ESPN's documentary series 30 for 30 has generally put out good to great documentaries since it launched in 2009. Here is a ranking of all of them.
[Note: This covers 30 for 30 single-subject documentaries only, i.e., no "Soccer Stories," “The Last Dance,” "SEC Storied," or general ESPN Films.]
104. The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius (2020)
This 340-minute documentary is a slog that spends way too much time on the journey of Oscar Pistorius instead of Reeva Steenkamp, the woman he killed.
103. One Night in Vegas (2010)
This documentary about Tupac Shakur’s murder in Las Vegas after the Mike Tyson/Bruce Seldon fight and a relationship between the iconic rapper and heavyweight champion just doesn’t have a whole of “there there.” Plus, the slam poetry didn’t do it for me.
102. Deion's Double Play (2019)
Even as a kid in 1992, I thought Deion Sanders suiting up for the Atlanta Falcons to play the Dolphins in Miami and then flying to Pittsburgh to play for the Atlanta Braves against the Pirates in the National League Championship Series was a cross between exceptionalism and self-indulgence. Watching him discuss it in an airplane hangar 27 years later felt completely in the latter category.
101. LANCE (2020)
A two-part documentary on Lance Armstrong really came across as an attempt for redemption/closure for the disgraced cyclist. That and Armstrong’s overall unpleasant demeanor made this a tough watch.
100. Broke (2012)
In 2006, a friend and I saw the trailer to “Maxed Out,” a documentary about the damage the credit card industry has inflicted on individual Americans. He turned to me and said it would be tough to sit through a documentary about people who have put themselves in dire financial situations. Only Billy Corben’s stylish direction makes it somewhat easier to hear pro athlete after pro athlete discuss how they went bankrupt. That being said, it also helped give this issue greater attention.
99. Marion Jones: Press Pause (2010)
The late John Singleton helmed this film about sprinter Marion Jones' efforts to rebuild her life after serving time in prison, but it glosses over what put her there.
98. This Is What They Want (2013)
Seeing the 39-year-old Jimmy Connors make the U.S. Open semifinals in 1991 was remarkable. Listening to him at 60 discussing that run like he was participating in mortal combat was obnoxious.
97. Al Davis vs. the NFL (2021)
The battle between NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and Raiders owner Al Davis is the stuff of legend, but this documentary didn’t live up to the hype. And the recreation of their spirits looking over Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium served as more of a distraction.
96. One and Not Done (2017)
Kentucky head coach John Calipari is one of the most polarizing figures in college basketball, but this documentary that follows him around for the 2015-16 season does not really delve into the controversy. "A Season on the Brink" it ain’t.
95. The Price of Gold (2014)
The attack of figure skater Nancy Kerrigan orchestrated by Tonya Harding’s ex-husband at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships has been covered extensively. In fact, this documentary focuses solely on Harding and pales in comparison to “Tonya and Nancy,” which came out the same year and features interviews with both her and Kerrigan.
94. Trojan War (2015)
If you like college football, you will enjoy the story of Pete Carroll’s tenure at USC. If you don’t, this may be one to skip.
93. 42 to 1 (2018)
Many documentaries tell the same story of James “Buster” Douglas’ upset of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in 1990. This is one of them.
92. Silly Little Game (2010)
This tongue-in-cheek story of the creation of fantasy baseball is amusing, but also heartbreaking because of the disillusionment of its founders.
91. The Tuck Rule (2022)
It was quite enjoyable to see Tom Brady and Charles Woodson watch the epic Jan. 9, 2002, AFC Divisional playoff game between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders and the infamous “Tuck Rule” play. That being said, I did not learn anything new.
90. Long Gone Summer (2020)
The steroid-fueled 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was a bit of a sugar high that made you feel empty afterward. So is this documentary.
89. Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks (2010)
Going down memory lane and watching Cheryl Miller’s little brother antagonize the New York Knicks and Spike Lee was fun, even though there were no new revelations.
88. The Gospel According to Mac (2015)
Watching this is a true exercise in ambivalence. One will be fascinated by Bill McCartney’s ability to take Colorado football from being 1-10 to a national champion in seven seasons, while also being creeped out by his treatment of women, namely his wife and daughter.
87. I Hate Christian Laettner (2015)
Christian Laettner is the only player to start in four consecutive Final Fours and hit the most famous game-winning shot in college basketball history. Yet he remains one of the most hated players in the history of the sport. Narrated by Rob Lowe, this 30 for 30 explores the factors behind that hatred while telling his story. However, it is probably not going to make you look inward or change your mind about him.
