There are sports movies that entertain you while you’re just trying to pass the time, and then there are sports movies that stay with you. The deserving underdog gets a big break. The dreamer gives up everything to make that dream come true. The human spirit overcomes adversity.
Moving storylines, stellar actors and exciting challenges are all ingredients for amazing sports films that stand the test of time. Here are some of the best out there, starting with the good ones and working to the top.
30. ‘Tin Cup’
Kevin Costner plays golf pro gone wrong Roy McAvoy in this 1996 romantic comedy sports film, which was nominated for a Golden Globe. His attitude and actions caused him to lose his career, and he finds himself working as a golf instructor. After he’s humiliated by a former rival golfer, who is the boyfriend of his love interest, McAvoy decides to take a swing at the PGA Tour. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 69% on the Tomatometer.
Mark Wahlberg portrays Vince Papale, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1976 to 1978, in this sports drama from 2006. In the movie, Papale’s wife leaves him because he is unable to support the family on the part-time jobs he holds. When he learns that the Eagles are holding open tryouts, Papale decides to go for it. He makes the cut and becomes an inspirational underdog. The ESPY Best Sports Movie nominee rates 72% on the Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes.
28. ‘Any Given Sunday’
Al Pacino portrays fictional Miami Sharks coach Tony D’Amato in this 1999 sports drama. Aging, by-the-book quarterback Jack “Cap” Rooney (played by Dennis Quaid) butts heads with hothead newbie quarterback Willie Beamen (played by Jamie Foxx). As the veteran coach attempts to win back the approval of the young team owner (played by Cameron Diaz), the Sharks struggle with injuries, changes and strong personalities. Cameron Diaz won both an ALMA Award and a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for her role. A motivational speech by D’Amato inspires Beamen in the playoffs, and the film ends with an uplifting twist, which might be why it has 73% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes.
27. ‘Bull Durham’
In this 1988 movie, Kevin Costner stars as “Crash” Davis, a veteran catcher for the minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. Davis is brought in to prep rookie Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh — played by Tim Robbins — for the major leagues. A love triangle with Susan Sarandon’s character Annie complicates things, but Crash succeeds in teaching Nuke how to play professionally. While the film never garnered any major awards, it was received outstanding reviews from publications such as “USA Today” and “The Washington Post.” It has earned a Metascore of 73 on Metacritic, as well.
This 2003 film, which won the American Society of Cinematographers award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, is based on the famed racehorse, named in the movie’s title. America is in the throes of the Great Depression. After his destitute family leaves him with a horse trainer, Red Pollard (portrayed by Tobey Maguire) becomes a jockey. Meanwhile, wealthy businessman Charles Howard (portrayed by Jeff Bridges) is grieving the loss of his son. These two men join up with Tom Smith (played by Chris Cooper), a backwoods horse trainer, to train a horse that is temperamental and undersized but that has a notable lineage. The film has an Audience Score of 76% at Rotten Tomatoes.
25. ‘Cinderella Man’
This 2005 biographical drama is based on the life story of world heavyweight boxing champion James J. Braddock. After a hand injury, Braddock is forced to leave boxing (he had been a light heavyweight contender) and work as a longshoreman at the start of the Great Depression. Money is tight, so when an opportunity arises to fight the world’s number two contender for some cash, he jumps on it. The rest, as they say, is history. The film was nominated for myriad awards and Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 80% on the Tomatometer as well as a 91% Audience Score.
24. ‘Major League’
Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Tom Berenger and Corbin Bernsen star in this 1989 comedy about the Cleveland Indians. Although the team is real, the characters in the film are fictional. The new owner wants to move the team to Miami but needs ticket sales to drop in order to do so. When she hires a group of incompetent baseball players to help her plan succeed, their eventual team spirit surprises everyone. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film rates 82% on the Tomatometer with an 84% Audience Score.
23. ‘Chariots of Fire’
Based on a true story, “Chariots of Fire” tells the story of two British runners who competed in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Harold Abrahams (played by Ben Cross) is the son of a wealthy Jewish financier. Eric Liddell (played by Ian Charleson) is the son of Scottish missionaries. When Liddell defeats him in a British open race, Abrahams becomes determined to become a faster runner than his opponent and take home the gold. This film, which has a rating of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, amassed a deluge of awards, from the Academy Award for Best Picture to a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.
22. ‘A League of Their Own’
Penny Marshall directed a star-studded cast in this fictionalized account of the true-to-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The film is set in 1943, at the height of WWII. Tom Hanks won the American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture as Jimmy Dugan, a former player for the Cubs who takes on the job of manager of the Rockford Peaches. Although Dugan and many others initially treat the league as a joke, the passionate players change their minds. With an Audience Score of 84% at Rotten Tomatoes, the sports film is one to watch.
