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The Top 25 Best Sports Movies of All-Time

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Everyone loves a good sports movie. The training montages, the big games, and the team camaraderie; there’s something about witnessing sports on screen that tends to resonate with audiences of all ages. Athletics don’t always make for compelling drama on the silver screen (and not all have to), but when they do, there’s certainly something to be said for the sub-genre being just as riveting as any other. While many sports efforts push a little too hard and can’t quite put the formula together, some have managed to capture absolute magic you won’t find anywhere else. Whether they offer a yearning gateway back into childhood innocence or put the viewer into a high-pressure world, they wouldn’t dare step foot in. Personally, the genre truly has something for everyone – sports fan or not. From all-time classics to congenial fan favorites and hidden gems alike; these are our picks for the 25 greatest sports films of all time.




25. Big Fan (2009)

Best Sports Movies 01 Big Fan

The “Taxi Driver” of football films is a disturbing excursion into the poisonous side of sports fandom. Following an obsessive New York Giants superfan named Paul (Patton Oswalt), a loner who spends most of his time calling into radio shows to sing the praises of his beloved team; this pitch-black comedy is a haunting portrayal of intense sports culture gone too far. After a chance encounter with his favorite player goes horribly wrong, Paul’s life is turned upside down as he’s forced to deal with the ramifications of that fateful night. Of course, we’ve seen concepts like this before; the compulsive, mentally ill character study has been done to greater effect, no doubt, but never has it been used so satirically to target a specific demographic.

And, while not every moment entirely lands, there is something for virtually any sports fan to relate to here – albeit, hopefully not to these extremes. Patton Oswalt is absolutely fantastic as the pitiful protagonist, displaying his underrated dramatic chops with cruel sincerity, and Michael Rapaport makes for the perfect villain in the form of a rival talk-show-caller known as Philadelphia Phil; essentially playing a slightly more antagonistic variation of himself. Taking the viewer down the familiar highs and lows of team devotion: the sweetest of victories to the bitterest of losses, this low-budget treasure may be heavily steeped in misery, but it’s about as authentic a glimpse into the flip-side of sports entertainment as you will discover.




24. The Way Back (2020)

Best Sports Movies 02 The Way Back

Former high school basketball star Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck), a deeply depressed, struggling alcoholic, is called back into the game upon reluctantly agreeing to coach his old team. Hailed for its effective restraint direction, somber yet uplifting storytelling, and Affleck’s heartbreakingly authentic performance, Gavin O’Connor’s “The Way Back” is, without question, the most impactful basketball film we’ve had in years. Taking on heavy-hitting themes of isolation and addiction through the lens of a seemingly stereotypical sports drama, the movie surprisingly never compromises its bleak soul for the trademark cop-out moments of a lesser picture. In fact, while the story may start off familiar enough, by the end, there are no corny slow-motion buzzer-beaters to be seen, and it’s the bit subversions like this that make the film one to remember.

Jack is always the main focus, and while the veil is pulled back by the third act to give some insight into what the character is dealing with, the mistake is never made that winning a few games and rekindling his love of hoops has miraculously solved things. However, that doesn’t mean the film’s message is a dour one. Woven into the mix is a kind, heartfelt reminder that even in the darkest of times, there’s always hope for new beginnings. The main draw, though, is inarguably what many (himself included) have considered Ben Affleck’s best performance to date. And while it is made abundantly clear anytime he attempts to dribble the ball he’s probably never played a day in his life, his work here is truly commendable.




23. Fighting with My Family (2019)

Best Sports Movies 03 Fighting with my family

Chronicling the real-life backstory of WWE superstar Paige and her strange rise to professional wrestling fame, Stephen Merchant’s “Fighting with My Family” is an irresistibly heartwarming dysfunctional-family drama that may have a home in the genre as a future classic. Florence Pugh stars as the aforementioned aspiring wrestler and unsurprisingly carries the film upon her shoulders with a well-rounded outing that effortlessly captures both the painstaking drama and the free-spirited comedy of the piece exceptionally well. Coming from an oddball family that values the sport of wrestling almost as high as their undying affection for one another, the supporting cast of eccentric characters is top-notch, too, with Nick Frost and Lena Headey hilariously lighting up the screen as Paige’s peculiar parents.

