10 Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time

Movie Stills From Each Title on the list
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

It’s been a while since I’ve got behind the keyboard, and I’ll be honest, it’s because I’ve been struggling with writer’s block. Perhaps due to fatigue from trying to solve Rugby’s problems all the time or admittedly just complaining about the nonsensical behaviour at Australian Rugby’s mothership.

With that in mind, I think for a little while, I’m going to depart from the expected and familiar “how to fix Rugby” column and talk to you about some of my other loves – Starting this week with sports movies.

I’ve spent years trawling through Hollywood archives to find the best sports movies of all time, and let me tell you; I’ve watched some absolute stinkers (*cough cough*, Mr. 3,000, Rocky V and Caddyshack 2).

In light of this, I thought I would make life easier for those interested in taking their own sports movie journey. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers. But, I want to provide the world with my biased and completely unobjective opinion on the 10 greatest sports movies of all time. I’ll also throw in some honourable mentions for good measure.

In no particular order, here are my picks for the 10 greatest sports movies of all time.

Rudy (1993)

This one is iconic. I watched this one for the first time with my Dad when I was much younger. It’s essentially why he and I began following college football; to this day, we still discuss Notre Dame’s games and seasons (you should have seen our text threads when all the Manti Te’o stuff happened).

The movie tells the true story of Rudy Ruettiger (he’s worth a google if you get a chance), a young man who dreams of playing football for Notre Dame despite having no natural talent, ability, size, strength or speed. The movie is entertaining and inspiring. I still get goosebumps when thinking about the penultimate scene (like I said, no spoilers). The film also shows the power of hard work, determination, and self-belief.

I’ll be sad for you if you don’t leave this feeling like you can achieve anything.

Rocky (1976)

I mean, any movie that won an oscar belongs on this list, let alone three wins from 10 nominations (best picture, best directing, best editing). Aside from being a fantastic movie, Sylvestor Stallone’s performance as Rocky Balboa was the catalyst for the rest of his career. The film turned him from a relative no one to one of the biggest movie stars in the world.

If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, it’s a fairly typical sports movie story; an unlikely hero rises to the top against all odds. But, what sets it apart from most sports movies are the performances across the board, the writing (also by Stallone), the direction and the cinematography.

I’d go as far as to say this one is not just for sports fans but fans of good cinema too.

Hoosiers (1986) 

Unlike most of the movies on this list, I can’t recall watching this one the first time. I believe it played on one of the movie channels while I was sick or during a holiday break when it was too hot to go outside (but this claim is unsubstantiated). In any case, it doesn’t matter. It has become a mainstay in my movie rotation ever since.

Starring Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper and a bunch of people you probably haven’t heard of. The film tells the story of the small-town Hickory High School basketball team in basketball-mad Indiana, who defy the odds and make it to the state championship. It is inspired by the 1954 Milan High Scholl basketball team, who won the Indiana state title despite having just 161 student enrollments.

The movie is a heartwarming tribute to the power of teamwork and perseverance. I think I like it because it highlights one of my beliefs as a coach. Sound fundamentals will always lead to success because it means you’re able to play any style.

It’s a somewhat cliched story by today’s standards, but its impact shouldn’t be dismissed; the Indiana Pacers even wore a Hickory High School-inspired uniform during the 2015/16 season.

Remember the Titans (2000)

I still remember watching this movie for the first time. I was 11 years old – I’d broken my leg the first week of summer break, which for an 11-year-old is like torture. After my parents stopped being angry at me (admittedly, I was doing something they warned me not to do), they started to feel a bit sorry for me and would take me on a weekly trip to the local video store (Video Ezy).

For the younger readers out there, back in 2001, we didn’t have streaming services, I don’t think we even had an internet connection in my home yet, and satellite T.V. (Foxtel/Austar) was pretty light on. So the local Blockbuster or Video Ezy was the only place to go.

This one is Based on a true story and is a relatively accurate depiction of real events. It follows the journey of a high school football team as they navigate the challenges of integration and racism in the 1970s. The movie is a powerful reminder of the importance of standing up for what you believe in, especially if it’s unpopular. It also provides a fascinating insight into how a common purpose can unite regardless of preconceived ideas.

Still not sold? Denzel Washington plays Coach Herman Boone. Enough said!

Field of Dreams (1989)

I debated putting this one on the list. This is one of the movies my father and I would watch on repeat. Even though it’s become a little divisive, it was nominated for three Oscars, so objectively, it is a pretty good movie.

You may have heard entrepreneurs (among many other people) say, “build it, and they will come”, and thought “, I wonder where that saying came from?”. Well, it comes from this movie and is probably one of the more iconic and broadly quoted sayings to go from a movie. Cementing its significance even further, the field built in the film remains intact and has even hosted two MLB games.

Starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones (R.I.P.) and Ray Liotta (R.I.P.). The movie tells the story of an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field in his cornfield and the magical things that happen. The film is a beautiful tribute to the power of hope and the human spirit.

It’s full of nostalgia and a must-watch for anyone who loves baseball. Also, if you’re a Kevin Costner fan, it’s his best baseball movie.

