A Look at the Netflix Sports Docs That Broke the Mold

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One of the most popular categories on Netflix is documentaries. Whether a documentary series or a full-length, tell-all exposé, audiences have overwhelmingly gravitated toward this type of content over the last decade. But why is that?

Some have theorized that the rise in interest in true crime has popularized this form of storytelling. Others point to the ongoing popularity of sports and athletics, which have often been a topic for documentarians. Even more point to history, as many events and eras have been immortalized through documentaries, from Apollo 11 to Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb.

However, audiences might instead gravitate toward documentaries because they take a harder and more investigatory look at stories that people think they already know. They tend to offer a more objective and expansive look at the circumstances surrounding a topic. The former is especially important, as audiences today want to feel like they’re uncovering hidden truths and stories.

In other words, it’s all about building a greater understanding of our world. And when it comes to breaking the mold to bring audiences a new perspective on life, Netflix has built a strong list of documentaries. Keep reading for some of the best projects available on the streaming site.

Grinders (2011)

First, let’s start off with a mental sport. While not everyone is convinced that gamers are athletes, there’s no doubt that the world of professional poker is just as grueling, dramatic, and competitive as any major sports league. At the moment, players in the US are gearing up for a Summer Festival, a two-month celebration that’s designed to pit the best of the best against one another.

Fans are even watching live via platforms like YouTube and Twitch, which now include poker channels full of seasoned and beginner players. But back in 2011, many were still grinding away in smaller games with the hopes of going big someday. Enter the documentary Grinder, which shone a light on Toronto’s underground world of poker and its list of memorable characters.

7 Days Out (2018)

Back in 2018, Netflix released a single season of 7 Days Out, a docuseries that focused on some of the world’s most prestigious competitions and events, along with how they’re organized. Producers went around the world to capture the madness and fulfillment of putting together major shows like the Westminster Dog Show, Chanel’s show at Paris Fashion Week, and the final task for NASA’s Cassini Space Mission.

The variety of topics (sporting and beyond) explored was diverse—but audiences really enjoyed being taken behind the scenes to experience the mayhem of last-minute obstacles and fast-approaching deadlines. Unfortunately for fans of the series, it wasn’t continued and hasn’t been mentioned again by the streaming giant.

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Home Game (2020)

Following the release of Drive to Survive and 7 Days Out, Netflix chose to take a new approach to sports and culture—by combining them both. Home Game, a single-season docuseries released in 2020, focuses on unique sports competitions around the world. Though discontinued, the show was hailed by audiences for bridging elements of history, tradition, and athletics. 

In the show, producers explored some of the world’s strangest and most impressive ‘home games’. Episodes cover Florence’s violent rugby-esque sport of Calcio Storico, then to Kyrgyzstan for the horseback game of Kok Boru, and then to Congo to explore the pro-wrestling-esque game of Catch Fétiche. Buckle up—it’s a wild ride.

The Last Dance (2020)

This mini-documentary (produced in part by ESPN) focused on one single historical era: Michael Jordan’s dominance of the NBA as part of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. As one of the most infamous epochs in sports history, there’s no shortage of interest surrounding the rise of the Bulls… but much of MJ’s story was thought to be well-known. 

This documentary series blew the lid off what many thought they knew about Michael Jordan, Bulls owner Phil Jackson, and Bulls teammates like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Nothing was quite what it seemed to fans back then—or even to many now. With two Emmy Awards under its belt, the series’ accolades speak for themselves.

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