8 Best Winter Olympics Documentaries on HBO Max
Gather your winter gear and a box of tissues. We’ve chosen eight Winter Olympics documentaries that highlight the highs and lows of the world’s most prestigious cold season sporting competition.
This February, Beijing will host its first Winter Olympics—14 years after hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics. As the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics, Beijing will bring forth new and unique Olympic storylines.
And what better way to look forward to those new storylines than to—well, look back? There’s a treasure trove of Olympic documentaries on HBO Max, so naturally, we’ve rounded up the eight best documentaries on HBO Max that focus on the Winter Games.
#8: The White Stadium (1928)
Four years after the first Winter Olympic Games, the 1928 Games hit the Alpine slopes of St. Moritz, Switzerland, and The White Stadium chronicles it all.
Restored in 2011, this silent documentary makes excellent use of multi-camera placement and shows off an early period of film history. The result is a mesmerizing film—and one that certainly set the stage for Olympic documentaries to come.
#7: IX Olympic Winter Games, Innsbruck 1964 (1964)
If The White Stadium was a triumph of imagery, director Theo Hörmann’s Innsbruck 1964 was a triumph of storytelling.
The German-language documentary takes viewers through each sport with detailed commentary. Hörmann also vividly paints the Austrian setting with unique editing techniques and aerial footage shot from a helicopter.
There’s even a skiing montage set to the sweet sounds of Alpine yodeling. We know you can’t pass that up.
#6: Sapporo Winter Olympics (1972)
Taking a break from Europe, the Winter Games made its way to Asia for the first time in 1972. Sapporo, Japan hosted that year, and the corresponding documentary is one of the most distinctive Olympic films ever made.
Japanese New Wave director Masahiro Shinoda expertly utilizes widescreen photography for the film. This makes the whole experience feel less like a documentary and more like a dramatic interpretation of the Games themselves.
#5: Nagano ‘98 Olympics: Stories of Honor and Glory (1998)
The Winter Olympics returned to Japan in 1998, when the Bud Greenspan era was underway.
Nagano ‘98 Olympics is a perfect example of Greenspan’s compassionate angle as a filmmaker. Through a sympathetic lens, Greenspan acknowledges the many types of athletes that compete—even those who don’t make it to the podium.
We’d be surprised if you didn’t become at least a little teary-eyed when watching this film. Greenspan’s profiles of figure skater Lu Chen and speed skater Kirstin Holum are especially emotional.
#4: Bud Greenspan’s Torino 2006: Stories of Olympic Glory (2007)
Each Olympic Games produces iconic moments, but Torino 2006 had some of the best.
From Luciano Pavarotti’s opening ceremony performance to Shizuka Arakawa’s gold medal victory, the 20th Olympic Winter Games featured some of the most memorable moments in modern Olympics history. And, fortunately for us, Greenspan and director Nancy Beffa were there yet again to capture it.
#3: Salt Lake City 2002: Bud Greenspan’s Stories of Olympic Glory (2003)
With the official film of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Greenspan once again proved that all great stories have a human element at their core.
An example of this comes during a segment focused on Australian freestyle skier Jacqui Cooper. Regarded as the best in her sport, Cooper was badly injured in Nagano only to return in 2002 as a clear favorite to win gold. Unfortunately, Cooper’s Olympic dreams came to a halt once again after a training accident occurred just days before the qualifying round.
Greenspan’s attention to stories like this is what makes his films so enduring. He captured the true spirit of the Olympic Games.
#2: Calgary ‘88: 16 Days of Glory (1989)
As the longest Olympics documentary on this list, Calgary ‘88 doesn’t take many shortcuts with its coverage. Its 202-minute runtime especially makes sense considering the 1988 Winter Olympics was the first to run for 16 days.
The film features athletic performances from Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykänen and German figure skater Katarina Witt. Greenspan also captured the famous Battle of the Brians, where figure skaters Brian Orser and Brian Boitano went neck and neck for the men’s singles gold medal.
#1: Bud Greenspan Presents Vancouver 2010: Stories of Olympic Glory (2010)
For Canada, the 2010 Winter Olympics was the perfect sequel to the 1988 Games. All the hard work that went into making Calgary a success paid dividends 22 years later as the host country won the most Olympic gold medals at the Vancouver Games.
Another major accomplishment that year came from behind the camera. Vancouver 2010 shows Greenspan and company working at the top of their game to deliver their most concise and visually appealing Olympics documentary.
Sadly, this was the 10th and final Olympics film of the Greenspan era. He died later that year at the age of 84, leaving behind a legacy that redefined what a sports documentary could be.