The Top 10 Best Sports Movies Ever

Rocky is one of the best sports movies ever

Do you like sports movies? Most cinephiles do, regardless of sport. And now that the Super Bowl has been played–sorry, the “Big Game”–how long will it be for Tom Brady’s life to become a biopic? While we wait for that answer, many streamers are parading their sports movies collection to spike their viewing numbers. And why not? They’re always suitable for a binge. If there were a movie list about Cricket, someone would check that out.

What sports movies have you checked out during all the Super Bowl ballyhoo? Anything about handball, slalom skiing, sailing, or fencing? There are sports movies on all those, so indeed, you have checked one out recently. Have you ever wondered what are the best sports movies ever? As a listicle addict, I sure have. There are many parameters on what makes a sports movie memorable and effective. Consider film scores, box office revenue, storytelling, directing, pop culture, acting, and a jumbo case of “the feels.”

These are movies–fictional or not. That means to name any documentary about sports, and it won’t be here. If you want a list of the Top 10 sports documentaries, holler back. We can make that happen and see if Hoop Dreams or When We Were Kings would head it up. (And if you haven’t seen those two sports docs, what’s your problem?!)

These are the Top 10 sports movies of all time.


NOTE: Rudy (1993)

https://youtu.be/Xm0pTMbDaMI

This is one of the most polarizing sports film in history. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger (Sean Astin) is merely an undersized kid with an oversized heart who bleeds green and gold for the Fighting Irish. Be honest: Rudy is a real kid who sucks at football but is celebrated because he never let what others think of him force him to quit. That’s the movie.

It has a moving score and scenes that force tears frequently. So why is it not on the Top 10 sports movies list — half of the film was not a true story!

Did you know he didn’t have a brother named Frank? Instead, was that “composite of everyone who ever discouraged” him? What the what? Oh, think of the most moving scene in the movie…that jerseys on the desk, right? People cried through a tissue box, only one small issue–that never happened! Yeah, and remember when Rudy finally got his big shot (to shut the fans up)? That never happened either. Sorry, “guy who sucks at football and is rich because of it.” No Top 10 mention for you, Ruettiger.

10. The Hustler (1961)

The Hustler | #TBT Trailer | 20th Century FOX

No apologies are necessary for lovers of Friday Night Lights, The Sandlot, Seabiscuit, or even Remember the Titans. This movie was considered a marvel of storytelling in the early 1960s. Not only does it star two “names” in Tinseltown of Paul Newman, who plays Eddie Felson, and Jackie Gleason, who is the urban legend Michael Jordan or Tom Brady of Billiards named Minnesota Fats. This is one of those movies that you don’t even know you’re extolling when you meet a guy named “Fast Eddie” or are arguing over a game called Billiards or Pool.

Aside from the magnificent and award-nominated acting, this is one of the first films that killed in major nominations and the so-called minor categories as well (e.g., cinematography, screenplay, art direction). To further make the legacy permanent, there has never been a spike in the Billiards industry since. In fact, professional pool players have a league today because of a movie in 1961. If you have ever had an interest in this game or those two actors (not to mention George C. Scott and Piper Laurie), the scenes of cue shots are pretty badass. The scenes between the actors are even better. Trust us. This movie belongs.

9. Miracle (2004)

Miracle 2004 Trailer | Kurt Russell | Patricia Clarkson

When you can explain how a well-done film about the greatest sports moment in U.S. history doesn’t belong in the Top 10 of the best sports movies ever, that’s when it won’t be. Until then, this Disney biopic will always be here.  Even the most ardent hockey fans must agree pulling off this film was a tall task because how could anyone possibly capture a game on television that captivated an entire country? Well, two of them if you count the Russians getting shellacked by the young U.S. Olympic hockey team.

This movie shares a common bond with military movies in that the sense of nationalism created from watching two hours of a story is remarkable. Without question, the heartbeat of this film and this story in Lake Placid, New York was Coach Herb Brooks. The man makes Rudy’s sense of pride and determination look amateur. Kurt Russell nailed depicting the team coach. From the locker room pep talks to the moment the team shocked the world, this movie has more contagious feels than those experienced by Vietnam soldiers on a weekend pass.

This movie shouldn’t create the emotion and overwhelming pride that it does. We know how it will end, but learning how we got there made this movie an instant classic in any genre.

8. Caddyshack (1980)

Caddyshack (1980) Official Trailer - Chevy Chase Movie

Come at us, Internet. Just because you don’t think it could beat The Sandlot, The Bad News Bears, or Slap Shot, doesn’t make it so. Caddyshack is easily the best film about golf ever, and one of the most quotable sports movie of all time too. The cast is littered with comedy greats–Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, and Ted Knight. Not to mention, this was the directorial debut of the late, great Harold Ramis. The character potpourri covers every stereotype about slapstick and juvenile movies. Even scatological humor makes its way to Caddyshack, and it’s wonderful.

