Who doesn’t love a good sports film, especially a film where the good guys win.
Because in the real world, your favourite sports team is more likely to let you down. Motivational training montages, cheesy music, roaring speeches, underdog comebacks, honestly what’s not to like. So here is a list of some of my favourite sports movies of all time.
Warning!!! Spoilers ahead
Rocky 3 (1982) & Rocky 4 (1985)
Director: Sylvester Stallone
I’ve paired these two movies together because they are by far the best out of the popular franchise and two of the best boxing flicks out of a stacked genre. Not only that, but we see our hero Rocky Balboa fight against the two meanest heavyweight boxers ever, Clubber Lang and Soviet psycho Ivan Drago.
Rocky 4 also delved into the uncertainty and fear surrounding the Cold War. Are there monsters lurking behind the Iron Curtain? In one scene of Rocky 3 a journalist asks Lang for his prediction for an upcoming bout against the Italian Stallion, to which he stares menacingly into the camera and replies in an even more menacing tone, “Pain!”. Wow, goosebumps. And as for the Russian beast Drago, after viciously knocking out Rocky’s friend Apollo Creed, utters the immortal phrase, “if he dies he dies.”. Of course, there is also that song, Eye Of The Tiger.
It is amazing to think that the financial juggernaut that is Rocky Balboa was inspired by Chuck Wepner’s fight against Muhammad Ali in 1975. The Rocky brand continues to get bigger with the addition of a new franchise in Creed and Creed 2.
Above The Rim (1994)
Director: Jeff Pollack
One of the stars of this Basketball classic is Tupac Shakur. That alone is reason enough to love the movie. An interesting backstory is that 2pac prepared for his role as a Harlem gangster by shadowing an individual named Jacques Agnant aka Haitian Jack. This was a relationship that would ultimately send 2pac’s life into a tailspin that would cost him his freedom and his friendship with Biggie Smalls.
Anyway, that’s a story for another day. But this movie about a high school student with aspirations to earn a college basketball scholarship, but finds himself drawn to the wrong crowd is not a new one, but is certainly one of the most enjoyable. And the official soundtrack isn’t too bad either.
Days Of Thunder (1990)
Director: Tony Scott
I know almost nothing about NASCAR. They drive around an oval racetrack like a hundred times or something. But the little bit that I do know, I learnt from watching Days Of Thunder. Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall provide an excellent dynamic as driver and engineer.
And a little bit of romance is sprinkled in for good measure. Add the Hollywood Blockbuster feel you get from producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. This isn’t a bad way to spend a Friday evening or any evening.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Director: Oliver Stone
Sport: American Football
Oliver Stone’s unflinching take on the world of American Football is probably my favourite sports movie of all time. With an ensemble cast, this was a breakout movie for Jamie Foxx, who was considered nothing more than a comedy act.
But Al Pacino steals the show as an aging coach who’s desperately trying to deal with the teams’ ruthless owner (Cameron Diaz), and the massive egos and greed within his team. This is topped off by a pregame speech to end all pregame speeches. “Either we heal now as a team! Or we will die as individuals.”
Mean Machine (2001)
Director: Barry Skolnick
I’m old enough to remember Vinnie Jones as a footballer. He was the de facto enforcer of the dirtiest team in English football, Wimbledon. Also known as the Crazy Gang. Upon his retirement announcement, I was skeptical when Jones said he next career path would take him to Hollywood. But what I and other skeptics don’t realise is that there is a niche market for tough guys like Jones in Tinseltown.
Now Jones is not going to win an Oscar anytime soon, but this was surprisingly entertaining. And really funny. Football films are usually disappointing, particularly Hollywood football films. From really bad action sequences to overuse of the word “Soccer”. The name of the sport is Football.
Remakes are historically dangerous territory for movies, especially a classic like Burt Reynolds The Longest Yard, but Mean Machine doesn’t disappoint and will have you laughing all the way to the end. Oh, and look out for the commentary duo of Bob and Bob, and the greatest goalkeeper of all time, The Monk.
Happy Gilmore (1996)
Director: Dennis Dugan
When it comes to the sport of Golf, there is no middle ground, you either love it or you hate it. If you fall into the latter, Happy Gilmore might, might change your mind. Similar to Mean Machine, this is a comedy, so expect some liberties to be taken here with the storyline.
This is peak Adam Sandler, so expect Golf etiquette to go out the window. And you have some classic characters like Shooter McGavin and Chubbs Peterson. Fights with celebrities, alligator attacks, unconventional Golfing, Happy Gilmore is a legitimate rival to Caddyshack as the premier Golf comedy.
Director: Bennett Miller
Just a warning, this is a grim film. This is based on a true story of the Team Foxcatcher wrestling program which was funded and run by multimillionaire philanthropist John E. du Pont. The focal point of the movie is the relationship between the Schultz brothers, Mark and Dave (both Olympic gold medalists), and du Pont, and the circumstances that led to du Pont murdering Dave Schultz in January 1996.
Although he is not referenced in the movie, WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle was coached by Dave Schultz. Angle went on to win a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games with a broken neck just 7 months after the death of his coach and mentor. Foxcatcher was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including nominations for Best Actor (Steve Carell), and Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo).
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Sport: Mixed Martial Arts
With the rise in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), inevitably Hollywood has followed suit. There are a couple of decent MMA flicks, undoubtedly Warrior is the best of the lot. 2 feuding brothers who also have a difficult relationship with their father decide to enter an MMA tournament with $5million at stake. And that’s only a small part of the plot.
Nick Nolte received an Oscar nomination while Tom Hardy is always a badass. Warrior also sees cameo appearances by real-life MMA fighters such as Anthony Johnson and Nate Marquardt. Warrior is a gripping film, that you can view multiple times over.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
Director: Peter Berg
Sport: American Football
Varsity Blues is a top high school sports movie, and the fact I watched it when I was still in high school myself, and played rugby, meant I could identify with the pressures, and expectations of dealing with the academic side of school as well as the extracurricular activities such as sports.
Remember The Titans and Coach Carter are also excellent recommendations, but for me, Friday Night Lights is the top high school sports film there is. It is based on H.G. Bissinger’s book about the Permian Panthers High School football team’s 1988 season. This true story highlights the cult following of high school football in small-town America, where the students are treated like celebrities.
Major League (1989)
Director: David S. Ward
Over the years I’ve tried to watch Baseball, over and over again, I’ve tried. But it’s so boring. America’s favourite pastime is just not for me. Which is in itself a paradox because I enjoy Test Match Cricket. Major League, however, is an incredibly entertaining Baseball movie.
The storyline is a familiar one. A group of misfits are brought together, and someway somehow find a way to start winning against all the odds. Much to the chagrin of their owner who is desperate to see the team lose. Major League introduced Wesley Snipes as Hollywood’s latest star, and we see Charlie Sheen at his absolute best before everything happened.
The Great White Hype (1996)
Director: Reginald Hudlin
When it comes to sports satire, look no further than The Great White Hype. A boxing promoter organises a fight between an undefeated black heavyweight champion and a white contender who’s never had a professional fight. But by exposing people’s racial prejudices, and their gullibility, the fight, which is nothing more than a farce, goes onto become the highest-selling boxing match of all time.
I remember wondering how people could allow themselves to be duped so easily, and that it wasn’t possible in real life. Until Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor conned the world into giving them $400million.
The Damned United (2009)
Director: Tom Cooper
Brian Clough is a legendary figure in English football. As a manager, he won the English First Division (Premier League) with unfancied Derby County and Nottingham Forest. With Forest, he went one step further and won back to back European Cups (Champions League). But sandwiched between those two successful spells was a chaotic period as Leeds United manager that ended in Clough’s sacking after just 44 days.
The Damned United focuses on the doomed 44 days, his difficult and confrontational relationship with the Leeds players and his predecessor Don Revie. As well as his relationship with his assistant manager Peter Taylor. But the movie is not without controversy, Clough’s family declined to watch the film. Dave Mackay, who played under Clough at Derby County and succeeded him as manager, sued Left Bank Pictures, the makers of the film.
Director: Ron Howard
Another film inspired by a true story, Rush is for the F1 fanatics, but this is a Ron Howard film, which means even if you’re not into Motorsport you’ll probably enjoy this. And Chris Hemsworth is the co-star, so you can probably convince the Mrs to watch.
Rush tells the story of the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda from Formula 3 racing right up to the main circuit of F1, culminating in the tense 1976 season that sees Niki Lauda’s gruesome crash at the German Grand Prix that nearly took his life. Lauda’s miraculous recovery before the end of the season sums up the lengths both men were willing to go to in order to be crowned World Champion.
