The 25 Greatest Sports Movies of all time

Ask 25 different people the question “What’s the best sports movie?” and you’re liable to get 25 different answers.

The criteria for selection is overwhelming. Traditional cinematic elements sometimes take a backseat to the level of pathos provoked. Nostalgia plays an outsize role for most respondents simply because of the movie’s type. Sports movie fans are almost always, with various levels of passion, sports fans. Some of our favorite memories are when our teams won the title and we associate that time as positive.

Movies work in the same fashion. Our life circumstances when we saw the picture for the first time can be the biggest factor to our feelings about it. Dad teach you a sport? “Field of Dreams” will, as the kids say, hit different. Grew up a youth football player? Hello, “Remember the Titans.” Baseball? “The Sandlot” is a common favorite.

No list like this will satisfy everyone and could very well not satisfy anyone. But with the Academy Awards on Sunday and sports at the near-perfect crossover season – what with March Madness coming, spring college football practice on the agenda, basketball and hockey in their playoff pushes, the Champions League in soccer and baseball in spring training – now is as good a time as any to drop such a list.

As a side note: defining a sports movie isn’t as easy as it sounds. “Uncut Gems,” for example is about watching (and betting on) sports, but for our purposes, we think it’s less about what happens on the NBA court than the only tangentially related drama that happens off it. You’ll find 2011’s “Moneyball” on this list, though, because even though the same argument could be made, the movie is never not about baseball.

Agree or disagree, it’s all golden. Love what you love for whatever reasons you love it. In the meantime, we suggest if you haven’t tried some of these on for size, and we’re – ahem – betting you haven’t, throw them into your queues and watch lists and enjoy.

Here they are, the best 25 sports movies in history.

Honorable Mention: Rudy (1993)

If you love football and you even just somewhat like movies, you probably love 1993’s “Rudy.” A movie that can bring the most macho of men to tears, we had to pay acknowledgement for its place in the sports-movie culture. For people who don’t much care for it, though, it’s not uplifting, but manipulative. Either way, it’s movie that must be acknowledged on, you know, a sports web site.

25. Love and Basketball (2000)

“Love and Basketball” is almost the opposite of “Rudy.” If your significant other doesn’t want to sit through the machismo of the latter, perhaps they’re willing to go to the other end of the spectrum and watch the former. Gina Prince-Blythewood’s sports-romance from 2000 captures its characters with life and verve. Don’t dismiss it, men.

24. Murderball (2005)

The mainstream popularity of a documentary about wheelchair rugby is impossible to explain unless you were of-age in 2005 and the heart of the DVD era. “Murderball” is intense and edgy, which is not something people were all that used to from docs in mid 2000s. It grew into the public consciousness because of it. By now you’ve probably seen other movies like it, style-wise, but its brutality and honesty are still affecting.

23. Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Maybe you don’t want to watch old movies and you’re wondering why this is here. First off: Watch old movies. Second: Watch this particular old movie. Lou Gehrig’s legendary line, “I’m the luckiest man on the face of the Earth” lives in our brains because of 1942’s “Pride of the Yankees” more than Gehrig himself considering that speech never aired on television. It’s Gary Cooper’s version most of us know.

22. Sugar (2008)

We instinctually want to root for the underdogs. That’s why “Rudy” is so beloved. But underdogs don’t usually make their dreams. That’s why they’re underdogs. “Sugar” is the tale of a man from the Dominican Republic who chases his baseball dreams to the United States. It doesn’t end the way you think and it may pull on your heartstrings even more than that story about the Notre Dame lad.

21. The Natural (1984)

“The Natural” is your father’s, or, if you’re younger, your grandfather’s favorite sports movie. Millennials and younger often considering it for old-timers. If that’s you, re-visit it (because, buddy, you’re getting old now). Sure it’s been endlessly parodied over the years. Look beyond the memes and the skits and you’ll see heart right alongside one of the sports-movie scores in history.

20. Slap Shot (1977)

Blood. Violence. Hockey isn’t America’s favorite rough-house sport. Football gets that honor, of course. “Slap Shot” is the Average Joe Hockey Fan’s favorite sports movie. It’s hilarious and mean, a real sturdy example of the kinds of movies of its era, though it’s a movie that will resonant with you at varying degrees depending a lot on the part of the continent in which you were raised.

