35 Best Sports Movies of All Time
The thrill of the last-minute winner. Cheering for the underdog. The heartbreak of a career-ending injury. These are just some of the moments that make the best sports movies so great. These tales of individuals and teams rising up against the odds to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat pull at the heartstrings and make you want to pull on your boots and get out in the field yourself.
Sports movies have it all; drama, action, romance, comedy, and occasionally horror. Few genres of film encompass everything that is great (and sometimes bad) about the human condition. Sure, many of them are cliched and you know how they’ll end (especially if based on a true story), but they still provide so much joy and thrills and will have you watching right up until the very end.
From Rocky Balboa’s desire to be someone to the “Miracle on Ice,” sports movies have provided movie fans with plenty of entertainment over the years. With the NBA season only a month away and the baseball season having just kicked off, we thought we’d help get you in the mood with these incredible sports movies.
35 Best Sports Movies of All Time
The ultimate underdog story is also one of the best sports movies ever made. Rocky, written and starring Sylvester Stallone, is everything you want from a sports movie. There’s plenty of action, drama, and laughs, with an ending that leaves you wanting more.
The movie focuses on the title character Rocky Balboa (Stallone), an underachieving boxer given the chance to compete against the world champion, the cocky and incredibly named Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Finally given the chance to show his skills, the fight between the two is an epic confrontation that still hits hard today.
Rocky has a great supporting cast (Burgess Meredith as trainer, Talia Shire as love interest Adrian, and Burt Young as drunk friend), a fantastic soundtrack, and plenty of drama. Rocky also introduced the training montage that would become a staple of sports movies over the years.
The Oscar-winning flick spawned five sequels and two (with a third on the way) spin-off movies focusing on Creed’s son and continues to be the longest-running sports franchise in movie history. A stone-cold classic that gets better with every watch.
Bull Durham (1988)
Off the back of The Untouchables and No Way Out, Kevin Costner continued to flourish with his turn in the baseball rom-com Bull Durham. Costner is veteran pitcher “Crash” Davis whose brought into a team to help up-and-comer Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robins) get ready for the big leagues. Friction between the two occurs when Nuke’s girlfriend (Susan Sarandon) starts to fancy Crash.
The film was a huge success, thanks in part to its three leads, and focuses on what happens off the pitch and the dynamics between players. The screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award and talks of a sequel have been going for years, although the leads might be a bit old now.
The Hustler (1961)
You might not consider pool a sport, but once you’ve seen The Hustler you’ll realize how engaging it is. Paul Newman is in fine form as “Fast Eddie” Felson, a pool shark who hustles people for money. Looking to get into the big leagues and make some real cash, Felson finds himself in partnership with the dodgy Bert while falling for the alcoholic Sarah. All roads lead to a match against Minnesota Fats (a scene-stealing Jackie Gleason) where Felson can prove himself the greatest.
Dealing with themes of winning and losing and how humans react, The Hustler is more than just a sports movie with a bit of romance thrown in. The tragic third has quite a few heavy moments and the slightly depressing climax will have you reflecting on the choices you’ve made in life.
A big hit in the 60s, a sequel arrived some 25 years later featuring Newman reprising his role as Fast Eddie teaching up-and-comer Tom Cruise how to become a great player. The movie won Newman the Academy Award for Best Actor after seven nominations, with many believing it was retrospectively given to him for his original performance in The Hustler.
Chariots of Fire (1981)
This Oscar-winning sports movie is about two British track and field athletes competing at the 1924 Olympics. One is a strident Christian and the other follows the Jewish faith, with their opposing faiths impacting their performances on the track. While the final gold medal races are what both men are striving for, the heart of this movie is the two men and how they deal with things as religious athletes in a time when prejudice is rife.
Chariots of Fire is an uplifting drama that will leave you feeling emotional by the time the credits roll. It’s also responsible for making Greek composer Vangelis’ synth theme “Chariots of Fire” one of the most recognized movie songs ever created.
Remember the Titans (2000)
This is a great movie based on a true story. Denzel Washington is a black coach Herman Boone who is tasked with integrating black and white students into the same football team. While things get off to a rocky start, Boone manages to get them playing together and leads them to the state championships.
