The 25 Best Sports Movies

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Written By Maya Cantina

Every major sport has its own movie. Some of the most popular spectator sports – baseball, football, basketball, and soccer – have multiple films that use competition as the backdrop. But which films constitute the best sports movies ever made? There are so many factors at play. Is it an underdog sports story, about loveable losers who overcome the odds to achieve greatness? Or is it a story about the greatest to ever play a game, and an analysis of what drove them to be elite?

As we debated over the best sports movies ever made, CinemaBlend staffers came to realize that it’s not always about the sport itself, but more about the characters in which we have invested. Especially if they happen to be played by Kevin Costner, who’s like Hollywood’s unofficial mascot of terrific sports movies. That dude is the Patron Saint of sports movies. He has excellent sports movies that didn’t even make this list! That’s how good he is. 

So what did make the list? A healthy mix of recognized classics, some newer films that take unconventional approaches to their athletic subjects, and Foxcatcher. Man, that’s a weird movie. Great! But weird. 

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

25. Love & Basketball

When filmmakers mix sports and romance, the results can vary, but Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Love & Basketball is an example of how to do it right. The 2000 movie tracks the relationship and playing careers of friends-turned-lovers Quincy McCall and Monica Wright, played by Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan, respectively. Thanks to Prince-Bythewood’s keen direction, the two characters’ stories are multifaceted and compelling. Lathan and Epps also more than shine in their role as do the supporting cast members.

What’s most exceptional is Gina Prince-Bythewood’s exploration of modern-day romance. The fact that the African American experience is the lens through which she does that is also refreshing. As a whole, the film is an engaging drama that depicts love and sports in a way that anyone can relate to.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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24. Tin Cup

Kevin Costner has made a lot of sports movies. Some are more popular than Tin Cup, but none are able to find the same loveable tone. His lead character, Roy McAvoy, has charm for days, and it’s a delight watching him chase his destiny, not because he wants to fulfill his potential but because he’s horny and spiteful. 

Costner’s scenes opposite Rene Russo are a particular delight, and the movie deserves special credit for having one of the most unconventional and yet oddly perfect endings in sports movie history. Sometimes it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about creating a moment, and no one will ever forget Roy’s.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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23. Rudy

Even people who aren’t very interested in sports can relate to the true story behind Rudy — all it takes is having a dream like Daniel E. “Rudy” Ruettiger did. Sean Astin (former The Goonies cast member and future Lord of the Rings movies star) plays the title role, a teenage student who is determined to beat the odds and achieve his life-long goal of making it into Notre Dame and playing on the college’s famed football team, despite being half the size of most of the players. 

Hoosier director David Anspaugh helms this inspirational, crowd-pleasing biopic that is easily one of the greatest underdog sports stories that cinema has ever seen.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: Universal)

22. Bring It On

When I tell you, “Brrr, it’s cold in here,” you better reply, “There must be some Clovers in the atmosphere.” Or else we can’t be friends. Very few of us went into Kirsten Dunst’s cheerleading feature Bring It On expecting to see the next beloved cult comedy classic. But a witty script, tons of spunky teenage attitude, and a killer dance soundtrack turned Bring It On into a beloved hit. It basically was Spirit Fingers, in cinematic form.

Movies like Bring It On succeed because everyone on board – from director Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) to leading ladies Dunst, Gabrielle Union, and Eliza Dushku – know exactly the type of movie they are making. They don’t play the material too seriously. They bring bubbly fun to an entertaining script. And they made an infectious teenage comedy that rose up during the time of the American Pie franchise (and all its idiotic clones), then proved to have the staying power of an instant classic.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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21. Goon

Doug Glatt can throw a punch – that much is made clear early on in Goon (written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, and directed by Michael Dowse). It’s a skill that lands him a spot on a minor league hockey team, despite his lack of actual hockey-playing abilities. But Goon is about so much more than an enforcer who’s ready to fight at a moment’s notice. Doug Glatt may not be the smartest guy in the room, or the best hockey player on the ice, but he has a giant heart and it’s on display from beginning to end in this charming, funny and at times, exciting hockey movie. 