The story does, unfortunately, tend to glamourize the famously unglamorous nature of the WWE (The Rock’s cameos are a little much), but the film also doesn’t exactly shy away from showing the cut-throat environment outside of the ring, either, to a point where the company’s hand in distributing the movie is a little bit jarring. At its core, Paige’s journey is one of embracing what makes you unique in an industry that aims to sell you as a product, and there’s something really quite special in that. A fun family flick with lots of laughs to be had and a charismatic lead helming the ship, this charming biopic is every bit as wild and exciting as its loveable subjects.




22. Rudy (1993)

Best Sports Movies 04 Rudy

Though there is certainly something to be said for breaking genre tropes and diverting the tired formula, sometimes it’s the cheesy, easily predictable feel-good efforts that leave the largest impact. Case in point, 1993’s football melodrama “Rudy”. A feature-film account of the true story of Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger, an ambitious runt who dreams of one day suiting up for the University of Notre Dame and his trials and tribulations along the way, the inspiring story is one that has been engraved into the fabric of sports movie history. The always delightful Sean Astin shines as the titular pint-sized hero, whose unwavering passion and resilience in the face of rejection have made for one of the most endlessly endearing figures of the genre.

Opting for a decidedly personal look into hope and perseverance, rather than the high-octane spectacle many football films are drawn towards; the movie also manages to offset the classic fate-of-the-universe championship game concept for a much more rewarding finale in which the big payoff is fittingly much smaller. A classic in the genre, and for a good reason, “Rudy” is a simple but sweet proposal to enjoy the tiny victories in life and never give up on yourself. It may feel dated or goofy to some, but in the end, this ‘90s pick-me-up is sure to produce smiles all around.




21. He Got Game (1998)

Best Sports Movies 05 He got Game

A convicted murderer (Denzel Washington) is given a week of parole to convince his son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), one of the top basketball prospects in the country, to join the college team of the governor’s choosing in this Spike Lee classic of the ‘90s. You’d be hard-pressed to find a filmmaker with a greater affinity for the game of basketball than Spike Lee, and one doesn’t need to look much further than “He Got Game” to see why. Bringing a beating heart to the worn-out world of sports dramas, Lee’s hoops-centered tale, goofy as the plot may be, is a grounded and ultimately pretty devastating portrait of a soured father-son relationship, too far gone to be reconciled.

Washington brings his signature hard-edged charm to the film, holding up any faults in the story with one of his many magnetic, quintessential performances. Though Ray Allen can’t quite match the acting caliber of the rest of the cast, the pure spectacle of the Hall of Famer starring in a Spike Lee joint alongside Denzel is more than enough to satisfy long-time basketball fans. Boasting brief appearances from the likes of NBA legends such as Charles Barkley, Shaq, Reggie Miller, and even Michael Jordan himself; in addition to a supporting ensemble consisting of Rosario Dawson, John Turturro, and Milla Jovovich (to name a few), Lee’s love-letter to the hardwood is an indelible landmark of sports fare.




20. Goon (2011)

Best Sports Movies 06 Goon

Spinning the game of hockey into a compelling romantic comedy is a bold challenge, even when depicting the sport in its purest form of glory. Spinning the game of hockey into a compelling romantic comedy centered around its most brash and violent tendencies should be damn near impossible. However, the Canadian screenwriting duo of Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg did exactly that with their conception of the 2011 cult-hit “Goon.” Shedding light onto the increasingly lost art of the enforcer in hockey: someone held on the roster to offer their knack for fighting rather than any particular skill set, the film follows Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a former bouncer, turned minor-league hockey sensation, upon finding his home in the sport as a so-called goon.

