25 Best Sports Movies, Documentaries and TV Shows Streaming on Netflix

Let Athlon help you catch up on the best streaming sports films during the offeseason

The weather may have you stuck inside the house or summer sports just don’t do it for you. Either way, you’re grasping at some kind of sports programming in these difficult times.

 

Maybe it’s time to fire up Netflix and see what you can find. Let us be your guide, sports fan. There may be something you’ve missed on America’s favorite streaming service. Trust us, there’s a lot.

 

The Athlon staff has compiled its favorite sports programming on Netflix — films, documentaries and television series — right here. Luckily all of ESPN’s 30 for 30 programming, not to mention SEC Storied, ESPN Films and Soccer Stories are all available. If you notice that our list is a little 30 for 30-centric that’s because... a) those documentaries are very good and... b) they make up the overwhelming majority of the sports content on Netflix right now.

 

Feel free to bookmark this page or check back. We’ll do our best to keep up with the monthly changes.

 

1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

Hoop Dreams one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time — or simply one of the greatest documentaries period. Steve James follows two African-American teenagers in Chicago, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they try to pursue the NBA from a young age. The film is more than 20 years old (and the footage more than 25), but the themes are all too universal — issues of race, poverty, the education system and precocious kids expected to shoulder the load for an entire family. “People ask me will I remember them if I make it,” Gates says. “I tell them, will you remember me if I don’t.”

 

 

2. Jerry Maguire (1996)

Genre: Drama

Sport: Football

Perhaps Jerry Maguire became too quotable for its own good — “show me the money!” and “you had me at hello” — but it’s the perfect crowd-pleaser. A movie about a sports agent just barely fits into the sports movie category but it has enough drama and sports to fit outside of the romantic comedy box. Jerry Maguire is full of sports cameos, and like any Cameron Crowe film, it has a perfect soundtrack. Jerry Maguire took home a best supporting actor nod (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and was nominated for best actor (Tom Cruise) and best picture.

 

 

3. The Two Escobars (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Soccer

Arguably the top installment of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series, The Two Escobars is bigger than a sports documentary and portrays a level of politics and organized crime more dramatic than any fiction. The film traces the intertwined stories of drug lord Pablo Escobar, a passionate supporter of Colombian soccer, and defender Andres Escobar, whose own goal cost the country the 1994 World Cup.

 

 

4. Friday Night Lights (2006-11)

Genre: TV drama

Sport: Football

The low-rated but beloved television series has little in common with the classic Buzz Bissinger book and the movie aside from the title, the West Texas setting and Connie Britton. The on-field action is quality, and the off-field drama is heavy. Just power through that subpar second season, y’all. Trust us.

 

 

5. Rudy (1993)

Genre: Drama

Sport: Football

People either love or hate Notre Dame, and the Hollywood version of Daniel Ruettiger’s story may take a few liberties here and there. Still, Rudy is a classic sports movie, the underdog story of the walk-on too small to play college football. But the film doesn’t have to be totally true to life for us to get misty eyed near the end.

 

 

6. Without Bias (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

Basketball fans of a certain generation vividly remember the when the learned of the death of Len Bias, the Maryland basketball star who died in 1986 after a cocaine-induced heart attack. As college players, Bias was mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Bias' death, brought about by casual drug use, shook the sports world. 

 

7. You Don’t Know Bo (2012)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football/Baseball

Bo Jackson holds no major professional sports records. His trophy case includes “only” a Heisman Trophy and an MLB All-Star MVP award. Yet he was one of the most spellbinding athletes of a generation. This doc, one of the best installments in the second run of 30 for 30s, explains why he came around at the perfect time — just at the start of the modern sports marketing, highlight and video game age and just before the cynicism of the steroid era took over.

 

 

8. The Best that Never Was (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

Before Rivals.com, before five-star recruits, before 24-hour coverage of National Signing Day and before televised commitment announcements, there was Marcus Dupree. In 1981, Marcus Dupree of Philadelphia, Miss., was one of the most coveted recruits of the era. The high point of his career, though, was his freshman season at Oklahoma. This is how a promising future can detour.

