Top 10 Sports Documentaries

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Widely considered the greatest footballer ever to grace the pitch, Lionel Messi is now the star of an all-new documentary that takes a magnifying glass to his life and career, detailing in minute detail how he rose to become so widely regarded.

The film is the latest in a long line of documentaries that set about examining how sporting icons from across the world start, continue and sometimes end their careers in sometimes sensational, sometimes tragic circumstances. From football to basketball to bodybuilding, the documentary format has long been the go-to genre to explore such complex and richly observed true-life narratives.

To celebrate the release of MESSI, available on DVD and digital HD from 25 August, we’ve listed ten of the very best sports documentaries ever made.

Messi (2016)
From Spanish filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia comes Messi, a fascinating documentary exploring the man behind the legend. Through the opinions of major footballing icons, teammates and friends, Iglesia explores what makes Argentinian icon Lionel Messi the undisputed greatest football player in the world. The result is a documentary that weaves home videos and archive footage with roundtable interviews, to illustrate Messi’s incredible journey and rise to the top.

Next Goal Wins (2014)
This British documentary follows the national football team of American Samoa, a team who have been dogged by defeat since their famous 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001. Following their hopes to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the film is an inspiring story about underdogs who push themselves to be the best they can, despite the cost. It was widely acclaimed by critics, who praised the film as a charming, uplifting documentary.

The Class of ’92 (2013)
Following the story of six young Manchester United footballers at the start of their career with the club in 1992, filmmakers Ben and Gabe Turner gained full access to the stars of their film. Charting the success of the club’s top players David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes, the documentary weaves exclusive interviews with archive footage to follow their rise to the top, from the FA Youth Cup to their Champions League triumph in 1999, which rounded off the Treble-winning 1988-89 season.

Undefeated (2011)
The Academy Award-wining documentary follows the struggles of an underfunded and underprivileged high school football team in Memphis as they attempt a winning season after years of losses. The film looks at The Manassas Tigers who attempt to turn their luck around with the help of their coach Bill Courtney, who ends up transforming the young men into an academic team worthy of the championship title.

Senna (2010)
The BAFTA-award winning film by Amy (2016) director Asif Kapadia follows the career of Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, from his debut at the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix to his fatal death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Kapadia chose to construct his story by using archive racetrack footage and personal home videos without the heavy use of narration, to tell the story in Senna’s own words. The film follows his rise to the top of the sport, rivalry with teammate Alain Prost and his battle to improve the sport’s safety. The emotionally moving story was widely acclaimed by critics who praised both the filmmaking and the narrative that leads into Senna’s tragic accident.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006)
This experimental documentary follows French footballer Zinedine Zidane during the Spanish league match between Real Madrid and Villareal CF on 23 April 2005. The match was filmed in real time using 17 synchronized cameras. Though the match ended in disappointment for Zidane, who was sent off during the last minutes of the match, as a result of a brawl.

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
This Sundance-award winning documentary follows the pioneering of the Zephyr skateboard team in the 1970s, who invented the aerial and sliding skate moves. Written and directed by former Zephyr skateboarder Stacy Peralta, the film uses a mix of archive footage shot in the 1970s and contemporary interviews, to tell a story about a group of teenage skateboarders and their influence on skateboarding culture.

Hoop Dreams (1994)
Often regarded as the best documentary of all-time, Hoop Dreams follows two African-American high school students in Chicago and their dream of becoming professional basketball players. The film follows the young boys’ struggle at school, their downfalls and successes, all while commenting on issues concerning race, social class and economic division in the United States. Director Steve James ended up filming 250 hours of footage over eight years, but the result paid off.

When We Were Kings (1996)
Telling the story of the infamous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ heavyweight championship match in Zaire between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman, When We Were Kings was in production for 22 years before it was released in 1996. The Academy Award winning documentary follows the build up to the fight, featuring archive footage of both Ali being adored by the people of Zaire and the intense fight itself. The film was critically acclaimed upon its release, and it is frequently hailed as one of the best boxing documentaries ever made.

Pumping Iron (1977)
Before his was Conan and the Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger was – well, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He stars as himself in this bodybuilding docudrama which follows his competition with a pre-Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno for the title of the 1975 title of Mr Olympia. The film became a box office success and Schwarzenegger quickly became a household name, shortly before he turned to acting.

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