Seann William Scott is easily at his most charming as the enforcer with a heart of gold, acting as a beaming ray of positivity amidst the ruthless bloodshed and raunchy humor. With a supporting cast showcasing Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy, and Jay Baruchel, the movie is a laugh-a-minute romp with an effectively captivating love story in the middle, featuring Alison Pill. It definitely isn’t the most cerebral of sports movies, even by the genre’s standards, but it is, without a doubt, leagues better than it has any right being. A “Slap Shot” descendant that may execute the loose concept better than the ‘70s classic itself, “Goon” is required sports comedy viewing.




19. Whip It (2009)

Best Sports Movies 07 Whip It

A shy, socially-awkward high schooler finds an escape through the rabbit hole of roller derby, as well as a family in a group of misfits, in this high-octane coming-of-age drama. Not only is the film criminally unsung in the realm of 2000s teen comedies, but it also happens to be one of the most continuously overlooked sports dramas in recent memory, as well. Drew Barrymore, in her directorial debut, puts forth an empowering story of finding one’s voice through the world of sports, filled to the brim with astonishingly unrelenting energy. Elliot Page is fantastic in the leading role, absolutely in his element as a young outsider reaching for greatness.

The supporting cast around Elliot, though, is among the best in the entire genre. Kristen Wiig, Zoë Bell, and Juliette Lewis (all with phenomenal nicknames) are just a handful of the wicked ensemble, and their chemistry is enough to elevate the movie to its cult status alone. Not only is Barrymore’s picture a wonderfully exciting entrance into the intense, utterly intoxicating environment of roller derby, with all of the incredible action you could ask for out of a sports flick – it is also, quite simply, just very sweet. Good-natured, lighthearted fun, with all of the trappings of a legitimate teen movie classic, “Whip It” is the kind of filmmaking magic you can’t teach.




18. 42 (2013)

Best Sports Movies 08 42

An uncompromising biopic about the hatred and bigotry faced by Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player to enter the MLB in the modern era, portrayed by the late Chadwick Boseman. What more could you want? The eye-opening film may act as a pretty basic paint-by-numbers telling, but with a true story like Robinson’s, and a central star-like Boseman, it unsurprisingly strikes nothing less than pure gold. Delivering to the screen, a painful first-hand view of the racism no.42 had to deal with on, and off the field, the movie is a poignant reminder that America’s favorite pastime hasn’t exactly always upheld its all-inclusive image. The story of Jackie Robinson is an inspiring message of strength, determination, and perseverance, but “42” does a commendable job of presenting the legend in a very human light.

We feel his struggles, and though his small victories in the film are enjoyable, there are certainly just as many devastating moments to be felt, as well. Harrison Ford is doing some of his most spirited work in years as Jackie’s manager Branch Rickey, but of course, the standout of the film is Chadwick Boseman. In what may just be his most memorable pre-MCU outing, Boseman is at the top of his game, anchoring the story with one of his many passionate, career-defining performances. Truly one of the most important actors of his generation, breathing life into one of the most impactful figures in sports history, “42” is the rare biopic that does its central icon justice and then some.




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17. Coach Carter (2005)

Best Sports Movies 09 Coach Carter

The inspiring story of a tough yet wise high school basketball coach who prioritized academics and integrity over the flashy game itself, this Samuel L. Jackson-starring drama is a tried and true classic for the ages. The no-nonsense, old school coach sent in to correct and ignite a failing team of delinquents has been done to death, but few have perfected the mold quite like “Coach Carter.” Taking its audience down the familiar road of sports film ups and downs, hitting every last corny beat along the way, it’s hard to say precisely what makes this one stand out among the greats. Likely, it’s a combination of things.

Each performance lands and resonates effortlessly, while every character is given clear motivations, legitimate insight, and actual payoff by the end of the film. It’s a basketball movie where what happens on the court is secondary to the plot, and what truly matters is seeing this vulnerable group set on the right path by the closing credits. It may not be the most original, complex, or even particularly flamboyant, but what it is, is certainly unforgettable. Owning a strong, compelling story, admirable character work, and one of many iconic Sam Jackson performances for good measure, this fiery basketball flick lives up to its reputation.




16. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Best Sports Movies 10 Million Dollar baby

Few sports dramas know how to pack a punch quite like this gut-wrenching Oscar darling of the mid-2000s. Co-starring Hilary Swank as a resilient female boxer hellbent on going pro and Clint Eastwood as her reluctant trainer and eventual father figure, “Million Dollar Baby” is a gripping, relentless, and ultimately shocking subversion of the genre. Playing out as a somewhat typical (albeit enjoyable) underdog tale, before taking an unexpectedly bleak turn around its halfway point, the film becomes less a sports movie and more of a dissection of the human spirit and every second of it pays off.

Bolstered by Clint Eastwood’s mellow direction and the delicate narration of Morgan Freeman (who would take home his lone Academy Award to date for his efforts), the 2004 Best Picture winner captures a unique tone that accomplishes both melodramatic theatrics and powerfully natural realism. Hilary Swank is amazing as the lead, in yet another aspect of the film to be recognized for an Oscar, and it’s inarguably her daughter-like dynamic with Eastwood on screen that makes the movie one to remember. The two share a magnetic bond that holds the story together even through its slower moments. Showcasing a flurry of knockout performances, gorgeously stark imagery, and a tear-jerking boxing journey, if there ever was one, this modern-day classic is must-see filmmaking.




15. Miracle (2004)

Best Sports Movies 11 Miracle

Centered upon the historic 1980 USA men’s hockey team and their unprecedented Olympics triumph over the Soviets, this Cold War-set sports epic is about as patriotic as they come, but also undeniably engrossing. Taking an iconic moment from American athletics history and grounding it as a character-driven journey for self-fulfillment, “Miracle” opts to focus its story around coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) – scaling down the monumental event of the “miracle on ice” into something much more personal. After being the final player cut from the 1960 gold-medal-winning Olympic squad, Brooks returns to coach the team and will stop at nothing to reach his goal of finally being there to lead his country to victory on his road to redemption.

Kurt Russell steals the show as the clever coach Brooks, orchestrating the film much like how the real Herb Brooks steered a team of headstrong all-stars to improbable success. Watching the unorthodox preparation the team underwent and endured behind the scenes is endlessly fascinating, with Brooks’ motivations towards the players making for more entertainment than the games themselves, at times. However, the true testament of a biopic is oftentimes more than recreating events and doing real-life individuals justice. The true genius of “Miracle” and a handful of other true story sports dramas is engaging an audience that already knows the outcome of the movie before it even begins. That’s no small feat.




14. King Richard (2021)

Best Sports Movies 12 King Richard

The galvanizing success story of a proud father who dreamed big and sent his daughters on a path to beat the odds and become sports icons in the process, this remarkable Venus and Serena Williams biopic has it all. Sometimes truth makes for better storytelling than fiction, and that case can certainly be made here for “King Richard” – not for anything in the film that is particularly outlandish, but rather for the simple fact that the Williams sisters’ rise to stardom is nothing short of a fairytale. Coached and aided by their father, Richard (Will Smith), the girls sought to make it out of their Compton housing projects, using tennis as a tool; and through talent and dedication, they actually did. Deciding to key in on the visionist father of the Williams’ story may seem like an odd choice in the wake of the women’s excellence, but it’s a choice that ultimately pays off.

Showing both the pros and cons of the sisters’ increasing attention, the film is a study into the real-world pressures that come with having skill at an early age. While the film does prove how Richard guided his daughters into a position to succeed, it also never makes the mistake of presenting him in an entirely positive light, either. At its core, “King Richard” can be seen as a parent wanting what’s best for their children, as well as the negatives that come with thrusting them into the spotlight; and it’s by far this aspect of the narrative that stands out, raising some genuinely interesting moral questions along the way.




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13. The Fighter (2010)

Best Sports Movies 13 The Fighter

Looking past its generic title, 2010’s “The Fighter” is, without a doubt, one of the finest boxing films cinema has to offer. Following real-life fighter, “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a budding boxer looking to make a name for himself and escape the image of his half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), the film is an unrelenting depiction of Ward’s ever-winding road to the welterweight title. Like any good boxing drama, this is a movie that understands what happens outside of the ring needs to be equally, if not even more compelling, than what happens inside of it. And boy, does it deliver in spades. Spinning a web of never-ending family troubles that seem to hit Ward harder than any blow he could receive to the head, the story is a masterfully-chaotic, stress-inducing mess of relatability that claims perhaps the most authentic representation of a dysfunctional family the genre has seen.

