From “Raging Bull“ to “Remember the Titans,“ sports films have always played a major role in American pop culture. Actors like Adam Sandler and Sylvester Stallone have become household names, thanks in large part to some of the roles they’ve played in sports movies. But which sports film is the best of all time? Here’s the definitive list.
30. Chariots of Fire
The early 1980s film Chariots of Fire follows two determined runners who are training for the 1924 Paris Olympics. The historical drama film is based on a true story surrounding runners Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, who both had unique motivations behind their running careers. Unlike others, these two ran with an inspirational purpose.
Liddell, who is a devout Scottish Christian, runs for the glory of God. Abrahams, an English Jew, runs to overcome prejudice. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, which include Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The emotional film has become a classic sports movie over time.
29. Cool Runnings
The comedy sports film Cool Runnings is easily the most famous movie that features the sport of bobsleigh (bobsled). The 1993 classic is loosely based on the true story of the Jamaica national bobsleigh team’s competitive debut at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada.
Being an island nation that never sees snow, Jamaica is considered a massive underdog in every bobsleigh competition it enters. After all, Jamaica is more known for its sandy beaches than its ice-cold bobsled tracks. Cool Runnings received several positive reviews, and it remains one of the most popular films related to the Winter Olympics to this day.
28. Blades of Glory
Will Ferrell and Jon Heder star in the 2007 sports comedy Blades of Glory, another film that takes place at the Winter Olympics. Ferrell and Heder play a mismatched pair of figure skaters who receive lifetime bans from singles competition after they get into a fight on the podium.
The rivals discover a loophole in their ban that will allow them to compete in the sport once again, but it involves them setting hard feelings aside to become teammates. Ferrell and Heder are hilarious throughout the film, and Blades of Glory became the highest-grossing Winter Olympics-themed movie of all time as a result.
27. Love & Basketball
The romantic drama Love & Basketball tells the story of Quincy McCall and Monica Wright. The next-door neighbors grow up in Los Angeles, California, and each pursue a career in basketball. Before long, the two fall in love with each other.
The film received some rave reviews, and as of 2019, Love & Basketball remains one of the 10 highest-grossing basketball films of all time. Critics and fans alike expected a sequel to the film after watching the outstanding performances of Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. However, a sequel has not been made. Now years removed from the original film, a sequel seems unlikely.
The 2015 American boxing film Creed serves as both a spin-off and sequel in the Rocky film series. Starring Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa’s rival and friend, Creed brings Jordan and Sylvester Stallone together for a jam-packed action film.
Jordan’s character, Adonis Johnson Creed, trains under Balboa as he prepares to become a professional fighter. The film received high praise from critics, and it was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top 10 films of 2015. Stallone was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, which was his first Oscar nomination since the first Rocky film.
25. The Blind Side
NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher overcame incredible odds to reach his dream of playing professional football, and The Blind Side chronicled his inspiring story. The film follows Oher through his impoverished upbringing, his high school years, his adoption, his ascent to stardom in college football, and finally, his NFL career.
The star-studded cast of The Blind Side includes Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw as Oher’s adoptive parents, as well as numerous college coaches such as Houston Nutt, Ed Orgeron, and Nick Saban. The film grossed over $300 million, and Sandra Bullock won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress. The Blind Side also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
24. He Got Game
Spike Lee’s sports drama film He Got Game stars Denzel Washington and Ray Allen, who play the roles of father and son Jake and Jesus Shuttlesworth. As Jesus, the top-ranked basketball prospect in the country, decides where he wants to go to school and play basketball, the state’s governor takes an interest in him.
Hoping Shuttlesworth will play for his alma mater, the governor releases Jake (the father) on parole for a week, in order to persuade his son to play for the governor’s college, “Big State.” If Jake — a convicted felon who accidentally killed his wife — can successfully convince his son to attend the school, he will be granted early release.