Green Street (2005)
Director: Lexi Alexander
It’s highly debatable whether we can declare Green Street a sports movie. But I’ve included it on this list because we often forget or we choose to forget that there is a darker, seedier side to the world of sports. Whether it’s match-fixing or politics. Green Street is about a long-forgotten part of English football, a barely whispered term in a multibillion-pound industry, hooliganism.
So-called football supporters who refer to themselves as firms, meet at prearranged locations and beat the living daylights out each other. And somehow Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), an American from Harvard, fits into the plot. It was a coin toss between Green Street and The Football Factory, which is just as good.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Sport: Ice Hockey
A Gavin O’Connor film makes its second appearance on this list after Warrior. 1980 was the height of the Cold War, and so anytime the United States met the Soviet Union in sports you expected fireworks. But when you have a team of professional hockey players who’ve won 4 Olympic Gold Medals in a row (Soviet Union) losing to an amateur team consisting of college players (USA), you better believe the Americans are going to milk this for all it’s worth.
Lake Placid was the host city for the 1980 Winter Olympic Games and the scene of the hockey match that came to be known as the “miracle on ice.”. The Lake Placid Games took place against the background of the Oil Crisis and the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Once you’re able to look past the “USA” chants, this is quite an inspiring movie.
Director: Michael Mann
Muhammad Ali is often referred to as the greatest boxer in history. Some would disagree. Not mentioning any names (Floyd Mayweather). But that’s a debate for another day. There have been many attempts at capturing the life and career of Muhammad Ali on screen. But this Michael Mann adaptation with Will Smith as the iconic boxer is the critic’s choice.
The movie focuses on the 10 year period between 1964 and 1974 that defined the legacy of Muhammad Ali. Defeating Sonny Liston to become Heavyweight Champion, changing his name from Cassius Clay after converting to Islam, his refusal to be drafted into the United States Military for the Vietnam War, the complex relationships he had with the women in his life, and the epic “Rumble in the Jungle “ bout against George Foreman. Nearly 3 hours long, Ali is definitely worth your time.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Director: Marshall Thurber
I don’t know if Dodgeball was a real sport before, but it certainly is now. Thanks to this box office smash hit. Ben Stiller is at his comedic best, and you could argue he is the star of the show. And there are some interesting characters like Patches O’Houlihan, Me’Shell Jones, Blazer and Lazer.
Chuck Norris even makes an unforgettable cameo. As does Lance Armstrong, but we’re not going to talk about that. The storyline and the ending are quite cheesy, but you’ll be in stitches from start to finish.
Cinderella Man (2005)
Director: Ron Howard
Great Depression-era movies can be really depressing. Cinderella Man starts off that way. And I have to be honest, the first time I watched this movie I seriously considered turning it off. But the difficult first half an hour sets the scene for one of sports great against all odds story.
The story of James J. Braddock and his ascent to become the heavyweight champion against Max Baer, and in the process inspired a country that was in desperate need of inspiration. Not only that, Ron Howard and Russell Crowe make an exceptional team and an exceptional film.
Director: Gary Ross
Another Great Depression-era movie, Seabiscuit received 7 Oscar nominations. Again I wasn’t enthused, Great Depression plus Horseracing, not my idea of how to spend 2 hours of my life.
But much like Cinderella Man, I was pleasantly surprised. There are some tough bits to get through but by the end, you’ll likely feel better about yourself and life in general.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Sport: Rugby Union
Disclaimer: this is a sentimental pick. In the light of the Springbok’s recent triumph at the Rugby World Cup, now would be a good time to watch Invictus again. In fact, you don’t need an excuse to watch Invictus. Matt Damon’s South African accent is….. You know what, the less said the better. But the Springboks win, every time you watch Invictus. No David Pocock, no Romain Poite, No Jonny Wilkinson to spoil it. Just Francois Pienaar, excuse me, Matt Damon lifting the William Webb Ellis Cup.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby – NASCAR
Remember The Titans – American Football
Best Of The Best – Karate
Here Comes The Boom – Mixed Martial Arts
Space Jam – Basketball
White Men Can’t Jump – Basketball
The Air Up There – Basketball
Caddyshack – Golf
Blue Chips – Basketball
Varsity Blues – American Football
The Blind Side – American Football
Semi-Pro – Basketball
Creed – Boxing
The Fighter – Boxing
The Karate Kid – Karate
Poolhall Junkies – Pool
The Mighty Ducks franchise – Ice Hockey
Goal – Football
Fever Pitch – Football
Gridiron Gang – American Football
Let us know what your favourite sports movie is and if there are any I have left out, worth a mention, please let me know.
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