The performances are top-notch, as well. Mark Wahlberg gives what is probably the most likable and sincere outing of his career, while Amy Adams and Melissa Leo square off in what has got to be the most heated girlfriend/mother conflict in all of film. It is, though, Christian Bale who leaves the biggest impact, in his first Oscar win, as the drug-addicted Dicky Eklund, trying to recover from a steep fall from grace and coach his brother to greatness. A rocky family drama that demonstrates the unification of sports as effectively as any other, “The Fighter” deserves to be mentioned alongside the greats for many years to come.




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12. Remember the Titans (2000)

While it is, by no means, particularly outstanding filmmaking, 2000s football classic “Remember the Titans” is the kind of simple Disney-produced magic that never quite seems to fade. For over twenty years, this sentimental tale of a newly-integrated Virginia high school team has remained a mainstay of popular sports films, and, love it or hate it, it’s a legacy that appears likely to endure. Though its attempts at handling the subject of racial division are admittedly pretty elementary, and the idea that sports somehow have the miraculous ability to heal such issues on their own is ridiculous, these themes are explored with a genuine sense of compassion throughout, which leads to some real payoff.

 

It’s corny and safe, sure, but at its core, it is still a touching lesson in acceptance and equality, told through the lens of an electrifying football flick. Denzel Washington and Will Patton are utter perfections as the clashing coaching duo of Boone and Yoast, and Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris have infectious chemistry as the two contending stars of the team, who form an unlikely bond. Ethan Suplee, Donald Faison, and early outings from Hayden Panettiere and Ryan Gosling fill out the ensemble in effortlessly entertaining comedic performances, giving the film a nice sense of levity amidst its more serious moments. Timeless, exuberating, football fun for all ages, “Remember the Titans” never gets old.




11. Bull Durham (1988)

Best Sports Movies 15 Bull Durham

This delightful baseball rom-com of the late 1980s is about as iconic as sports movies come. Revolving around a minor-league ball club, the zany Durham Bulls, and their bizarre season, Ron Shelton’s “Bull Durham” is an amusing look at baseball culture that has seamlessly stood the test of time. Dodging the standard sports comedy formula with a more mature, character-driven story than most, this enchanting love letter to baseball manages to be so without putting its focus solely on the game itself – instead, setting its lens on such things as love triangles and sports superstitions.

Helmed by Kevin Costner as an aging veteran “Crash” Davis and Tim Robbins as Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, the young, hot-headed pitcher whom he’s been brought in to guide, the already notable script is only further elevated by the grounded yet lively dynamic of the cast. It is certainly Costner and Robbins’ keen back-and-forth that continues to stand out and impress, but the supporting outings from Susan Sarandon as the team’s seductive groupie, along with Robert Wuhl’s hilarious turn as bumbling pitching coach Larry Hockett spice up the ensemble into more than just a two-man show. Witty, honest, and outright unforgettable, “Bull Durham” is peak ‘80s sports fare.




10. Moneyball (2011)

Often left out of the typical rags-to-riches sports drama are the real-world analytical and economic factors that play into every team’s season. Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” aimed to change that, telling the true story of the groundbreaking 2002 Oakland A’s squad that made history with a who’s who of bargain bin ballplayers. Upon losing several key members of their roster to big market teams in free agency, Oakland’s front office adopts an old-school method to compete with the league’s wealthier ball clubs. Assembling an “island of misfit toys,” the team is made up of undervalued castoffs who, on paper, should function well as a unit. Led by Brad Pitt as the A’s eager general manager, Billy Beane, the film is an absorbing dissection of the highs and lows that come with structuring a viable team on a low-budget – exposing the unfortunate reality that in professional sports, not every franchise is given equal opportunity to succeed.

