds incredibly odd and magnetic characters and takes on the world with respect, even while allowing space for the viewer to laugh at the insanity of it all. The film focuses on the David vs. Goliath battle between soft-spoken, unassuming teacher Steve Wiebe and over-the-top powerhouse Billy Mitchell for the world record high score in "Donkey Kong." In 2018, Mitchell was found to have cheated in attaining his high score and had all of his marks stripped from the record books.

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96 / 100
 Paramount Pictures

#5. Murderball (2005)

- Directors: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
- Stacker score: 90.6
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 88 minutes

Henry Alex Rubin’s "Murderball" follows the full-contact quadriplegic rugby teams as they go to compete in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. The sport itself is wonderfully extreme, and Rubin’s film does not shy away from any parts of the competitors lives: we see the physical and emotional pain of dealing with their injuries, the difficulty with their sex lives, the interpersonal issues of the team, and also their competitive drive. It’s a movie that works because it shows a world we rarely see, with all its greatness and its warts—it’s a powerful film and the sport itself is wild to watch on screen.

97 / 100
Little Monster Films

#4. Free Solo (2018)

- Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
- Stacker score: 91.2
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 100 minutes

The third documentary on this list to feature El Capitan, “Free Solo” is perhaps the most well-known for its story centering on climber Alex Honnold. “Free Solo” is anchored by the charm of Honnold, and proved to be a rare box office and mainstream success for a movie about climbing. The cherry on top came when “Free Solo” won the Oscar for Best Documentary Film.

98 / 100
ARTE

#3. Over the Limit (2017)

- Director: Marta Prus
- Stacker score: 91.2
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 74 minutes

Great sports stories don’t only come on the gridiron or diamond. Margarita Mamun, a rhythmic gymnast from Russia, trains for the 2016 Olympics in “Over the Limit,” a film that drew comparisons to Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.” Director Marta Prus was a rhythmic gymnast and used that knowledge to capture the intensity of the sport like no one before her.

99 / 100
Discovery Films

#2. Man on Wire (2008)

- Director: James Marsh
- Stacker score: 91.7
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 94 minutes

Even for viewers afraid of heights, “Man of Wire” is a stunning look at Philippe Petit's high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. Petit’s act was illegal, and so the documentary contains drama like a high-speed chase, but with crafty, elegant shots, too, particularly through never-before-seen footage of the walk. The film won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

100 / 100
Kartemquin Films

#1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

- Director: Steve James
- Stacker score: 100
- Metascore: 98
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 170 minutes

One of the truly classics of the sports doc genre, Steve James’s "Hoop Dreams" follows William Gates and Arthur Agee, two Chicago teens trying to make it to the NBA. James spent years with Gates and Agee, telling their parallel stories of hype, disappointment, triumph, and survival—Roger Ebert ranked "Hoop Dreams" as the best film of the 1990s. Neither Gates nor Agee made it to the NBA (or even especially close), but the film offers a window into the world of amateur basketball and what it’s like to believe that basketball is one's way out of bad circumstances.

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