Since March, it seems like the sports world has been flipped upside-down and inside out like the rest of us. Major sports leagues were put on hiatus, college sports were canceled, and rec leagues were completely shut down. Fortunately, all of our favorite sports found a way to return in some modified fashion towards the end of summer and the beginning of the fall season. However, outside of the NFL, NCAA Football, and the various golf tours, many of our favorite sports have been put on the back burner until at least Christmas time. As Covid-19 lockdowns and limited social interaction rulings are becoming the norm, screen time continues to increase.
So what’s a sports fan to do when the only thing on, unless you are a fan of the sports above, is highlight and blooper replays? One of the great things about sports movies is that everyone is entitled to their opinion on their favorite. Even while creating this list, I was arguing with myself about which should make the cut (chances are some of you will disagree, so please feel welcome to include your favorite flick). Below is a list of twenty of the best sports movies (in no particular order) that you can binge on this winter and distract yourself from the pandemic. At the same time, we wait for the world to return to normal.
The big-screen debut for Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway did not disappoint. Add in a lengthy list of cameo appearances by Jerry Tarkanian, Bob Cousy, Dick Vitale, Kevin Garnett, and Allan Houston, and the college hoops flick covers all the bases. Nick Nolte played flawlessly in the role of a troubled college coach who is willing to do whatever is needed to turn his team around and save his career. Although fans were already well aware of the shady on-goings with college boosters, it also subtly brought to our attention a point-shaving scheme, pointing out plenty of college hoops’ corruption.
The popular 80s basketball flick inspired by the 1954 Indiana team that captured the state championship was not the most fantastic basketball movie from an athletic action standpoint. Still, the characters made you want to cheer them to victory, both on and off the court. Filled with pretty much every sports movie cliché, renegade coach, reluctant star player, a down and out team that comes back to promise, a motivational speech, a love story and to cap it off, the big game. Even though the movie is thirty-four years old and tells of a story that is over sixty years old, it is still a favorite movie among sports fans.
White Men Can’t Jump
At least one character in White Men Can’t Jump that everyone can identify with, whether it be from a love story standpoint or as a sports flick. Despite Wesley Snipes (Sidney Deane) lack of basketball talent, he was a great athlete and the perfect counter to the chumpy Woody Harrelson (Billy Hoyle), who was actually a better baller than his co-star. If you were a basketball fan or player in the early 90s, there was little chance that you managed to get through a game without dropping or being hit with one of the classic trash-talking lines inspired by the movie. Sprinkle in some mob gambling debts, some physical play, and romance, and you had the perfect film for everyone.
Love and Basketball
You can sell watching this movie over and over again to your spouse as a love story rather than a sports movie, so everyone wins. Very few sports movies focus on professional women’s team sports. Still, Love & Basketball spends equal time for both sexes from high school through college and into the pros. While the movie hit on the highs and lows as a pro through Quincy’s (Omar Epps) dad, the focus of the film was told through two different stories through the eyes of a much sought after and highly heralded recruit who was given superstar treatment, to one who had to learn life as a small fish in a big pond after being the focal point of her high school team. Sure there are a few corny moments, but the fact is, for some basketball players, regardless of their sex, it could be a true life journey.
He Got Game
Inheriting his father’s passion for the game, Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) is a much sought after high school recruit that has his pick of pretty much any university school in the country. However, when the governor approaches Shuttlesworth’s father (Denzel Washington), who is incarcerated, with the offer of a shortened sentence if he can convince his son to play for “Big State,” the governor’s alma mater. With the perfect mix of hoops action and emotional drama, this Spike Lee joint is one of the writer’s most successful movies. Despite not having any acting experience, Allen appears more than comfortable and confident in front of the camera. Washington’s performance, especially his hoop skills, is equally as believable. With various New York locations as the setting, this is a must-see movie for any basketball fan.
For everyone who wished they were a little bit taller, faster, stronger, or athletically talented, Rudy Ruettiger shows that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. Almost every high school, college, university, and pro team has had their own “Rudy” at some point, but that doesn’t stop the movie from inspiring athletes even thirty years later. Think of it as the football version of Rocky. While some may frown upon the dramatic and exaggerated tone of the movie, the action is realistic. The inspiring messages that every athlete can get behind, whether they ride the bench or start the game.
Friday Night Lights
Many will argue that the small screen series is better than the theatre version. Still, regardless of which you prefer, Friday Night Lights tells a remarkable tale of how high school football dominates the landscape in Texas. Showcasing just how important high school football is to Odessa’s town, it is easy to see how the game is more than a sport; it’s a way of life. Although the movie touches many of the issues highlighted in Buzz Bissinger’s original story, including racism, poverty, alcoholism, and segregation, it doesn’t do as much justice as it does for the significant game action is inspiring and motivating.
Any Given Sunday
It may have run a little long, but Oliver Stone’s raw and realistic take on professional football is one of the most realistic sports flicks that looks at the darker side of the game rather than the traditional Hollywood story. From Al Pacino’s motivating locker room speech to Jamie Foxx and L.L. Cool J giving memorable performances as “Steamin” Willie Beamen and Julian “J-Man” Washington, Any Given Sunday hits all the marks that a football fan is looking for in a movie. While at times, viewers may get a little frustrated with Stone’s portrayal of the NFL, it is still a fan favorite.