86. No Más (2013)
No one really knew why Roberto Durán quit and said, “No Más” in his welterweight title defense against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980. Even with this 80-minute documentary, which features a meeting between Leonard and Durán in his native Panama, no one still knows.
85. The Last Days of Knight (2018)
The story of the CNN investigation that ultimately led to Bob Knight’s firing from Indiana University is a bit unsettling… and unnecessary.
84. Doc & Darryl (2016)
There have been numerous documentaries and books about the rise and fall of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. This just felt like yet another one.
83. Vick (2020)
Hearing about Michael Vick’s rise, fall, and redemption from his perspective is important. However, a two-part documentary that does not mention “Ron Mexico” feels a bit sanitized.
82. Chuck & Tito (2019)
Your level of enjoyment of the first and only UFC-focused 30 for 30 will depend on how much you enjoy the sport itself.
81. Believeland (2016)
This film about the futility of being a Cleveland sports fan and the city’s 52-year streak of not winning a professional sports championship aired on May 15, 2016. LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA title a little over a month later.
80. The Legend of Jimmy the Greek (2009)
If all the gambling commercials on TV are making you worried about the downfall of society, just remember that “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder was giving gamblers insight on the point spread on "The NFL Today" in the 1970s and '80s. Since he died in 1996, this documentary uses some voice-over narration by an actor playing him that does not work well. But what a story.
79. Bernie and Ernie (2013)
In the 1970s, the University of Tennessee lured New York high school basketball stars Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld to the South. This documentary tells the fascinating story of “The Ernie and Bernie Show," but feels incomplete and could have used a longer run time.
78. Youngstown Boys (2013)
This story of Ohio State’s scandals told through running back Maurice Clarett and head coach Jim Tressel covers a lot of ground but is a bit disjointed.
77. Four Days in October (2010)
The Boston Red Sox coming back from being down 3-0 to beat the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series was epic, but this documentary was about six years too late.
76. The '85 Bears (2016)
It is always fun to revisit the 1985 Chicago Bears, even if I have heard this same story countless times.
75. The Dominican Dream (2019)
High school basketball phenom Felipe López appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated before playing a college game and never lived up to expectations despite four seasons in the NBA. This 30 for 30 does a good job describing how he found peace and satisfaction.
74. Mike and the Mad Dog (2017)
Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo’s WFAN show launched combative sports talk radio in every city across the U.S. There are worse ways to spend an hour than by taking time to watch how good they were.
73. Fernando Nation (2010)
In 1981, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela became the only player to win the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in the same season and galvanized MLB fans. If you weren’t around for "Fernandomania", watching this documentary will make you a more informed baseball fan.
72. Rodman: For Better or Worse (2019)
“The Worm” has been raw and open with his emotions since the mid-90s and is in this film as well. For some viewers, that may be off-putting. For me, it continues to be interesting regardless of what he says.
71. The Day the Series Stopped (2014)
In the era of COVID, the World Series being delayed because of an earthquake may seem like small potatoes, but that was not the case in 1989. This 30 for 30 on the impact of San Francisco’s Loma Prieta earthquake on the Bay Area and Game 3 of the World Series doesn’t cover any new ground but is must-see viewing for those who do not remember this happening.
70. When The Garden Was Eden (2014)
I once heard Michael Rapaport, the director of this documentary and diehard New York sports fan, explain that Lawrence Taylor was the greatest player in NFL history because he won the league MVP while on crack. He approaches this film with that same type of raw fandom.
69. Unmatched (2010)
This is really more of an extensive interview between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, but you do learn how deep their relationship runs off the tennis court.
68. Ghosts of Ole Miss (2012)
Wright Thompson’s account of the 1962 Ole Miss Rebels team that went undefeated as the school was being integrated is interesting because the squad was basically forgotten. However, it is too short to really be introspective.
67. Jordan Rides the Bus (2010)
“Bull Durham” and “White Men Can’t Jump” director Ron Shelton helmed this doc about Michael Jordan’s stint in minor league baseball. It has since been overshadowed by “The Last Dance,” but made it clear that MJ was 100 percent serious about his baseball career and was getting better when the 1994 MLB strike hit.
66. Be Water (2020)
To call a movie about Bruce Lee’s transformation into the most iconic martial arts movie star of all time a sports documentary is a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, it is pretty compelling.
65. Straight Outta L.A. (2010)
This Ice Cube-directed documentary tells the story of how his N.W.A. revolutionized not only rap, but also the Los Angeles Raiders' relationship with the music genre when the group made the team’s apparel part of their look. This is worth watching just for the scene where Raiders staff take N.W.A. down to the clothing room and tells them to grab what they want.
