Mainly for the better, but sometimes for the worse, there are no shortage of sports movies. When done well, a sports movie can elicit several emotional responses: love, joy, happiness, passion, etc. They can provide more heart than an NBA player playing defense in an All-Star game. When talking about the best sports movies ever, it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to 25 films. Amazing titles such as Glory Road, Million Dollar Baby, I, Tonya and literally handfuls of others, all deserve their accolades, but ultimately did not appear on this list for one reason or another.
A good sports film tugs at your heart strings because you or your family know all too well the struggle being portrayed, or, on the other hand, can make you laugh because of the situations being presented. The truth is: sports brings out the best of us emotionally, and a great film can capitalize on that and deliver expounding results. So, which sports movies did make the list? Let’s get to it.
In a strong Academy Awards year, Warrior was nominated for prestigious awards along the likes of The Artist, Hugo, and Moneyball, but, unlike the two brothers featured in the film, Warrior itself came up a bit short. Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Morrsion, and Frank Grillo star in the 2011 mixed-martial arts movie.
Warrior is best described as a mixed martial arts movie wrapped in an incredible family drama. Action, MMA fighter cameos, and, of course, the aforementioned drama help aide the film to disguise it for what it really is: a film that, at its heart, can be about anyone. The family struggles portrayed by Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte scream a shattered and fragmented family history, which unfortunately echoes the tales of all too many in today’s day and age, and the film makes no apologies for that following the family until their fortunate and eventual reconcilement at the end in the ring.
24 The Mighty Ducks
The Mighty Ducks was a smashing success when it released in 1992. The film spawned two sequels, an animated show, and years, later a Disney + spinoff, Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. With all the acclaim behind it, it had to be on this list. Hot shot attorney Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) makes some bad decisions and gets behind the wheel drunk. He is subsequently pulled over, arrested, and is sentenced to community service where he helps foster a heavily misfitted hockey team. Through a lot of hair pulling, determination, and nerve wracking situations, Bombay manages to bring the team of misfits together to be contenders — you know, just the atypical sports story for the typical sports list.
23 The Natural
Why wouldn’t one of the greatest actors of all time be on this list? The 1984 film, The Natural, was directed by Barry Levinson and was nominated for several Academy Awards. The Robert Redford-led film also starred Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, and Barbara Hershey, chronicling the life of Roy Hobbs (Redford) and starting off tragically as Hobbs and his father are playing catch when his father has an early heart attack. Hobbs then proceeds to have a lifetime of obstacles thrown at him: shot, poisoned, bleeding out, blackmailed, and, to boot, finding out he has an estranged son from his girlfriend of long ago.
Through it all, Hobbs prevails as a successful baseball player despite his advanced aged (for a baseball player) when he actually gets a shot at playing. The Natural comes full circle with his success in the majors, ending with him and his son playing catch where he and his father once did. It truly is a beautiful story of how life can be full circle, but hopefully for most, without being shot and poisoned. That kind of thing can put a damper on someone’s career.
22 Breaking Away
Certainly not your average sports comedy, the 1979 film Breaking Away is one of two films based in Indiana that made this list. The Peter Yates-directed flick is unusual for a sports-comedy film in another way as well: it won an Academy Award when Steve Tesich won for Best Screenplay. Breaking Away stars Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, and Daniel Stern, among others, in a film about local stonecutters who, after a fight over a young woman, take it to some local university students on the bike team.
The “cutters” are invited to compete in the Indiana University yearly bike race after the incident by the president of Indiana University at the time, who played himself: Dr. John W. Ryan. Dave (Christopher) turns out ot be a superior athlete and, after a few bumps in the road, takes home the victory for the “cutters” in the town’s Little 500.
In a time when Disney tends to embellish stories, they got this one fairly on-the-nose. While Big Red (the nickname for Secretariat) was never really in danger of being sold to save the Chenery farm, the incredible way he won the Belmont Stakes was chronicled very well. Big Red took the Triple Crown in crushing fashion, winning the stakes race by an unprecedented 31 lengths after racking up wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Additionally, his time of 1:59:40 is still the fastest Kentucky Derby ever.
Secretariat also did a great job detailing the rivalry between Sham and Secretariat by pointing out that Sham ran the second-fastest Kentucky Derby ever, 1:59:74, an effort that is still second place to this day, but doesn’t make many fastest times lists due to Sham placing second as opposed to winning.
