ESPN’s series of 30 for 30 documentaries are required viewing for sports fans, but what are the very best films that have been released to this point?
Sports fans love stories. Whether they’re anecdotes, contained mythology, detailed accounts or something that combines those three, there’s nothing that gets lovers of sport quite as enthralled as a great story. Therein lies the genius of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. They find some of the most fascinating stories in the world of sports and break them down in fantastic documentary fashion.
The idea for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series originally began back in 2007 as an idea from Bill Simmons and Connor Schell, both of whom were employed by the company. They wanted 30 of the biggest stories from ESPN’s then 30-year history to be told in one-hour documentary films.
After getting the idea off the ground, 30 for 30 films have taken a life of their own. There were first the initial 30 stories, followed by 13 related films under the “ESPN Films Presents” brand. In the subsequent years, there have been two more volumes of 30 films added to the catalog, most recently with The Good, The Bad, The Hungry, which premiered on July 2, 2019.
With Volume III now complete and 90 films in the 30 for 30 archive, it feels like as good of a time as any to look back at the very best of the series, ranking the 30 best films of the bunch.
Before we get into ranking the 30 best of these films, one important thing to note is that the 30 for 30 brand was taken seriously in compiling this list. As such, films that are often called part of the series — and that are also great — such as The Fab Five, Catching Hell, The Marinovich Project, The Announcement and several others were not considered. They were released under the label of ESPN Films Presents as opposed to 30 for 30.
Thus, these films are the 30 best that fell exclusively under that moniker. The subjects are wide-ranging but the documentaries themselves are all fantastic. And if a film didn’t make the list, chances are that it’s still fantastic — just not one of the upper echelon in a phenomenal series.
With that, let’s get into the list of the best 30 for 30 films, starting with a gripping tale about two brothers and their journeys to play professional baseball in the United States.