21. ‘Bend It Like Beckham’
A British rom-com slash sports drama slash family film might sound farfetched for a list of top sports movies, but in the case of “Bend It Like Beckham,” it works. Although 18-year-old Jess is enthralled with football, her conservative British-Indian family is solidly against her playing. Still, Jess stealthily plays football in the park, where she befriends Jules, who encourages her to try out for the local women’s team. Although her skills are outstanding, a string of lies leads to tension and drama. The film netted numerous awards, including Best Comedy at the British Comedy Awards and Best Sports Movie at the ESPY Awards. Rated 85% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer, the feel-good soccer film piqued interest in the sport for many Americans.
20. ‘The Blind Side’
Quinton Aaron plays Michael Oher, a homeless teen. Sandra Bullock won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for her role of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the sheltered wife of a wealthy businessman. In this 2009 film based on a true story, the Tuohys become Michael’s legal guardians and help build his football career, transforming both his life and theirs. With an 85% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, this film is a fan favorite.
19. ‘Friday Night Lights’
This sports movie follows the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team. Expectations are high for the Odessa, Texas, team and their coach as the community hopes to see them make the championships. Their hopes are dashed when the star player suffers a serious injury, but the coach is determined to lead them to victory. The film won as well, garnering both the AFI Awards’ Movie of the Year and an ESPY award for Best Sports Movie. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 85% Audience Score.
18. ‘Million Dollar Baby’
Clint Eastwood plays veteran boxing trainer Frankie Dunn in this 2004 sports drama, which won an Oscar for Best Picture. Maggie Fitzgerald, played by Hilary Swank, has just moved to Los Angeles from Missouri. Looking for a trainer, she approaches Dunn, who grudgingly accepts. Fitzgerald becomes a skillful boxer and the two form a paternal bond, which is brought into play following a round with a dirty fighter. Metacritic rates the film at 86 with universal acclaim
17. ‘Field of Dreams’
Kevin Costner played farmer Ray Kinsella in this 1989 American fantasy-drama sports film. Prompted by a voice only he can hear saying, “If you build it, he will come,” Ray plows part of his cornfield and creates a baseball field. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and other 1919 Chicago White Sox come to play ball and right wrongs from the past. Nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, the film garnered an 86% score on both the Tomatometer and the Audience Score rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
16. ‘The Natural’
Loosely based on a true story, this 1984 sports film depicts the life of Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford. As an up and coming baseball star, Hobbs was on his way to tryouts with the Chicago Cubs when he was shot by an unstable woman. Sixteen years later, 35-year-old Hobbs returns to the game, playing for the struggling New York Knights. When he’s finally allowed to play, Hobbs begins to turn the team around. Winner of Heartland Film’s “Truly Moving Picture Award,” Rotten Tomatoes gives this movie an 88% Audience Score.
In this film from 1987, the high school basketball team in the small Indiana town of Hickory only has seven players, but the community is nevertheless passionate about the sport. It’s 1951 and Norman Dale, who has a mysterious past, shows up to teach and coach. His methods quickly upset the townsfolk, who consider kicking him to the curb. However, they give him a chance to redeem himself and Hickory makes it to the state championship. The movie netted two Academy Award nominations and won the Heartland International Film Festival’s “Truly Moving Picture Award.” Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 88% on both the Tomatometer and the Audience Score.
14. ‘Slap Shot’
The mill in Charleston is about to lay off thousands of workers. The Charleston Chiefs, the town’s minor league hockey team, is playing its final season. With no reason not to, coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) decides to allow the violent Hanson brothers play. Their thuggish style draws crowds and changes outcomes in this 1977 sports comedy, which is rated 83% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer, with an Audience Score of 89%.
Kurt Russell portrays real-life college coach Herb Brooks in this 2004 sports docudrama. Brooks is hired to head the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team. This group of headstrong college star players is humiliated in an early match, but they still have a long way to go. In fact, they’re slated to play against the Soviet team, which is favored to win. But Brooks brings his team together with focus, determination and hope for a miracle in the film which won an ESPY Award for the Best Sports Movie of the Year and earned an Audience Score of 90% at Rotten Tomatoes.
Winner of both the Christopher Awards, for films that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit,” and the Heartland International Film Festival Studio Crystal Heart Award, this movie stars Sean Astin. The actor plays Rudy Ruettiger, who dreams of playing college football at Notre Dame. But he faces numerous obstacles, including dyslexia, small physical stature and an inability to afford tuition. Although the film takes some liberties for the big screen, the movie, which has a 90% Audience Score at Rotten Tomatoes, depicts the real life of someone with enormous drive and an equally huge heart.
