Top 10 Greatest Sports Movies of All-Time
The underdog, the hero, the misfit, the tragedy, the comedy, the pure force of will, these are the things that make sports movies great. This is what keeps us coming back. It keeps us on the edge of our seats.
Sports movies inspire us. We see that there can be greatness in all of us. We just have to realize it and never back down from a challenge.
The greatest sports movies of all-time fit various genres. Some are tragedies. Some are comedies, and some are simply inspirational tales that everyone needs to hear.
The reality of the films isn’t what makes us want to see them. It’s the thrill of the buzzer-beater and the drama of the underdog. It’s the knowledge that even the little guy can rise up to take on the bully of the playground.
Sports movies show us that something as simple as a game can have a huge impact on our lives and can help people get through difficult times.
With this list, I take a look at all the sports movies, the comedies and the dramas,and I look at them side-by-side. While a majority of what are considered great sports movies are based on true stories, the fictional ones can also be great movies. Great sports movies can be broken down into three main categories: the comedies, the tearjerkers, and the inspirational tales.
A good sports movie needs to take a look at the sport itself, whether by showing the full game or a great montage. It needs to have good characters, especially the main character, with good character development,so the viewer feels invested in the fates of the characters. It has to have a wow moment whether it’s exciting or tragic, and it has to be a great movie. On that note we start with #10.
Honorable Mention: Hoop Dreams, Rudy, Slap Shot, Remember the Titans, Jerry Maguire, When We Were Kings, Ali, Million Dollar Baby, The Pride of the Yankees, A League of Their Own
10. Field of Dreams
“If you build it, he will come,” still stands today as probably one of the most quoted lines from any movie. This 1989 film had a great cast headlined by Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella. Kinsella is an Iowa farmer, who begins to hear voices telling him, “If you build it, he will come” and later, other messages. The movie goes into the relationship Kinsella had with his father and delves into baseball history as it brings up the issue of the notorious Chicago Black Sox. Costner’s character decides that what he must build is a baseball field, and he builds it in his Iowa cornfield. Then, he sets out to figure out the mystery of the voices, so that Shoeless Joe Jackson and his Chicago Black Sox can play again.
This movie shows the transition of Kinsella from a skeptic to a believer. It also has one of the most moving scenes in all films when Ray Kinsella finally plays catch with his ‘dad’. This is a clear tearjerker. It isn’t the most traditional of sports movies,but it is fun. It is moving, and it is a great movie.
Caddyshack must qualify, in part because it is one of the funniest and most quotable movies of all time. It also is an awesome sports movie about golf. Starring Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Ted Knight, and Michael O’Keefe, this movie does golf right. It is more or less a film about what happens when these actors and a gopher are given certain personalities and are placed at an upscale golf club. To truly explain this movie is difficult and might ruin the greatness of this instant classic. It is a must see and a must stay till the closing seconds.
This movie has an incredible cast, which makes you enjoy every bit of the film, and much of it was apparently ad-libbed. It has fun and exciting golf and is one of the funniest sports movies of all-time.
8. Bull Durham
This is another hilarious sports movie, but what sets it apart is it’s great story. Kevin Costner as Crash Davis, Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy, and Tim Robbins as Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh form a dynamic trio for the film and for the minor league Durham Bulls. Amidst many incredible comedic scenes, the film shows the relationship between a hot-headed, cocky young pitcher (Robbins’, LaLoosh), and the grisly, old veteran (Costners’, Davis), who has to show him how to really play baseball if he wants a shot at the major leagues. Between these two is Annie Savoy, a sort of fairy godmother to the Bulls, and lover to one up-and-comer on the Bulls each season. The knowledge, hilarity, and hope passed between these three makes the movie.
Costner is always a great choice for a sports movie, especially a baseball one, and the cast and script are perfect. The movie gives a great look into the life of minor-leaguers, or at least the movie life. It also looks at how the game is played, and the mind of a baseball player in a different way. It has peculiarities that make the movie an all-time great.