Remember the Titans has all the ingredients of an underdog sports movie. Washington is commanding with a supporting cast that includes Will Patton, Ryan Gosling, Kip Pardue, Kate Bosworth, Donald Faison, and Hayden Panettiere. The rousing speech Washington gives at Gettysburg National Cemetery will send shivers down your spine and have you ready to run out on the field for Washington.
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Hoop Dreams (1994)
The first documentary on this list, Hoop Dreams is a fascinating look at basketball and how it is often seen as a way of escaping a life of poverty and crime. It follows two African American high school students who are talented ball players hoping to secure a spot in the big leagues.
What makes Hoop Dreams a must-watch is the story of the two teens, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as you discover their backgrounds and the hardships they have been through. While basketball is front and center in this doco, it’s all about Gates and Agee’s lives off the court and the carrot of the American dream that make this film work.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
Another true story, Friday Night Lights is based on the book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream. The book is about the hopes and dreams of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers. Billy Bob Thorton stars as the coach put in charge of the team that is expected to deliver a state championship.
What makes this movie so engaging is the off-field events surrounding the coach and his players. Friday Night Lights takes a look at how the team’s performances impact the town and the pressure these young kids feel to succeed. The movie was so well received a TV series was commissioned that lasted five seasons and gave greater attention to parts of the book that were left out of the feature film, although the TV show was based on a fictional team.
The Wrestler (2008)
If you think wrestling is fake, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler might make you think differently. Mickey Rourke, in a career comeback performance, stars as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up wrestler now performing on the indie scene trying to recapture the glory days of his past. Beset with health problems and working a dead-end job, Robinson finds romance with Marisa Tomei’s erotic dancer while trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Evan Rachel Wood.
The Wrestler isn’t about what goes on inside the squared circle. It focuses on the toll the sport takes on both the body and mind, with Rourke compelling as a fading star looking for one more big moment. It also gave us a great title song by Bruce Springsteen that’s an underrated gem. The ending won’t leave you in a good mood but will have you reconsidering the assumption that wrestling is fake.
White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes form an unlikely team as street ballers who, after a couple of double crosses, decided to team up and enter a two-on-two basketball competition with a grand prize of $5,000. There’s a lot of great stuff in this movie, with the chemistry between Harrelson and Snipes dynamic. The two spend half the movie arguing and insulting each other (the “your momma” jokes are hilarious) and the other half impressing on the court.
White Men Can’t Jump has some fantastic basketball scenes and a stand-out performance from Rosie Perez as Harrelson’s Jepordy-loving girlfriend. While a remake is on the cards starring rapper Jack Harlow as Harrelson’s character, your best bet is to re-watch the original and remember why great films like this shouldn’t be remade.
Based on real events, Kurt Russell stars as Herb Brooks, the head coach of the American men’s ice hockey team. Selecting a ragtag group of players for the 1980 Winter Olympics, Brooks and his team aren’t given much of a chance against the dominant Soviets.
Spoiler alert: they manage to win. Somehow against all the odds in the first final they find a way to win, beating those pesky Russians 4-3. They then go on to the gold medal game and manage to beat Finland 4-2.
Miracle is one of the better movies about ice hockey and works because of the true story it’s based on and the incredible performance from Kurt Russell, who is magnetic as Brooks. It’s often regarded by movie critics as one of the great sports films. a mantle we think it deserves.
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It’s hard to know how much cocaine was abused during the filming of Caddyshack, but after viewing you’ll understand everyone involved was really enjoying themselves. Harold Ramis’ directorial debut is a laugh-out-loud comedy set at the exclusive Bushwood Country Club.
It focuses on several characters involved in a major tournament held at the grounds, but this all seems to be a cover for the cast to let loose and enjoy themselves, with many scenes and dialogue improvised by the cast. Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Ted Knight, and Rodney Dangerfield are all hilarious, with Caddyshack setting the foundation for sports comedies.
Raging Bull (1980)
Based on the 1970 memoir Raging Bull: My Story, this movie focuses on the life and times of boxer Jake LaMotta. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro (who put on 60 pounds for the role) as LaMotta and Joe Pesci as Joey, LaMotta’s brother and manager, Raging Bull is an emotional kick in the guts.
The film highlights LaMotta’s self-destructive personality and how his viciousness and ruthlessness in the ring transfer to his private life. Shot in black and white, the fight scenes are visceral and De Niro and Pesci are at the top of their game. This movie can be described as the anti-Rocky, so don’t expect a happy ending.