23. Slap Shot
The 1977 sports comedy film Slap Shot is a rare film, considering there aren’t many sports comedies about hockey. Starring Paul Newman and Michael Ontkean, Slap Shot features a minor league ice hockey team whose popularity is dwindling in a declining factory town.
Most unpopular teams would try to recruit new talent and try to win games to become more popular, but the team in the film resorts to violent play in order to excite fans. Much of the script was actually based on experiences from minor league hockey players from the 1970s. Slap Shot has become a cult classic, especially among hockey fans.
22. Tin Cup
Even though it’s a romantic comedy, Tin Cup has become a classic among sports fans and rom-com enthusiasts alike. The film boasts a star-studded cast, with Kevin Costner and Rene Russo starring and Cheech Marin and Don Johnson in major supporting roles.
Costner plays Roy McAvoy, a professional golfer with a bright future but a bad attitude. His temper and rebellious nature eventually get the best of him, and he finds himself working as a golf instructor. McAvoy falls for his newest student, who happens to be the girlfriend of his PGA Tour rival. When McAvoy loses to his rival at a celebrity tournament, he decides to compete for the PGA Tour — and the girl’s heart.
21. Million Dollar Baby
Starring Clint Eastwood as boxing trainer Frankie Dunn and Morgan Freeman as his associate Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris, Million Dollar Baby has become a classic sports film over the years. A young woman named Maggie Fitzgerald (played by Hilary Swank) arrives in Dunn’s gym hoping to train under him, but he is reluctant at first.
Eventually, Dunn decides to train Fitzgerald. The two form an incredibly close bond, which irreversibly changes their lives. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Swank). Many critics have placed Million Dollar Baby on their top-10 lists, which makes sense considering the film won several awards.
Muhammad Ali is arguably the greatest boxer of all time, so a biographical sports drama film that honors his legacy is fitting. Starring Will Smith as Ali, the film celebrates the athlete’s wit, intelligence, defiance, and grace as he challenges the status quo and changes the landscape of professional boxing in the United States.
But while critics praised the film, Ali was unsuccessful at the box office. The film grossed a total of $87.7 million worldwide, despite a budget of more than $100 million. On the bright side, Smith and Jon Voight received respective Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
19. The Pride of the Yankees
Babe Ruth has been in 10 movies, but The Pride of the Yankees stands at the top of the list. The biographical drama film follows the life of legendary Yankees player Lou Gehrig, who passed away just one year before the film’s release. ALS, the disease which took his life, has come to be known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
The film, which celebrated Gehrig’s legacy as an athlete, son, and friend, received 11 Oscar nominations. Its closing line is one of the most iconic of any quote in sports cinema: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” The American Film Institute ranked the quote 38th on their list of the 100 greatest quotes in movie history.
18. Raging Bull
A Martin Scorsese classic, Raging Bull stars Robert De Niro as Italian-American middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta. Throughout the film, LaMotta battles inner demons as his life surges into a downward spiral. As the film progresses, he looks to reconcile with the family and friends in his life.
Though Scorsese was initially reluctant to develop the film, it is now often considered the director’s magnum opus, and one of the greatest films ever made. Raging Bull was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. In 1990, it became the first film to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, in its first year of eligibility.
Inspired by the champion thoroughbred racehorse by the same name, the film Seabiscuit was the best of the many books and films that celebrated the horse’s legacy. Tobey Maguire stars in the film as the horse’s jockey, and Jeff Bridges plays the role of a businessman who owns the horse.
Bridges’ character is forced to cope with the tragic death of his own son, while Maguire’s character — who has a history of brutal injuries — looks to win with Seabiscuit, a temperamental and undersized racehorse. The stallion struggles at first, but Seabiscuit eventually becomes one of the most successful thoroughbreds of all time.
16. The Sandlot
One of the more memorable sports films of the 1990s, The Sandlot has become a cult classic. The film spotlights Scotty Smalls, the new kid in town who manages to befriend a group of kids who play baseball at the sandlot. Smalls eventually manages to stick around and become a part of the team.
