Netflix is killing it. It’s really that simple.
From the critically acclaimed car racing “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” to the new tennis “Break Point” to the pretty fantastic golf “Full Swing,” Netflix understands what their tens of millions of viewers want in a sports documentary, and they deliver.
We have, in fact, collectively become obsessed with sports documentaries.
Adam Birkhold, a New Jersey lawyer and fan of sports and the documentaries they help create, reasons: “If a sports documentary is an escape, these new Netflix sports docu-series are an extended escape. Best of all for Netflix, extending a documentary into individually packaged episodes encourages more hype and conversations on social media. It’s a win for everyone from producers to viewers.”
While there have been many successful sports documentaries over the years, here is my ranking of the top 10:
10.“Senna” (2010) — This documentary profiles the life and career of Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, who died tragically in a racing accident in 1994.
9. “Full Swing” (2023) — The first season of what should be several laid the kind of foundation the other Netflix sports docu-series didn’t — it made people new to golf deeply interested in following some of these golfers. That’s a massive accomplishment.
8. “Icarus” (2017) — This documentary explores the world of performance-enhancing drugs in sports, with a particular focus on Russian doping scandals.
7. “Undefeated” (2011) — This film follows the Memphis high school football team Manassas Tigers as it strives for its first playoff win in history.
6. “Rush” (2013) — This film dramatizes the rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s.
5. “When We Were Kings” (1996) — This film explores the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974.
4. “O.J.: Made in America” (2016) — This ESPN series examines the life and legacy of O.J. Simpson, from his rise as a football star to his infamous murder trial.
3. “The Last Dance” (2020) — This ESPN series chronicles the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 championship season, with a particular focus on Michael Jordan. This was THE series that launched the docu-series madness. The pandemic timing was perfect, with all of us a gleefully captive audience left wanting more.
2. “Hoop Dreams” (1994) — This documentary follows the lives of two high school basketball players in Chicago as they navigate their way through the world of college and professional basketball.
1, by far. “The Endless Summer” (1966) — This classic surf documentary follows two surfers as they travel the world in search of the perfect wave. This documentary captures the peak of both surf culture and the 1960s. It is the greatest sports film ever made.
What each of these sports documentaries has in common is the notion of nostalgia. They evoke in us some feelings when we remember watching or participating in certain sports or events in the past. That’s what these sports docu-dramas do exceptionally well — take some feeling or memory that many of us share and run with it, taking us along to familiar and new places.