Tin Cup (1996)
Kevin Costner loves a sports movie. In Tin Cup, he plays Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy, a former golfing prodigy eeking out a living teaching golf. He falls for Rene Russo’s Dr. Molly Griswold, the partner of his old enemy David Simms, a wonderfully stuffy Don Johnson. Wanting to prove to Simms he’s a better golfer and impress Griswold, McAvoy manages to get on the PGA tour and has a chance to show his greatness at the US Open.
While golf is at the forefront, Tin Cup is also about the relationship that develops between Costner and Russo and the parallels between chasing women and playing golf. It’s a fun and light-hearted romantic comedy masquerading as a golf film, but don’t let that stop you from watching. Shout out to Cheech Marin as Romeo Posar, McAvoy’s buddy, who is an absolute hoot.
The Endless Summer (1966)
One of the first great surf documentaries, The Endless Summer follows Mike Hynson and Robert August as they travel the world hitting up the best surf spots. Accompanied by Bruce Brown, who directed, produced, edited, and narrated the movie, The Endless Summer is a feel-good documentary about the surf culture of the 60s.
Praised for the way the movie captures surfing on camera, the doco includes footage of surf breaks from all around the world, including the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Senegal, Tahiti, Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana. The movie was a big success and inspired a new generation of surfers to travel the globe and find the best waves.
A sequel was released almost three decades later. Once again helmed by Brown, the doco finds surfers Pat O’Connell and Robert “Wingnut” Weaver retracing the steps of Hynson and August from the first movie and looks at how surf culture has changed.
Space Jam (1996)
Sure, it’s an animated movie but Space Jam is still about sports. Plus it stars the great man Micahel Jordan. The film is meant to be a link between when Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls in 1993 and returned in 1995. He is contacted by the Looney Tunes characters, that include Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Road Runner, Lola Bunny, and many more, to join their basketball team to help defeat an alien race who wants to enslave them.
Surprisingly Space Jam is quite entertaining and it’s great to see Jordan interact with animated characters we all know and love. A large number of NBA players make cameos, including Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, and Larry Johnson. The long-touted sequel finally go made in 2021 and stars LeBron James having to rescue his son from the clutches of a rogue AI with help from the Looney Tunes characters. It’s not very good.
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Slap Shot (1977)
Slap Shot is one of the great sports movies of the 70s that didn’t really make much of a dent when it was first released. Now it’s considered a cult classic that shows what it’s like playing ice hockey at the lower levels. Paul Newman stares as the player/coach of the Charlestown Chiefs. He’s been put in charge to save the team and gets his players to use any means necessary to get wins on the board.
It’s memorable for the Hanson Brothers, two violent siblings who lead the way when it comes to viscously taking out opponents on the ice. Some of the action on the ice is incredibly shot and the violence is next level. A couple of sequels were released in the 00s but neither are worth seeking out, with only the Hanson Brothers from the original films making their presence felt.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
You’re probably not going to put this on your list of rewatchable movies, but Million Dollar Baby is certainly worth a look. Just be prepared for a few tears at the end. The winner of four Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor), this Clint Eastwood-directed sports drama is about an amateur boxer (Hilary Swank) who is coached by a seasoned veteran (Eastwood).
While their relationship is temperamental at first, Swank soon shows her talent as a boxer and gets the opportunity to fight for a world title. That’s when her dream turns into a nightmare. You better get a box of tissues to get you through the final act. Critically praised and ending up on the “best movies 2004” end-of-year lists of many film critics, Million Dollar Baby is a heartbreaking drama with awesome performances from the great cast.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Oliver Stone tackles the world of football in this action-packed drama with one hell of a cast. Al Pacino is the manager of the struggling Miami Sharks, who is under pressure to get his team to the NFL finals or risk losing his job. His task is made even harder when starting quarterback Jack “Cap” Rooney (Dennis Quaid) is injured and newcomer Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) is asked to step up. His relationship with owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), who is contemplating selling the franchise, is also very frosty.
Any Given Sunday is a great insight into how NFL clubs run and the dynamics between staff and players. The cast is incredible, with Pacino, Quaid, Foxx, and Diaz supports by the likes of LL Cool J, Lauren Holly, Aaron Eckhart, John C. McGinley, and James Woods as the sleazy, unethical team doctor.
