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10 Greatest Sports Documentaries

22 July 16 words: Ashley Carter

Broadway screened the documentary on the legendary Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, we get listy

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006)

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Despite being called “over earnest, and even pampering” by the Guardian, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is considered a mesmerizing masterwork by directors Douglas Gordon and Phillippe Pareno. Filmed in real time with seventeen synchronized cameras, it follows legendary French footballer Zinedine Zidane throughout a seemingly meaningless La Liga game between Real Madrid and Villareal, tracking his every single move.

Pumping Iron (1977)

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Follows bodybuilding superstars, including a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, as they prepare for the Mr. Olympia competition. Despite being known mostly for capturing a young Arnie comparing working out to cumming day and night, it’s a beautifully candid and enthralling look at the personal and professional lives of competitive bodybuilders. 

Beyond the Mat (1999)

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Currently having a resurgence in popularity due to the recent release of The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, Beyond the Mat lifted the lid on professional wrestling in the United States.  Following three WWF superstars (Jake ‘the Snake’ Roberts, Mick Foley and Terry Foley), it was so explicit in showing the physical and emotional toil on both the wrestlers and their families that WWF owner Vince McMahon refused to have anything to do with its promotion. 

Undefeated (2011)

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Winner of the 2012 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, Undefeated was an all-access look at a the football team at a Memphis high school that was forced to combine with its biggest rival due to government budget cuts.  Competing against social and political strife, personal turmoil and against incredible odds, the team went on to achieve remarkable success under the leadership of their inspirational coach Bill Courtney. 

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)

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Rather than the Hollywood reimagining Lords of Dogtown, the documentary is a far more captivating and authentic account of the legendary Californian skateboard group that helped launch the sport into the mainstream.  Directed by Stacy Peralta, who was himself a founding member of the Zephyr skateboard team, it combined footage from their rise in the 1970’s and contemporary interviews to chart their influence on shaping skateboard culture. 

Senna (2010)

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Asif Kapadia’s stunning biopic of the man that revolutionised Formula One is brilliant for a number of reasons, chief amongst them its ability to affect the casual viewer as much as the most ardent racing fan. Documenting his rise from Brazilian kart racing, through his infamous rivalry with McLaren teammate Alain Prost to his untimely death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

All This Mayhem (2014)

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An unflinching, searing and utterly insane account of the lives of the Pappas Brothers, two skateboard prodigies from Western Australia that shook the sport up in the 1990s  Through their problems with drugs, rivalry with Tony Hawks (who comes out of the film looking like a massive cock) and genuinely shocking twists, Tas and Ben Pappas’ raw talent and dangerous personalities make for fascinating viewing. 

The King of Kong (2007)

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It’s testament to the skill of director Seth Gordon that he not only raises Donkey Kong to a sport (justifying its place on this list, if nothing else), but makes it seem like the most important fucking sport ever played by mankind. A documentary of genius that pits nice guy Steve Wiebe against uber-cock Billy Mitchell as they compete for dominance of the high score in the classic arcade game.  They’re both middle-aged men living with families and jobs (and a line of BBQ sauce, in Mitchell’s case) in the batshit world of top-tier arcade gaming, surrounded by some of the most weirdly captivating characters ever seen. There is a potential kill screen coming up, if anyone is interested. 

When We Were Kings (1996)

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Filmed during the late Muhammad Ali’s preparation for his Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman in 1974, When We Were Kings was not completed until the 1990s, to universal praise and an Oscar win. Incredible footage, candid interviews and a beautiful soundtrack combine to perfectly capture the significance of one of the most memorable sporting events of all time.  Simply stunning documentary filmmaking. 

Hoop Dreams (1994)

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Initially intended to be a thirty-minute PBS short, five years and 250 hours of footage later Hoop Dreams eventually became one of the most captivating and emotive documentaries ever made.  Following the lives of two high school students in Chicago and their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. As much about race, family, education and poverty as it is sport, Hoop Dreams is nothing short of a masterpiece. 

When We Were Kings was screened at Broadway Cinema on Friday 22 July 2016, 8pm, £5

Broadway website

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