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From the portrayal of a groundskeeper who is surely on the spectrum to the makings of a genius soundtrack (Hello to Kenny Loggins), this film has it all. There are more jokes in this film than a CBM with Easter Eggs. You must watch Caddyshack multiple times just to hear all the hijinks. No awards. No rave reviews. Even the box office take was dismal, but no one can deny the cult following this movie about Bushwood Country Club carries in every sports movies debate. And it’s always near the top of the list for good reason.

7. Breaking Away (1979)

https://youtu.be/qYRtYxB_aEA

Another minor sport; another major film. Breaking Away has one of those terms that create sighs, moans, and eyes to roll like dice — “coming of age.” The sport is cycling, but this midwestern tale of four close and remarkably diverse friends is the premise. They are riding the fence (um, I prefer my puns intended) between being older teens and realizing you are fresh out of time because adulting is near. And when that realization becomes clear to the Quadry, that’s when the emotion hits.

You’ve often heard from a motivational speaker or in church to chase down your dreams. This movie takes you on a journey of where those dreams are located. Some films are benchmarks of certain generations (see Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Twilight, Almost Famous, and Waiting to Exhale) or moments (see JFK, Amistad, Dances with Wolves, and Schindler’s List). Breaking Away is one of those landmark films that typify both a generation and a moment. That moment is learning your path is as important as anyone else’s. Three of the four actors had their breakout role here–Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Quaid, and Daniel Stern.

Sure, there is a huge troupe of Italian bicycles and stuff, but this is one of those sports movies where you forget the sports disclaimer and simply love the story. And you will.

6. Bull Durham (1988)

Bull Durham Official Trailer #1 - Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon Movie (1988) HD

Think Stallone and the military, Vin Diesel and driving fast cars, or Jason Momoa and period pieces. If Kevin Costner never did baseball movies, would we really know him? He has done three superb baseball movies–two are no-doubt inclusions on this list and For the Love of the Game is a criminally underrated sports and date night flick. The first one is Bull Durham where Costner plays middle-aged minor league legend Crash Davis. He was brought to North Carolina to mentor a wildly erratic, juvenile dolt Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh (Tim Robbins).

Robbins would meet his ex-wife in this movie, Susan Sarandon who plays a devotee of the Church of Baseball and regular town trollop named Annie. Any baseball fan worships this film. Any sports enthusiast must extol its greatness. Try as you might, there is no shaking off this wonderful script and collection of characters. It is a comedic piece of fastball humor that could never be duplicated.

5. Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Pride of the Yankees (1942) Original Trailer

It’s the most prolific speech from an athlete ever given. It has been used in presidential speeches, Hall of Fame receptions, and probably a funeral or two in New York City. Lou Gehrig was nicknamed “The Iron Horse” because the guy never missed a game (he played in 2,130 of them). He was a fantastic baseball player in the 1920s and 1930s. If you loved the Yankees, you loved Gehrig. Kids playing stickball in all five boroughs loved Gehrig as much as old men feeding pigeons in Central Park. But after 17 seasons, 7 All-Stars, 6 championship rings, 2 MVPs, and 1 amazing team, he had to retire at 36.

The irony was despite his never missing a game for external injury, it was an internal disease that forced him out of the game. Two years later, Lou Gehrig died of ALS, which is now synonymous with his name. His career was stellar, and his stats are legendary, but it was his humanity that made Gehrig so beloved. No one had a dreadful thing to say about him, so when he announced an abrupt retirement, the entire nation wanted to know why. And that’s where Gehrig’s legacy was cemented–his farewell speech was lump-in-throat-inducing. And Gary Cooper nailed it on screen. There’s no way this film doesn’t make this list.

4. Field of Dreams (1989)

Field of Dreams Official Trailer #1 - (1989) HD

“If you build it, they will come.” Who doesn’t know this line? Even if they don’t know the movie, they know this line. The concept of this film is crackpot. You have the most notorious baseball team in MLB history–the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox–endearing themselves to the public through a brisk jaunt in the cornfield of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner). Oh, then some Yankees show up featuring Archie “Moonlight” Graham (Burt “friggin'” Lancaster) and Ray’s estranged dad. Joined by misanthrope novelist Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), Kinsella takes a trip through many states because he’s led by a “voice.”

