8 Best Sports & Fitness Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

, 2010

If you're not a fan of F1 racing, you might not know who Ayrton Senna is. If you are, there is no way you don't know. However, this 2010 British-French documentary packs so much thrill and emotion, you don't have to be a racing enthusiast to be engrossed by it.

So, who is Ayrton Senna? At a time when F1 cars were +1000HP fire-breathing monsters and the grid was stacked with world champions, the Brazilian racing driver rose above the rest to take 3 world championships and win the fabled Monaco Grand Prix a record 6 times. At the age of 34, a devastating car crash took his life.

Director Asif Kapadia develops a compelling, emotional, and exhilarating portrait of F1 racing and the man that was Ayrton Senna. He is still considered by many to be one the best and most exciting racing drivers to have ever stepped into an F1 car. The documentary too, is a thrilling pursuit: moving, psychological intriguing and absolutely nerve-wracking!

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Adriane Galisteu, Alain Prost, Arnaldo Jabor, Ayrton Senna, Bernie Ecclestone, Frank Williams, Gerhard Berger, Jackie Stewart, Milton da Silva, Neide Senna, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Ron Dennis, Sid Watkins, Viviane Senna, Xuxa, Xuxa Meneghel

Director: Asif Kapadia

Rating: PG-13

Undefeated won an Oscar but since it’s a documentary, few sadly paid attention to it. It tells the story of a football team in a poor area in Tennessee. Kids without a bright future, until the new coach arrives. Yes, that sounds like a very old, cliché tale. But keep in mind it is a documentary, and the story it tells is powerful, gripping, and any familiarity quickly becomes irrelevant. Even if you have no interest in American football, or in sports in general, you will love it and more than likely find yourself reaching for the Kleenex at least a few times before the credits roll.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bill Courtney, Chavis Daniels, Montrail 'Money' Brown, Montrail 'Money' Brown, O.C. Brown

Director: Daniel Lindsay, T. J. Martin

Rating: PG-13

Another fantastic documentary from 2012, this one tells the remarkable story of the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Men’s Basketball team that received scant attention in the shadow of the renowned U.S. “Dream Team” of NBA superstars (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, etc.). The Lithuanians’ story is all the more fascinating in that it comes immediately on the heels of their country’s freedom from Communist rule. With little hope of participating in the Barcelona games, they received the most unlikely last-minute assistance from the Grateful Dead, of all sources. A really great true-life story, told with an exuberance and a verve not often expected from non-fiction filmmaking. I challenge anyone watch this one and walk away uninspired.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Arvydas Sabonis, Bill Walton, Chris Mullin, David Remnick, Greg Speirs, Jim Lampley, Mickey Hart, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Sarunas Marciulionis

Director: Marius A. Markevicius, Marius Markevicius

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

This groundbreaking documentary follows the USA Olympics sexual abuse case that made headlines in 2015. Through interviews with Olympians, their families, and investigative reporters, it’s also a documentary on the overall culture of abuse in gymnastics: sexual, physical, and emotional.

In one scene from the 1996 Olympics, gold medalist Kerri Strug has to run, vault, and land - all with a severe foot injury that was covered up by her coaches. She does this twice, limping between attempts and crawling off the mat on the second, crying. Meanwhile, her family, her coaches, the spectators - the World - is celebrating.

When she’s carried off, it’s Larry Nassar, the pedophile at the center of the documentary, who carries her.

Athlete A is groundbreaking exactly because it illustrates that the problem is not only with one doctor, or the 54 coaches who were also found guilty of sexual abuse, or the morally bankrupt leadership of USA Gymastics; it’s also about what went so wrong with society to see the abuse of young girls as cause for celebration.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Géza Poszar, Gina Nichols, Jen Sey, John Nichols, Maggie Nichols

Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk

Rating: PG-13

“They called me uppity. Uppity n*****. And I loved it”. That’s how this excellent documentary, about the first professional black racing driver Willy T. Ribbs, starts. It summarizes the strong personality of a champion who excelled in tracks that were filled with confederate flags.

The documentary explains the details of the difficulties that Ribbs went through in the 70s and 80s, but also the people who supported him and recognized his talent. It’s by no way a sad movie, on the contrary, even when Ribbs is talking about people spitting wherever he walks or about the death threats escalating, his unharmed determination is at the center of the story.

This is an inspiring documentary about a character who never got his worth in the history books. I was full of shivers by the first half-hour mark.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adam Carolla, Al Unser Jr., Bernie Ecclestone, Bobby Unser, Chase Austin, David Hobbs, Doug Boles, Geraldine Ribbs, Ian Brown, Nate Adams, Paul Newman, Phillip Ribbs, Willy T. Ribbs

Director: Adam Carolla, Nate Adams

Rating: Not Rated

In 2010, Dutch 15-year old Laura Dekker set out on a mission to be the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Maidentrip is the beautiful and inspiring documentary film that tells her story as she took on this behemoth task.

The film lets you experience this adventure of a lifetime along with Laura, share at first in her loneliness at sea, and later in her desire to be left alone when surrounded by people. Documenting her thoughts and feelings during this voyage, Laura reveals herself to be wise beyond her years. Yet despite the magnitude of the task Laura has taken in, her teenager self still glows clearly with its distinct child-like quality - simply wanting to do what makes her happy - sailing and seeing the world. The sheer honesty in Laura's narrative is what makes this story so extraordinary. You will accompany the young skipper against all odds as she follows her dream and in the process, lose and once again find her identity and sense of belonging. Maidentrip will leave you with an itch - an itch to travel, but more importantly, an itch to follow your dreams.

Genre: Adventure, Documentary

Actor: Laura Dekker

Director: Jillian Schlesinger

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

Though it doesn't delve too deeply into any pressing issues in baseball or into its protagonist's Taiwanese roots, Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story still makes for interesting viewing, mostly for its extremely specific discussions on baseball. Part sports documentary and part study on physical therapy, the film rejects any narratives about innate talent and greatness and aims to depict most great players as they really are: athletes who have had to train hard and maintain their progress through sheer force of will. And at the center is Chien-Ming Wang himself, a gentle and humble giant who makes for an unlikely but refreshing sports celebrity.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Billy Connors, Brian Cashman, Chien-Ming Wang, Frank W Chen, Neil Allen

Director: Frank W Chen, Tommy Yu

Rating: N/A