The 25 Best Sports Movies of All Time

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The 25 Best Sports Movies of All Time

At some point, we’ve all found ourselves yearning for the human drama that a good sports narrative provides. There’s something inherently cinematic about competition—whether it’s the suspense, overcoming obstacles, the glory of victory or that crazy desire to be something better than nature alone allows us to be. In other words, sports stories make for compelling movies.

The Olympics only come every four years, so bide the time by revisiting the 25 best sports movies of all time:

25. Major LeagueYear: 1989
Director: David S. Ward
Stars: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, Margaret Whitton, James Gammon, Rene Russo, Wesley Snipes, Dennis Haysbert
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

Many can laugh at this crazy cast of oddballs, but only a select few can look back and laugh. Because for those in Cleveland and northeastern Ohio, it’s all too real. Not until the second film’s release did the Cleveland Indians finally break out of their 30-year slump. Some will say it was the new stadium. Others, the even more superstitious ones (most baseball fans), may point to the dominance and swagger of Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, as portrayed by Charlie Sheen. (Fun fact: Sheen was actually a star pitcher in high school.) Whatever the case, the really bad times are in the past, and let’s hope, for the sake of another one of these movies popping up, they stay there. —Joe Shearer


24. SennaYear: 2011
Director: Asif Kapadia
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 106 minutes

Kapadia was already a BAFTA-award-winning narrative director, but there are plenty of narrative directors who haven’t made the transition to documentaries effectively. He doubled the degree of difficulty by deciding to use all period footage of his subject, ’80s and ’90s Gran Prix legend Aryton Senna. He pulled it off in spades, creating one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time.—Michael Dunaway


23. A League of Their OwnYear: 1992
Director: Penny Marshall
Stars: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna
Rating: PG
Runtime: 128 minutes

Of course, a film about women’s baseball during WWII is going to feature an outstanding cast of players (Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna), but top billing was given to Tom Hanks. His portrayal of a fallen baseball great trying to regain respect (and kick the bottle) is one of the actor’s finer moments and helped cement his title of most likable actor on the American screen. Who can ever get tired of that famous quip, “There’s no crying in baseball!” a staple that baseball commentators throw out like it’s their fastball? —Joe Shearer


22. Breaking AwayYear: 1979
Director: Peter Yates
Stars: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Barbara Barrie, Paul Dooley, Robyn Douglass.
Rating: PG
Runtime: 101 minutes

Like all the best sports comedies, Breaking Away is about a ragtag group of misfits. In this case, they’re led by Dave, a cycling enthusiast obsessed with all things Italian. He and the rest of his teenage buddies in Bloomington, Ind. must deal with snobby Indiana University students, parents who just don’t understand and the disillusionment that comes with finding out your heroes are cheaters. No worries, though: Dave and the Cutters (predictably) destroy the competition in the Little 500 race and forge ahead toward adulthood.—Staff


21. Remember The TitansYear: 2000
Director: Boaz Yakin
Stars: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Donald Faison, Nicole Ari Parker
Rating: PG
Runtime: 120 minutes

It doesn’t matter if you’re as passionate about football as little Sheryl (Hayden Panettiere) or as ambivalent as Coach Boone’s daughter: We guarantee you’ll get a little weepy during this tale of a newly integrated high school team in 1971 Virginia. Between Denzel Washington delivering a monologue about the Battle of Gettysburg and the movie’s dramatic ending (which we won’t spoil for you), there are plenty of moments where busting out the tissues is appropriate. It’s not a total downer, however; there are a bunch of scenes that’ll bring a smile to your face, including whenever a young Ryan Gosling pops up as a goofy, Motown-loving defensive back. —Bonnie Stiernberg


20. Talladega NightsYear: 2006
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, Jane Lynch, Amy Adams
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 108 minutes

There are so many reasons to love this movie: Will Ferrell and Amy Adams recreating White Snake’s “Here I Go Again” video; Elvis Costello and Mos Def randomly hanging out with Ricky Bobby’s French nemesis, delightfully played by Sasha Baron Cohen; Ricky Bobby trying to overcome his fears by driving with a cougar in the car. But the chief reason is Will Ferrell’s prayer to “Eight-Pound, Six-Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent.”—Josh Jackson


19. The SandlotYear: 1993
Director: David Mickey Evans
Stars: Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna
Rating: PG
Runtime: 101 minutes

No other film in the history of cinema captures childhood summer nostalgia like this classic about a group of boys in the early ’60s who play baseball (nearly) every day at a local sandlot. When they aren’t playing, the thing they “tolerated best” is going to the pool, where on one day, the geeky Squints plays out every boy’s dream and lays a big one on the lifeguard, Wendy Peffercorn. Ah, one of the best and most appropriate uses of the Drifters’ “This Magic Moment.” And then, there’s “the pickle”—where Smalls naively borrows and loses his step dad’s Babe Ruth autographed ball, never hearing of the “lady” who signed it. Who says childhood is simple? —Joe Shearer