64. This Was the XFL (2016)
The wild story of WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon’s attempt to launch a new football league in 2001 is fun to watch and informative on the league’s contributions to pro football. It was also a bit like McMahon’s WWE documentaries, which offer enough meat to keep you engaged, but never the full picture.
63. Little Big Men (2010)
Some athletes peak before they become teenagers and kudos to 30 for 30 for telling the story of the Kirkland, Washington, team who won the 1982 Little League World Series and their lives that followed.
62. Requiem for the Big East (2014)
The Big East Conference was and is a basketball powerhouse, but at one point it was a major player in football and seemed to have 75 basketball teams. This film discusses how that came to be.
61. The House of Steinbrenner (2010)
The 30 for 30 series has brought in some acclaimed filmmakers, including esteemed documentarian Barbara Kopple. For this one, the Oscar-winner for “Harlan County, USA” and “American Dream” turned her talents on the legacy of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as the franchise moves to a new stadium and era in the last years of his life.
60. George Best: All by Himself (2017)
From April to July 2014, ESPN ran eight 30 for 30: Soccer Stories documentaries about stories ranging from the Hillsborough Stadium tragedy to Diego Maradona’s performance in the 1986 FIFA World Cup. The only documentary to air separately was about the legendary Northern Ireland star George Best, whose career was cut short at 29 by alcoholism.
59. Phi Slama Jama (2016)
Having heard mostly about NC State’s unbelievable run during the 1983 NCAA Tournament, it is refreshing to hear from the electrifying team that they upset in the title game.
58. Hit It Hard (2016)
John Daly’s immense golfing talent and hard lifestyle are covered in detail, and he even sings the title track.
57. The Infinite Race (2020)
The story of the Rarámuri, known as the Tarahumara, the indigenous Mexican people who run a yearly 50-mile ultra-marathon barefoot, is covered in this documentary. So are the threats they face from climate change, organized crime, and Americans trying to help.
56. Seau (2018)
This solid documentary tells the story of Junior Seau and the aftermath of his suicide because of CTE.
55. Chasing Tyson (2015)
In hindsight, it is hard to believe that Evander Holyfield was not considered an all-time great fighter until he beat Mike Tyson. This documentary reminds you why.
54. Rand University (2014)
When someone’s behavior makes no sense to you, it can be helpful to walk in their shoes. This film does just that for Randy Moss, covering his youth in Rand, West Virginia, and offering insights into his past self-sabotaging behavior.
53. Guru of Go (2010)
Paul Westhead’s fast-break system of play in basketball has had controversy and success. This doc does not have an arc, but the on-the-court stories are very engaging.
52. Breakaway (2021)
Maya Moore walking away from professional basketball to fight for someone who was wrongfully imprisoned was an act of courage and it is great that 30 for 30 told this story.
51. Brothers in Exile (2014)
This documentary about Liván and Orlando Hernandez defecting from Cuba in the 1990s to play Major League Baseball is compelling; just don’t expect it to delve into U.S./Cuba relations, which clearly had to be a factor.
50. Slaying the Badger (2014)
If you think Lance Armstrong brought a new cutthroat attitude to cycling, check out this doc about Greg LeMond having to beat Bernard "The Badger" Hinault to become the first American to win the Tour de France. The tale of double-crossing and perseverance on cycling’s biggest stage provides a unique insight into the sport.
49. Run Ricky Run (2010)
When Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams abruptly retired from football in 2004, the general media narrative was that he gave up an amazing football career to smoke pot and it carried over through his eventual suspension and reinstatement. This 30 for 30 follows Williams through this journey and the wear and tear of being an NFL running back and is a seminal example of a documentary turning conventional thought on its ear.
48. Brian and The Boz (2014)
While there are some scenes in this film that come across as staged, most notably Brian Bosworth going through old equipment with his son, his struggle with being overtaken by “The Boz” persona he created seems genuine. In addition, the comments from Oklahoma stars like Jamelle Holieway and Charles Thompson make this a must-see.
47. Angry Sky (2015)
Why ESPN only makes this documentary telling the story of truck driver Nick Piantanida attempting to skydive from space in the 1960s available on ESPN+ remains a mystery.
46. There's No Place Like Home (2012)
In 2010, filmmaker and Kansas fan Josh Swade got KU alum David Booth to pay $4.3 million for James Naismith’s original rules of basketball where they could be housed at the university. One would think a documentary about this would be boring, but it is quite enjoyable.
