The 101 Greatest Sports Movies of All Time
If you ask delinquents in a junior high detention hall and your Great Aunt Pam what they think about the movie Happy Gilmore, you're likely to get two wildly different answers.
So, in developing an ordered list of the 101 greatest sports movies ever, one must first find a person with discernible taste and an eagle eye for finding the truth.
Ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to inspiring a win with "new uniforms!" or timeworn stories about underdogs, I am a bona fide expert.
And today, I offer my services. You're welcome.
The following list is a carefully curated ranking of movies that feature sports as a main element in the storyline. Films that are rife with cliches or use athletics as a crutch instead of a pillar are ranked lower, while objectively awesome sports films rank towards the top.
Easy enough? Good. Now, update your Netflix queue accordingly.
Note: ESPN's "30 for 30" series is not included because those pieces are pretty good and, consequently, would infest this list like flawlessly edited cockroaches.
101. For Love of the Game (1999)
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Kevin Costner; Kelly Preston; John C. Reilly
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Like Macklemore songs, sports movies are afforded a moderate amount of corniness. In fact, their existence depends on it.
For Love of the Game, as the name implies, is a movie that interlaces deep affection and baseball in a manner that will make your eyes tear up and roll equally.
It's also a movie about friendship. And, in this disgusting, cruel world we live in, we'd all be fortunate to have a battery mate in life as loyal as Gus.
100. Glory Road (2006)
Director: James Gartner
Starring: Josh Lucas; Derek Luke; Austin Nichols; Jon Voight
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Glory Road is basically a sports movie Mad Lib, in which people, places and events are plugged into a cliche-driven, cookie-cutter narrative.
But if you don't know the story of the 1966 Texas Western Miners, then it's worth a watch.
99. The Waterboy (1998)
Director: Frank Coraci
Starring: Adam Sandler; Kathy Bates; Henry Winkler; Fairuza Balk
Rotten Tomatoes: 35%
During the '90s, Adam Sandler is a Cary Grant-like icon for detention hall miscreants throughout suburbia, and The Waterboy is his North by Northwest-like swan song.
As you'd expect, this film has more violent smacks and unintelligible hillbilly speak than drunken after hours at The Bad Girls Club.
The Waterboy is Billy Madison with goal posts and thoroughly enjoyable for those of you into Sandler's brand of comedy.
98. The Program (1993)
Director: David S. Ward
Starring: James Caan; Halle Berry; Omar Epps; Craig Sheffer
Rotten Tomatoes: 42%
As Saved by the Bell: The College Years is to the original series, The Program is to Varsity Blues.
It's a slightly less watchable, inexplicably more dramatic version of the high school days.
In sum, this film is painfully mediocre, but a worthwhile watch if you've called in sick to work or school.
97. Space Jam (1996)
Director: Joe Pytka
Starring: Michael Jordan; Wayne Knight; Theresa Randle; Bill Murray
Rotten Tomatoes: 35%
Watching Space Jam is like huffing gasoline in a Wal-Mart parking lot: It's as much fun as you can have while completely wasting your life.
This film's plot is an absolute acid trip.
But, on the plus side, the soundtrack is absolute fire, and the on-screen chemistry between MJ and Bugs makes Richard Gere and Julia Roberts look like Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey.
96. Mystery, Alaska (1999)
Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Russell Crowe; Burt Reynolds; Hank Azaria; Mary McCormack
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Between Russell Crowe, Burt Reynolds and Mary McCormack, Mystery, Alaska vaunts a cast that's strong enough to salvage a hackneyed storyline.
This film takes the same David versus Goliath sports movie construct that's been done a bazillion times and zaps it in the microwave until it crusts over.
That said, there are less charming ways to blow two hours on a Saturday night.
95. Green Street Hooligans (2005)
Director: Lexi Alexander
Starring: Elijah Wood; Charlie Hunnam; Claire Forlani; Marc Warren
Rotten Tomatoes: 47%
Green Street Hooligans is about the fans who are so wholeheartedly committed to their colors that they're willing to bleed in the streets to defend the hometown team.
Some fans support their team with foam fingers, others with season tickets and an especially spirited few do it by way of the drunken haymaker.
If you've ever sat in the Wrigley Field bleachers or worn New York Giants gear to Lincoln Financial Field, you understand that fandom occasionally requires a deductible.
94. Damn Yankees (1958)
Director: George Abbott and Stanley Donen
Starring: Tab Hunter; Gwen Verdon; Ray Walston
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Like most regular dudes, I'm a guy who prefers his sports paired with musical accompaniment and a choreographed dance number.
Damn Yankees marries performance theater and baseball together in a way that makes me want to celebrate every 6-4-3 double play with a jovial kick line.
Don't knock it until you try it.
93. Rad (1986)
Director: Hal Needham
Starring: Bart Conner; Lori Loughlin; Bill Allen; Ray Walston
Rotten Tomatoes: 0%
Alongside Hollywood Hogan's No Holds Barred, Rad is an '80s sports movie that sucks so incredibly bad that it's awesome.
You'll laugh out loud more during this film than during Happy Gilmore, guaranteed.
And, while watching The Natural, you'll scroll Twitter out of boredom at least a dozen times, but Rad is a pure adrenaline injection to the jugular.
To watch this movie after chugging a Red Bull is to know what it's like to redline a Ferrari 458 Italia down the slope of Mount Everest.
You've been warned.
92. Blue Chips (1994)
91. The Boxer (1997)
90. Rookie of the Year (1993)
Director: Daniel Stern
Starring: Thomas Ian Nicholas; Gary Busey; Albert Hall; Amy Morton
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%
Rookie of the Year tells the story of a little jerk who throws untouchable heat.
After breaking his arm and subsequently developing a major-league fastball, Henry Rowengartner becomes a wildly brazen pitcher in the big leagues.
He baits runners into being picked off by calling them "chicken," rattles opposing pitchers by telling them they have a "big butt" and—with the season on the line—has the cojones to deliver an underhand lob pitch to a roided-out slugger.
The guy has the moxie of Johnny Manziel, the showmanship of Ric Flair and a bedtime of 9 p.m.
89. More Than a Game (2008)
Director: Kristopher Belman
Starring: LeBron James; Dru Joyce; Romeo Travis; Sian Cotton
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Between recruiting websites and camera phones, amateur sports are being documented and revered at an increasing rate.
While the consequences of idolizing teenagers can be severe (stay strong Justin Bieber!), the increased attention does yield a treasure-trove of video footage.
Sure, More Than a Game has its fair share of compelling testimony and first-hand accounts of James' rise to superstardom.
But the video evidence of his development steals the show.
88. Little Giants (1994)
Director: Duwayne Dunham
Starring: Rick Moranis; Ed O'Neill; Shawna Waldron; Devon Sawa
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
This film addresses gender roles, bullying and the lows to which adults are willing to sink in order to secure an adolescent (albeit freakishly built) running back.
But, above all, Little Giants proves that, with the right number of sight gags and hilariously timed fart noises, the flimsiest of scripts can be made into a classic children's movie.
87. Rocky III (1982)
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone; Talia Shire; Burt Young; Carl Weathers
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
For the Rocky series to be successful, the writers had to expand upon the underdog tale.
Rocky III delivers with a ridiculous plot twist involving Mr. T and the death of Rocky Balboa's trainer.
If there's one plot line Sylvester Stallone executes better than the long shot, it's the story of bloodthirsty revenge.
86. Rounders (1998)
85. Blades of Glory (2007)
Director: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Starring: Will Ferrell; Jon Heder; Amy Poehler; Will Arnett
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Blades of Glory is a film that grants Will Ferrell carte blanche to act like a short-tempered Neanderthal.
Raise your hand if you have a problem with that. I thought so.
Watching this film is like driving a minivan while two infantile jerks fight in the backseat.
But one of those jerks is Will Ferrell, and the guy has war chest of deliriously funny one-liners.
84. Wimbledon (2004)
83. The Armstrong Lie (2013)
Director: Alex Gibney
Starring: Lance Armstrong; Reed Albergotti; Betsy Andreu
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Alex Gibney attempts to unearth Lance Armstrong's deceit-ridden career.
But, this documentary—however comprehensive—seems to only scratch the surface.
There are a lot of feel-good movies on this list, but The Armstrong Lie is not one of them.
82. The Heart of the Game (2005)
Director: Ward Serrill
Starring: Darnellia Russell; Bill Resler; Ludacris
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
This film is a documentary, but Bill Resler is so endearingly quirky that The Heart of the Game could easily be an award-winning character study.
The movie follows a high school women's basketball program through a series of pitfalls and triumphs.
If you enjoyed Hoop Dreams, this should be the next film loaded onto your Netflix queue.
81. Secretariat (2010)
Director: Randall Wallace
Starring: Diane Lane; John Malkovich; Margo Martindale; Dylan Walsh
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
There aren't a lot of movies that can make a seamless transition from your mom's crib to date night, but Secretariat is the invariably appropriate answer to, "What are we watching tonight?"
The race scenes are enough to keep your troublemaking cousin Travis entertained, and it's a verifiable fact that chicks dig horses.
80. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Ben Stiller; Christine Taylor; Vince Vaughn; Justin Long
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
When you really get down to it, theres nothing more entertaining than watching people get assaulted with errant playground balls.
On that intrinsic truth alone, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is worth seeing.
But mix in the seething tension between White Goodman and Peter LaFleur, as well as some brilliantly timed nut shots, and you have all the makings of a great comedy.
79. Above the Rim (1994)
78. Varsity Blues (1999)
Director: Brian Robbins
Starring: James Van Der Beek; Jon Voight; Paul Walker; Ron Lester
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
If you like your operatic football scenes paired with keg stands and heavy-handed preaching, then Varsity Blues is your Casablanca.
Bottom line: This is a movie about high school football, which means it's intrinsically entertaining.
As an added bonus, James Van Der Beek solidifies his place in '90s heartthrob lore with the derpiest, most brooding performance since Jason Priestley played Brandon Walsh in 90210.
77. The Blind Side (2009)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Quinton Aaron; Sandra Bullock; Tim McGraw; Ray McKinnon
Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
This film about future Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher (or is it about supermom Leigh Anne Tuohy?) is saccharine enough to get you sick. So, consult a doctor before viewing.
While some of the film's more sensitive and complicated themes seem to be—at best—trivialized, The Blind Side will play your Aunt Nancy's heartstring like an Italian symphony.
Whether it kills you with cheesiness or nourishes your soul, this film will make you feel something, which is more than can be said for most movie theater offerings.
76. Step into Liquid (2003)
Director: Dana Brown
Starring: Laird John Hamilton; Layne Beachley; Dan Malloy
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
As proven by The Endless Summer, surfing is to the sports documentary as Taco Bell is to eating while intoxicated, which is to say viscerally satisfying 100 percent of the time.
In this film, Dana Brown explores a handful of surfing subcultures, and—more importantly—showcases people carving enormous waves.
Step Into the Liquid is substantive and visually jarring. What more do you want?
75. Any Given Sunday (1999)
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Al Pacino; Dennis Quaid; Cameron Diaz; Jamie Foxx
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
Oliver Stone's ode to football is a digitized helmet-to-helmet hit that's nearly three hours in length.
In other words, Any Given Sunday will almost certainly cause permanent damage to your brain, but you'll be too atmospherically blissful to care.
Jamie Foxx is amusing in his role of an afterthought-turned-big shot, and Al Pacino is enjoyably intense, per usual.
74. D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
Director: Sam Weisman
Starring: Emilio Estevez; Kathryn Erbe; Michael Tucker; Joshua Jackson
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%
Like Tostino's Pizza Rolls and the Goosebumps series, D2: The Mighty Ducks is a childhood staple that you remember fondly.
Also like Tostino's Pizza Rolls and the Goosebumps series, this film is something that's exponentially less enjoyably once you're past the age of, say, nine.
73. Ali (2001)
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Will Smith; Jamie Foxx; Jon Voight; Mario Van Peebles
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
At nearly three hours in length, Ali will repeatedly challenge your ability to resist Instagram.
But, overall, it's an ambitious project, and The Greatest is a subject who deserves as much of your time as you can allot.
72. Goon (2011)
Director: Michael Dowse
Starring: Seann William Scott; Jay Baruchel; Alison Pill
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
If you've forfeited a significant amount of security deposit money by punching holes in the wall, then Goon is the comedy for you.
This film is very funny and perfectly suited for the crazed sensibilities of a hockey fan.
71. Happy Gilmore (1996)
Director: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler; Christopher McDonald; Julie Bowen; Carl Weathers
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
When comedy is melted down to its purest form, one is left with nut shots, expletive-laden temper tantrums and lowbrow sight gags.
By that standard, Happy Gilmore is a farcical triple threat.
Sandler is at his best when he's playing a hair-trigger jerk, and Happy is as unhinged on the golf course as Alec Baldwin is on a commercial flight.
70. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell; John C. Reilly; Sacha Baron Cohen
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Ricky Bobby is just as detestable as he is sympathetic, which is the mark of an inspired character study.
He embodies the rampant egotism of the 21st-century superstar while, simultaneously, championing all that is sacred in this world, like NASCAR, beautiful blondes and Domino’s Pizza.
If Talladega Nights doesn’t inspire you to chug a Budweiser and adopt a Bald Eagle, then I don’t have anything else to say to you, comrade.
69. Riding Giants (2004)
Director: Stacy Peralta
Starring: Laird John Hamilton; Darrick Doerner; Dave Kalama; Dru Harrison
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
This isn't the surfer-dude-bruh documentary that you're probably expecting.
Riding Giants traces the sport of surfing back to the legends, which turns out to be a wildly exhilarating history lesson.
68. Touching the Void (2003)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Simon Yates; Joe Simpson; Brendan Mackey
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
The only thing more harrowing than watching Touching the Void is actually climbing the north face of Everest in your underpants.
Enduring this exhibition in summit chasing is enough to give a man vertigo.
67. Girlfight (2000)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Michelle Rodriguez; Santiago Douglas; Jaime Tirelli; Paul Calderon
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Michelle Rodriguez is as badass a chick as there is in Hollywood.
And, her role as the battle-hardened Diana in Girlfight served as a launching pad for her film career.
This movie is celebrated in obscurity, and it's about time you discover what all the fuss is about.
66. Senna (2010)
Director: Asif Kapadia
Starring: Ayrton Senna; Alain Prost; Frank Williams; Ron Dennis
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Senna is a documentary about a Formula One racer, which means it's going to be a hard sell in a room full of people who are partial to Michael Bay films.
But, if you somehow win the room on Netflix night, you'll be treated to a riveting story about a man who redlined his way through life, both on the track and off of it.
65. Big Fan (2009)
Director: Robert D. Siegel
Starring: Patton Oswalt; Kevin Corrigan; Michael Rapaport; Marcia Jean Kurtz
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Professional sports provide fans (like us!) with the means to live vicariously through people who lead superior lives.
We receive a sense of self-worth from the success of other people, willfully pay $8 to drink a beer inside a taxpayer-funded stadium and displace our own personal shortcomings on a missed field goal.
And, worst of all, professional sports are so shamelessly sentimentalized that we, as fans, are rarely confronted with our own pathetic reality.
Big Fan draws attention to—as oxymoronic as it sounds—the sobering side of life in the bleachers.
It's as poignant and necessary a film as any on this list.
64. Seabiscuit (2003)
Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Tobey Maguire; Jeff Bridges; Elizabeth Banks; Paul Vincent O'Connor
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
The film's cast is incredible, and the horse-racing scenes alone are worth the On Demand purchase.
Set against The Great Depression, Seabiscuit tells a story of triumph during a time of despair.
63. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998)
62. Invincible (2006)
61. 42 (2013)
60. 61* (2001)
59. Victory (1981)
58. Brian's Song (1971)
57. Rocky II (1979)
56. Tin Cup (1996)
55. Kingpin (1996)
Director: The Farrelly Brothers
Starring: Woody Harrelson; Randy Quaid; Bill Murray; Vanessa Angel
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
Kingpin is more than an underrated sports movie—it's the most slept-on comedy of the last quarter century.
Even if you watch this movie alone, you will laugh audibly two dozen times.
Care for another objectively correct (but widely unaccepted) statement?
Ishmael and Roy Munson are a more harmonious on-screen duo than Sam and Frodo.