19. The Wrestler (2008)

Apparently, we’re a sucker for sad movies. “The Wrestler” is maybe the saddest of the bunch. Mickey Rourke’s return to the spotlight as a pure lead in a movie is gut-wrenching tale of loss and regret. Especially regret. He was justifiably nominated for an Academy Award for playing a past-his-prime Randy “The Ram” for a piece that had eerie similarities to Rourke’s Hollywood career.

18. Moneyball (2011)

Not a sports movie in the traditional sense. The on-field action is limited, but “Moneyball” is all about what happens on the field, anyway. Brad Pitt had been a movie star for nearly 20 years when the based-on-true-story flick was released. He hadn’t been considered much of an actor’s actor, though. His playing of Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane changed a lot of minds about his chops.

17. Bull Durham (1988)

Some – perhaps many – will argue “Bull Durham” is too low. It’s argument worth listening to, too. The movie was one of the first sports movies with dozens of lines of dialogue that lived in the pop-culture ether. Lines that are still uttered by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to this day. Even some of the young bucks know it. And, if you’re sensing a theme on this list about older athletes in their last days of being an athlete, you’re not wrong.

16. Ali (2001)

A real love-it or hate-it piece, Michael Mann’s “Ali” is almost that exactly. Casual movie watchers may not think much more than “It’s fine.” Film buffs are quite split on where it ranks in Mann’s filmography. In Will Smith’s, too. The film suffers from the biopic tropes, certainly, but it’s so beautifully captured that it’s craking this list with ease.

15. He Got Game (1998)

Ray Allen is still called “Jesus Shuttlesworth.” The Basketball Hall of Famer earned dserved praise for his role of a son whose father (Denzel Washington) re-enters his life from prison just as the young man is being recruited to some of the top college basketball programs in the country. “He Got Game” is less about basketball than it is relationships, which can be a turn-off for some moviegoers who want lots of sports in their sports features.

14. Miracle (2004)

Lots of Disney sports motion pictures are bad. Apologies to fans of “Remember the Titans,” “Glory Road” and “The Mighty Ducks,” but those didn’t come close. “Miracle” is the best of the bunch by a sight. A lot of that has to do with Kurt Russell’s turn as legendary coach Team USA Hockey coach Herb Brooks as the squad readies for and plays in the 1980 Olympics. The players are on the periphery, but have just enough distinct personality traits to make more than background, but this is Russell going deep into his old days as Disney child star and bringing that energy as an elder statesman to the company that gave him his first breaks.

13. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Unquestionaly one of the least seen of the 25 (er, 26) movies listed here, “Everybody Wants Some!!” plays to a particular set of sports-movie lovers: the former athletes themselves. Especially the older ones. The key is right there in the title. Not the words. The punctuation. Director Richard Linklater, a former college baseball player at Sam Houston State, wrote and directed somewhat-autobiographical-but-not-really flick about what it was like to play college baseball in the late 1970s and early 1980s. To anyone who has played, no matter in what generation, so much will seem familiar. Still on the fence? Consider it a sister piece to his much more beloved hit “Dazed and Confused.” Same vibes.

12. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

OK, maybe we were wrong. This might be the saddest of the bunch. “Million Dollar Baby” is a bit of a catch-all film (like most of late-period Clint Eastwood-directed movies are), but it’s genuinely emotional. The turn it takes in the middle remains one of the least expected of the 20th century among mainstream motion pictures. And everyone is playing near the top of their game among the cast. A hard watch, certainly, but a rewarding one.

11. The Endless Summer (1966)

Surfing was the sport of the 1960s. The Beach Boys made entire career singing songs about it. Filmmaker Bruce Brown made a career creating films about what were then known as extreme sports. “The Endless Summer” is his most timeless. It’s simple, too. Brown follows surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August on a trip around the world to the greatest surfing spots the planet has to offer. No one was making documentaries like “The Endless Summer” in 1966. Its casual style was wildly unusual for the time and played perfectly with the subject matter.


10. Hoosiers (1986)

If the baseball dad-movie is “The Natural,” then “Hoosiers” is its basketball equivalent. You know what you’re going to get from the moment you realize where its plot is headed. It’s Americana through and through, but Dennis Hopper’s performance as alcoholic dad Shooter Flatch is what lifts this above the standard. “Hoosiers” didn’t create the comeback-kids trope, but the movie is it’s best example of them.