Yeah, if this was real, CNN would broadcast every mile of his trip like it was O.J. Simpson in the white Bronco. (That’s a funny reference, kids. Look it up.) It’s insane, literally. But this isn’t heaven–this is Iowa. Well, it’s Hollywood and that’s why this film was magic. For baseball fans, married couples, boys with dreams, and fathers and sons. This sports fairy tale is romanticized beyond belief, which is why Rudy can suck it, and an immediate classic sports movie like Field of Dreams will always make the Top Five.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull Official Trailer #1 - Robert De Niro Movie (1980) HD

At times, it is amazing that some people forget Director Martin Scorsese and Hollywood icons Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci made a film together that wasn’t about gangsters. But here it is and it’s possibly Scorsese’s best film, and one of the best sports movies and biopics ever made. Jake LaMotta was a troubled soul in the 1940s and De Niro conquers this story, as does a debuting Pesci as LaMotta’s brother. This film is not for the faint of heart because you watch someone kill himself slowly even though he has much for which to live.

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No one believed him. LaMotta didn’t even believe in himself. That is until he faced Sugar Ray Robinson and gave Robinson his first-ever defeat. If that story sounds familiar, it should. It was the inspiration for another well-known boxing film (See: No. 2). This is a true drama that involves boxing. Scorsese strikes a harmonious balance in this noir film of tragedy and triumph. And just because there is a triumph in this movie, there is no feel-good to it. Raging Bull is a film of rage, angst, abuse, and violence. Yet, this “Anti-Rocky” is a masterclass in storytelling and filmmaking.

2. Rocky (1976)

Rocky Official Trailer #1 - Burgess Meredith Movie (1976) HD

If anyone wants to arm wrestle GVN over this list, we will only accept dispersions over the top two films here. When Sylvester Stallone wrote Rocky, there was no telling we would still be seeing this story on film in 2022. We are, and outside of the extremely schmaltzy soundtrack on Rocky IV, every film in this saga has veritas, heart, depth, under dogma, and that goose-bump-inducing score by Bill Conti.

What underdog in sports history has felt like Rocky fighting Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers)? And thanks to the keen insight of Stallone, we believe that our heroes in sports can lose and still walk away as champions. Heartstrings are tied into a pretzel with this script and the feeling that every actor in this film portrays. Rocky Balboa proves to everyone who didn’t believe that some lunch-pail boxer from Philadelphia could stand toe-to-toe with an overwhelming obstacle.

The big picture of this film is an archetypical conflict between the immovable object against the impenetrable force. Unfortunately, every film in this saga follows that original formula, which is probably what makes the original so moving. A winner of three Oscars (e.g. picture, director, and editing), Rocky accomplishes everything it set out to do. The story is timeless, even if the actors are not. As much as this film’s backdrop involves boxing, the premise of the story is far greater and always will be.

1. Hoosiers (1986)

https://youtu.be/4bjELTJdbcI

When watching Hoosiers, it is like Director David Anspaugh was given the secret formula to one of the most preeminent sports movies and added to the recipe. Anspaugh made a superb living in TV directing Emmy juggernauts Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and Miami Vice. The passion for the sport and conviction of the story is evident watching Gene Hackman transform into Coach Norman Dale who etched together a bottle for lightning to strike. Countless odds were against Coach Dale to do something noteworthy in the basketball utopia state of Indiana in 1954–the school, the town, the helicopter little league fans, and the town drunk (and father to a boy on the team) named Shooter in an Oscar-nominated role by Dennis Hopper.

Dale is a Bobby Knight-starter kit–cantankerous old fart who understands more about basketball than anyone in town. As everyone hates his approach to this “Friday Night Lights” hick town in the boonies, the team finally hears the words beyond his curmudgeon tone. That’s when the sheer magic of this movie starts. The team begins to believe in themselves and the fundamentals. Once they began to win despite the circumstances against them, the boys of Hickory High School shut everyone up. Just listen to yourself about Coach Dale brings this colossal field house down a common perspective:

Hoosiers (10/12) Movie CLIP - Measuring the Massive Gym (1986) HD

You see? You weren’t talking either.

That’s the formula of this beautiful film–how to change perception and get unbelievers to see things their way. This is a tale of David, who is headed directly for Goliath. And this slingshot aim was remarkable. Not for nothing, but it’s suitable that David Anspaugh directed this majestic film and Jerry Goldsmith composed the score.

And Jerry Goldsmith‘s masterful score is the cheerleader we all need for the full basketball experience. The interesting thing about Goldsmith is that most didn’t think he was capable of making a score like this–since he was famous for making a slightly different score from The OmenThis movie will choke any trucker, biker, or inmate up with quickness. Lightning is indeed caught in the bottle in Hoosiers, and the light of this feel-good movie can brighten anyone’s day.

It followed a formula all right. This movie is the blueprint for all sports movies. Some may have done better at the box office and others may be newer with better cinematography and editing, but none can give a low-five sports hug like Hoosiers. Grab the tissue and a Snuggie because all the feels are here. Oh, a fun fact about Anspaugh and Goldsmith: The tandem also worked together on Rudy. It seems these two had the recipe in their pocket all along–no matter where you go, the rim is still only 10-feet tall.

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