The Watch List
The Top 10 best sports documentaries of all time
This story appears in the October 5 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
For sports fans, these are the days of instant gratification: DVR in the living room, satellite radio on the dash, Twitter, Facebook and high-speed web access 24/7 on the desktop and mobile.
An essay, by Eric Neel, on how sports documentaries are perhaps the best tool we have to capture the true essence of sports. READ
But for our money, there's one old-school, long-form medium that best highlights the human drama inherent in all competition: documentary film. "As fans, we sense that there are backstories and implications hovering around what's happening on the field," says Peter Berg, writer/director of Friday Night Lights. "But we can't get to them. With documentaries, there's an opportunity to take a more penetrating and satisfying look." Indeed, a great doc allows even the most familiar stories to unfold further, revealing layer upon unique layer. "Sports are about discovery," says Ron Shelton, writer/director of Bull Durham. "That's their very nature. You don't know what's going to happen. A good documentary digs deep. We find things that don't fit into the world of quick-turn storytelling."
From Our Sports Docs Panel
See a selection of our panelists' -- including writers such as Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman -- individual choices for the Top 10 Docs. READ
In anticipation of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series (Oct. 6, 8 p.m. on ESPN) -- honoring the mothership's 30 years of cable excellence! -- The Magazine assembled a panel of filmmakers, industry mavens and Bristol bigwigs to choose the 10 Best Sports Docs of All Time. Here's our panel's must-see list, and why these films should be in your Netflix queue:
1. HOOP DREAMS
Directed by Steve James (1994)
2. WHEN WE WERE KINGS
Directed by Leon Gast (1996)
3. PUMPING IRON
Directed by George Butler and Robert Fiore (1977)
Directed by Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro (2005)
Directed by Ken Burns (1994)
6. DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS
Directed by Stacy Peralta (2001)
7. THE KING OF KONG
Directed by Seth Gordon (2007)
8. BLACK MAGIC
Directed by Dan Klores (2008)
9. HANDS ON A HARD BODY
Directed by S.R. Bindler (1997)
10. THE ENDLESS SUMMER
Directed by Bruce Brown (1966)
Eric Neel is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine.
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