45. This Magic Moment (2016)
During Michael Jordan’s departure from the NBA to play baseball in the 1990s, Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, and the Orlando Magic were the most fun team in the NBA. “This Magic Moment” revisits that excitement and its abrupt end.
44. Into the Wind (2010)
The story of Terry Fox’s attempt to run across Canada in 1980 while living with bone cancer exemplifies 30 for 30’s contributions to sports documentaries.
43. The Prince of Pennsylvania (2015)
John du Pont’s attempt to support American wrestling by bringing Olympic champions Dave and Mark Schultz to his Foxcatcher Farm to train full time ended with du Pont murdering Dave Schultz. This documentary is set apart from other media on the subject in the fact that we hear from brother Mark.
42. Big Shot (2013)
In 1996, Texas businessman John Spano agreed to buy the struggling New York Islanders even though he only had a few hundred thousand dollars to his name and a scandal ensued. The documentary about it features the only interview with Spano himself.
41. Tim Richmond: To the Limit (2010)
By 2010, the late Tim Richmond was largely forgotten outside of hardcore NASCAR fans. This documentary reminded us of his uniqueness, considerable talent, and tragic death.
40. Free Spirits (2013)
The story of the ABA’s Spirits of Saint Louis gives insight into the league and one of the most amazing deals in NBA history.
39. What Carter Lost (2017)
The 1988 Dallas Carter Cowboys were immortalized in the book Friday Night Lights for beating Odessa Permian High School en route to winning the state title, and in the chilling epilogue that discussed six of the team’s players who were convicted in a string of armed robberies. This 30 for 30 tells the story from the perspective of Carter, one of the greatest high school teams in Texas history.
38. Without Bias (2009)
Len Bias’ overdose on cocaine in 1986 is covered in conjunction with the drug’s grip on the Washington, D.C., area during the decade.
37. Once Upon a Time in Queens (2021)
Unless you live in New York, the ’86 New York Mets may be one of the most hated World Series champions of all time, but the fact that they only won one title is a shame given their talent. This four-part series brings in a who’s who of interviewees to tell their story.
36. Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (2009)
Michael Tollin’s documentary covers the excitement of the last league to truly poach talent from the NFL, as well as its significant flaws. It is also the only film on this list to feature a future president walking out of an interview.
Related: USFL's 5 Biggest Contributions
35. The U: Part 2 (2014)
Billy Corben’s sequel to his chronicle of the Miami Hurricanes' football program picks up in the late '90s and is just as fun.
34. Nature Boy (2017)
The high-flying and hard-living ways of wrestler Ric Flair are discussed in detail in a documentary that is interesting regardless of whether you like wrestling.
33. King’s Ransom (2009)
The very first 30 for 30 focused on Wayne Gretzky’s decision to leave the Edmonton Oilers for the Los Angeles Kings after winning four titles in five seasons and showed that this series was going to be appointment viewing.
32. Four Falls of Buffalo (2015)
This past year’s NFL playoffs are a reminder of how hard it is to make the Super Bowl regardless of talent level. Hearing Buffalo Bills players talk about picking themselves up off the canvas each year to do it four times in a row was fascinating.
31. Shark (2022)
At 67, Greg Norman is worth about $400 million and still looks like an adonis so he doesn't have to discuss the ups and downs of his golf career with anyone. The fact that he was willing to do so makes this compelling.
30. Tommy (2017)
The self-destruction of former heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison is almost unbelievable when discussed in a documentary.
29. 9.79* (2012)
Ben Johnson being stripped of his gold medal in the 100-meter dash after testing positive for steroids at the 1988 Summer Games is one of the most infamous and bizarre moments in Olympic history… and that’s saying a lot. Daniel Gordon’s deep dive on the event will not leave you with answers, only more questions.
28. The 16th Man (2010)
South Africa’s ending apartheid, hosting the rugby World Cup, and winning it is one of sports' greatest stories. This 30 for 30 delivers on telling it.
27. The Two Bills (2018)
When we’re talking about appointment-viewing, getting Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick to sit down together for a detailed interview makes for must-see TV.
26. The Good, The Bad, The Hungry (2019)
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest may not be a sport, but this film makes it clear that Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut prepare as much as any other athlete.
25. Bad Boys (2014)
Narrated by Motor City native Kid Rock, the story of the Detroit Pistons' physical style of play in the 1980s is told without any sugarcoating or apology.
24. You Don't Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson (2012)
Bo Jackson was already a legend when he was playing for both the Los Angeles Raiders and the Kansas City Royals. This documentary reminds us of how great he was and educates those who are too young to remember him.