While we can easily celebrate Goon for being one of the better sports comedies out there, there’s also the great chemistry between Seann William Scott’s character and his love interest, Eva (Alison Pill), and the underrated supporting cast, which includes Baruchel, as well as Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy, Kim Coates and Marc-André Grondin.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: Columbia/TriStar)

20. Jerry Maguire

Time to show this list the money! Tom Cruise has had a number of spectacular roles over the course of his career, though none may be as rich, complicated, flawed, but rewarding as sports agent Jerry Maguire, who undergoes a crisis of conscience and tries to reinvent himself… with one boisterous client (Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for his performance). 

Jerry Maguire is Cameron Crowe at his finest, mixing powerful life lessons about family, emotional support, and loyalty in a tight comedic package. The film also leans into a winning love story between Jerry and his single-mom assistant, played by an adorable Renee Zellweger. We’re kind of saying that Jerry Maguire “completes” this list. But also, this list had us at hello.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

19. The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid may be a massive film property now, but one can’t forget that the whole saga traces its roots back to the original 1984 film. John G. Avildsen’s martial arts drama introduced the world to Daniel LaRusso and his witty and wise mentor, Mr. Miyagi. While it may be conventional in many respects, the movie is incredibly endearing and paints a picture of an unexpected yet warm friendship. Not only that, but the fight sequences are also well-choreographed and engaging.

One of the standout elements of Karate Kid, though, is the pitch-perfect performance from Pat Morita, who earned an Oscar nomination for his turn as Miyagi. It also made young Ralph Macchio into a household name (and the object of various teen girls’ affections). If you’ve yet to see this seminal ‘80s film, then you should do yourself a favor and give it a watch.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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18. Cinderella Man

The real-life comeback story of boxer James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe) was an inspiration to those who followed it as it played out during the Great Depression. So leave it to director Ron Howard to take that story and turn it into a rousing motion picture like 2005’s Cinderella Man

Crowe’s leading portrayal of Braddock mixes his trademark physicality and ferocity with a tenderness that shows just how much was riding on his fortunes in the ring. With a tour de force supporting role from Paul Giamatti, you can be sure that you’ll get as wrapped up in this movie as you would any captivating story of hope.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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17. Creed

Arguably, the best Rocky movie since the original is not so much a continuation of the Italian Stallion’s own story, but a new chapter focusing on the aspirations of a young boxer to whom Sylvester Stallone’s character discovers he has a personal connection.

In his second collaboration with acclaimed Fruitvale Station and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan gives a stunning, star-making performance as Adonis Johnson — the love child of Rocky’s late rival-turned-mentor and friend, Apollo Creed — who enlists his “uncle’s” help to train him for a shot at the big time. Earning rave reviews, impressive box office returns, and spawning two sequels (including the Jordan-directed Creed III), Creed is an inspiring story of a man who chooses to fight not for the glory, but for his own sense of self-worth.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

16. Million Dollar Baby

Stop me if you have heard this one before: A crusty old boxing trainer (Clint Eastwood) who’s just about ready to hang up his whistle encounters a scrappy young fighter (Hilary Swank) who just might have the right stuff to carry both of them to the top of their sport. 

That premise alone might be cliched and hokey, but Eastoowd hides a devastating left hook in Million Dollar Baby that, when it lands, turns this film’s narrative on its head, and coaxes magnificent performances by Eastwood, Swank, and Morgan Freeman. Some argue that the back half of Million Dollar Baby overdoes things. But I think the subtle composition both on screen and behind the camera marks some of the strongest work of Eastwood’s illustrious career. 

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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15. Hoosiers

Hoosiers hits every conceivable trope in the “underdog sports movie” playbook. A small team of basketball players with no chance gets a brand new unorthodox head coach who upsets the way things have always been. There’s even a “slow clap” moment. 

