Grab your popcorn as we review the best sports documentaries on Netflix streaming in 2015.
We enjoy watching sports for various individual reasons, be it the competition, the thrill, or just the unpredictability of it. Unlike in life, the underdogs in sport often win, sometimes out of sheer determination and sometimes by pure stroke of luck. Sports documentaries take things one step further. They explain the mechanics of how a great athlete or team came to be and that process can often be fascinating, similar to the best space documentaries on Netflix streaming. That is why we enjoy them.
To rank best sports documentaries on Netflix streaming in 2015, we had to devise a system. Going simply by IMDb rating just wouldn’t cut it, although we did include it in our final ranking. We also scoured dozen of lists on most popular sites in order to get an accurate feel on public opinion. We mixed it all together and came up with a genuine Insider Monkey ranking. These documentaries represent some of the greatest sport stories ever told on camera. Everything is here, from heartbreaking tales of missed chances to the greatest Cinderella stories. Let’s see what Netflix has in store for us.
Site rank 1, IMDb rank 4, Overall rank = 5
Directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin
The Manassas Tigers, a high school football team from Memphis, is in a losing streak that lasts for years. The team even tries to sell their home games to the highest bidder, but the demand isn’t exactly sky high since most teams can beat them without breaking a sweat. In an attempt to turn the things around, the school brings in a new coach, Bill Courtney. Now, for the first time in their 110-year history, the Tigers have a chance of winning a playoff game.
The team’s transformation from clunkers to crackerjacks doesn’t come overnight, though. The film follows them both on and off the court, as they struggle with life in the inner city while attempting to reach their goals on the football field.
10. The Best That Never Was
Site rank 4, IMDb rank 2, Overall rank = 6
Directed by Jonathan Hock
At 6’2’’ and 225 lb yet exceptionally fast, Marcus Dupree was the prototype of a modern running back. In his high school football career – during which he also played basketball and baseball and ran track – he set the record for the most touchdowns, scoring 87 of them, one more than previous record-holder Herschel Walker. Every major college football program in the country wanted to recruit him. His coach was fielding over 100 calls a day.
Marcus finally decided on the University of Oklahoma, where he promptly amazed both fans and coaching staff with his athleticism and talent. But his sophomore year wasn’t as successful. Overweight and out of shape, he became injury prone. After one particular injury, he simply disappeared for a whole week. Jonathan Hock tells a story how a player who should have been one of the greatest ended up a truck driver in rural Mississippi.
9. The Fab Five
Site rank 3, IMDb rank 7, Overall rank = 10
Directed by Jason Hehir
Any story about the Fab Five, one of the most famous basketball teams ever to play college ball, is destined to garner a lot of attention. The legendary Michigan squad, led by Chris Webber, revolutionized the way NCAA basketball is played. They’ve played in two consecutive NCAA championship games – and lost both of them, the second one due to Webber’s infamous timeout blooper – only to have all records of their existence erased from Michigan’s archives due to the Ed Martin scandal.
Four members of the original Fab Five (Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson) took part in making of the documentary. Only Chris Webber declined the offer, citing inadequate time to prepare – a statement refuted by his teammates. The Fab Five has the record for highest-rated ESPN documentary, with 2.7 million viewers for its premiere.
8. You Don’t Know Bo
Site rank 2, IMDb rank 8, Overall rank = 10
Directed by Michael Bonfiglio
Bo Jackson is the only athlete in the world who was an All-Star in two different major league sports, baseball and football. The legend of Bo rose to almost mythical heights when Nike released a series of commercials with the catchphrase Bo Knows, where he was featured playing almost every sport imaginable. The climax was playing the guitar with blues legend Bo Diddley. Michael Bonfiglio expertly explores the relationship between athletes’ images and their sponsors and how a single ad campaign can change our perception of an athlete.
7. Survive and Advance
Site rank 5, IMDb rank 6, Overall rank = 11
Directed by Jonathan Hock
The story of North Carolina State University is perhaps the best underdog tale ever seen in the NCAA. Expertly directed by Jonathan Hock, the film follows the team as they manage to defeat every opponent on their way to the 1983 NCAA title. Pitted against them were future NBA greats Sam Perkins, Akeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler, and even the other North Carolina team led by Michael Jordan. Instrumental to this win was Joe Valvano, a legendary college coach. The way he managed his Cinderella team as they march to the throne is one of the most inspirational sports stories ever told.
