10 Olympic-Themed Documentaries to Discover

by IMDb-Editors | last updated - 11 months ago

Olympians often find their inspiration in the generations of athletes who came before them the stories behind their moments of glory. These 10 documentaries capture the range of personal and political dramas that have driven many of the world's most unlikely champions to Olympic heights.

10 images

The Grand Olympics (1961)

The Grand Olympics

From the relay of torch bearers from Mount Olympus to the sky lit up by Roman fireworks, this Italian documentary was nominated for an Oscar for its sweeping portrait of the full grandeur of the 1961 Olympics. It captures Wilma Rudolph’s lightning-fast 200 meter victory, barefoot runner Abebe Bikila’s marathon triumph, and decathlon champion Rafer Johnson's moving consolation of his crestfallen Chinese friend and competitor, C. K. Yang — all shot with early '60s Italian filmmaking flare.

The Other Dream Team (2012)

The Other Dream Team

While the 1992 U.S. Men's Basketball Dream Team got all the glory (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird on the same bench!), the unsung heroes of the Barcelona Olympics were the Lithuanian men's basketball team. After struggling under Soviet rule, they became symbols of Lithuania's independence movement, earned the endorsement of the Grateful Dead, and rose up against all odds to become the gold medal challengers. This film is their glory.

Warrior Champions (2009)

Warrior Champions: From Baghdad to Beijing

Here's a heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting story about a group of severely wounded American soldiers who turned their Iraqi War nightmares into Olympic dreams. The film takes viewers through the pain and setbacks, failures and triumphs, as the athletes compete for a spot on the U.S. Paralympic team.

Bart Conner, Mitchell Gaylord, Tim Daggett, Peter Vidmar, Jim Hartung, and Scott Johnson in 16 Days of Glory (1986)

16 Days of Glory

This is the definitive inside story of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, as told through the lives of the participants and featuring the singing voice of Placido Domingo. From the Opening to Closing Ceremonies, the documentary shows an often unseen side of the Olympic Games and how Los Angeles approached them, delving far deeper than any TV coverage.

To Russia with Love (2014)

To Russia With Love

In the lead-up to the Games in Sochi, Russia's new anti-gay laws forced many Olympians to make a difficult decision: protest in defense of their Russian comrades or compete in silence. To Russia With Love tells that story through the experiences of skater Johnny Weir while interspersing insights from legendary athletes including Billie Jean King, Greg Louganis, Martina Navratilova, Simona Meiler, and others.

Salute (2008)


After running the fastest 200 meters in history, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute on the podium during the 1968 Mexico City Games. They were immediately banished from the U.S. Olympic team and subjected to death threats on their return home. The third man on the podium, Australian silver medalist Peter Norman, was also punished — simply for supporting Smith and Carlos. Salute tells the story of what happened to the three men who became friends and heroes after a singular, iconic moment.

One Day in September (1999)

One Day in September

Arthur Cohn's controversial Oscar-winning films tells the story of the day in September 1972 when an extreme Palestinian group called Black September held 11 Israeli athletes hostage in the Olympic village in Munich. Through in-depth reporting and interviews that include the sole surviving terrorist and one of the athletes who escaped, One Day in September sheds light on a devastating moment in history while revealing the courage of the many athletes who had to compete in its wake.

Milos Forman, Kon Ichikawa, Claude Lelouch, Yuriy Ozerov, Arthur Penn, Michael Pfleghar, John Schlesinger, and Mai Zetterling in Visions of Eight (1973)

Visions of Eight

Before they knew what was to come, eight renowned directors were tapped to tell the official story of the athletes of the 1972 Olympic Games. While the cameras captured some of the events around the deaths of the Israeli athletes, the film pays tribute to a wide range of competitors and their experiences under the weight of tragic events. All eight directors including Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) tackled a different topic in their own way. For Forman, that was the decathlon, which he set to music ranging from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to yodeling.

Town of Runners (2012)

Town of Runners

Bekoji, a small mountain town in Ethiopia, has produced many of the world's greatest distance runners, claiming a total of 10 Olympic gold medals and 15 world records to date. To capture the spirit of the town and understand its power, Town of Runners follows three young kids from Bekoji as they move from their school's track meets to national competitions, exploring a world in which every dirt road is a path to the Olympics.

Courtney Thompson in Court & Spark (2013)

Court & Spark

Through a year in the life of Olympic volleyball champ Courtney Thompson, Court & Spark explores how and why volleyball has become one of the world's most popular sports, all the while tackling complicated questions that arise around gender, competition, parents, coaches, ethics, money, and success.