Sports movies are a popular film topic because they aren’t just about sports. They reveal certain aspects of humanity only brought out by adversity and challenge. Filled with stories of underdogs overcoming obstacles to succeed, sports movies show us a world where the little guys can win. To pay tribute to the best of them, here are 10 of the best sports movies of all time.
Top 10 Best Sports Movies of All Time
Friday Night Lights (2004)
Friday Night Lights (2004) show us an intimate look at a high school football team’s game season endeavoring to capture the entire affair down to the players’ soaring emotions both on and off the playing field.
Director Peter Berg employed a handheld camera shooting style to give the film a documentary-like look which matches well with its original source material– a nonfiction account by Buzz Bissinger. The film is also notable for Billy Bob Thornton’s performance as the team’s dedicated coach.
Due to the film’s success, it spawned a television series of the same name.
Senna (2010) is a biographical sports movie about Brazil’s Ayrton Senna, a Formula One race car driver who became popular in the 1980s and 1990s until his life was cut short by his unfortunate death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
Director Asif Kapadia draws a portrait of Senna through the use of interviews, home movies and press conference footage. What we see is a charismatic and skilled driver whose love for racing was abused by racing organizations which valued publicity over the safety of drivers.
The film is a great watch for Formula One enthusiasts and those too young to remember Senna’s notorious and tragic end.
When We Were Kings (1996)
Director Leon Gast skillfully explores the African-American and African continent relations at the height of the Black Power era by documenting one of the most iconic matches in boxing history: Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire.
The Oscar-winning documentary is the best coverage of the match complete with interviews, training footage and, of course, clips of Ali’s winning moment as he wins back his title. Coming into the match as an underdog, the public was sure of Ali’s loss but he proves them all wrong.
Slap Shot (1977)
From boxing, let’s now turn our attention to professional hockey with director George Roy Hill’s Slap Shot (1977).
In this comedy-drama film, we see Reggie Dunlop who is a coach of a mediocre minor league American hockey team. His offtrack life finds purpose when his team begins winning games and he begins to resort to dirty play to keep up the wins.
The film is memorable for its liberal use of profanities and raunchy scenes which earned it an R-rating from the censors.
Bull Durham (1988)
Part romantic comedy, Bull Durham (1988) is one of the 80’s best sports films, tells the story of two people brought together by America’s ‘national pastime’– baseball. Kevin Costner plays a perennial Minor League player, who is assigned to the Durham Bulls team which share the same reputation for mediocrity. Susan Sarandon stars as his love interest, Annie Savoy, the team mascot.
The film is notable for its casual but reverent filmic treatment of the sport which highlights both humor and drama that comes with playing the game.
We’re claiming it. Caddyshack (1980) is the greatest sports movie about golf and you can’t convince us otherwise.
Caddyshack, as all cult favorites are, is extremely quotable and rewatchable. We’re always up to watch Michael O’Keefe as Danny Noonan as he tries to win a caddy scholarship for college. There’s also the fantastic one-liners that litter the film from characters like Bill Murray’s role as a slack-jawed gold groundskeeper.
This movie is so good even people who don’t like the sport would find it enjoyable. We wish we could say the same of its sequel though. It is considered to be the best sports movies of all time.
Raging Bull (1980)
Robert De Niro plays, Jake LaMotta, a former boxing champion who fell from grace due to the discovery of his troubled domestic life. Most of the film’s drama centers on the boxer’s jealousy-filled and suspicion-ridden relationships with his brother and wife.
Considered as the best sports film Scorsese and DeNiro made together, it is praised for DeNiro’s exquisite performance as a downtrodden boxer seeking redemption. Critics describe his performance as “…always absorbing and credible, even when his character isn’t”– a true mark of a great actor.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
A classic underdog sports movie, The Bad News Bears (1976) is the movie that single-handedly influenced the surge in popularity of sports films featuring children during the 1980s and 1990s. It tells the story of a former minor league player who agrees to coach a little league baseball team composed of unskilled kids.
Faced with imminent disbandment after they consistently lose to better teams, the coach decides to step up his game by bringing out reinforcement to whip his team into shape.
Everybody loves a good rag to riches story, so it’s not hard to see why Rocky (1976) endured as a classic sports film over the years.
It stars Sylvester Stallone (who also wrote the screenplay) as the titular Rocky Balboa, a small-time amateur boxer from the wrong side of the tracks, who gets a shot at a heavyweight championship match.
Stallone, memorable for his humanizing slurring speech and hanging dog eyes, was a revelation in the film. A critical and commercial success, the film won the best picture and best screenplay awards at the Oscars. It spawned the Rocky film franchise which currently has eight films in total. Rocky is one of the best sports movies ever made.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
The number one spot on our best sports movies list goes to this inspiring documentary about a group of Chicago inner-city kids aspiring to be basketball players.
The film closely follows two young men throughout their high school years from their days in the playground to their recruitment to collegiate basketball teams. It shows the numerous obstacles these two determined young men faced to achieve their dreams from dealing drug-addicted parents to the inner-city violence.
Did your favorite sports film make it onto our list of top 10 best sports movies of all time? What movies would you have added? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.