Inspired by Alex Gibney’s latest film THE ARMSTRONG LIE, we take a look at some of the best sports documentaries on the circuit…

Alex Gibney’s latest film, THE ARMSTRONG LIE, is released in Irish cinemas this week. The film, which started off as a behind the scenes look at Armstrong’s return to the Tour De France, examines the lie that Lance Armstrong told the world, the one we were happy to believe… To a point.

With this in mind, we take a look back at some of the best documentaries made about the sporting world.


Released in 2007, Seth Gordon’s film follows Steve Wiebe in his attempts to take the world high score for the arcade game Donkey Kong. While this is a relatively low stakes activity, and a niche video game – yes, we consider it a sport – there is no denying that the emotional highs and lows associated with any sport are up there on the screen in KING OF KONG.
The film was hugely well received by critics and fans, and director Seth Gordon has gone on to make narrative features, such as HORRIBLE BOSSES.


This 1977 docudrama focuses on the 1975 Mr Universe and Mr Olympia competitions. Directed by Robert Fiore and George Butler, the breakout star of the film was Arnold Schwarzenegger; a young body builder trying to make it to the top and beat his rival Lou Ferrigno. Interestingly, HAROLD AND MAUDE star Bud Cort was originally supposed to bulk up over the course of the film, but left when he realised he was wrong for the role. PUMPING IRON normalised bodybuilding to the point that it began to creep into mainstream American culture, and spawned three sequels; PUMPING IRON II: THE WOMEN, RAW IRON and GENERATION IRON.


In 1985, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates set out to conquer the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. On the way back down from the peak, however, disaster struck; Joe fell and, after an hour, Simon made the decision to cut the line that connected them, thinking his partner was already dead.
TOUCHING THE VOID is a tough film to watch, but ultimately one of hope and courage. Yates came under fire for cutting the rope, but Simpson has always maintained that he forgives his climbing partner.


Over the course of several months, two surfers from California – Mike Hynson and Robert August – search the globe for the perfect wave. They criss-cross the world, from Australia to Hawaii, from Africa to Tahiti and beyond. Along the way, these dedicated athletes do something that many people long for but rarely achieve; they live their dreams.
Director Bruce Brown literally followed summer around the globe during the course of filming this documentary, and such was its appeal in 1966 when it was released, that it gave rise to the ‘surf and travel’ culture of surfers who followed in Mike and Robert’s footsteps. THE ENDLESS SUMMER was beautifully shot and possibly the first film to show surfing as a serious sport, rather than a pastime for hippie beachniks.


A documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34. Asif Kapadia’s film told the story of a racing legend who was taken fro us too soon, and was hugely well received on its release in 2010. The film went on to win the BAFTAS for Best Documentary Film and Best Editing.

Which is your favourite sport? More importantly, which is your favourite sports documentary? Let us know in the comments below.

Words: Brogen Hayes