April 21, 2022 1:19 PM EDT

Even if you’re not an avid sports fan, the appeal of a sports movie is undeniable. Humans achieving remarkable feats of greatness under vast amounts of pressure, usually with an ending that’s at least inspiring if not totally happy—it’s the perfect recipe for a satisfying film experience. But while it’s fun to spend time with fictional athletes, there’s something even more satisfying about the real thing, even if it ends in tragedy.

The past decade has seen the release of some of the best sports documentaries of all time, including The Last Dance, O.J.: Made in America, and Free Solo, all of which racked up critical acclaim as well as Oscars, Emmys, and various other trophies. If a narrative sports film is the appetizer, then sports documentaries are the main course, helping you understand what makes great athletes capable of doing what they do. In the case of films like Athlete A and Icarus, filmmakers can also uncover serious crimes, sometimes helping athletes get justice in the process. If you’re in need of some inspiration—or maybe just two hours with very interesting characters—check out one of these sports documentaries you can stream right now.

The Last Dance (2020)

When The Last Dance premiered in April 2020, it immediately gripped viewers in part because the coronavirus pandemic had scuttled all live sports—but also because it was just fascinating. The 10-episode series follows Michael Jordan as he attempts to win his sixth championship ring during his final season with the Chicago Bulls, alongside such larger-than-life personalities as Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Come for the copious footage of the Bulls on the court, stay for Carmen Electra recalling the time she hid from Jordan while on a Vegas holiday with Rodman.

Watch it on Netflix

Athlete A (2020)

Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s harrowing movie is as much a sports documentary as it is a true-crime film. Athlete A tracks the slow unraveling of USA Gymnastics (USAG) as multiple young women came forward with allegations of sexual abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar, who worked for the organization for nearly 20 years before he was caught. USAG is still limping along as more athletes come forward with additional claims, but Nassar is behind bars, likely for the rest of his life.

Watch it on Netflix

Free Solo (2018)

The title Free Solo refers to the practice of climbing a rock face without a harness, rope, or any other kind of equipment, and yes, it’s as dangerous as it sounds. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Oscar-winning documentary follows expert climber Alex Honnold as he attempts a free solo climb of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, which is 3,000 feet tall. Watching safely at home can still inspire plenty of terror, as the movie’s copious wide shots make it very clear just how high—and unprotected—Honnold really is.

Watch it on Disney+

Hoop Dreams (1994)

Despite its nearly three-hour run time, Hoop Dreams is among the documentaries that sports documentarians often cite as one of their inspirations. Steve James’ 1994 classic spotlights two Black teens as they begin playing basketball for an elite program at a predominantly white prep school in the Chicago suburbs. The film follows the two boys for all four years of their high school careers as they cope with injuries, high tuition costs, and the pressure to get recruited by a competitive college team.

Watch it on HBO Max

The Price of Gold (2014)

Before I, Tonya brought a fictionalized version of the Tonya Harding story to the big screen, this entry in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series examined the leadup to the infamous attack on Nancy Kerrigan ahead of the 1994 Olympics. The film features an extensive interview with Harding herself, who comes off as a far more complicated human being than the one portrayed in the media at the time of the assault. Kerrigan’s lack of participation can make the movie feel slightly one-sided at times, but it’s still a necessary watch for any figure-skating fan (or scholar of ’90s pop culture).

Rent it on Amazon

O.J.: Made in America (2016)

It feels odd to categorize Ezra Edelman’s Oscar-winning, eight-hour masterpiece as a sports documentary, but it does in fact devote a large chunk of its run time to O.J. Simpson’s career as a hall-of-fame running back at USC and a record-breaking pro with the Buffalo Bills. That context is also necessary for understanding what happened later—the murder trial, the acquittal, and the aftermath.

Watch it on ESPN+

Icarus (2017)

While trying to prove that drug screening in sports is insufficient, director Bryan Fogel met with a Russian scientist named Grigory Rodchenkov who helped him come up with a way to test his theory. As the pair became friends, Rodchenkov revealed that he was actually in charge of a state-sponsored doping program for Russia’s Olympic athletes. Fogel and Rodchenkov then worked together to bring the scandal to light, all the while trying to keep Rodchenkov from being silenced by the Russian government. The allegations led to the country’s partial ban from the 2016 and 2018 Olympics—and to Rodchenkov living under witness protection to this day.

Watch it on Netflix

LFG (2021)

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s (USWNT) title-winning performance at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup was impressive by any measure, but it was all the more so because of what was happening off the field: since 2016, the team had been fighting the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for equal pay. Featuring interviews with Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, and more star athletes, LFG documents the USWNT’s battle for respect in an arena that’s notoriously hostile to women. (Fans will never forget or forgive USSF’s assertion that men’s soccer “requires a higher level of skill” than women’s does.) The good news? In February 2022, the USWNT settled with the USSF—and the federation has to pay men and women equally going forward.

Watch it on HBO Max

Beyond the Mat (1999)

You don’t have to know a single thing about wrestling to appreciate Beyond the Mat, which follows three wrestlers in very different stages of their careers: Terry Funk, who’s thinking about retiring; Mick Foley, a.k.a. “Mankind,” who’s hitting his stride; and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who’s at a low point. The sport has a reputation for being fake, but the film was apparently so real that WWF chairman Vince McMahon refused to let ads for it air during WWF broadcasts. And for an added bonus: Beyond the Mat marks the first film appearance of one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Rent it on Amazon

When We Were Kings (1996)

Director Leon Gast spent 22 years finishing When We Were Kings, and many sports fans would say the wait was worth it. The film explores the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, as well as the fraught decision to hold the fight in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), which was then under the control of the brutal dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. In addition to providing tons of context for Ali and Foreman’s careers at the time, the movie features interviews with personalities including Spike Lee, Norman Mailer, and George Plimpton.

Watch it on Criterion

Venus and Serena (2013)

Nearly a decade before King Richard, this documentary explored the careers of two of the greatest athletes of all time, who are now so legendary that their last name isn’t necessary as an identifier. The documentary is even more interesting now as a companion piece to King Richard, especially when you hear the real-life players say the lines that seemed too good to be true in the fictional version. Richard Williams’ quip about having the next two Michael Jordans, for example, wasn’t invented by a screenwriter—which you’ll know when you hear Rick Macci talk about the first time he heard it.

Watch it on HBO Max

Senna (2011)

Before Formula 1: Drive to Survive introduced a whole new audience to the wonders of Formula 1 racing, Asif Kapadia trained his lens on Brazilian champion Ayrton Senna, who died in 1994 at age 34 from injuries sustained during a crash. Because Kapadia relies mostly on archival footage rather than “talking head” interviews or narration, the film paints an impressionistic portrait of a man who eventually gave his life to the sport he loved.

Rent it on Amazon

Hillsborough (2014)

Directed by Daniel Gordon, Hillsborough examines the stampede that led to 97 deaths and more than 700 injuries during a British soccer match. The film explores the events that caused overcrowding at the stadium that day as well as the aftermath of the disaster, which was still being litigated in 2016. The documentary, in fact, could not be shown in the U.K. until two years after its release because the inquest was still in progress.

Watch it on ESPN+

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