The on-screen action is also engaging and you can really feel the hits. Pacino even gets a moment to give his team a halftime pep talk that will send shivers down your spine. Any Given Sunday is more than worthy of being on this list of the best sports movies of all time.
The Figher (2010)
The Fighter is based on the true story of half-brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Eklund is a prizefighter who could have been a world champion before drugs robbed him of his career. Ward is his sibling who is also a boxer and has a chance to make it big but is being dragged down by Eklund. As Ward begins to rise up the ranks and has a shot at the title, he has to decide whether to cut loose his brother for good or bring him into the fold.
While there are a few minor enhancements to the real-life story, The Fighter is a great movie about redemption and fighting against adversary. Wahlberg and Bale (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) are in top form while the supporting cast is also noteworthy, with Amy Adams and Melissa Leo both exceptional.
Happy Gilmore (1996)
Not all sports movies have to be based on real events or serious dramas. Happy Gilmore is a golf comedy and the perfect vehicle for comedian turned actor Adam Sandler. Hot on the heels of the ridiculous Billy Madison (a comedy classic), Sandler stars as the titular character, a wannabe ice hockey player who turns to golf when discovers he can drive the ball further than most pros.
Needing to raise enough money to save his Grandmother’s home, Gilmore joins the pro tour and turns golf into a circus, much to the displeasure of arrogant rival Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald).
Yes, it’s stupid, but Happy Gilmore is the funniest golfing movie since Caddyshack. Sandler is joined by a great supporting cast that includes McDonald, Carl Weathers as golf teacher Chubbs Peterson, Modern Family’s Julie Bowen as PR Director Virginia Venit, and Ben Stiller as a mean orderly at a nursing home. This movie is comedy gold.
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Jerry Maguire (1996)
This sports movie is more about the behind scenes going-ons of managers and players. Tom Cruise is Jerry Maguire, a sports manager who leaves Sports Management International (SMI) to start his own company. He is joined by secretary Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) and his only client, NFL wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr. in an Oscar-winning performance).
The relationship between Maguire and Tidwell and Maguire and Boyd are the main driving forces of this sports movie, with all three delivering fantastic performances. Jerry Maguire was a massive success in 1996 and helped cement Cameron Crowe as one of the best new directors of that era. The soundtrack is also exceptional and features The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, and Neil Young.
Ayrton Senna will go down as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time. He won three world championship titles until his tragic death while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Senna is an insightful look into the driver’s life and career, beginning with his arrival into the world of F1 in 1984 right up until his death a decade later.
Senna has a lot of archival footage and interviews with family, friends, and racing experts. Strangely there is no narration, with the never seen footage of Senna and interviews with others making up the bulk of the movie.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Recently adapted as a TV show, the original A League of Their Own is a 90s classic about women’s baseball during World War II. Tom Hanks is the manager looking for redemption of a team that consists of a talented bunch of hitters, pitchers, and catchers, including Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, and Madonna.
A League of Their Own is a charming baseball movie with a great cast and plenty of solid baseball action. It’s also remembered for the iconic quote, “There’s no crying in baseball!” that many commentators still say today.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Bend It Like Beckham is a charming coming-of-age drama about British culture and soccer. Jesminder Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) and Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley) are two talented teens obsessed with soccer who want to make it as professionals. Unfortunately for Bhamra, she comes from an Indian family that does not want her to play soccer. But like any teen, she goes against her parent’s wishes and soon finds herself in a web of lies with seemingly no way out.
The interplay between Bhamra and Paxton is great, while the addition of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as their pairs coach and love interest of Bhamra spices things up. Bend It Like Beckham is not just a sports movie but a deep dive into the cultural differences between people from different backgrounds and deals with issues of race, religion, sport, and gender.
The Natural (1984)
Many consider The Natural not only a fantastic baseball movie but one of the best sports movies of all time. Based on the 1952 novel of the same name, The Natural stars Robert Redford as baseball prodigy Roy Hobbs who is shot by a woman, putting an end to his baseball dreams. But undeterred, Hobbs makes a comeback in his later years with his lucky self-made bat “Wonderboy.”
It’s a tale about never giving up on your dreams and second chances, with Hobbs, now in his mid-30s, getting the opportunity to play in the pros thanks to the fictional New York Knights. While the movie does change from the book quite a bit – particularly the ending – The Natural is a wonderful feel-good baseball movie with a standout performance from Redford.
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