 

9. Bad News Bears (1976)

Genre: Comedy

Sport: Baseball

Yes, that’s the original Bad News Bears with Walter Matthau, not the more PC remake featuring Bad News Bears. It’s a classic, but this is not one of those saccharine kids sports movies. The language, the casual racism and sexism, the drunk coach — how did this movie get made?

 

10. Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns (1994)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Baseball

Baseball romanticism is laid on pretty thick, especially after all that’s happened to the sport in the last 20 years — the dominance of football as the nation’s new pastime, the baseball strike and steroids. Still, no documentary more perfectly portrays baseball as a part of American culture. With 10 installments, Ken Burns’ Baseball is exhaustive, but all of it is necessary.

 

11. I am Ali (2014)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Boxing

No summation of great sports films would be complete without representation from The Greatest. This isn’t necessarily best Muhammad Ali documentary — When We Were Kings would be in that discussion, but it’s unavailable on Netflix now — but it does show a different side of one of the greatest athletes in American history.

 

12. Knuckleball! (2012)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Baseball

Pitchers are all a little strange. And there’s no stranger pitch in the arsenal than the knuckleball. The exclusive fraternity of knuckleballers — Tim Wakefield, Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and R.A. Dickey — discuss why the pitch saved their careers and why a knuckleballer is always flirting with disaster. The film centers on Wakefield, but the moments with Dickey, filmed a year before he won the NL Cy Young in 2012, are especially poignant.

 

 

13. Pony Excess (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

What does it look like when an athletic program gives into the dark side (at least as far as NCAA rules are concerned)? This is the answer. SMU football wasn’t the biggest rule-breaker in the history of college athletics, but it was among the most brazen and certainly the most harshly punished.

 

14. Varsity Blues (1999)

Genre: Drama?

Sport: Football

Don’t trust anyone born between 1980-85 who can’t identify a character (Billy Bob), a line (“I don’t want your life”), an artist represented on the soundtrack (Foo Fighters, Green Day) or a scene (whipped cream bikini) from this film, the apex of 90s teen movies.

 

15. Days of Thunder (1990)

Genre: Drama

Sport: Racing

We could dismiss Days of Thunder on a few counts: It’s “Top Gun in a Stock Car,” it’s a not-great Tom Cruise movie when the actor could do little wrong, it’s John C. Reilly’s second-best racing movie. Or we could point out all the plot holes and head scratching moments. No, Days of Thunder hasn’t aged very well — if it was any good back in 1990 — but it’s plenty nostalgic for moviegoers of a certain age.

 

16. Coach Carter (2005)

Genre: Drama

Sport: Basketball

Before Samuel L. Jackson was in Avengers movies and Channing Tatum was in ... everything, they starred in this high school basketball film. The story is a familiar one as a coach lays down the law for a troubled basketball team in the inner city. Jackson, though, is the perfect badass to take the title role.

 

17. Survive and Advance (2013)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

There was only one Jim Valvano. One of the most colorful personalities in college basketball is known now as much for his ESPYs speech and the Jimmy V Foundation as his 1983 national title at NC State. That’s a good thing.

 

18. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

Before he was one of the most electrifying NBA guards ever, Allen Iverson was a “transcendent” high school athletes in the words of Hoop Dreams director Steve James. James tells the complicated story of the trial and conviction of Iverson after a riot in a bowling alley in Virginia when Iverson was 18. James, also a native of Hampton, Va., takes great care in portraying the racial tensions surrounding the arrest of a local legend.

 

19. Elway to Marino (2013)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

Think the NFL Draft is bonkers now? How about the 1983 first round that featured three Hall of Fame quarterback alone. The first one taken (John Elway) wanted nothing to do with the team that drafted him. The last one taken in the first round (Dan Marino) fell due to rumors drug use.

 

20. Run Ricky Run (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

In 2004, Ricky Williams may have been one of the most polarizing athletes of the time when the star running back abruptly left the Miami Dolphins amid repeated failed drug tests. Was Williams selfish? Was he battling bipolar disorders? Or was he misunderstood? Director Sean Pamphilon pulls back the curtain and we’re not quite sure.