23. Benji: The True Story of a Dream Cut Short (2012)
If the story of Ben Wilson, a Chicago high school basketball phenom who was killed in 1984, does not wrench your heart, then you do not have one.
22. The Birth of Big Air (2010)
“Jackass” director Jeff Tremaine details how teenager Mat Hoffman pioneered extreme sports and the price he paid for it.
21. Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau (2013)
Surfing documentarian Sam George tells the story of Hawaiian big wave surfing legend Eddie Aikau. This is one of the more underrated entries of the 30 for 30 series.
20. Qualified (2019)
In 1977, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. Her story is inspiring, while the challenges she faced are infuriating.
19. Sole Man (2015)
You may not like Sonny Vaccaro after watching this documentary, but you will be amazed at his influence on basketball, especially in the sneakers department.
18. Once Brothers (2010)
The wars that came from the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991 may be hard for younger generations to understand. Seeing how they turned NBA players Vlade Divac of Serbia and Dražen Petrović of Croatia from friends into bitter enemies is one way to teach them.
17. The Band That Wouldn’t Die (2009)
One of the earliest 30 for 30s demonstrated why this series was so special. Baltimorean Barry Levinson chronicles the story of the Baltimore Colts’ marching band’s fight to survive in the years between the franchise moving to Indianapolis in 1984 and the Ravens' arrival in 1996.
16. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson (2010)
After watching “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James' documentary about 17-year-old Allen Iverson being convicted as an adult following a fight at a bowling alley, you will come away with more sympathy for the chip he carried on his shoulder. You will also be reminded of his amazing overall athleticism.
15. Playing for the Mob (2014)
In “Goodfellas,” Morrie Kessler starts to describe a point-shaving operation before getting stabbed to death in the car by Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). This is the story he didn’t get to finish.
14. Of Miracles and Men (2015)
The U.S. Olympic Hockey team’s defeat of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics is one of the biggest upsets in sports history. This documentary gives us the perspective of the Soviets.
13. Muhammad and Larry (2009)
“When We Were Kings” followed Muhammad Ali around before his greatest professional moment with “The Rumble in the Jungle.” This film does the same thing before his worst, his 1980 bout with Larry Holmes.
12. Catholics vs. Convicts (2016)
This doc on the 1988 matchup between Notre Dame and Miami (Fla.) could have been just a basic retread of a famous college football game. Instead, it is a cut above because it delves into the culture at Notre Dame and the idea behind the latently racist T-shirt that pushed the term “Catholics vs. Convicts” into the lexicon.
11. Survive and Advance (2013)
This film about the NC State Wolfpack’s epic 10-game run to win the NCAA title fully delivers in the way this story should.
10. The U (2009)
Billy Corben used the style he honed with “Cocaine Cowboys” to tell the story of the Miami Hurricanes' rise in football in the 1980s and '90s. The result is documentary filmmaking that fully reflects its subject matter.
9. Elway to Marino (2013)
This breakdown of the greatest draft in NFL history through the notes of Marvin Demoff, agent for Dan Marino and John Elway, is so much fun.
8. The Best That Never Was (2010)
Marcus Dupree’s story was always painted as a tragedy, but this remarkable documentary allowed viewers to hear from him and learn about the many high points as well.
7. Pony Excess (2010)
This documentary on SMU football’s cheating and subsequent NCAA Death Penalty is riveting from start to finish. Had the filmmakers gotten an interview with Sherwood Blount, Jr., the financier of the NCAA violations, this would have been in the top five.
6. Year of the Scab (2017)
The story of the 1987 NFL strike covers its causes, the replacement players, and the aftermath. It may also have compelled the Washington Commanders to give their replacement players Super Bowl rings.
5. Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies (2017)
This three-part comprehensive story of the Boston Celtics/Los Angeles Lakers rivalry is a sports fan’s dream.
4. The Two Escobars (2010)
This film perfectly intertwines the stories of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and soccer star Andres Escobar all against the backdrop of a country in turmoil.
3. Fantastic Lies (2016)
Marina Zenovich’s account of the Duke Lacrosse scandal will leave you questioning the media and the legal system.
2. June 17th, 1994 (2010)
It may be surprising to see two O.J. Simpson documentaries top this list, but as this film shows, so much more happened on this day.
1. O.J.: Made in America (2016)
Could it be anything else? This five-part series examining race, culture, and celebrity through the life of O.J. Simpson won the Oscar for Best Documentary.
Related: Oscar-Winning Sports Movies