Remember The Titans
Based on a Virginia high school football team’s true story that came together through forced integration, Remember The Titans showed the world that differences of opinion, politics, and race can be put aside for a common goal. With believable performances by Denzel Washington and Will Patton as the new and former head coach, as well as Wood Harris and Ryan Hurst as the alpha dogs, Titans have its share of inspirational moments mixed in with just the right amount of subtle humor to keep things moving. One of the best things about this movie, other than the fact that it is suitable for viewers of any age, is that all of the characters, be it main or supporting, are easily relatable in one way or another.
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to know the story of Jackie Robinson. As the tale of the man who broke the baseball color barrier, Chadwick Boseman and 42 do justice to one of the greatest baseball players in the game’s history. At a run time of just over two hours, 42 still leaves you wanting more and not in the wrong way. With the perfect blend of humor and drama, there is minimal downtime in the movie that connects viewers to every one of the main characters. Add in the game action scenes that do not look forced by any means 42 hits a grand slam for sports movies.
Filled with great characters, the original Major League was by far the best of the series. What helped to make this movie so enjoyable was the simple fact that they used real MLB teams and stadiums rather than fictional ones. Far from award-winning and following sports movies to a “T,” not only was the action realistic but so too was the on-point announcing by Bob Uecker and the live and die attitude of the Indians faithful. Filled with a star-studded cast, Major League is one of the classic sports comedy movies of all time. As far as the sequels go, Major League 2 is tolerable, but leave Major League 3 in the minors.
Over the last few years, sports has moved away from being about pure athleticism and more about analytics, in a true story about how the Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, succeeded with a cost-effective approach to building his team. Rather than signing big-name superstar players, Beane looked for the best statistical players at each position, both offensively and defensively. While some might think that a movie that seems to incorporate more math than athletics (pun not intended) could be boring, it is quite the contrary as Pitt and co-star Jonah Hill both give award-worthy performances.
Field of Dreams
“If you build it, they will come.” This line holds true for so many different aspects of life, not just for baseball. Nominated for three Oscars in 1990, the cast of star actors and athletes help make a baseball movie fan’s dream come true. Sure it is a little more on the emotional side of the game rather than the on-field action, but not every sports movie has to be action-packed to have an impact. And for those looking for a reason to visit Dyersville, Iowa, this is it. As for anyone with an extra bit of land, don’t be surprised if after watching this that you put up that basketball hoop or freeze the backyard for ice hockey or if you are lucky, make a field of your own.
A League of Their Own
Loosely based on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League developed to fill Major League Baseball players’ void during World War II. This movie is not for baseball purists, but preferably ones who enjoy an entertaining popcorn flick with an all-star cast. Tom Hanks steals the show as the Rockford Peaches manager. At the same time, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell, and Madonna all play significant roles throughout the movie. When you add in all of the issues that women had to deal with during that era and the social and economic problems plaguing the world, it serves as an inspiration to female athletes and women in general.
This cult classic from the 1970s will never be confused with great cinematography, but Slap Shot has it all from a popcorn flick standpoint. Ok, so the actual hockey action isn’t that great. However, for a movie released in 1977 that still has tread on the tires forty years later with fans who can recite the film line for line, it deserves to be part of the hockey films on this list. Following a tried and true formula, Slap Shot, like many other movies on this list, tells a tale of a down and out team, the Charlestown Chiefs, and their quest for success.
Following the U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey team’s journey, Miracle tells the tale of their run to the 1980 gold medal. In one of the country’s most famous sports accomplishments, the outcome is already known, but that doesn’t stop the movie from being a must-see. Kurt Russell does a superb job as coach Herb Brooks. As with many other sports coaches, it isn’t necessarily the x’s and o’s that made Brooks successful and his ability to bring his team together with a common goal. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself setting up a street hockey game after watching this classic.
Everyone knows that pro wrestling is scripted, but that shouldn’t take away from the athletic ability that these men and women display each time they bring to the ring. Portraying Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Mickey Rourke plays a washed-up wrestler searching for past glory while showing the audience how much abuse their body and mind takes to entertain fans. Perfectly capturing the struggle of performing in a high school gym in front of a handful of fans after years of doing so in sold-out arenas, The Wrestler gives fans a look at the true passion of an athlete who is not ready to hang up his boots.
Yo Adrian! Many underdog stories have inspired many successful sports flicks, but Sylvester Stallone’s first Rocky movie is the ultimate. Nobody will ever confuse Stallone with being a great actor, but he absolutely nails the underdog’s role. While the franchise would see five sequels, plus two spinoff Creed flicks (which were both great!), the original told of a fighter who was past his prime and being used as a squash opponent by champion Apollo Creed. Although some of the future films were questionable, the original remains one of the great fight movies of all time.
It’s fitting that the best boxing franchise branch off in a slightly different direction under the watchful eye of the main man. Rather than forcing people to sit through another unnecessary sequel, Sylvester Stallone brought us the story of Apollo Creed’s son. Flipping the broke down underdog script, Creed brings us the tale of a young man who comes from a life of wealth and luxury searching for answers as to why he wants to fight and his desire to be in the ring following his father’s footsteps. As with most of the Rocky movies, Creed’s theme was not one of immediate success, but rather the fight that it takes to get to the top and earn the respect of those who doubted you.
Kevin Costner has appeared in his fair share of sports movies, including a trio of baseball classics and a football flick. Still, his role as Roy McAvoy should not be overlooked. Mixing the slow and methodic game of golf with the perfect blend of comedy, Tin Cup tells the story of McAvoy’s attempt to conquer his demons and turn his life around by qualifying for the U.S. Open. Throw in a bit of a cheesy love story with Rene Russo, plus an ending familiar to many weekend golf hacks. Tin Cup just barely beats out Caddyshack as the best golf movie.