18. MurderballYear: 2005
Director: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
Rating: NR
Runtime: 88 minutes

As a documentary that sets out to shatter our assumptions about quadriplegics, Murderball succeeds admirably by painting its characters as regular guys—or not even regular guys but testosterone-fueled jocks proud of their aggressive playing and proud of their dicks (which still function, they’re quick to point out, even if their legs or arms don’t). These young men play wheelchair rugby, which they aptly called “murderball” before it gained enough popularity to earn corporate sponsorship and a place in the Paralympic Games. It’s a sport played by teams in armored wheelchairs who roll around on an indoor court, where knocking each other sideways incites a roar from the crowd. It has all the trappings of any other team sport, including hot-headed coaches, displays of bravado and nail-biting championship games. Despite all the adrenaline, the heart of the movie is something more important than just a game: it’s acceptance of yourself. Each tough, competitive personality shelters a damaged but recovering self-image.—Robert Davis


17. Bend It Like BeckhamYear: 2002
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Stars: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher, Juliet Stevenson, Shaznay Lewis, Archie Panjabi
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 112 minutes

British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha has made a plethora of fun coming-of-age films with stellar soundtracks, including Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and 2019’s Bruce Springsteen-centric Blinded by the Light. But the bildungsroman for which Chadha is perhaps most renowned is the 2002 romantic comedy/sports film Bend it Like Beckham. Bend it Like Beckham follows Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra (Parminder Nagra), an 18-year-old British-Indian girl with amazing football skills who idolizes David Beckham. Jess struggles to assert her own authentic girlhood as she navigates her parents’ gendered cultural expectations of her and disapproval of her athletic aspiration. When Jess befriends Juliette (Keira Knightley), a fellow female footballer, and secretly joins the local women’s football team for which Juliette plays, she embarks upon a complicated emotional journey in which she must choose between her dreams and complying with her parent’s vision of the kind of woman she should be. Bend it Like Beckham’s strengths lie not only in its ability to gracefully blend multiple genres—sports, family dramedy, romance— but also in the ways in which it honors the cultural relativism of “coming-of-age.” Bonus points for getting Bollywood legend Anupam Kher to play Jess’ dad.—Adesola Thomas


16. Eight Men OutYear: 1988
Director: John Sayles
Stars: John Cusack, John Mahoney, Michael Rooker, Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, D. B. Sweeney
Rating: PG
Runtime: 120 minutes

Try to imagine for a second a world in which baseball players didn’t get paid millions and millions of dollars. Back in 1919, the members of the Chicago White Sox had problems paying their bills just like the rest of us, and so they decided to throw the World Series in exchange for some gambling winnings. Unlike most sports movies, Eight Men Out isn’t a glorious tale of victory or redemption; it’s a sad story about desperate men who are forced to live with the dishonor of their actions for the rest of their lives. Say it ain’t so, Joe.—Staff


15. White Men Can’t JumpYear: 1992
Director: Ron Shelton
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Rosie Perez
Rating: R
Runtime: 118 minutes

What this tale of an odd-couple street hoops duo (Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes) who hustle opponents to pay off gambling debts lacks in structure it makes up in charm. Trash-talking and “yo momma” jokes abound, and Rosie Perez appears on Jeopardy! to dominate the “Foods That Start With the Letter Q” category.—Staff


14. Million Dollar BabyYear: 2004
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 132 minutes

Clint Eastwood’s unforgettable foray into the boxing genre saw him also dipping his toe into near-classical tragedy. Hilary Swank is unforgettable as the hardy and determined Frankie, and the actress did intensive training to look and feel the part in the ring—even putting on 19 lbs. of muscle for the role. Eastwood’s turn as a washed-up old-time trainer, initially befuddled at the thought of training this scrappy female underdog, is equally great—eventually forming a father-daughter-like relationship with Frankie. It’s fair to say that with its sucker-punch of a conclusion, this is the boxing film most likely to make you cry into the credit sequence.—Christina Newland


13. The Color of MoneyYear: 1986
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, John Turturro
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

Paul Newman won his only Academy Award for reviving his role as “Fast Eddie” Felsen, the title character of 1961’s The Hustler. Martin Scorsese directs this gritty drama that finds a middle-aged Eddie reluctantly returning to the hustle as a mentor to Tom Cruise’s young pool shark, like a matinee idol passing the torch to the next generation. Not one of Scorsese’s classics, The Color of Money nevertheless features plenty of seedy pool-hall texture, as well as the famous scene of Cruise showing off his cue-stick wizardry while singing along to “Werewolves of London.”—Curt Holman


