Sports movies can accomplish several different goals. On the surface, they show staggering, inspiring displays of athleticism. But the best sports movies can also tackle real-world sociopolitical issues and offer glimpses into the human condition. On the other hand, some of the genre’s more lighthearted fare uses sports as a backdrop for gut-busting hijinks or compelling romance. From documentaries to screwball comedies, these are the best sports movies on Netflix.
The best sports movies on Netflix in February 2020
High Flying Bird tells the story of a sports agent caught in the crosshairs of an NBA lockout who tries to end it on his own. A strong script from Moonlight screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney and a leading performance from André Holland make potentially insider story compelling, and the film takes on the NBA’s long history of exploiting Black athletes in the process. —Michelle Jaworski
2) First Match
Olivia Newman’s directorial debut stars Monique (Elvire Emanuelle) as a teen from Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood who’s searching for acceptance and direction after being cycled through foster homes. In an effort to define herself in the chaos, Mo joins the all-male high school wrestling team, which dovetails with her reconnecting with her estranged father Darrel (the tremendous Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who has just gotten out of jail and is trying to make ends meet. Newman combines engaging fight scenes with tender, quiet moments, and First Match ultimately redefines what family can be. —Audra Schroeder
3) The Natural
As a young boy, Roy Hobbs found his talent and passion for baseball from his father. As a teenager, his opportunity to try out for a major league team is ripped from him when a would-be obsessed star chaser turns out to be a murderer, attacking top talent for sport. Nearly decades later after recovering, Hobbs gets a second chance at the game when he’s signed to a team on its last legs, its manager at risk of losing his ownership. Though Hobbs quickly earns the respect of his younger teammates, another team owner and a romantic love interest try to manipulate him into losing it all.
4) The Waterboy
One of Adam Sandler’s most iconic films—for better or for worse—The Waterboy tells the tale of Bobby Boucher, the man-child who is living his dream of providing water for his college football team. But after he gets fired, he makes a dramatic turn as a hard-hitting player on a different squad. The Waterboy is rightfully one of Sandler’s most iconic films, and one of the funniest sports movies on Netflix. It’s also probably the most famous football comedy since the Marx Brothers kicked around the pigskin in 1932’s Horse Feathers (which is sadly not available on Netflix). —Josh Katzowitz
He’s one of the best point guards in NBA history, but for those who are unfamiliar, Allen Iverson has quite a backstory. He grew up in poverty in Virginia, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he was convicted of a felony stemming from a bowling alley fight at the age of 17 (his term was eventually granted clemency by Virginia’s governor). He managed to become an 11-time NBA All-Star, and in this 2014 Showtime documentary, Iverson tells much of his story himself. Along with plenty of highlights from his career, the film shows the impact Iverson had on the league with his basketball talents, the way he wore his clothes, and the tattoos he displayed. And yes, the movie talks about the “practice?!?” rant that might be the most famous press conference moment in sports history. —J.K.
Filmmaker Bryan Fogel set out to make a film that exposes the drug testing process in cycling but ends up uncovering something much larger. With the cooperation of Russian doctor Grigory Rodchenkov, Fabel takes the audience inside whistleblowing on Russia’s long-running and highly successful doping scheme. Icarus is a documentary that plays like a top-shelf legal thriller with life-or-death stakes. It’s also one of the best documentaries of 2017, and one of the best sports movies on Netflix overall. —Eddie Strait
There’s a point in the fifth episode of Cheer where a man named Kapena describes the worst night of his life. He talks about walking around Corsicana, a small Texas town outside Dallas, contemplating suicide. With police, friends, and his cheerleading teammates scouring the streets, Kapena tried to hang himself. Kapena is the third person in Cheer to talk about a suicide attempt or suicidal thoughts. For a series about an elite collegiate cheerleading team, it’s these moments of emotional honesty that define Cheer. Had the series been content to only track the training and dedication it takes to create a championship team, Cheer would still be compelling. But the willingness of the people involved to share their pain elevates the show to something more universal. Something essential. The road to perfection is full of bumps, and Cheer knows the bumps are an essential part of the journey. —E.S.
8) Last Chance U
Pay attention all you Friday Night Lights fans out there. Last Chance U takes a look at the East Mississippi Community College Football team. As the players pursue their NFL dreams, they deal with hardships at EMCC and in their home lives. The show is an intimate, occasionally inspiring look at one of the most unconventional, unrecognized, and effective programs in college football. —Chris Osterndorf
Losers puts defeat in its crosshairs, with the understanding that no one prepares for losing—they survive it. The eight-episode sports docuseries captures the agonies of defeat and considers the cumulative cost of failure in the lives of its subjects. In the end, people who fail on a grand scale usually arrive at triumph through adversity. Losers finally allows time and space for the humanity that’s often lost in the middle. —Kahron Spearman
10) The Fighter
This 2010 biographical drama stars Mark Wahlberg as professional welterweight boxer Micky Ward, who gets used as a tomato can for other boxers fighting their way to the top. Micky has talent, but he’s held back by incompetent management from his mother and poor training from his half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a washed-up former boxer who’s now addicted to crack cocaine. After briefly retreating from the boxing world, Micky switches his team and sets his sights on the welterweight championship. Anchored by two gut-wrenching lead performances, The Fighter is one of the most poignant sports movies on Netflix, painting a harrowing portrait of addiction, family ties, and the will to persevere. —B.R.
