Every sports fan knows that the best part of sports isn’t winning, it’s following the people involved.
Whether it’s an older athlete coming back for one last season, an underdog coach getting their team to the Super Bowl or a generation-defining great like Michael Jordan, what we love is watching peoples’ stories unfold.
Maybe that’s why there are so many amazing sports movies.
The best sports games already have an almost cinematic quality, with setbacks, stomach-lurching twists and hair-raising final minutes.
When coming up with our favorite sports movies of all time, we knew it was going to be polarizing. For this list, we’ll try to hit the all time classics, focusing on major sports as we go. We’ll also stick with non-documentary movies, because those deserve a list of their own. So, without further ado…
There’s a long tradition of excellence in boxing movies. Raging Bull is a character study of a deeply flawed, violent and tragic man. Million Dollar Baby is a ruthless tearjerker. Even less remembered movies like Cinderella Man or The Fighter are solid. There’s something about getting in the ring that’s naturally dramatic. Maybe it’s because we’re fascinated by people who get punched in the face for a living.
That said, if we don’t put Rocky right at the top of this list, the entire city of Philadelphia will call a vendetta against us. We wouldn’t blame them.
Rocky is a classic for a reason. Famously launching Slyvester Stallone’s career, Rocky is still inspiring fifty years later.
Why? It’s an elegantly simple underdog story that’s also secretly a love story. Plus, the theme still makes us want to charge through a brick wall.
Even the making of the film was a Rocky moment: Stallone wrote the film and risked everything by insisting to the producers that he star in it as well. As he was then a totally broke nobody, everyone laughed at him. Well, they didn’t laugh for long.
Now, we also have to include the 2015 reboot / sequel Creed. A proper heir to the Rocky lineage, and elevated by Michael B. Jordan’s incredible performance, it’s every bit as inspiring as the original while still feeling like a film for a modern generation.
The best sports movies are sentimental while just stopping short of being corny. There’s a very fine line here, and the films that aren’t afraid to go for it are admirably heartfelt. Remember the Titans is deeply sincere, in a way that may feel dated to some, but one that we find refreshing in today’s cynical age.
This is not only a great football movie, but also a film that tackles extremely delicate issues of desegregation and racism in 1970’s Virginia.
In a true story, Denzel Washington plays Coach Boone, the first black coach of a recently-desegregated high school. Boone faces a daunting uphill battle, not only training his team but training the town to accept his team. He must thread multiple needles: he’s a newcomer to this town, he’s replacing a beloved white coach and he has the first mutliracial team in their state. It’s almost certainly the best football movie, though there are other greats like Brian’s Song, Friday Night Lights, or, of course, Waterboy.
Choosing the best baseball movie is tough. There are lots of good ones, and they’re all quite different. There’s the Kevin Costner triple-feature (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, For the Love of the Game), The Natural, Moneyball, The Rookie and even Major League. But this list needed some girl power, and a League of Their Own is quite possibly the best one anyway.
With Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna (yes, that Madonna), this film was inducted into the Library of Congress for a reason. Set in the 1940’s, the outbreak of World War 2 has sent America’s male baseball players overseas to fight.
This is the true story of the first all-women baseball league, and the women involved are both inspiring, lovable and realistic.
While watching all these great actors play in scenes is fun all on its own, the setting is fascinating. It’s just a pleasure to watch, walking a tone that’s sweet and funny but not shying away from the tragedies of the women’s lives.
As a four-Oscar-winner, this film somehow beat out Raiders of the Lost Ark for best picture. It also has the most memorable theme music out of any movie, ever.
Like most great sports movies this one is more about human drama than it really is about the sport itself.
This is the story of two sprinters, one Jewish, one Christian, competing in the 1924 Berlin Olympics, and is as much about spiritualism, politics and character as it is about running.
That said, while the film is undeniably great, upon rewatch, it’s a little Oscary. By that we mean it’s sentimental in an uncomplicated, unironic way. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely a movie to watch with your family, not your bros.
Most golfers know that their game is actually kind of ridiculous. There’s something absurd about hitting a teeny tiny ball with a big club, watching it ricochet off a tree and land in a pond. Then you get on your cute little underpowered cart and sip your beer with a sigh.
Getting better at golf is Sisyphean — personal failure and petty humiliations are a constant.
This is why comedies are a great fit for the sport. In Caddyshack, watching Rodney Dangerfield cause an almost demonic level of havoc on an increasingly madcap golf course perfectly fits the feeling of a sunburnt 18 hole day with your friends. Plus, you get to see some of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray’s most iconic roles.
Happy Gilmore, on the other hand, covers the other feeling of the sport: the absurd rage we feel when we wind up for a mega-drive only to completely and utterly whiff it. In one of his best roles, Adam Sandler plays an easily-enraged hockey player who somehow becomes a great golfer, much to the chagrin of the establishment. We couldn’t really choose here — make it a double feature.
As you can tell, we had to leave off a lot of great movies, and even whole sports. We didn’t cover basketball (Hoosiers, White Men Can’t Jump), tennis (King Richard), surfing (Endless Summer, Big Wednesday, Point Break) or even skating (Lords of Dogtown). But we hope this list helps you pick what to stream this evening while lounging in The Sweatpants or The Run-Around Shorts. You can’t go wrong with any of them!