Kurt Russell leads this 2004’s film cast. Miracle, nominated for several awards, chronicles the1980’s men’s U.S. hockey team as they do the unthinkable: taking down the juggernaut that was the Russian Men’s team. Team USA did get off to a rocky start, as the story unfolds, but eventually, the college-aged players that made up the vaunted Team USA get it together to achieve a miracle victory on the ice against the Russians during the height of the Cold War.
19 Chariots of Fire
Chariots of Fire chronicles the true story of Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) in his fight to overcome antisemitism as he pursues his dream of winning a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics. Abrahams’ rival, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleston), runs for the Glory of God, and becomes an on-field obstacle opposing Abrahams’ goals and ambitions. However, Harold overcomes the adversity that has plagued him all his life, and he achieves this dream of winning a gold medal with a win in the 100-metre. The 1981 film won four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
18 Eight Men Out
This 1989 movie that recounts the story of the famed Chicago “Black Sox,” named so for their participation in throwing the 1919 World Series. The film features a relative all-star cast that included Charlie Sheen, Christopher Loyd, John Cusack, Michael Rooker, Michael Lerner, and more. Eight Men Out has been touted as the most under-rated baseball film of all time for its historical accuracy, and some even call it the best. The film is adapted from Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series.
17 We Are Marshall
We Are Marshall depicts the true story of perhaps the greatest tragedy to befall an American sports team. The 2006 film follows the aftermath of a plane crash in 1970 that killed 75 people, 37 of whom were from the Marshall football program. Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox play Jack Lengyel and Red Dawson, respectively, as they coach the remaining team members who do not make the fateful trip, and welcome new recruits so that Marshall can simply field a team.
The film hits on several levels, not just for the crash, but because it also depicts very well the struggles of everyone involved, from the University getting clearance to allow first-year students to play in a time when that was unprecedented, to the families of the players, to everyone in between. We Are Marshall tugs at the heart strings and offers inspiration, much like the team did to the town enduring such tragedy and loss.
Moneyball, which is based on the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game written by Michael Lewis, chronicles the story of the Oakland A’s Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and their role in championing a new way to look at baseball. The film also features Chris Pratt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, and a slew of others.
Moneyball depicts The Oakland A’s using a new method to value hits versus money paid per player per game. Additionally, the film accurately traces the team’s historic 20-game winning streak, the first team in MLB history to accomplish this tremendous feat. Ultimately, the A’s do not win the World Series, but the method they used to determine player value on a whole new level is still being widely used today.
15 Bull Durham
Bull Durham explores that same old story: Boy is almost a great pitcher and meets Girl while he is mentored by Man. Girl plays light bondage with Boy while trying to help him, all while holding out for mentor Man? Oh wait, that story is pretty unique. The first of several Kevin Costner films on the list, Bull Durham was the perfect mix of comedy, romance, and sports. The tutelage story worked well, and Costner delivered a pretty good speech that was the center for Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy and her affection for him. The affection comes despite Savoy flirting with Eddy “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). While the 1988 baseball film didn’t win any Oscars, it was nominated for Best Screenplay.
14 Tin Cup
Let’s be honest here and admit Costner could have his own category with sports films. The man was born to play in this genre, and movies like Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Field of Dreams, and Draft Day show why. His acting chops, when it comes to sports films, are truly next level, and Tin Cup is certainly no exception. The 1996 golf film features Costner’s Roy McAvoy falling for psychologist Molly Griswold (Rene Russo). All is going well for McAvoy as he enters the U.S Open to get even with his old friend David Simms (Don Johnson). After a hiccup in a round where he shoots an 83, McAvoy finds himself in a three-way tie to win on the last day.
This is where disaster strikes, while featuring certainly one of the most persistent scenes in sports film history. Instead of shelving his pride to try to salvage a win, McAvoy tries to clear a water hazard taking several shots to do so, moving himself clearly out of contention before he lands an amazing shot to clear the water into the hole. While pride is at the center of this scene, the display of persistence is to be commended and truly reflects the competitive spirit all athletes have deep within them.
Featuring the late Chadwick Boseman as the legendary Jackie Robinson, 42 tells the story of Robinson’s historic breaking of the color barrier in major league baseball. The 2013 biopic does feature a few historical inaccuracies, but the story does well overall in highlighting some of the tense moments Robinson had to endure as he became the first African American player in the MLB’s modern era.
Boseman delivers an incredible performance with style and reverence as only he could. Additionally, the film has several powerful messages and moments, but perhaps none more amazing than Lucas Black’s Pee Wee Reese standing with his arm around Boseman to quell a rambunctious crowd in Cincinnati’s Crosley Field.