Maybe these cliches were less cliched in 1986, but even with a modern eye, Hoosiers still overcomes all of it. It’s all done so well that it’s essentially impossible to not fall in love with the movie. The characters, lead by Gene Hackman’s coach Dale, and his assistant coach, the town drunk played by Dennis Hopper, are what make Hoosiers unique and special. Every character is well-developed, making them easy to empathize with and root for, even if you know exactly what’s going to happen.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox)

14. Major League

Major League is the kitchen sink of sports movies, and it’s a Cleveland-based miracle that it works as beautifully as it does. The film features a star-studded ensemble — featuring Charlie Sheen, Dennis Haysbert, Tom Berenger and more greats — where nearly everyone who has more than 3 lines boasts a measurable character arc. It hinges on a fairly dramatic theme of an underdog squad rising up from the dregs and reaching all-star status, while also serving as a hilarious comedy that borders on spoofery. Not to mention a romantic storyline or two, along with a “bosses vs. underlings” conflict, and the sports version of office politics. 

There’s no reason for this movie (or its only slightly less enjoyable sequel) to be this perfect, especially with “Wild Thing” as its musical hook. But by the power of Bob Uecker, Major League will be a classic forever, even if the same can’t be said for the team’s mascot.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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13. Hustle

Adam Sandler’s at a phase in his career right now where he can pretty much do anything he wants. Which is probably part of why he’s been so loyal to Netflix, delivering many hits to the streaming studio’s library through films like Hustle

Director Jeremiah Zagar’s story of a scout (Sandler) who’s trying to nurture a burgeoning talent (Juancho Hernangómez) that he spotted in his travels is so full of heart and determination that even for a movie focused on the scouting aspect, Hustle stands as a feel good inspirational sports flick. And the Sandman’s performance in this film is also one of the best he’s ever delivered.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: Annapurna Pictures)

14. Major League

Major League is the kitchen sink of sports movies, and it’s a Cleveland-based miracle that it works as beautifully as it does. The film features a star-studded ensemble — featuring Charlie Sheen, Dennis Haysbert, Tom Berenger and more greats — where nearly everyone who has more than 3 lines boasts a measurable character arc. It hinges on a fairly dramatic theme of an underdog squad rising up from the dregs and reaching all-star status, while also serving as a hilarious comedy that borders on spoofery. Not to mention a romantic storyline or two, along with a “bosses vs. underlings” conflict, and the sports version of office politics. 

There’s no reason for this movie (or its only slightly less enjoyable sequel) to be this perfect, especially with “Wild Thing” as its musical hook. But by the power of Bob Uecker, Major League will be a classic forever, even if the same can’t be said for the team’s mascot.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: 20th Century FOx)

11. Ford v. Ferrari

With two stellar performances from Matt Damon and Christian Bale, Ford v. Ferrari isn’t just the story of an epic auto race, but the story of how two unlikely men made it all happen in the first place. The challenge the characters face ultimately isn’t the racing contest at all. It’s the struggle to even get there that is the most compelling. 

The racing scenes in Ford v. Ferrari are beautifully directed by James Mangold, and the Oscars for Editing and Sound Mixing were well deserved. But it’s the performances and the chemistry, shared between Damon and Bale that elevates Ford v. Ferrari to something special. They’re having so much fun on screen together that their passion bleeds into the audience. 

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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10. The Big Lebowski

The one sports movie with White Russians as a favored drink, The Big Lebowski isn’t really about sports in the way that others films are, but Jeff Daniels’ Dude wouldn’t be The Dude without bowling, man. The game and its setting are as critical to the Coen brothers’ story and its characters as baseball is to The Natural, or as basketball is to Hoop Dreams, and those didn’t even feature John Tuturro sensually licking bowling balls occasionally. 