Still, the lesson is one of great positivity: forging your own path and prevailing in the face of doubt which can resonate both in and out of sports. Pitt is phenomenal as always, bringing a sense of urgency to what could have otherwise been a rather bland tale of stats and numbers, while Jonah Hill, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a pre-megastar Chris Pratt help to round out the stacked cast. A modern classic in the genre, and it’s no debate, “Moneyball” is the premiere baseball effort of the 2010s.




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9. Rocky (1976)

The definitive underdog film is one of few sports flicks to boast a decade-spanning series to its name, but none can quite hold a candle to the original. Frequently mentioned amongst the greatest achievements in 1970s cinema, “Rocky,” the story of a down on his luck, Philadelphia-born boxer given a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship, remains a cheesy yet indelible landmark of the genre to this very day. Written by Sylvester Stallone himself, this motivational Best Picture-winner would help lay the groundwork and set the template for many sports dramas to come while staying wholly original. Like the protagonist himself, Stallone’s journey to making the film as a broke, wannabe actor, given a chance to prove himself, is one of Hollywood’s all-time most inspirational success stories, and man, does that pride bleed through on screen.

While exceptional side performances are dispensed from the likes of Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, and the late Burgess Meredith, it is Stallone’s admirable outing as the titular boxer that continues to transcend. For nearly fifty years, the character of Rocky Balboa has been looked up to as a symbol of humility, courage, and of course, going the distance – they’ve even got the statue in Philly to prove it. Yet another entry on this list that sometimes understands the sweetest victories in life aren’t necessarily the most monumental in stature, “Rocky” is pure cinematic gold.




8. Uncut Gems (2019)

Some may say this 2019 indie sensation doesn’t quite qualify as a sports movie. To that, I simply say: “I disagree.” Its entire finale hinges upon the outcome of a Boston Celtics playoff game for crying out loud. But, we digress. The Safdie Brothers’ nerve-racking crime thriller is a deeply unsettling foray into the seedy underworld of all things gambling, particularly (hence its placement on the list) sports betting. Following a cheap, low-life jeweler (Adam Sandler) who can’t seem to catch a break as he attempts to navigate his way through leading a high-stakes lifestyle, “Uncut Gems” is a 135-minute-long roller coaster ride of unbridled anxiety. As things begin to go south for the negligent jeweler, the film takes a steep nosedive into an impenetrable void of chaos, and Adam Sandler absolutely relishes in it.

Flexing his dramatic skills in what may go down as the most impressive performance of his career, Sandler dazzles and devastates in a role so helplessly unforgiving it couldn’t have been dreamt up by anyone but the Safdies. Idina Menzel, LaKeith Stanfield, the grimy streets of New York, and even NBA legend Kevin Garnett come together to flesh out a headache-inducing environment so thick with tension you may struggle to breathe. Every waking moment of this film is agony in the best way possible, and, in the end, it’s entirely worth it. A future cult classic by two of the most elite up-and-coming filmmakers in the game that each and every sports fan should be able to painfully relate to on some level, “Uncut Gems” does not disappoint.




7. Foxcatcher (2014)

Disturbing, slow-moving, and still as utterly haunting as ever, Bennett Miller’s gritty follow-up to “Moneyball” is a decidedly darker delve into sports drama territory. Like the feel-good baseball flick, 2014’s “Foxcatcher” is another crack at a strange but true story in the world of sports. Only this plays as more of a psychological thriller that borders on the edge of horror, with brief appearances from the athletic competition along the way. Recounting the real-life experiences of brothers Mark and Dave Schultz and their bizarre stint on the now notorious 1988 Team Foxcatcher Olympic wrestling squad under the wing of the eccentric owner John du Pont, this sinister dramatization is patient in approach, with tension brewing underneath the surface. As increasingly sketchy incidents and rising tempers begin to occur, the curtains are pulled back to reveal du Pont’s off-kilter personality and questionable motives, creating ripples within the team.