The Natural (1984)

We’re now into the baseball section of this list. And I’ll acknowledge this is a fairly heavy baseball list. However, Hollywood has made so many baseball movies the sport was bound to feature heavily.

Starring Robert Redford, Robert Duval, Kim Basinger and Glen Close, this film tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a once-promising young baseball player who makes a comeback late in life. The film picked up four academy award nominations (supporting actress, cinematography, music and art direction).

The movie is a real emotional rollercoaster. It’s a timeless tale of unlikely redemption and the power of second chances. There’s something for everyone; romance, heartbreak, action, bribery, and match-fixing, but ultimately, a very wholesome movie.

Even though it’s almost 40 years old, it’s still a great watch.

Moneyball (2011)

Probably my favourite of all the baseball movies on this list for many reasons, which will become apparent shortly. It’s another movie with multiple academy award nominations (6 in total) and is based on a true story.

I’ve long been fascinated with data and statistics and how they can be used to form a vision or narrative on almost any subject. Back in my university days (circa 2012), I ran a statistical analysis on the N.B.A., which showed that based on points per shot, on average, 3-pointers, layups/dunks, and free throws were more valuable than the more popular mid-range jump shot of that era. I dismissed the results initially, but after running the numbers a few different ways and getting similar results, I couldn’t believe NBA. teams weren’t taking notice *Steph Curry enters to room*.

Anyway, back to the movie. Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (R.I.P.) and Chris Pratt, this movie tells the true story of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, and his use of sabermetrics (a statistical analysis tool) to build a successful team on a small budget.

I love this movie because it sheds light on an innovation previously unknown to the public and is a testament to the power of thinking outside the box. It’s also a critical look at the seismic shift in the way baseball assessed prospects and built teams (see Theo EpsteinTheo Epstein).

A League of Their Own (1992)

This movie is a fairly unique entry on the list. Starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnel, it tells the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). It was started in 1943 during World War 2 as a way for MLB owners to keep baseball in the public eye.

The League has a unique history and grew a sizable following during its 12 seasons, at its peak attracting a crowd of more than 10,000 people (legitimately more than some super rugby games).

This movie captures to inaugural season through a unique lens. It’s a heartwarming tribute to an innovation that was perhaps ahead of its time. In 2012, the film was selected for preservation by the United States Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

For those interested, AAGPBL has a website where you can look up all the teams, players, and coaches and read up on the League’s unique history.

Miracle (2004)

Another true underdog story enters the list! I was fascinated by the mighty duck movies when I was a kid. I had all three of them on VHS, and I thought Charlie Conway (Joshua Jackson) was the coolest man alive. I loved these movies so much that I decided I wanted to be a professional Ice Hockey player, despite the fact there was no pro hockey in Australia at the time. My hometown had one dilapidated rink (it’s still in ordinary shape) and no leagues.

So when the opportunity presented itself to watch another Ice Hockey movie, I was all in. At the time of watching, I didn’t know it was a true story, and only now, with the benefits the internet has provided, do I understand the significance of the real-life game.

The film tells the true story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and their historic run to the gold medal using Amateur players. The heavily favoured Soviets were professional and had only lost one game in Olympic Competition between 1964 and 1980.

The movie won no awards, but Kurt Russell’s performance was outstanding.

It’s another movie that should make you feel like you can achieve anything after you watch it.

The Wrestler (2008)

If you’ve followed my writing, you know that in my formative years, I was a huge WWE fan (kinda still am). Over the years, we’ve heard many stories about professional wrestlers rising to prominence, living fast and loose, and coming unstuck. So, when I saw this movie in an obscure video rental shop next door to my apartment in Dunedin, New Zealand, I knew I had to watch it.

The movie stars Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a former professional wrestler who rose to prominence in the 80s only to wake up one morning and realise he’s washed up, irrelevant and past his prime—m—mirroring Mickey’s career arch to this point.

Alongside Mickey Rourke, Marissa Tomei plays his favourite stripper and love interest, and Evan Rachel Wood plays Randy’s estranged daughter.

The premise centres around Randy’s attempts to come back and regain the fame and fortune he achieved as a young man. However, it’s a much more complex story than that. It’s equally thrilling as it is sad and uncomfortable; it’s impossible to look away.

Rourke and Tomei were both nominated for Oscars for their roles in this film, and I believe it’s a must-watch for any sports fan.

Honourable Mentions

The Sandlot – It’s a great children’s movie with some nuggets for the adults.

Hustled – I’m a sucker for an Adam Sandler movie.

Uncut Gems – Not really a sports movie but stars Kevin Garnett and features a thrilling Boston Celtics storyline.

Glory Road – A fairly vanilla depiction of the 1966 Texas Western Miners national championship win.

Varsity Blues – Just a fantastic movie

Any Given Sunday – See above

Friday Night Lights – Also an excellent T.V. show; more on that in another column, perhaps?

Crackerjack – Australia had to have an entry; it’s about Lawn Bowels and stars Mick Malloy.

Ali – great film should probably be on my list.

Final Thoughts

It has been a long journey to get here, and I’ve probably forgotten to put more on here. But I hope this list at least shortens your trip, and you get to knock a few of these off your list over the next 12 months.

Well, there you have it the 10 greatest sports movies of all-time and some bonus honourable mentions.

 

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