The baseball team goes on an array of fun-filled adventures throughout the film, but they get themselves into a fair bit of trouble as well. In the movie’s most memorable sequence, Smalls borrows a ball from his stepdad that gets hit over a fence. The seemingly impossible task of retrieving the ball becomes a major plot point at the end of the film.
15. Space Jam
Some of the biggest names in film, NBA, and cartoon history made appearances in the iconic film Space Jam. Danny DeVito, Bill Murray, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and even Bugs Bunny had major roles in the movie. The film was a box office hit, becoming the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time.
Though it’s been decades since the release of the 1996 classic, a sequel is scheduled for release in July 2021. LeBron James and a few of his fellow NBA stars are set to star in the upcoming film. Matching the original film’s success will be a tall order, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.
14. The Bad News Bears
If reboots are an indication of success, the 1976 sports comedy The Bad News Bears beat all expectations. The film follows an ex-minor league hopeful who drinks a lot of alcohol (way too much, if we’re being honest) and coaches a team of Little League misfits that appears to be definitively worse than its competition.
The team — seemingly devoid of talent and wildly quirky in terms of personality — looks like a potential nightmare for the coach. But when he’s blessed with an unlikely gifted pitcher in Amanda Whurlitzer, coach Morris Buttermaker takes a more optimistic approach as his team begins to find success.
The classic 1980 sports comedy film Caddyshack is widely considered to be one of the funniest sports movies ever made. The golf-themed film stars Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Michael O’Keefe, and Bill Murray. The film grossed nearly $40 million at the domestic box office, and it prompted a sequel that would debut eight years later.
The Caddyshack sequel wasn’t as much of a hit as the original, which has become a cult classic. Witty humor and puns dominate the dialogue throughout the film, highlighting Chase and Dangerfield’s respective comedic prowess. In fact, it was so funny that ESPN called it “the funniest sports movie ever made.”
12. A League of Their Own
With a cast that boasts stars like Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Lori Petty, the 1992 sports comedy-drama A League of Their Own is one of the more culturally significant sports movies in history. In fact, in 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
The film focuses on a professional all-female baseball league that springs up in the Midwest while many of America’s athletic young men serve their country during World War II. Hanks plays the team’s head coach, who deals with a lot of hilarious shenanigans throughout the movie.
11. Field of Dreams
Perhaps the most recognizable baseball movie ever made, Field of Dreams is the embodiment of America’s deeply rooted relationship with baseball. The film stars Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster. An Iowa farmer, played by Costner, hears a mysterious voice in his cornfield that says, “If you build it (a baseball field), he will come.”
Inspired by the possibility, Costner decides to build a baseball diamond on his land, with the support of his wife. Eventually, the ghosts of baseball legends emerge from the crops to play ball. Field of Dreams was nominated for three Academy Awards, and it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2017.
10. The Longest Yard
The 1974 sports comedy The Longest Yard features Burt Reynolds as a former NFL-player-turned-prisoner who rounds up a group of inmates to play football in the yard at the warden’s orders. The prison’s warden organizes a lineup of guards to take on the inmates, determined to humiliate the team.
During the big game, the warden tries to blackmail Reynolds’ character into throwing the game, but the convicts have ideas of their own. Instead, Reynolds and company use the game as an opportunity to repay the brutality they’ve endured in prison. The movie was so successful that it inspired a remake, which features Adam Sandler and Terry Crews, among other stars.
9. The Karate Kid
An all-time memorable movie, The Karate Kid might not conventionally feel like a sports movie. However, martial arts is a sport, so the film earns a spot in the top 10 of our list. Whether it’s due to the amazing characters like Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, or the inspiring plot, this film is an all-time great movie for any cinema buff.
The film also features a brutal antagonist in the Cobra Kai, as well as an underdog story in Daniel’s training and martial arts accomplishments. Anyone who grew up in the 1980s or 1990s probably has this film at or near the top of the list of their favorite sports films.