One could pretend another sport could serve as a substitute, but then The Big Lebowski wouldn’t contain the unintuitively soothing sounds of bowling balls rolling across wood and pins being smashed into. If scenes happened in loud football stands or super-quiet golf crowds, how would we ever hear John Goodman’s Walter hollering at Donny? Nah, bowling is perfect… just as The Big Lebowski is perfect. But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

9. The Hustler

In 1987, Paul Newman finally won the elusive Best Actor Oscar for The Color of Money, the sequel to the movie that he arguably should have won the Academy Award for first – 1961’s The Hustler. The original movie sees Newman as young, hotshot pool player Fast Eddie Felson, a hustler, making his living taking people’s money. But after he is soundly defeated by the great Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), Eddie goes on a journey that reveals to him the true value of winning… and losing.

The Hustler is full of brilliant performances, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, and Gleason would all see Oscar nominations alongside Newman, and for good reason. Fast Eddie Felson’s character arc, and each character’s role in it, is beautifully heartbreaking. The Hustler isn’t about whether Fast Eddie wins or loses the game of pool at the end. It’s not a movie about working hard to be the best at your sport of choice, and winning in the end. The Hustler asks the audience to question the definitions of terms like winner and loser. The sport is just the metaphor. Life is the drama.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

8. Remember the Titans

There was a time when Walt Disney Pictures seemed to dominate the world of sports biopics. That reign began thanks to director Boaz Yakin’s Remember the Titans. Recalling the true story of T. C. Williams High School’s football season under the watch of head coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), the movie is as known for early appearances by future stars Hayden Panetierre and Ryan Gosling as it was just how good of a football film it’s still remembered to be. 

The best sports movies draw crowds in with stories that are worth watching, and this tale of overcoming racial boundaries celebrates the camaraderie of football with a huge debt of respect. Even if you’re not a sporting person, it’s hard not to fall into the expert storytelling and killer soundtrack Remember the Titans has to offer. However, the central performances of Denzel Washington and Will Patton, roping in a bunch of young talent worthy of standing on the field with them, is the truly successful team effort.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

7. The Sandlot

The Sandlot isn’t about winning games, as much as it’s about bragging rights. It isn’t about losing as much as it’s about not getting in trouble. It’s about growing up and how, for millions of kids, adolescence is commingled with playing sports, even if that’s just in a rundown baseball field during summer vacation.

We love to measure success in wins and losses, but in childhood, those wins and losses aren’t always measured in runs scored. Sometimes a win is making friends, watching the fireworks or talking trash to some scumbag rich kids. Sometimes it’s catching your first flyball or concocting a really inappropriate scheme to kiss the much older lifeguard. The Sandlot just gets it. It gets how sports sometimes feel like everything to a fifth grader but also, sometimes feel like nothing if it’s too hot or there are girls around or you need to learn what a Smore is. 

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

6. A League of Their Own

The best thing about A League Of Their Own isn’t just that its loveable characters are women with realistic personalities, it’s that they’re also realistic baseball players. All of the little touches feel so authentic. A lesser movie would tell us Kit is a bad hitter. A League Of Their Own tells us she can’t lay off the high ones. A lesser movie would tell us Evelyn is a bad outfielder. This one shows her missing the cutoff woman. 

Much of that credit should go to director Penny Marshall, who oh so carefully walks the first base line between comedy and authenticity. Instead of betraying reality for bigger laughs or bigger emotional highs and lows, she consistently makes little choices that make the film more relatable — like Jimmy Dugan getting mad at himself, not because he can’t hit a pitching machine but because he’s hitting too many ground balls to short. That grounded realism helps us invest in the characters more, and it makes the film’s bigger moments like the war telegram and the home plate collision that much more impactful. 