6. No No: A Dockumentary
Site rank 8, IMDb rank 3, Overall rank = 11
Directed by Jeff Radice
The Muhammad Ali of baseball, as he liked to refer to himself, Dock Ellis was one of the most controversial figures in baseball history. Highly outspoken, Dock often raised his voice against the racism in baseball and 1970s America in general. However, his substance abuse problem was something he is mostly remembered for, especially when he stated that he threw a famous no-hitter under the influence of LSD. Dock later expanded his statement, claiming that he was high every time he pitched. Jeff Radice’s movie follows Dock’s life both on and off the field, painting a picture of a man who never ceased to fight the system even as it drew him into the depths of addiction. Illustrated by animated cartoons and followed by a powerful 70s musical score, No No: A Documentary won Best Editing at the Boulder International Film Festival.
5. June 17th, 1994
Site rank 6, IMDb rank 5, Overall rank = 11
Directed by Brett Morgen
Some would argue that Brett Morgen’s June 17th, 1994 is more of a crime documentary than a sports one. Since we included it on the list of best sports documentaries on Netflix streaming in 2015, we obviously disagree.
The film follows the events of that fateful Friday in Los Angeles. Morgen offers no narration in his film or any other form of an outside view. Instead, he composes it entirely of news clippings that focused on the police pursuit of O. J. Simpson. It’s incredible how he manages to create riveting watching from such seemingly bland content. Morgan’s mosaic has earned him an Oscar nomination as well as a Peabody Award.
Site rank 10, IMDb rank 1, Overall rank = 11
Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg
Knuckleball – a circus pitch or an undefeatable weapon in pitcher’s arsenal? The 2012 documentary tries to make a definite answer about baseball’s most controversial pitch. The film follows Tim Wakefield and R. A. Dickey, the only pitchers in the 2011 MLB lineup who use the knuckleball pitch. Dickey, whose family was forced to move 37 times as he was tossed from one team to another, won the Cy Young Award that year and was the first knuckleball pitcher ever to accomplish that. His 2011 season was regarded as one of the best comeback stories in the history of baseball.
3. The Two Escobars
Site rank 9, IMDb rank 9, Overall rank = 18
Directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist
In the early 1990s, Colombia was a country torn apart by an internal strife fueled by the raging drug war, featuring world-famous drug trafficker Pablo Escobar and his notorious Medellin Cartel. The nation desperately needed a cause to unite it and they found it in a national soccer team led by Andreas Escobar. The two weren’t related by blood, but the mix of sport, drugs and politics brought them together in a story masterfully retold by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist.
Andreas Escobar is one of the most tragic figures in sports history. A great player and role model, he was the captain of the Colombian national team that played in 1994 World Cup. His goal mistakenly scored against his own team in a game with the US stopped Colombians from advancing into the knockout stage of the tournament. Upon his return home, he was assassinated by the Gallón brothers’ henchmen who’d lost a lot of money betting on Colombia. Had Pablo been alive (he was killed a year before) it is doubtful that anyone would have dared touch one of his favorite players.
Site rank 7, IMDb rank 11, Overall rank = 18
Directed by Ken Burns
After the success he achieved with his Civil War documentary, Ken Burns turned to baseball and created a miniseries that won an Emmy. Masterfully narrated by John Chancellor with countless voice cameos, the series follows the history of America’s favorite pastime, exploring every major aspect of the game. It is divided into 9 parts, called innings, each following a decade or so, with the ninth inning ending in 1993.
In 2010, the tenth inning was added, covering the period between 1994 and 2009.
1. Hoop Dreams
Site rank 11, IMDb rank 10, Overall rank = 21
Directed by Steve James
Beginning as a simple half-hour project, Hoop Dreams became a five-year-long observation culminating in a 171-minute-long documentary that won Best Documentary at Sundance in 1994 and several other awards.
The story follows two African-American kids from Chicago as they transfer schools in order to pursue their dream of playing in the NBA. Their new school, St. Joseph High, is a private institution whose students are mostly white. William and Arthur try to fit in while enduring the highly demanding practice regimen of elite basketball and commuting 90 minutes every day on public transit.
The documentary has earned $11.8 million on a $700,000 budget and was nominated for the Academy Award for the Best Editing.