Suspicions turn to harsh realities of corruption and betrayal as the group’s fate becomes potentially hazardous. Channing Tatum is definitely in solid form as the leading role of Mark, but it’s easily Mark Ruffalo’s transformative outing as his older brother Dave and an Oscar-nominated Steve Carell’s unrecognizable, frighteningly eerie portrayal of John du Pont that manage to completely stun by the time the credits roll. A truly tragic tale, but certainly an intriguing watch-through and through, this true-crime thriller is a must-see sports scandal, heartbreaking as it may be. For a more nuanced, unrefined telling of the story, the 2016 Netflix documentary “Team Foxcatcher” is an equally captivating watch.




6. Warrior (2011)

Two estranged brothers and their alcoholic father find reconciliation through their unlikely reunion at Sparta, the largest MMA tournament in history. Presenting two simultaneous storylines of the brothers’ return to fighting and their individual struggles that set them on an eventual collision course towards their encounter in the ring, Gavin O’Connor’s “Warrior” is a masterfully-woven family drama that never lets up in intensity or heart. Focusing on both Tommy (Tom Hardy), an ex-marine with a dark secret, and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a broke school teacher who finds himself suspended after an unexpected return to fighting, the film follows the brothers’ personal struggles long before they’re forced to confront – making the inevitable finale one hell of a nail-biter through some stellar characterization.

Every single subject in the frame is given time to develop, and the plot, depressing as it may be at times, is all the better for it. Somehow a slow burn without a single dull moment along the way, the movie is a testosterone-filled ball of energy, that isn’t without its touching moments, either. Nick Nolte and Jennifer Morrison in particular give decidedly down-to-earth supporting performances, while Frank Grillo and Bryan Callen are there to turn the dial up to eleven whenever any action is involved. Hardy and Edgerton are nothing short of awe-inspiring in their leading roles, delivering on two of the most underappreciated dramatic efforts of the 2010s, and they clearly put in the physical training, as well. An all-around faultless film that deserves far more recognition, “Warrior” is a gripping ride that doesn’t let go until the very end.




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5. A League of Their Own (1992)

Set during World War II, Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” tells the cheerful story of an all-female baseball league, spawned in response to America’s young men being deployed for battle. Based on the true account of a 1940s women’s baseball association, the film deals with the topics of war, and misogyny in sports, while maintaining a firm message of equality with a fairytale-like atmosphere. Rather than dwelling on issues of the past, the film celebrates progress and the great joys of America’s favorite pastime. Headlined by Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell, along with Tom Hanks, adding to the ensemble with one of his most memorable comedic outings as the team’s drunken manager, the entire cast is a star-studded delight, bringing buoyant life to an already magnificent script.

Marshall’s direction effortlessly captures the wartime era and old-timey schlock of ball game entertainment, but it is her handling of such a touching story that truly manages to cement this ‘90s favorite as a cut above the rest. Balancing laugh-out-loud humor with moments of genuine emotional fervor, lots of amazing throwback baseball action, and of course, some of the best team chemistry ever put to screen, there really is something for every fan of the genre. The not-so-secret blueprint of sports comedies has rarely been perfected so easily.




4. Raging Bull (1980)

An obvious standout of the great Martin Scorsese’s extensive filmography, and undoubtedly one of the best sports dramas of all time, this 1980s boxing classic remains a staple of the genre, despite having relatively little to do with fighting. Offering an unsettling glimpse into the life of Hall of Fame-inducted boxer Jake LaMotta, “Raging Bull” tells the story of a man so consumed by rage, it made him a legend in the ring; and a nightmare outside of it. Raising questions about toxic masculinity, domestic abuse and more, the film was certainly ahead of its time in terms of its mature, thought-provoking subject matter, making for a deeply unforgettable cautionary tale of misguided anger, and how it can result in corruption.

Robert De Niro is untouchable in the role of LaMotta, famously putting on weight and sporting a convincing prosthetic nose to embody the persona of the boxer – earning him an Oscar in the process. Joe Pesci would also capture the attention of the Academy, nabbing a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, while Scorsese, for someone who claims to know nothing about sports, sure can shoot one brutal boxing match. An all-around masterclass in filmmaking, from the performances, to the eye-popping black-and-white cinematography and tenacious storytelling, “Raging Bull” is a moviegoing experience unlike any other, particularly in the crowded sphere of sports flicks.