11. ‘Brian’s Song’
Sometimes true stories are the best. Based on the real-life friendship of pro football players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, the first interracial roommates in NFL history, the film portrays Piccolo’s struggles on the field and off that culminate with his terminal cancer diagnosis. The 1971 TV movie earned four Emmys and a Peabody Award, among others, and Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 92% on the Tomatometer.
10. ‘The Pride of the Yankees’
This biographical drama from 1942 is still worth watching, especially for diehard baseball fans. Baseball legend Babe Ruth made his last screen appearance in the film, which stars Gary Cooper as legendary player Lou Gehrig. The Academy Award-winning film depicts Gehrig’s life from a college student to a Yankees player to a man suffering from a rare, incurable disease. Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a notable score of 93% on the Tomatometer.
9. ‘Remember the Titans’
Based on a true story, this 2000 sports drama depicts the life of Boone, played by Denzel Washington, who won multiple awards for his portrayal of the African-American coach Herman. In 1971, Boone attempted to integrate the T. C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia. Dealing with frequent internal clashes, Boone motivates the team to come together and succeed, although they ultimately face tragedy. The movie has a 93% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes.
In this 1976 classic, which won numerous awards including Oscars and a Golden Globe, working class, small-time boxer Rocky Balboa lives in Philadelphia and dreams of making it big. When the southpaw is randomly selected to fight injured reigning world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, Rocky gets his big break. The underdog sets out to prove that hard work and a positive attitude can create a winner. The film earned a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
7. ‘Raging Bull’
In another biographical sports drama, Robert DeNiro won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe award portraying boxer Jake LaMotta. It’s 1941 and middleweight boxer LaMotta is looking to win the title. Although his talents help him climb his way to the top, his jealousy and hot-headed temper cost him everything. The movie earned a remarkable 95% on the Tomatometer and a 93% Audience Score at Rotten Tomatoes.
Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, is general manager of the Oakland A’s in this 2011 sports movie based on a true story. Beane is stuck with a minuscule budget and has to devise a way to reinvent his team when he meets a young Ivy League economics graduate with big ideas for recruiting overlooked talent. Although the team’s scouts are not in agreement with Beane’s new methodology, the manager moves forward and changes tradition. Nominated for six Oscars, Moneyball hits a homer at Rotten Tomatoes, where it scores 94% on the Tomatometer.
5. ‘Breaking Away’
A working-class young man from a small college town is obsessed with two things: Italian bicycle racing and a girl who’s out of his league. With a little help from his friends, Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher) finds a way to enter the University’s “Little 500” competitive bike race, even though he isn’t a student. While Dave chases his dream, he also inspires those around him. This Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA award winner has a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer.
4. ‘The Wrestler’
In this 2009 sports drama, Mickey Rourke plays aging wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson. His health is failing and his fame is waning, but Robinson is loath to throw in the towel. After suffering a heart attack, Robinson retires and tries to make amends with the daughter he abandoned. Not one for making wise choices, he further alienates his daughter and eventually returns to the ring, which has dire consequences. This Golden Globe winner rates 98% on the Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. ‘When We Were Kings’
In 1996, filmmakers released a documentary detailing the story of 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle,” an event in which Muhammed Ali, at age 33, fought 26-year-old heavyweight champion George Foreman. The Oscar-winning film tells the story using vintage film clips leading up to the event, such as interviews and action shots, as well as commentary from contemporary experts and fans. Rotten Tomatoes rates the film 98% on the Tomatometer and 93% for the Audience Score.
2. ‘Coach Carter’
Another great sports film based on a true story, “Coach Carter” stars Samuel L. Jackson, who won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture as Richmond High School basketball coach Ken Carter. When he takes over as head coach of the California high school he attended and set records at, Carter decides the disrespectful students need discipline. He is met with defiance and criticism but remains firm, helping the team improve in the sport and in school. Box Office Mojo ranks the film No. 3 for best basketball movies from 1982 on and No. 5 in films with a coach as the primary character.
1. ‘Hoop Dreams’
This 1994 documentary following two high school basketball players from Chicago who dream of becoming pros won a Peabody Award, which honors the “pursuit of excellence in stories that matter.” Over the course of five years, the filmmakers followed African American teens William Gates and Arthur Agee as they traveled from inner-city Chicago to the predominantly white, suburban St. Joseph High School in Westchester, 90 minutes each way. Agee and Gates were recruited by the school because of their basketball skills, and the film follows their coming of age journey. Rotten Tomatoes scores the film an impressive 98% on the Tomatometer.