Ah, sports! The relentless competition, the sense of pushing oneself to the limit, the glory of victory, the heartbreaking sadness of defeat!
Ah, sports on TV! The glories of watching some other poor sucker do all of these things while melting shredded cheese over Tostitos in your microwave. Sports on TV deliver the thrill of competition to your living room without you having to, you know, move. And sports movies can turn that thrill into fiction that fulfills — or denies — our dearest hopes, or documentaries that place our sports in the context of our culture or our history. And, as luck would have it, Netflix has plenty of these movies. These are the best sports movies on Netflix this month, updated regularly by your experts at Reelgood.
The Best Sports Movies on Netflix
The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)
Baseball has the best movies of any sport (this is indisputably true, do not email me). Unfortunately, Netflix is a little short on the drama and comedy classics that give baseball this crown. They make it up to us in the form of some very unique documentaries — including this one, about Portland, Oregon’s legendary minor-league team. The iconoclastic Portland Mavericks were founded by actor Bing Russell, whose son Kurt Russell plays a prominent role in this Netflix original documentary.
The Endless Summer (1966)
This iconic 60s sports doc is on Netflix in all its glory. Take it easy and enjoy sweeping shots of waves from around the world as you follow two pro surfers on a continent-trotting trek “in search of the perfect wave.” The Endless Summer feels fresh and nostalgic at the same time, the perfect document from an era that seems as bygone as it is influential. Plus, the surfing shots are really great. If you watch only one 1960s travelogue/sports documentary this year, make it The Endless Summer.
Happy Valley (2014)
There’s a dark side to sports, of course. Sports invite us to assign loyalty for recreational purposes, but loyalty is loyalty, and the culture of sports encourages us to turn a blind eye to things about our sports heroes that we’d just rather not know. Happy Valley is an unflinching look at one of the most disturbing examples of this phenomenon we’ve ever seen: the Penn State sexual abuse scandal.
The Mighty Ducks (1992)
This is less me trying to convince you that The Mighty Ducks is good and more me just reminding you that, hey, The Mighty Ducks is on Netflix! So relive your childhood or, if you haven’t seen it, invite your friends over and bask in the contact-high nostalgia. The story of a slick lawyer forced to coach a youth hockey team as part of his court-ordered community service is still a winner. Quack! Quack! Quack!
No No: A Dockumentary (2014)
This celebrated baseball documentary introduces viewers to Dock Ellis, one of baseball’s most colorful characters. In the 1970s, Ellis made a habit of doing strange and legendary things on the field and off. A pitcher, he once tried to hit every single batter in the Cincinnati Reds lineup (he made an admirable effort, but was removed in the first inning, because pitchers are supposed to throw strikes). But even that great story pales in comparison to the one at the center of No No: once, Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter while high on acid.
Pumping Iron (1977)
Originally billed as a documentary, Pumping Iron is actually something else — though neither “mockumentary” nor “drama” really fit the bill, either. Pumping Iron is probably best described as a bobybuilding documentary that features a lot of people who are messing with you. One of those people is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who embraces the role of villain in the movie opposite likeable upstart Lou Ferrigno. There’s still debate about which parts of this movie are fake, but it’s best to just forget all of that and enjoy it for what it is: a movie that will make you care deeply about 1970s bodybuilding, somehow, for an hour and 25 minutes.
The Short Game (2013)
Netflix’s original documentary The Short Game had a brief moment in the cultural sun. Other Netflix originals (and HBO hits) eclipsed it quickly — when there are whole series to binge, you can’t just talk about one movie forever — but, if you missed it, it’s worth going back to see what all the fuss was about. The Short Game follows grade-school golfers who eye careers on the pro tours. It’s a surreal look at golf’s youngest stars and at what it takes to commit to a life in sports.
The Waterboy (1998)
Adam Sandler now exclusively makes terrible movies. Each one seems more breathtakingly stupid than the last, and they overwhelmingly rely on physical humor, annoying voices, single-gag concepts, and offensive stereotypes. All of this is visible, in retrospect, in 1998’s The Waterboy. But while The Waterboy feels like the beginning of the end, it also is kind of, sort of, still good. It’s a Wile-E-Coyote moment in Sandler’s career: The Waterboy is inescapably stupid, but it keeps Sandler hanging in mid-air for a few glorious moments before he drops into the Little Nicky canyon.
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