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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5. The Fighter

In 2010, David O. Russell gave the world one of the best boxing movies of all time and a tremendous exploration of family dynamics with his Academy Award-winning biopic, The Fighter. On the surface, the movie is about Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his quest to make a name for himself in the ring and escape the shadow and tarnished legacy of his half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), but dig deeper and you have a family-centric drama about past trauma, resentment, and intense in-fighting; all of which are combined to create an intense, emotional, and rich experience.

And while Micky, and Wahlberg for that matter, gets overshadowed by the larger-than-life personalities of his half-brother, and their mother, Alice Eklund-Ward (Melissa Leo), it almost feels as if that’s the point of the movie. Yeah, Bale and Leo both won Oscars for their outstanding performances, and rightfully so, but Wahlberg’s take on the underdog boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts, is this unlikely hero, one who’ll do anything he can to bring glory to his hometown and his family.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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4. Field of Dreams

“If you build it, he will come” is a line that will forever live in movie history. Those seven words in the opening minutes of Field of Dreams set Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella on a path that defies logic, reason, and reality, while also helping the hippie-turned-farmer ease the pain of his childhood hero, just not the one he expected in the beginning. Unlike a lot of other great baseball movies over the years, this 1989 sports classic has less to do with the fundamentals of the game (though those are important) and more to do with the passion and love for the game, its history, and the redemptive quality of the sport.

Similar to the opening of the movie featuring an iconic line, Field of Dreams also closes with a quote that fills my eyes with tears just thinking about it: “Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?” Watching the resentment, pain, and decades of not being able to say the right words shared by Ray and his father wash away in an instant is never not a powerful moment, one that leads me to call my dad to talk more times than not.

The 25 Best Sports Movies

(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

3. Moneyball

The best baseball movie ever made isn’t completely about the action on the diamond, but more dedicated to the moves that happen behind the scenes to build a possible contender. Brad Pitt gives one of his greatest performances as the steadfast general manager Billy Beane, the inventor of moneyball who shattered decades-old baseball practices to introduce a system heavily influenced by metrics. 

Baseball has not been the same since Beane and Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) revamped the Oakland A’s to match their revolutionary system. And neither have sports movies, which now have a new bar of quality to meet, one that’s set by Aaron Sorkin as a screenwriter and Bennett Miller as a director. Look for winning supporting turns in Moneyball from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, and Robin Wright in this dramatic masterpiece.   

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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2. Uncut Gems

The number one rule of gambling is never to chase your losses. Uncut Gems is a stressful depiction of what happens if you do. Adam Sandler’s Howard Ratner begs, borrows, steals and mortgages both his family’s and his own future repeatedly on low percentage parlays, fake watches and the title uncut gem in increasingly desperate efforts to stay ahead of creditors. It’s an absolute nightmare to watch as a viewer, but it’s also, in a weird way, a lot like watching a sporting event you’re really emotionally invested in. 

And thanks to Sandler’s career best performance, it’s so easy to emotionally invest in Howard. He’s an absolute scumbag, a cheater with a gambling addiction and zero impulse control, but despite his rank horribleness, there’s still something about him you want to root for. He’s the horrible team so many of us were groomed into rooting for as children, and even though we all know it’s gonna end poorly, there’s still that hope somewhere inside, it might be different this time. 

The 25 Best Sports Movies

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1. Rocky

In 1976, Sylvester Stallone became one of the biggest names in Hollywood and launched what would later become one of the premier sports-drama franchises the world has ever known with Rocky. More toned down and grounded than the movies that would follow in the years and decades to come, this iconic boxing movie introduced audiences to Rocky Balboa (Stallone), a down-on-his-luck and struggling fighter who’s given a shot at Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and his championship belt.

Gritty, heartfelt, and inspirational, this beloved underdog story has inspired millions over the years with its touching and unforgettable drama about never giving up and always knowing your own worth, even when others don’t see it. There are boxing movies, and then there is Rocky. There are sports movies, and then there is Rocky. This Best Picture winner takes the best of sports movies and drama films and combines those elements to create a masterpiece that beautifully explores the heart and soul of a fighter.


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