When I found out that we didn’t have a list of the best sports documentaries at Tom’s Guide, it became personal with me. Sports docs may not carry the same prestige as hit dramas or epic fantasy series, but some of them are truly excellent. And as a sports fanatic myself, I’ve watched more than a few of them.
So once I realized we needed to put together a list, I scoured the internet and racked my brain and ultimately came up with a list of seven of the best ones I’ve seen in recent years. As I did, I found myself leaning towards bingable sports documentary TV shows that you can immerse yourself in, though there are some great sports documentary films as well. If you’re looking for a great sports documentary film to watch right now, I highly recommend When We Were Kings, which is about the "Rumble in the Jungle" between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. It was probably the first sports documentary I watched and you can stream it on Max.
But enough of my tangent — let’s dive right into the seven best sports documentaries you can stream right now on the best streaming services. A lot of these are on Netflix in particular, which has put together a great library of sports documentaries, but there are some from Max and Hulu as well.
The Last Dance
The Last Dance largely follows Michael Jordan’s “final” NBA season in 1997-98 but also looks at his career as a whole. And if you were like me, it was a welcome distraction during the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. I would wake up, not even get out of bed, and just start watching the latest batch of episodes — they were released two at a time — as soon as I was remotely functional.
Of course, this would only turn out to be Jordan’s final season for the Chicago Bulls, as he later came out of retirement for an ill-fated stint with the Washington Wizards. But when it was filmed, it was expected that this was the end for the greatest of all time, and that’s part of what makes this documentary so special. The team filming it got access to nearly everything, and everyone is expecting that this is the end — including Jordan. And despite needing Jordan’s permission it comes off as a pretty authentic portrayal of one of the greatest athletes in any sport.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
I’ve been a Formula 1 fan for about a decade now, even going to the Canadian Grand Prix in 2019. But for a lot of people — particularly the U.S. audiences — Formula 1 fandom begins with the first season of Drive to Survive. The show has been a massive success for Netflix and is one of its most-watched shows. It’s currently wrapped up its fifth season (see our review for more on that) and a sixth is on the way for next year.
Each season of the show focuses on the season from the year before and gives fans and casual viewers alike surprising insight into the drivers, teams and the people around them. It’s not without its flaws — some scenes are altered or overdramatized — but despite that, it's still worth watching. It’s also getting better at overcoming its issues as the series goes on as the drivers have voiced their concerns about putting out an inauthentic product. Max Verstappen even went as far as refusing to participate in seasons 2-4 until his concerns were addressed.
Stream on Netflix
While English footballing sensation David Beckham is now viewed as a generally well-liked figure, he was incredibly polarizing over the course of his career. Some loved him for being one of their own, a Manchester United fan who came up through the academy to become a first team legend and possibly the greatest English footballer of all time. Others (like me) hated him, viewing him as cocky and arrogant and losing respect for him after his move to Real Madrid, which at the time was not viewed without controversy.
But whether you loved him or hated him, behind the international brand was a person, and that’s what Beckham sets out to prove. Yes, he left Manchester United on a low point, but his staying there was totally untenable. Yes, he and Victoria Adams (a.k.a Posh Spice) were two of the most famous people in the world, but there’s incredible stress that comes with such a high-profile relationship. Director Fisher Stevens does a great job of getting into all of that and more in this four-part documentary, which is worth watching even if you aren’t a Beckham fan.
Stream on Netflix
Welcome to Wrexham
Speaking of international sensations, there have been few things as remarkable in the sports world in recent years as the rise in popularity of Wrexham A.F.C. One of the oldest football clubs in the world, this Welsh team lived in relative obscurity outside of the U.K. until it was purchased by the Hollywood duo of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. And the documentary series Welcome to Wrexham has played a massive part in that rise in popularity.
The two seasons of Welcome to Wrexham follow the club as Reynolds and McElhenney turn things around, but it quickly becomes more than that. It gives insight into the town of Wrexham and its people in addition to the team and its members and frankly produces more than a few emotional moments. If you liked Ted Lasso, this is the real-life version.
Stream on Hulu
Sunderland 'Til I Die
Before there was Welcome to Wrexham, there was Sunderland ‘Til I Die. In fact, Rob McElhenney has said that watching Sunderland ‘Til I Die inspired him to find a football team to buy, ultimately landing on Wrexham. The series consists of two seasons with a third rumored to be on the way, and follows Sunderland A.F.C. a once proud Premier League football club with a still proud fanbase that is desperate for promotion back to the Premier League.
I wouldn’t call Sunderland ‘Til I Die darker than its Welsh counterpart, but I would say it's grittier. And it feels like less of a piece of marketing, which is probably one of the biggest knocks against Welcome to Wrexham — though I think both succeed at being authentic portrayals of the relationship between the fans and their football clubs. Whether you watch it before or after Welcome to Wrexham, Sunderland ‘Til I Die is a must-watch.
Stream on Netflix
Last Chance U
Last Chance U is an anthology football — this time American football, or gridiron football as it’s technically called — documentary series that follows players looking for one last chance to succeed as football players. Each season there is a new batch of players who have all struggled to succeed and are truly on their final chance.
The first two seasons focus on the East Mississippi Community College Lions, who are considered one of the most successful Junior College (JUCO) programs in the country. Seasons 3 and 4 transition to the Independence Community College Pirates in Kansas, who aren’t as prestigious as EMCC but have brought in a fair amount of former Division I college football players as transfers. Season 5 switches things up once again, choosing the Laney College Eagles in Oakland, California for its focus.
What makes Last Chance U truly special are the stakes of the show. Some players come in and then succeed to the point where they can transfer out to Division I schools. Some of those then even make it to the NFL, while others unfortunately are unable to continue their pattern of success after the show is over for them. If you want a sports documentary where you can feel the impact it has on its subjects, Last Chance U is unlike almost any other documentary out there.
Stream on Netflix
100 Foot Wave
All of these sports documentaries are excellent. That’s why they’re on this list. But 100 Foot Wave is on a whole different level. The way the show is shot and the enormity of the subject matter — it’s truly a remarkable work of documentary filmmaking that could easily be an Oscar-worthy movie if that was the route HBO decided to take.
Focused on big-wave surfing in Nazaré, Portugal, 100 Foot Wave is as much about the waves as the people trying to conquer them. Nazaré is uniquely set up to produce the biggest waves on the planet because of the underwater Nazaré Canyon that allows massive swells to hit the coast with nothing to break them. Combined with the winds and storms that hit the region during the winter, this creates massive waves that are natural wonders. If you want a sports documentary that can hit you with cinematography as well as an incredible story, 100 Foot Wave is a no-brainer.
Stream on Max