Miracle tells the true story of the 1980 U.S. National Hockey Olympic Team, and it’s gold-medal run to upset the unstoppable Soviet Union National Team during the Cold War. Without even seeing the movie, the story it tells is one that is sure to touch the hearts of any American. Anybody who knows what happened in those Olympics knows the impact of the story based on the situation in the world at the time. This incredible movie tells the story of the players and their coach, Herb Brooks, and what they had to go through to become Team USA. The actual recording of Al Michaels shouting “Do you believe in Miracles?” that is played in the final seconds of the movie as they switch over to the actual footage is sure to send shivers down anyone’s spine, be they hockey fans or just patriotic Americans.
The stories that this movie tells, of the team, the individual players, and their coach, and the way it is put together is phenomenal. It makes your heart leap and could get any kid to want to skate on the ice wearing the red, white, and blue. Even if we do know what happens, it doesn’t stop us from being invested in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!!!
6. Chariots of Fire
Another movie based on a true story,this film tells the incredible story of Eric Liddell, a Christian Scotsman, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew, as they train and compete in the 1924 Olympics. While some might find this winner of ‘Best Picture’ slow, it is a moving, exciting, well-done story of two, incredible track stars from completely different backgrounds. It also deals with the moral and societal struggles they had to face in order to reach their goals. This movie goes beyond the normal issues in a sports movie, and delves into deeper issues such as religion. Abrahams’ and Liddell’s stories are moving, at times heartbreaking , and sometimes they make you wish you had as much faith and motivation as these two runners.
This movie is not one of the most known, but it definitely deserves to be on every all-time sports movies list. It takes a sport that not many people look into, let alone make award winning films about it, and allows you to connect with it. It delves into the hearts of the characters and makes you root for them. It is an all around incredibly put together movie, and the score speaks for itself.
(sadly it isn’t back on the big screen)
5. Brian’s Song (1971)
This all-time great tearjerker tells the true story of Chicago Bears superstar, Gale Sayers, and his overachieving, iron man, teammate Brian Piccolo. The two create a strong, unlikely friendship as the NFL’s first interracial roommates. As many people know, Gale Sayers is one of the all-time great running-backs, but not many people know who Brian Piccolo is. Billy Dee Williams and James Caan team up to put together an incredible performance in this TV film, and show the incredibly strong bond Sayers and Piccolo formed as teammates and as friends. Along with Field of Dreams, this movie is sure to make many a man cry or at least tear up. To explain this movie, and the displays of greatness shown by Sayers and Piccolo in their history, is difficult, but it is a must see for everyone.
While this movie certainly has it’s points where it feels like a made for TV movie, it is possibly the greatest made for TV movie of all-time. The acting and the true story behind this heartwrencher make it on-par with the other all-time great sports movies. I have chosen not to reveal too much for those who have not seen it. When you watch it, have the tissues ready.
4. The Natural
This 1984 classic starring Robert Redford is another incredible baseball movie that is truly an inspirational tale. Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs, who finally gets to live out his dream and show his incredible talent. It is based on Bernard Malamud’s novel of the same name. It follows the great successes and struggles that Hobbs goes through as he follows his dream. He finally gets signed by the New York Knights at the age of 35. The film shows how the dark side of baseball, and professional sports can be. There is corruption, pay-offs and many people trying to get rid of Hobbs. Hobbs fights back no matter what.
The story of Hobbs is one that will inspire any baseball fan, especially a child who wants to grow up to play in the majors. The title has even become a nickname or label given to baseball players, such as when Jeff Francoeur was on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the title “The Natural”. The movie is full of inspirational baseball, such as Hobbs lightning bolt bat, Wonderboy, Hobbs literally knocking the leather off a baseball, and much more (it’s too good to give spoilers). It has childhood sweethearts finding each other. All the characters, good and bad, run deep and keep you watching. It has murder plots, cheating, good baseball,and everything that makes a movie thrilling.
