If you’re looking to shed a tear or find a little inspiration, odds are you can find it by watching a sports movie. So many to choose from, but which is the best? Some movies subscribe to well-known formulas and most seem to be about something bigger than sports. Without further ado, let’s get down to what we decided on as the contenders for the crown of the greatest sports movie ever. Which flick do you think comes out on top?
For a moment try to forget about the Russian and Mr. T and Apollo’s son’s rise to glory. After all the sequels and spin-offs, the original Rocky released in 1976 remains the undisputed champion of the franchise. There is no glitz or glamour in the telling of the future heavyweight champion here. It’s a rags to riches underdog story that others have attempted to emulate repeatedly since. What makes it even better is how the movie closely mirrors the rise to fame for writer and star Sylvester Stallone. Born in Hell’s Kitchen with a partially paralyzed face due to a birth defect, Stallone was a struggling actor at the time. He penned this script in only a few days and the rest is history.
Rocky follows aspiring boxer Rocky Balboa who is down on his luck and serves as muscle to a loan shark in order to make ends meet. However, he isn’t very good at it because he’s just too nice of a guy. His fortunes begin to turn when defending heavyweight champ of the world Apollo Creed decides to give a local fighter a shot against him for the title. Rocky is also a love story, as he falls for Adrian who is the shy sister of his closest friend. It’s an underdog tale about perseverance, love, discipline and about how winning in the ring isn’t always the ultimate prize.
2. Field of Dreams
Kevin Costner portrays Ray Kinsella an Iowa farmer who hears voices telling him to construct a baseball diamond in his field, and no, he’s not insane. Ray follows through and ghosts of baseball players past come to play including Shoeless Joe Jackson and the banished 1919 White Sox.
Not only the definitive baseball movie, this 1989 classic is the ultimate father/son tearjerker. Of course, sports are not exclusive to men, but it’s often the connecting force between generations of men. Who doesn’t love having a catch with his father and/or son? Baseball legends of yesteryear emerging from the cornfields to play every night is the thing of dreams, and this movie makes all those dreams come true. Featuring one of the most famous movie quotes of all time (Don’t act like you don’t know it!), Field of Dreams seems like it will never feel dated or be remade (watch it now be remade…)
Dripping with nostalgia, Hoosiers (1986) features an all-star cast of Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper (with arguably the best performance of his career). Like most great sports movies, it’s a story of redemption, as Hopper plays the town drunk who ends up being the brilliant assistant coach and strategist.
Hoosiers takes place in the early 1950s in the basketball crazed town of Hickory, Indiana. Seemingly everything in this rural community revolves around the high school basketball team. Hackman enters as the new head coach and it becomes clear that he has something dark and controversial in his past. His popularity isn’t helped with his in-game strategy and techniques that alienate the townsfolk. Hoosiers is a timeless tale of redemption, tradition and the tremendous impact of sports in normal people’s lives.
We think about football stars as big, muscle-bound, superior athletes who are winners of the genetic lottery. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger simply does not match that profile and for that people do not take his dream seriously. Rudy’s dream is simple – to take the football field as a member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The journey is anything but simple.
No, he doesn’t win the Heisman, nor the championship, and there’s no girl to woo, but he plays and gets the game clinching sack. It’s everything that builds up to that culminating play that makes Rudy potentially the greatest sports movie. His dreams being unrealistic and mocked. Working long hours at a steel mill and witnessing the horrible death of his best friend. Attempting to overcome dyslexia and be admitted as a student into the prestigious Notre Dame. Trying to make the football team as a walk-on player. It’s no wonder that the real Rudy has since been making the rounds as a motivational speaker. Hey, I even got the chance to meet him!
5. Remember the Titans
As time goes by, it’s become commonplace for interracial friendships, interracial marriages and so on. But a lot of that wouldn’t happen if schools were never integrated. It can be difficult to comprehend this happened relatively recently and that racial tensions were so high, but seeing the characters come together makes it such a feel-good movie. Being teammates is a bond that most people don’t have a choice about, especially on the high school level. But sometimes being forced into a situation is what it takes for relationships to flourish.
The first of the two central friendships is between incoming head coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and now assistant coach (Bill Yoast). Yoast is the former head coach, a white man who is informed he is being replaced by Boone, a black man. Yoast reluctantly stays on as his assistant and the two gradually begin to bond and see things from each other’s point of view. The other pivotal friendship is that between star players Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) and Julius Campbell (Wood Harris). From butting heads to becoming brothers on and off the field, this friendship of the two alphas encapsulates the uniting factor of sports.
6. Coach Carter
Some viewers may look at Coach Carter as a cliched high school sports movie, but it’s really a strong challenge to the soft bigotry of lower expectations. Why should these parents and students accept poor results because it’s all they’ve ever known? Coach Carter doesn’t accept it and he’s the outsider voice that this school needs.
Released in 2005, Coach Carter tells the story of Richmond High School and new head basketball coach Ken Carter, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. The student athletes are undisciplined, struggling in the classroom and getting involved in gang activity. Carter takes the bold and unpopular action to lock out his team from performing on the court until they can reach their potential off the court. Coach Carter reinforces that playing sports is a privilege, not a right, and this thoughtful picture is entertaining to watch.
It was only a matter of time until “The Miracle on Ice” was brought to the big screen. What makes this team so great is reflective of what makes our country so great and this 2004 patriotic sports flick does everything right.
The 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey team taking down the mighty Soviet Union is not only a tremendous sports achievement but a victory during the Cold War. What begins as a ragtag group of college rivals with no love lost for each other gradually evolves into something far greater. Handpicked and coached by the legendary Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) they grow to learn what it takes to succeed. Most know the ending, but it’s both inspiring and thrilling to watch the U.S. team, who nobody thought had a chance, take down the heavy favorite Soviet squad.
8. The Natural
Second chances, seduction and…. supernatural abilities? The National Pastime has always had a magical feel to it and The Natural (1984) does magnificently in encapsulating it. Robert Redford is Roy Hobbs, a once heralded pitching prospect whose career was tragically derailed by a devastating act of wickedness. Years have past and now Roy is a hitter, at least a decade past his prime, with the aid of his bat, dubbed “Wonderboy.”
Taking place in the 1920s and 30s, The Natural co-stars Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger and Barbara Hershey and is directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man). It is a flat-out great movie with such iconic scenes that you will be referencing forever.
9. Bull Durham
Kevin Costner and baseball seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. Many people argue that not only is Bull Durham better than Field of Dreams in the category of baseball films, but it also ranks supreme among all sports movies. Perhaps it’s because it depicts sports in one of its purest forms – minor league baseball. Strip away the sports cars and national fame, baseball is still a romance that America can’t get enough of. This 1988 feature also starring Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins follows the fictional players of real-life minor league baseball team the Durham Bulls.
“Crash” Davis is a minor league veteran demoted to the single A club to mentor Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Robbins). Meanwhile, the two are mixed up in a love triangle with Annie (Sarandon), a groupie of the team and a firm believer in the “Church of Baseball.” Rotten Tomatoes even rated Bull Durham as the top sports movie, and many viewers tend to agree.
Which of these movies takes home the title? Or did we leave off the best of the best? Let us know!