Based on Michael Lewis’ 2003 nonfiction book of the same name, Moneyball ventures into the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season in the MLB. General manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, is desperate to assemble a competitive team and does it in an extremely unconventional way: by focusing on statistics and analytics.
Jonah Hill also plays a major role in the film, starring as Ivy League graduate Peter Brand, Beane’s right-hand man, who helps the general manager construct the roster. The film received high praise from critics and went on to earn six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Pitt), and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hill).
7. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Most sports films concentrate on sports that have established professional leagues or Olympic events, so it was interesting to see how a movie about dodgeball would do at the box office. Perhaps surprisingly, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was a hit. Starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, the film is simultaneously inspiring, wacky, and hilarious.
Vaughn and Stiller become awesome rivals, guiding their respective teams to the championship of the biggest dodgeball competition in the United States. The championship prize is massive, the stakes are as high as they can be, and the tournament’s cast of characters is absolutely hilarious.
6. Happy Gilmore
Many Adam Sandler fans will argue Happy Gilmore was his best movie of all time. Played by Sandler, Happy Gilmore is a wannabe professional hockey player who discovers his true talent as a golfer. When Gilmore’s grandmother learns she is about to lose her home, he signs up for a golf tournament to try and win enough prize money to buy it back for her.
Gilmore’s biggest competitor in the tournament is Shooter McGavin, who is widely considered one of the greatest movie villains of all time. Gilmore changes the landscape of golf with his hotheaded temper, powerful driving skills, and crazy antics, much to the chagrin of McGavin and other professionals.
Loosely based on a true story, Hoosiers tells the story of a small-town high school basketball team in Indiana that becomes an unlikely state champion. Gene Hackman plays the role of coach Norman Dale, who is a relatively new coach that has a somewhat spotty past.
Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper also play prominent roles in the film. Hopper, who played the role of a basketball-loving town drunk, actually earned an Oscar nomination for his performance. Like many other movies on the list, Hoosiers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
4. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
The hilarious duo of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly may be best known for their performance in Step Brothers, but their first big hit came in 2006, with Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. The comedic NASCAR-themed film is easily the funniest racing movie ever made, and many scenes from the film have become a major part of pop culture.
The movie’s cast not only features Ferrell, Reilly, and Sacha Baron Cohen, but it also features hilarious cameos by Saturday Night Live alumni, as well as NASCAR drivers Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The film earned No. 1 at the box office and grossed $163 million worldwide.
3. Remember the Titans
Arguably the greatest football movie of all time, Remember the Titans is based on the true story of African-American football coach Herman Boone and his attempts to integrate the football team at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. In the film, he teams up with coach Bill Yoast and helps the team become a superpower in its conference.
The lovable cast of characters features the two coaches, along with players Gerry Bertier, Julius Campbell, Petey Jones, Jerry “Rev” Harris, Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass, and more. Remember the Titans is a classic film, and in 2019, it’s hard to come by someone who hasn’t yet seen the movie.
Most American sports fans remember the story of the Miracle on Ice, when the U.S. men’s ice hockey team upset the heavily favored Soviet Union and went on to win the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics. Miracle tells the story behind head coach Herb Brooks and his team’s unlikely run to the podium.
Kurt Russell played the role of Brooks, becoming a fan favorite over the course of the movie. The film was released in 2004 and grossed $64.5 million on a budget of just $28 million. Miracle received mostly positive reviews from critics, and it is widely considered a top-10 sports movie of all time.
Arguably the most iconic sports film in history, Rocky tells the rags-to-riches story of Rocky Balboa, a working-class Italian-American boxer. Played by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship against reigning champion Apollo Creed. The film is widely considered one of the best sports movies of all time, if not the very best.
The film not only received 10 Academy Award nominations and three Academy Awards, it also solidified Stallone’s career as a movie star and spawned seven sequels over four decades. Rocky was the highest-grossing film of 1976, and it received high praise from critics everywhere.
This article was originally published on TieBreaker: The 30 Best Sports Movies of All Time.
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