Some people were born to be documentary subjects

There are great stories being told by all kinds of filmmakers. But there is something about the natural passion, anticipation and drama of sports that makes it one of the most compelling subjects for documentaries. Fictionalised sports stories have not always worked as well. But when you are watching real pain and suffering in the pursuit of success, it can be incredible.

Sports also make good subject material for short films. But we have put together a list of five long-form documentaries that perfect the art to inspire you with your own productions. The players and teams are not always the ones that feature on the best sports betting sites. But the stories are always powerful.

Hoop Dreams (1994)

At almost three hours long, Hoop Dreams is the complete opposite of a lot of short films we profile here. But this documentary is an incredible insight into two African-American high school basketball players and their dreams of making it all the way to the NBA to become professionals.

With incredibly personal footage of two teenagers from different backgrounds, this movie showed just how tough it is to even have a shot of the big time – and what these children have to go through. You are with them every step of the way as they look to make something of their lives.

When We Were Kings (1996)

Muhammad Ali is one of the most loved and admired sportspeople of the 20th century. His entire story is a history lesson in US politics and race relations. But When We Were Kings concentrates on the build-up to his 1974 fight against George Foreman for the heavyweight championship of the world.

The Rumble in the Jungle, as it became known, was held in what was then called Zaire and the footage of the two fighters as they go about their preparations – in very different ways – is amazing. Ali was not expected to have a chance against the much younger Foreman. But the film shows just how he became the greatest all over again.

Team Foxcatcher (2016)

There is a dramatized version of this story starring Steve Carrell that did very well at the box office. But it is this documentary version that really captures your imagination. It tells the story of billionaire John Du Pont’s involvement with the US Olympic wrestling team – and how it all ended in tragedy.

From the very start, the bizarre character at the centre of the story provides a focal point that makes the documentary compelling even if you have no interest in wrestling at all. In fact, this production is a perfect example of how the viewer can be entirely invested in a very well-made doc, no matter what the subject.

Diego Maradona (2019)

Even if you are not a soccer fan you may have heard of Diego Maradona. He is regarded by many to be the greatest to ever play the game. But it is his personality and off-field issues that make him such an incredible subject for a documentary film. The story of a flawed genius is always immensely watchable.

Filmmaker Asif Kapadia had already produced incredible docs about Amy Winehouse and Ayrton Senna and completed another masterpiece here. There is some great archive footage but the main reason why this is such a good documentary is that the subject is so interesting.

Life or death sports will always be incredibly watchable

Free Solo (2018)

A free solo climb is one completed without ropes or harnesses. So when you discover that this documentary charts one climber’s attempt to be the first to ever reach the summit of a 3,200 ft vertical rock formation in the Yosemite National Park called El Capitan, you know you are in for an exhilarating ride.

Much of the film is made up of heart-in-your-mouth moments as climber Alex Honnold slips on his way to the top. But there is also the interesting subplot of the two filmmakers grappling with the problem of how to document the story if it ends up in tragic failure.