12. Bull DurhamYear: 1988
Director: Ron Shelton
Stars: Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

I believe in ridiculous names like Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh. I believe in romantic comedies about giving up on a certain phase of your life where characters stand up and deliver cliched “I believe” speeches that, despite being borderline cheesy, somehow ring completely true. And yes, I too believe there should be a Constitutional Amendment banning Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in Bull Durham. The most engaging presentation of the minor-league life on film—and a pretty salute to baseball, in general—this first installment in the unofficial Kevin Costner Baseball Trilogy proved that baseball could equal big box office. Costner and Susan Sarandon anchor this film that does its part to engender a love for the game and the people who court it. —Bonnie Stiernberg & Michael Burgin


11. RudyYear: 1993
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Stars: Sean Astin, Ned Beatty, Charles S. Dutton, Lili Taylor, Robert Prosky
Rating: PG
Runtime: 116 minutes

Long before he was a hobbit, Sean Astin was Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, an unlikely football player with dreams of playing for Notre Dame. Rudy seems to lack everything he needs to achieve his dream—good grades, money, actual football ability—but if you think for one second that those minor details are going to get in the way of him achieving his goal, you’ve got another thing coming.—Staff


10. Field of DreamsYear: 1989
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Stars: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

Pop this one in next time you’re visiting the ‘rents if you want to watch Dad have a good cry. Field of Dreams isn’t just about father issues, though. It’s about that pesky American Dream, when it’s okay to chase it and when it’s time to hang it up. Sure, it’s hokey and totally Hollywood (see: dialogue like “Is there a heaven?” “Oh yeah. It’s the place dreams come true”), but you’ve got a heart of steel if you can’t suspend disbelief and get a little misty when Ray finally has a catch with his dad’s ghost. On paper, it’s hard to believe people would pay money to watch a movie involving an Iowa farmer who plows over his crops because he heard a voice that told him to, time travel and a magical baseball field that may or may not be purgatory, but oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.—Josh Jackson


9. The Pride of the YankeesYear: 1942
Director: Sam Wood
Stars: Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan
Rating: NR
Runtime: 128 minutes

Gary Cooper stars as the legendary Lou Gehrig, whose stunning career was ultimately cut short by the nerve disease that would carry his name. But it’s impossible to view this film and this man’s life without feeling a bit optimistic, especially when Cooper recreates Gehrig’s humble farewell speech. When he utters that famous, powerful line to a packed Yankee Stadium, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” you can’t help but be overwhelmed by goosebumps. It’s one of the saddest happy endings ever.—Joe Shearer


8. The WrestlerYear: 2008
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Todd Barry
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

American filmmakers may have rediscovered emotional realism, but no conversion is more surprising than Darren Aronofsky’s. His unadorned portrait of a pro-wrestling has-been is built around a fantastic, physical performance by Mickey Rourke, captured with a documentary style that renders his dingy world all the more strange, funny and heartbreaking. In his own words, he’s “a broken-down piece of meat,” and Rourke, back from actor purgatory, brings ample baggage to the role—including his bulked-up, modified body, his sandpapered larynx and his craving for an unlikely comeback. Randy “The Ram” Robinson can’t keep doing pile drivers forever, especially as the game evolves into something even more brutal, but what else is there? He’s distant from his daughter, but he has a flirtatious, tentative relationship with an aging stripper (Marisa Tomei) who’s facing the same injustice of the ticking clock. The movie, with its dime-store romance, breezy dialogue and telegraphed emotion, feels a bit like a grungier Rocky, but at times the understated attitude, grime and destitution are closer to Raging Bull.—Robert Davis


7. RockyYear: 1975
Director: John G. Avildsen
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith
Rating: PG
Runtime: 120 minutes

Obvious as it may now be, Sylvester Stallone’s role as Rocky Balboa must be one of the most enduring performances of the ’70s. A look back at the original film is a reminder of the series’ humble and lo-fi origins, but also of the economic and spiritual funk Americans felt in the post-Vietnam moment. Stallone’s lovable, dopey bum with no real prospects who is suddenly thrown into a million-dollar fight with the superstar champion of the world was an uplifting movie hero in a downbeat decade. Brilliant supporting turns from Burt Young, Carl Weathers and Talia Shire give fresh dimensions to the old stereotypes of trainer, opponent and ring girlfriend—offering bruising insecurity, tenderness and the underside of egotism beyond any stock characterization. It’s not a stretch to say that Rocky’s glorious failure in the ring could, at the time, be writ large as an expression of American greatness in the face of dispiriting defeat.—Christina Newland


