Ranked: 5 Best Sports Documentaries On Netflix & Prime
As revolutionary as Netflix and Amazon Prime have been in the entertainment business, they sure know how to shove one of their own products down your throat.
Their most popular self-financed productions will always benefit from strategic positioning in their respective menus, but if you look deeper into the catalogue of content you’ll find the real gems.
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The sports documentary category is no different, and if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find some of the most breath-taking stories you may or may not have heard of.
Here, we rank the best sports documentaries currently available on either of the two most popular streaming services. Side note – we’ve left out the likes of Icarus, Senna and Next Goal Wins because any sports fan in their right mind has already seen them, and we want you to enjoy the best alternatives.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014) | Netflix
Fire in Babylon (2010) | Prime
Crash and Burn (2016) | Prime
Team Foxcatcher (2016) | Netflix
Road (2014) | Prime
One thing that makes a sports documentary truly great is being able to enjoy and appreciate the subject matter without having any real interest in the sport it revolves around. For me, that is something The Battered Bastards of Baseball absolutely nails.
And if you do like baseball but haven’t seen this, then you’re in for an even bigger treat. This bittersweet doc details how Bing Russell – father of actor Kurt Russell – left his own Hollywood career behind in the 1970s to pursue his true love, baseball, by buying the Portland Mavericks franchise for a meagre $500 and taking up a hands-on role at the club.
Local sports writers rote him off as a crazy Californian with no clue, but he soon proved he had a great mind for the game. This story is a fine example of how dropping everything and chasing your dreams isn’t always a bad idea. It also depicts everything that’s great about American sport, and everything that’s wrong with it.
You might never have thought you’d like to learn more about underlying cultural issues in cricket during the 1970s and 1980s – I certainly didn’t – but this outstanding documentary paints the sport in an altogether more interesting light.
The West Indies’ fearsome foursome of Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Michael Holding broke the 90mph limit in fast bowling and were dubbed the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ for their ruthless style, taking cricket to a new level using never-before-seen techniques.
Inevitably, the colour of their skin was used against them on their way to the top. This is the story of how a team rose above ridicule and racism to become became one of the longest reigning winning teams in sporting history. This one is also available to rent on YouTube from just £3.99.
Even if you don’t know much about Formula 1, you probably do know that it is a sport in which only the rich can prevail. The chances of a working-class kid breaking through and making the grade are very, very slim given the expenses involved at junior level and beyond.
Somehow, through sheer talent, financial sponsorship from small-town businesses and a real need for speed, Tommy Byrne overcame all that – briefly. But what the badass Byrne soon learned was that once you prove you’re fast enough, in F1 that’s still not good enough.
'People can smell when you are broke' he says in this what-might-have-been tale, packed full of hilarious anecdotes – including a run-in or two with Aryton Senna – and genuine testaments about just how good Byrne was from some of the most recognised faces in motorsport. If you don’t have Prime, this one’s only £2.99 to rent or buy in the Android Play Store.
You may already be familiar with the story of Dave Schultz, Mark Schultz and John du Pont through the 2014 movie Foxcatcher – featuring Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum and Steve Carrell – but the 2016 documentary of a similar name delves deeper into this dark tale about Olympic wrestling.
The film does a good job of covering the basics, to be fair, but the documentary has a higher rating on IMDB for good reason – it has more momentum than the slow-burning film and is constructed better with compelling narrative and extraordinary footage.
The one-on-ones with du Pont – a Mr Burns type character but with apparent mental health issues – offer chilling insight into the dangers of combining paranoia and fanaticism. If you’re more of a 30 For 30 fan, ESPN cover the story differently in The Prince of Pennsylvania. Whatever way you consume this tense, tragic tale, there’s no denying it is utterly captivating.
I’ve got to warn you, this one is not for the faint-hearted. Expect tragedy and lots of it. That’s because the Dunlops from County Antrim, Northern Ireland, were and still are absolutely bonkers.
Of all the variations of motorsport, motorcycle road racing is undoubtedly the most dangerous – 200 miles per hour on closed country roads, whereby a millisecond’s lapse in concentration can change a life or end it.
This documentary, which is narrated by Antrim native Liam Neeson, portrays the perilous passion of a family that define the sport and illustrates why motorcycle road racing has been outlawed everywhere except Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
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