 

21. Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

Before Donald Trump became ... whatever you think he is now ... he was the most important owner in the USFL. Director Michael Tollin, who worked for Trump and the New Jersey Generals, retraces the history of a league that took on the NFL and produced six Pro Football Hall of Famers. Was Trump’s ownership the death knell of the league or was any competitor to the NFL doomed for failure?

 

 

22. Once Brothers (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

As basketball became a worldwide sport, many of the NBA’s international players couldn’t help be impacted by political strife back home. Few conflicts were as bloody as the breakup of Yugoslavia. In Once Brothers, former Lakers center Vlade Divac of Serbia, revisits his relationship with Drazen Petrovic of Croatia. The two won a World Championship for Yugoslavia but were driven apart by civil war in their home country. The two were unable to reconcile before Petrovic’s death in 1993.

 

23. The U (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

How did the Miami Hurricanes of the 80s and 90s go from being a college football afterthought to one the biggest villains in sports history? Let the players, coaches and Luther Campbell explain.

 

24. Kings’ Ransom (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Hockey

The first installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30 was the perfect table-setter for the rest of the series — a major story told in a new way by an expert director. Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) examines the unthinkable trade that sent the greatest hockey player in history from Edmonton to Los Angeles.

 

25. The Karate Kid (1984)

Genre: Kids
Sport: Martial arts
Does it count as a sports movie? A coach, a kid, an underdog. Yep. Wax on, wax off.

 

 

Others of note:

 

The Fab 5 (2011)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

In the 1990s, starting this many freshmen was revolutionary. Not to mention the baggy shorts, black socks and shaved heads. So much about basketball we take for granted in 2014-15 started with Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. The story, of course, wasn’t all rosy.

 

Jordan Rides the Bus (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball/Baseball

Remember when Michael Jordan left basketball in the prime of his career to play minor league baseball and not all that well? The writer and director of Bull Durham takes a look in this 30 for 30 installment.

 

Straight Outta L.A. (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Los Angeles

Ice Cube directs what would become one of the staples of the 30 for 30 series, in particular how a sports team or athlete becomes intertwined with a community, this time with Los Angeles and the Raiders.

 

The Legend of Jimmy the Greek (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Gambling

The 30 for 30 series took more risks early on, and few are more emblematic of that spirit than The Legend of Jimmy the Greek. A doc about rough-around-the-edges gambling guy narrated by a stand-in for Jimmy the Greek? That spirit had dimmed in following installments.

 

June 17th, 1994 (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball, O.J. Simpson, et al

It’s hard to imagine a day in the life of sports being more dramatic than this day in 1994 when O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco was chased on the streets Los Angeles, when the Knicks were playing in the NBA finals and when Arnold Palmer played his last round in the U.S. Open. It also captured a time when all of this played out on live television rather than social media.

 

Necessary Roughness (1991)

Genre: Comedy

Sport: Football

Sinbad, Rob Schneider, Scott Bakula and Kathy Ireland. The only way this movie could be more 90s is if it were on VHS.

 

The Last Gladiators (2011)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Hockey

Hockey fans love enforcers, but the life of Chris “Knuckles” Nilan was more than fights on the rink.

 

Bigger Stronger Faster (2008)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Steroids

Director Christopher Bell explores the 2000s steroid scandals from a different angle, that of the non-professional athlete, and takes a look at the image of mixed messages (Gov. Schwarzenegger) and other performance enhancements in sports.

 

Everest (1998)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Mountain climbing

Originally filmed in IMAX, but now that enough viewers have HD big screens and surround sounds, it’s time to take this picturesque to the “small” screen.

 

Requiem for the Big East (2014)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

Why were sports fans sad to watch the traditional Big East slip away? This is the reason. The Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry, the colorful coaches, the physical play, Madison Square Garden. The league started from humble roots, built itself up on ESPN and then collapsed under the weight of football.

 

Silly Little Game (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Fantasy sports

Find out why you need to blame a bunch of newspaper schlubs and professors meeting in a rotisserie restaurant created the biggest time vampire for football and baseball season.

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