6. CaddyshackYear: 1980
Director: Harold Ramis
Stars: Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Bill Murray, Michael O’Keefe
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

There are four faces on that poster to the left, and all of them are equally crucial to Caddyshack’s enduring popularity. From Ted Knight’s aristocratic bluster, to Rodney Dangerfield’s irreverent populism, to the glib playboy Chevy Chase, to Bill Murray’s iconic idiot, Caddyshack has one of the greatest casts of any comedy in memory. Add in a sharp script from National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney and amiably shaggy direction from Harold Ramis, and you have an all-time classic.—Garrett Martin


5. The NaturalYear: 1984
Director: Barry Levinson
Stars: Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall
Rating: PG
Runtime: 144 minutes

Baseball has inspired more movies than any other sport, but the greatest of them all is The Natural. Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a promising, young prospect with a bright career ahead of him in the 1930s when a troubled femme fatale guns him down at age 19. Sixteen years after the fact, he isn’t ready to let go of his love of the game, getting signed to a fictional scrub team called the New York Knights. It’s more than a story about baseball; it’s about a middle-aged man living his dream despite the naysayers. It’s a tale about a guy distracted by the glitzy glamorous babes all famous people gravitate towards, only to discover a happier life with his high-school sweetheart (Glenn Close). But when Hobbs hits the big two home runs—the one that breaks the clock, and the showstopper at the end that kills the lights, literally—and Randy Newman’s beautiful score triumphantly takes over, you know this is the ultimate take on the summer classic.—Joe Shearer


4. Chariots of FireYear: 1981
Director: Hugh Hudson
Stars: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nigel Havers, Ian Holm, John Gielgud, Lindsay Anderson, Cheryl Campbell, Alice Krige, Brad Davis, Dennis Christopher
Rating: PG
Runtime: 123 minutes

Oftentimes, as we were reminded by TV commentators frequently these past few weeks, the Olympics are about far more than sport. In the case of this 1981 British classic, the Games are a lesson in religious tolerance and sheer determination. The film chronicles the experiences of two runners—Harold Abrahams, an English Jew, and Eric Liddell, a Scottish Christian—at the 1924 Olympics. Like many great sports flicks, it’s a tale of sacrifice and overcoming odds, and it’s got an iconic score to boot.—Staff


3. HoosiersYear: 1986
Director: David Anspaugh
Stars: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

The ultimate tribute to Indiana basketball is also a few other things: A morality play, a history, an honest reckoning of the pros and cons of small-town life. If you don’t get emotional while watching the pastoral opening credits, you’ve never lived there—and you’ve never lived.—Nick Marino


2. Hoop DreamsYear: 1994
Director: Steve James
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 170 minutes

The documentary labeled by none other than Roger Ebert as the single best film of the 1990s is alternatingly beautiful and crushing, an intense profile of life in inner city Chicago and dreams of escape through basketball—of all things. The story of two young men recruited by a wealthy, predominantly white high school to play basketball, it raised serious questions about modern education, race and socioeconomic status, all of which we’re still asking today. Shot over the course of five years and condensed from 250 hours of footage, it’s a sprawling story that leaves out absolutely nothing in its realistic portrayal of multiple families, yet was snubbed from a nomination in the Academy’s best documentary category, leading to public and critical outcry. It just doesn’t get any more real than this, in ways both illuminating and heartbreaking. (Both of the young men profiled had older brothers gunned down in Chicago street violence in the years that followed the film’s release, one in 1994 and another in 2001.) —Jim Vorel


1. Raging BullYear: 1980
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

The best film of the 1980s contains one of the all-time-great feats of directing and one of the all-time-great feats of screen acting. The status that Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull has achieved in the years since its release is completely earned. Watching it is a fully felt experience. Over the years, much has been made of the weight Robert De Niro gained while filming Raging Bull to authentically capture the physical transformation of boxer Jake LaMotta. While it’s a great symbol of his commitment, the pounds don’t begin to explain the depths of the character portrait he and Martin Scorsese created. The film looks unforgivingly at a fragile, insecure man who communicates his need for love with jealousy, anger and violence. Scorsese’s shots convey the overly suspicious workings of LaMotta’s head, then back out to coldly observe the horrific violence that ensues. Then there are the boxing scenes. Scorsese deserves endless praise for finding such lively, inventive ways to capture the experience inside the ring. But what’s really amazing is that he goes beyond a great sports scene. Each fight serves as a window into LaMotta’s soul. The camera movement, the quick edits, the sudden shifts in speed all reflect his mental state, his need to damage himself or cause damage to others. Such expressive, visceral filmmaking has rarely been equaled. —Michael Burgin

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