11) Ip Man
Based on the life of Yip Ka-man, the man who taught Bruce Lee, Ip Man tells the story of what the master did during the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s. Forced into poverty by the invasion, Ip is forced to fight for the amusement of the Japanese. When a general tries to force Ip to train his men, the master refuses, setting a brutal conflict in motion. Beautifully acted and directed, Ip Man would be an incredible movie without Donnie Yen’s jaw-dropping fights. But of course, it’s those very fights that make it one of the best sports movies on Netflix. —John-Michael Bond
12) The 4th Company
This Mexican crime film doesn’t rise to the level of genre mainstays like Goodfellas, City of God, and A Prophet, but you can see what co-directors Mitzi Vanessa Arreola and Amir Galvan Cervera are aiming for. The film, set in the late 1970s, follows Zambrano, a young man with a passion for American football who gets sent to the Mexico Distrito Federal Penitentiary for car theft. Zambrano joins the prison’s football team, Los Perros, and quickly learns that the Dogs double as the warden’s personal goon squad, the 4th Company. Arreola and Cervera are clearly determined to show the corruption of the prison system, to the point that the football aspect of the story feels like an afterthought. But if you enjoy crime films, this one will scratch your itch until the next one comes along. —E.S.
13) Little Miss Sumo
Hiyori, one of the best female sumo wrestlers in the world, dreams of more. Not only does she dream of becoming the greatest female sumo wrestler, but she imagines a day of respect and equality for her sport. In the brief, powerful Little Miss Sumo, we step into her dream, savor her victories, and share her defeats. —Brenden Gallagher
Mike Tyson has had one of the most unique careers in the history of the sport. He was one of the most frightening heavyweight champions ever. He suffered one of the biggest upset losses in all of sports, was convicted of rape, and eventually became a cultural touchstone while playing air drums in The Hangover. He’s starred on Broadway, and more than a decade after his career was over, he’s one of the most relevant ex-athletes around. In this 2008 documentary, Tyson speaks about his history, his failures, and how he’s trying to be a better person. Tyson has had a difficult life—and he’s made life difficult for many others—but this film shines a light on who Tyson is and who he wants to be. —J.K.
In this sports drama, Kurt Russell plays Herb Brooks, the U.S. National and Olympic hockey player who went on to coach the 1980 Olympic team. Faced with the challenge of beating the Soviets, Brooks assembles a team of college rivals and trains them to break their old conflicts to unite as one band, defending the United States.
16) Martial Arts of Shaolin
Featuring Jet Li, Martial Arts of Shaolin is the third part of the Shaolin film series, after 1982’s Shaolin Temple and 1984’s Kids From Shaolin. In the film, Li as Lin Zhi-ming is a Shaolin monk from the north temple seeking vengeance for his parents’ death by attempting to assassinate the tyrant responsible, Lord He Suo, at his birthday party. Little does he know, two men from the south Shaolin temple are on the same mission. When the three fail, they’re forced to escape or work together to defeat the ruler.
Basketball or Nothing follows the Chinle Wildcats, a high school basketball team from the Navajo reservation in rural northwest Arizona, whose residents are passionate about the sport like few regions in the United States. Yet Basketball or Nothing transcends basketball fandom and even the sport itself, connecting past tribulations with the current conditions the Navajo and other Native American and First Nations groups face. Basketball or Nothing is an engrossing watch, and the subject matter is rich and complicated enough for much more to be told. —K.S.
The Lonely Island-Netflix partnership has already produced beloved sketch series I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, but surprise release “visual poem” The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience goes a little more niche. The 30-minute film stars Andy Samberg as Jose Canseco and Akiva Schaffer as Mark McGwire circa 1988, when the two home-run phenoms (aka the Bash Brothers) were playing for the Oakland Athletics. (The third member of the Lonely Island, Jorma Taccone, pops up in a few places, most notably a jaunty Joe Montana outro.) The film is definitely aimed at a specific demographic, but its format is an interesting window into what Netflix could be doing with short-form comedy. —A.S.
This documentary follows three boxers—the raw high-school kid who’s just beginning his career, the amateur who’s dreaming of Olympic glory, and the former world champion who’s trying to revitalize his career—and shows how they’re making their way through the sport. The underbelly of boxing is a nasty, cutthroat game filled with shifty politics and shady figures. This documentary shows all of that and presents, for better or for worse, how the sport is run from the inside.
20) GLOW: The Story of the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling
So you’ve already seen the Netflix series, and found it to be as glorious as its name promises? Good, now you can watch the documentary that inspired the show’s creators. Interviewing the ladies who starred in the original Glorious Ladies of Wrestling, filmmakers Brett Whitcomb and Bradford Thomason dig deep into one of the wrestling world’s most important and heretofore unknown stories. Now, years after GLOW first debuted, the Netflix series and this documentary are finally giving the groundbreaking show its due. —C.O.
Undefeated is a documentary that follows the Manassas Tigers in Memphis, Tennessee. Since its start in 1899, Manassas High School’s football team has never won a playoff game. That all changes in 2009. Told from the perspective of three students and the team’s volunteer coach Bill Courtney, Undefeated shows their drastic change toward a team worth reckoning with.
The founder of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury, is a serial rapist. Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator is the story of how Choudhury built his empire and then used his power and wealth to prey on women. This story isn’t told in a particularly inventive or compelling manner, but the documentary stands as a testament to what his victims experienced and should be commended for giving these women a voice. While it isn’t a great film, it may serve a greater purpose, as thus far Bikram has eluded justice. —B.G.
23) Girls with Balls
Girls with Balls is a French horror film about a volleyball team lost in the woods, and to answer the most important question: Yes, they use the volleyballs as weapons. An RV carrying scrappy women’s team the Falcons gets lost in a remote part of the French countryside, where the women encounter a group of backwoods weirdos who don’t speak. Clocking in at just 80 minutes, Girls with Balls is a fun, schlocky ride that you can passively view, but you won’t necessarily get invested in the characters. —A.S.
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