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3. I, Tonya (2017)

A surprise hit of 2017 and unquestionably one of the finest sports movies in recent memory, this relentlessly clever, darkly comedic portrait of the infamous Tonya Harding and her disastrous scandal is a treat from start to finish. Tackling one of history’s most fabled sports conspiracies with a slightly foolish, wink to the camera approach, Craig Gillespie and crew manage to form a rather unbiased yet entertainingly unhinged look at the ugly life of a seemingly unanimous American villain and quite effectively attempt to challenge that narrative. Whether it stems more so from Margot Robbie’s brilliant titular performance or from the playful, fourth-wall-breaking presentation of the story, the film does the impossible, offering some pathos into a historically one-sided debate, without ever entirely commending the central subject.

Is the notorious figure skater a hero, a monster, or just a vulnerable, tormented victim of abuse? Her legacy and guilt are truly up for the viewer to decide, but it’s a question posed with distressing exposition. If anything, the movie is not an “in defense of Tonya Harding”, it is more of a painstaking journey through a world of trauma, and an eye-opening lesson in not believing everything you see, forming opinions, and jumping to conclusions at first glance. It’s really quite exceptional in that way, to a point where it makes you wish other loathsome events would be given the “I, Tonya” treatment. A unique, important watch you definitely won’t regret, this gem of the late 2010s is sheer genius.




2. The Wrestler (2008)

Aging, washed up professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, after taking one too many beatings, decides to take a break from the sport he loves, only to discover it’s outside of the ring where he gets hurt the most. If that sounds depressing, it’s because…well, it is; but it’s also the premise for one of the greatest dramas of the 2000s, Darren Aronofsky’s time-tested masterpiece “The Wrestler”. Starring an Oscar-robbed Mickey Rourke in a career-defining performance for the ages, this woeful character study is a sincerely moving excursion into the miserable life of a former star at an emotional crossroads. Dealing with themes of isolation, rejection, purpose, and the cold place one is left once they feel time has passed by, the film is an uncompromisingly honest depiction of loneliness, and every last agonizing bit of it is felt through Rourke’s mesmerizing performance.

That isn’t to say the movie is completely devoid of any levity, though. There are several scenes involving Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood that ease the tension quite effectively, and Rourke, despite playing an otherwise pretty unforgiving role, can be downright sweet in his portrayal of Randy “The Ram”. But, Aronofsky never fully lets the misery slip away through the cracks, as it boils its way to a fittingly harrowing conclusion. A stirring, lived-in experience sure to impress wrestling fans and cinephiles alike, this poignant character piece will stick with you for a long, long time.




1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Yes, this is the only documentary on the list, and yes, it takes our top spot. It’s just that good. Shot over the course of five years, “Hoop Dreams” follows the lives of two young, inner-city Chicago basketball prospects (William Gates and Arthur Agee), as they strive to turn their talents into tickets out of the ghetto. Highlighting the day-to-day challenges the boys face, how each reacts, and the eventual ramifications of their individual responses, the film is a fascinating analysis of the hardships that come with being a student-athlete, and the added pressures of their personal lives, behind the scenes. It can be a lot to handle, and it’s a grueling process that director Steve James presents with grave sympathy.

What starts off as an apparently simple underdog study of two young boys and their extraordinary rise to basketball stardom quickly becomes a daunting deconstruction of the American dream and the age-old lie that we’re all born as equals, on the same path to success. Exhibiting encounters with racism, poverty, teen pregnancy, injuries, drug addiction, and all kinds of other roadblocks that set the pair back on their big league ambitions, the story is a bitter display of promising potential, spoiled by inequalities in our society. A distinct accomplishment in documentary-style filmmaking nobody should miss, “Hoop Dreams” is an enthralling sports endeavor unlike anything else out there.

Best Sports Movies Lists on IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes

 

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