3. Raging Bull
This Scorcese epic about the deeply troubled life of boxer Jake La Motta, played by Robert De Niro, is one of the greatest movies of all-time. While this does not automatically make it the greatest sports movie of all-time, it is very close. The story of La Motta’s journey, as he basically destroys his entire life on his quest for the top due to deep-seeded emotional issues, is one that is jolting, dark, mysterious, and incredible. It tells the story that many moviegoers don’t want to hear, but it is worth hearing and seeing. The decision to film it in black and white only makes it that much more intense. The emotional roller coaster that is La Motta’s life, which De Niro gained a record 60 pounds to play La Motta later in life, brings everyone along for the ride and you won’t regret it.
This is Scorcese and De Niro at their best. The acting by De Niro and Joe Pesci, the incredible fight scenes, the all-around pure excellence that is Raging Bull is difficult for any sports movie to beat. It doesn’t quite meet all the criteria as the best movie should. This doesn’t change the fact that any fan of the cinema and any sports fan must see this incredible film.
The underhanded free throw, the small-town, the underdog, the troubled past and present, the cheers, the tears, all of this and so much more make Hoosiers one of the greatest sports movies of all-time. This one truly was for all the small schools, for all the little guys, and for every underdog in every sports story. It has great basketball,and it has Gene Hackman at his best. It has a great story and wasn’t fully appreciated in it’s time. The amount that can truly be said of this story of the small-town high school basketball team that does the impossible can go on and on. This is another must see and is a truly inspirational tale.
The casting is great, led by Gene Hackman as coach Norman Dale. All the characters have deep back-stories that allow you to connect with them, and it tells the tale that everyone who was ever doubted wants to hear. Even though what happens at the end is predictable, as many sports movies can be, it still thrills you to see it. I won’t say the actual ending to avoid spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it. If you haven’t seen Hoosiers, watch it, and then go play some more basketball.
Rocky, the first one and only the first one on its own, is the greatest sports movie of all-time. Sylvester Stallone is Rocky Balboa, and he will be for the rest of time. It won ‘Best Picture’ and deservedly so. The story of Rocky Balboa and his journey to fight the champion Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers, is everything that is right with sports cinema. Rocky is a not-so-bright, kind, caring, small-time Italian boxer from Philadelphia, who is given the chance to fight Apollo Creed in a fight he cannot win. Rocky and his new trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), train harder than ever before, just to show that Rocky can stand toe to toe with Apollo, and maybe even win. Amidst all of this is Rocky’s budding romance with Adrian (Talia Shire), who is the sister of his buddy Paulie (Burt Young). Rocky’s other job working for a loan shark and a city that falls in love with its son, Rocky. Rocky’s journey up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum is burned into the hearts and minds of all Philadelphians and all sports fans and movie lovers. By the time the epic battle with Apollo comes about at the end of the movie, everyone is rooting for Rocky, who represents the hopes of everyone who is down-on-their-luck, for an entire city, himself, and everyone who wants to see Rocky win.
The growth in the relationships between Rocky, Adrian and Pauly is magnificent. The way Rocky truly embodies the spirit of Philadelphia (especially Philadelphia sports) is fun. The fight between Apollo and Rocky, is earth-shaking. The dynamic between Rocky and Mickey and their growth together helps to develop the monumental climax of this film. What allows Rocky to stand on it’s own above all other sports films is two things. One is that it fulfills all the criteria of great sports movies. It has an epic final bout between Apollo and Rocky, incredible characters, that ‘wow’ moment, it and keeps you cheering for ‘Rock’. It is a great movie, as evidenced by it winning Best Picture. Also, it provides some comic relief in many ways. My favorite is Rocky and his dog, Butkus. The other thing that makes it the greatest sports movie of all time is its ending. It has an ending you never saw coming, and no other movie has one like it.