9. Major League (1989)

If this list were Sports Movies We Watch The Most, “Major League” is cracking the top three. No baseball fan can live without it. Rag-tag bunch of a scrubs and has-beens overcome their antongistic owner to put themselves in playoff position. It’s crude and hilarious, much like its hockey equivalent “Slap Shot.” At the time, the Cleveland baseball franchise was actually in a bit of a rut. Shortly after this movie, they were one of the best teams of the 1990s. Coincidence or seredipity?

8. Rocky (1976)

“Rocky” probably isn’t the movie you remember. The Best Picture winner of the 49th Academy Awards, the feel-good boxing flick does have some graphic fights. But it isn’t about those fights. It’s about the man himself. A kind, loving, gentle galoot who just wants to do what he loves and maybe find someone to share his time with along the way. The tender moments between Rocky and Adrian make the film sing.

7. Caddyshack (1980)

And the funniest sports movie goes to…. Of course it’s “Caddyshack.” On a list with several imminently quotable movies, this golfing flick from the 1980 is the most side-splitting. Non sequitors. Puns. Slapstick. Potty humor. It’s all here. And while some of its elements have dated poorly (note: most old movies have such elements the same way movies from now will appear dated in their portrayals in 40 years, too; appreciate them for what they are, not what you think they should be) and the jokes are so non-stop that not all of them stick, there’s enough laughter to go around for almost any sense of humor.

6. Blue Chips (1994)

No, “Blue Chips” is not the best basketball movie from a dramatic and/or narrative perspective. Two of the three performances from Western University’s recruiting class are downright rough. But this oft-forgotten William Friedkin joint has just enough of his touches to lift it from mediocrity. Lifted from mediocrity doesn’t sound like it should rank sixth, though, does it? You’re right. “Blue Chips” is sixth for two reasons. One, Nick Nolte’s turn as coach Pete Bell – his monologue after the final game of his last season is spectacular – and, most importantly – the most exquistely captured actual basketball-playing ever on film. The no-name opponents are played by college basketball stars of the time and on-court action doesn’t look scripted ever (save one particular instance at the film’s climax). It’s truly excellent stuff in that regard.

5. When We Were Kings (1996)

Boxing was America’s favorite sport during the time the United States was becoming the United States. From the Great Depression through the 1980s, nothing captured the nation’s attention sports-wise like the sweet science. “When We Were Kings” is a documentary of one of the greatest moments from that time: George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle of 1974. Director Leon Gast uses old footage and new to weave the historical import next to the human drama and the event’s effects. Spectacular.

4. The Bad News Bears (1977)

Walter Matthau. Movie star. Few were ever less likely provided their visage. In “The Bad News Bears” Matthau is a woebegone drunkard who coaches a little-league baseball team a lot like he is. Minus the booze. Except for the part when the booze is included. The movie never makes us like every single kid on the team while also making us like every single kid on the team. We also mostly hate Matthau’s Morris Buttermaker character for a bulk of the runtime. It’s a strange juxtaposition that (speaking of dated elements) didn’t play as well in changed times as Linklater’s 2005 remake showcased. But for its time and place? Golden.

3. Field of Dreams (1989)

Overrated? Maybe. If baseball is your bag and you learned the game from your loved ones, this 1989 classic is almost certainly high on your list. Baseball remains this country’s most romantic game and “Field of Dreams” is baseball story-telling at its most romantic. Dare you not to well up.

2. Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese has made a lot of angry motion pictures in his time. “Raging Bull” may be his most choleric. Boxing is the most punishing mainstream sport in the world and no film has ever captured its brutality like this 1980 masterpiece. Not for the faint of heart and short on sympathy, “Raging Bull” could easily stake a claim for the top spot on this list.

1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Instead, the top spot goes here. “Hoop Dreams.” Director Steve James follows William Gates and Arthur Agee as high-schoolers with visions of playing in the NBA. Their hardscrabble lives serve as a microcosm of a the difficulties that too often come from inner-city life. You want Gates and Agee to succeed so badly while always knowing, whether you know reality or not, that they probably won’t. A story of these United States.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire