Let's not kid ourselves, when we think of basketball films there is usually one title that comes to mind first: Hoosiers. This is because Hoosiers is arguably one of the best sports films ever made.
My original intention was to label Hoosiers as number ten on the list, solely because of it's meager 7.5 rating on IMDB (not to mention, it has less votes than The Hottie & The Nottie).
But I thought better of it. This list is for the hidden gems* that have gone unnoticed or have been forgotten. For basketball fans, many of the films on this list will be recognizable, but if you haven't seen them, watch them.
Without further ado, here is the the top ten most underrated basketball films of all-time.
*The term 'gems' may need to be redefined after this list...
Directed by: Kristopher Belman
Stars: LeBron James, Romeo Travis, Dru Joyce
IMDB Score: 7.4 (1310 votes)
Plot: "This documentary follows NBA superstar LeBron James and four of his talented teammates through the trials and tribulations of high school basketball in Ohio and James' journey to fame."
For the LeBron haters who never saw this (or just don't want to admit they watched it), More Than a Game is actually a really good documentary and definitely worth a watch.
I chose to put this at number ten because it actually has a reputable IMDB score, lessening its "underrated" value.
I feel like this is an important documentary to watch for both LeBron fans and haters. Especially "new," post "The Decision" haters. Through the film, we learn that LeBron needs a certain atmosphere in order to play.
He constantly has to be around people (as documented through his high-school experience), and always wants to be around friends. After watching this, LeBron choosing to go to Miami to play with one of his best friends in Dwyane Wade seems like a no-brainer.
Don't hate the guy for wanting to play with his friends. Don't hate him because he's not what you want him to be. He's just a laid back guy looking to win a few championships with his bros.
Directed by: Steve Rash
Stars: Whoopi Goldberg
IMDB Score: 4.7 (3,581 votes)
Plot: "Eddie is a New York limo driver and a fanatical follower of the New York Knicks professional basketball team. The team is struggling with a mediocre record when, in mid-season, "Wild Bill" Burgess, the new owner, as a public relations gimmick, stages an 'honorary coach' contest, which Eddie wins. The fans love it, so "Wild Bill" fires the coach and hires her. She takes the bunch of overpaid prima donnas that make up the team and turns them around. But the owner hopes to move the team, now the darling of the New York fans, to St. Louis. He may OWN the team, but it BELONGS to the city and the fans!"
Eddie is a film that could have easily gone unnoticed (possibly for good reason), but fourteen years later I still remember watching this film for the first time. This is my (new) definition of a hidden gem.
Is it illogical? Absolutely. Is the acting or dialogue very credible? No, not really. Is it a genuinely fun comedy that puts Greg Ostertag's acting career on the map? Yeah, kinda.
Also, Steve Rash directed Son In Law, quite possibly the finest Pauly Shore movie ever. If that's not incentive to watch Eddie, what is?
Directed by: Frank C. Schroder
Stars: Adam Guier/Tom Lester
IMDB Score: 7.1 (448 votes)
Plot: "Biography of pro basketball player "Pistol" Pete Maravich, who died suddenly in 1988 at age 40 from a heart attack."
Relatively unknown to most people (only 448 votes), this bio-drama of one of the greatest guards to ever play, and certainly the best passer to ever play, is one of the best basketball films I've ever seen.
Admittedly, the film starts out pretty slow, and the acting isn't overly great, either, but as the film develops, you become attached to Pete as both a youth (Adam Guier) and as an adult (Tom Lester).
The film actually showcases some really talented basketball moves/passes/tricks, akin to the actual Pistol. Adam Guier does a fantastic job portraying the young Pete Maravich.
You don't want to pass this one up...
Yeah. I hate me too.
Directed by: Rod Daniel
Stars: Michael J. Fox
IMDB Score: 5.5 (13,902 votes)
Plot: "A highschooler discovers that he is a werewolf."
First off, let me say that I am definitely aware of how cheesy this film is, how dated the dialogue is, and how ridiculous the concept is. Let me finish this by saying: Who. Cares.
All the "downfalls" of this film make it incredibly great. The concept of the film makes it hard to remember what it's actually all about: A teenage boy trying to fit in.