54. Love & Basketball (2000)
53. Invictus (2009)
52. The Hurricane (1999)
51. The Rookie (2002)
50. Cinderella Man (2005)
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Russell Crowe; Renée Zellweger; Craig Bierko; Paul Giamatti
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
This film moves about as quickly as your grandmother making a left-hand turn in a '90 Mercury Grand Marquis.
That said, the film's sum is greater than its parts. So, if you stick with it until the end, you're left with an uplifting and powerful narrative.
Ron Howard depicts 1930's New York beautifully, and Russell Crowe is a convincing hero.
49. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
48. Undefeated (2012)
47. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
46. Tyson (2008)
45. Sugar (2008)
44. Heaven Can Wait (1978)
43. Remember the Titans (2000)
42. A League of Their Own (1992)
41. Beyond the Mat (1999)
40. The Longest Yard (1974)
39. Warrior (2011)
38. Pumping Iron (1977)
37. Cool Runnings (1993)
36. He Got Game (1998)
35. Rudy (1993)
34. North Dallas Forty (1979)
33. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
32. The Natural (1984)
31. Jerry Maguire (1996)
30. Miracle (2004)
29. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
28. Rush (2013)
27. White Men Can't Jump (1992)
26. The Bad News Bears (1976)
25. Friday Night Lights (2004)
24. Chariots of Fire (1981)
23. The Damned United (2009)
22. Moneyball (2011)
21. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
20. Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns (1994)
19. Slap Shot (1977)
18. The Sandlot (1993)
17. Caddyshack (1980)
16. The Wrestler (2008)
15. Major League (1989)
Director: David Ward
Starring: Tom Berenger; Charlie Sheen; Corbin Bernsen; Margaret Whitton
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Baseball is a sport in which grown men scratch themselves incessantly and spit in the dirt for three hours.
It's a game for dirtbags, complete with mouthfuls of chewing tobacco and the occasional bench-clearing brawl.
Films like Field of Dreams and For Love of the Game romanticize the sport of goons, but Major League represents the reality of locker room hijinks in all its glory.
14. The Karate Kid (1984)
Director: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Ralph Macchio; Pat Morita; Elisabeth Shue; Martin Kove
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Teen movies peaked during the '80s, and—with all due respect to John Hughes—this film is right up there at the top.
In the age of bold mustaches and Hollywood Hogan, The Karate Kid was a beacon of hope for pint-sized kids who were repeatedly coerced into handing over their lunch money.
This movie delivered a roundhouse kick to society's face when the little guy needed a win most.
13. Breaking Away (1979)
12. The Color of Money (1986)
11. The Fighter (2010)
10. When We Were Kings (1996)
9. Field of Dreams (1989)
8. Hoosiers (1986)
Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Gene Hackman; Barbara Hershey; Dennis Hopper; Sheb Wooley
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Hoosiers is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of sports movies, which is to say remarkably simple and unequivocally perfect.
From its rural Indiana setting to the obligatory last-second shot, the film doesn't do anything you haven't seen before—it just does it better.
And, Gene Hackman is absolutely brilliant in his role as the unsung high school basketball coach with a hair-trigger temper.
7. Bull Durham (1988)
Director: Ron Shelton
Cast: Kevin Costner; Susan Sarandon; Tim Robbins; Trey Wilson
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Crash Davis is a washed-up minor league baseball player whose life mission has been reduced to mentoring a talented-but-unhinged pitching prospect.
There's nothing glamorous about his role, but Davis—alongside Annie Savoy—reveals himself to be an infinitely quotable and sage adviser.
Bull Durham is a great movie because it reminds us that life can take us in unexpected directions and end up pretty awesome.
6. Murderball (2005)
5. Eight Men Out (1988)
4. The Hustler (1961)
3. Rocky (1976)
2. Hoop Dreams (1994)
1. Raging Bull (1980)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert DeNiro; Cathy Moriarty; Joe Pesci; Frank Vincent
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Martin Scorsese's visually stunning portrayal of middleweight boxer Jake La Motta is gritty, savage and brilliantly perverse.
Much like seeing a bloodied prizefighter on the ropes, it's as hard to watch as it is to look away.
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