12 Major League
Keeping with the heavy baseball presence on this list, legendary comedy Major League is next up to bat. The 1989 film features a former Vegas showgirl, played by Margaret Whitton, who inherited the Cleveland Indians. She isn’t very fond of Cleveland and schemes to tank the team to move them to Miami. Hilarity ensues and, aided by Charlies Sheen’s Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), and plenty others, the team tackles adversities to beat the Yankees in the playoffs, which is all the team needed to do stay in Cleveland.
11 The Sandlot
The Sandlot,the famous 1993 coming of age film, may not seem like much at first, but beyond anything are the lessons the film teaches: heart, compassion, and loyalty. A new kid in town, Scott Smalls (Tom Guiry), is befriended by local kids that play baseball in the neighborhood sandlot. The film chronicles the summer of 1962 in a flashback containing the group of friends. From local town fairs, kissing a lifeguard, night baseball, an adventure to rescue a Babe Ruth signed ball from “The Beast” and befriending Mr. Mertle, portrayed by the legendary James Earl Jones, the film just works.
Who can forget the phrase, “You’re killin me, Smalls!” The end of the film is a true gut-punch to older fans, as it rockets forward with its passing of time seemingly in an instant and shows the gang going their separate ways. The big reveal is that, despite the group splitting up, Smalls and his friend Benny still get to see each other with some regularity as Smalls has become a commentator while Benny plays baseball in MLB. As the movie fades out, you truly get the feel of remembrance when Smalls glances upon mementos past, including the chewed up Babe Ruth signed ball, stored in his booth.
10 A League of Their Own
A fictional film based on true events, A League of Their Own hit the plate in 1992. The sports-themed dramedy charmed audiences with its fun, “There’s no crying in baseball” approach. The film chronicles the story about The Peaches, a team from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in a bid to keep baseball alive and well during World War II. Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Geena Davis, and many more light up the screen as the story unfolds.
The film has a great character arc with Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan doing a 180-degree turn from abrasive and mean to having the backs of his players and treating them with respect and dignity. A League of Their Own also chronicles the comradery of the teammates as they have their own on and off the field struggles dealing with issues ranging from sexism and womanizing from their male organizers, love, and even garnering respect as they parade for audiences to take their sport seriously. The film spawned two television series, one in 1993 on CBS, and the other much more recently on Prime Video.
9 Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights adapts a true story from the pages of H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Amber Heard, and more, the 2004 film tells the story of the 1988 season of Permian High School from Odessa, Texas. Facing issues such as injuries, abusive family members, and constant setbacks, the Panthers rally after the injury of their star quarterback and come up just short in the playoffs against Carter High School. The film did win an ESPY and also spawned a series order in 2006 on NBC.
If you don’t know what Caddyshack ism then stop what you are doing and watch it immediately. The 1980 film directed by the late Harold Ramis is not only a sports classic, but a comedy masterpiece as well. Starring comedy legends Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, and Bill Murray, the film is like nothing that was made up until 1980 and will certainly not be made again.
The film features the goings-on of a Nebraska country club, which includes a pool scene featuring a surprise candy bar cameo, a high stakes golf match, and a delightful gopher who has drawn the ire from the aloof Bill Murray who improvised one of the best comedy commentaries of all time as his character, Carl Spackler, imagines being the unsung hero of the Masters’ tournament held yearly in Augusta, Georgia.
7 Remember the Titans
Jerry Bruckheimer helms this biographical portrayal of a Virginia High School coach leading a football team as the team’s high school starts the processes of desegregation and integration. In the 2000 film, Remember the Titansi, Denzel Washington plays coach Herman Boone, who is shown to be a hard man to play for, but a very motivational coach. While several of the films high points were fictionalized for dramatic purposes, including how admirable coach Boone really was, as he was fired for misconduct, the stories of racial diversity, working together, and all around comradery were very much high points in the teams season as they finished undefeated in 1971, while also finishing second overall in the United States.
6 Raging Bull
The 1980 Martin Scorsese film, Raging Bull, is a boxing masterpiece. The film is based on Jake LaMotta’s own Raging Bull: My Story. Robert De Niro stars as Jake LaMotta in a film that earned him an Oscar for Best Actor and that won Best Film Editing. Ragin Bull is iconically shot in 8mm and the story of the film’s production could honestly be a movie of its own.
The movie chronicles Jake LaMotta’s career as a boxer who is deeply troubled, often physically assaulting those he cares about, through his divorce, and his arrest for furnishing underage girls to patrons at his nightclub. Scorsese is noted for famously refusing to make the film at first due to his disinterest in boxing in general. He later changed his mind at the behest of De Niro and likened film naming to boxing.