It's Michael J. Fox transforming into a wolf and playing basketball. Tell me what's not to like about that? Really. Try to.
Also, Teen Wolf has recently been made into a T.V. show. Granted, I haven't seen it, heard anything about it, or realized that it actually existed until five minutes ago, but that has to say something about the greatness of the original film, right?
Okay, maybe not.
Directed by: Ron Shelton*
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson
IMDB Score: 6.4 (23,392 votes)
Plot: "Black and white basketball hustlers join forces to double their chances."
White Men Can't Jump rounds out the latter half of my list for two reasons:
1) It's actually a really good film.
2) I think people are mostly aware that it's a really good film.
I would have put it in my top five, but because of the second aforementioned reason, the "underrated" value is lessened, much like Hoosiers or More Than a Game. It deserves more than a 6.4 rating.
The humor is spot-on in the film, as is Shelton's direction. The story flows with ease, and it's not just a basketball film. Underlying themes are (obviously) race, friendship, and trust.
And c'mon, who knew Woody Harrelson had such a nice jump shot?
*When Shelton made this, he already had Bull Durham under his belt. He's also directed Tin Cup and Play It To The Bone. AND he wrote the screenplays for Blue Chips and The Great White Hype. Is Shelton the best sports film writer/director of all-time?
Directed by: John Cherry
Stars: Jim Varney, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
IMDB Score: 4.3 (931 votes)
Plot: "Ernest P. Worrell becomes a basketball star after an angel bearing an uncanny resemblance to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gives him a pair of magic sneakers."
Yes, not only did an Ernest film make it into my top five, but a straight to DVD Ernest film* made it into my top five. I actually think this is a pretty fun film, and hardly anybody has seen it.
It's easily the best of the Ernest series, granted that's like saying it was the most heterosexual boy-band member, but still, it's fun. I mean, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stars as the "Archangel of Basketball." How did he earn that title, anyway?
Give it a try, but if you hate it, don't blame me, blame Ernest. Really, it's his fault for being so awful**.
*This probably isn't a fair statement, as I'm sure most, if not all, were straight to DVD. Poor Jim Varney.
**Except in this film! Hooray!
Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Stars: Buddy the Dog
IMDB Score: 4.6 (5,059 votes)
Plot: "A young boy and a talented stray dog with an amazing basketball playing ability become instant friends."
Okay, I know that this series was completely run into the ground with sequel after sequel, but that doesn't take away from the original being the most underrated Disney sports film ever.
Everybody loves The Mighty Ducks, Little Giants, Big Green, etc... Nobody says anything about Air Bud, Disney's only try at a kid's basketball film.
Sure, the plot and story are highly unbelievable, but watching a Golden Retriever play basketball with twelve year-olds always puts a smile on my face*.
Not to mention, how sad is this movie?! It pulls at the heart strings, for sure.
Air Bud forever!
*By always, I mean only during this film. I said that like I see dogs playing basketball with twelve year-olds everyday. My bad.
Directed by: Jeff Pollack
Stars: Duane Martin, Tupac Shakur, Marlon Wayans
IMDB Score: 6.1 (4,078 votes)
Plot: "Story of a promising high school basketball star and his relationships with his two brothers, one a drug dealer and the other a former basketball star fallen on hard times and now employed as a security guard."
For those of you who haven't seen this and are questioning the fact that a film starring Tupac Shakur made my top 3, stop it. It's really good.
When talking about basketball films, I'm really amazed at how few people actually know about this film, and for those that have heard about it have almost never seen it. It's definitely worth a watch, or in my case, multiple watches.
The story is moving, the basketball scenes in the movie are exciting, and it has a positive message. And Tupac really wasn't a bad actor by any means - pretty talented dude.
Directed by: Joe Pytka
Stars: Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Bill Murray
IMDB Score: 5.6 (33,648 votes)
Plot: "Michael Jordan agrees to help the Looney Toons play a basketball game vs. alien slavers to determine their freedom."
I'll admit it, growing up I was never a fan of Michael Jordan. He was too good. I felt like me rooting for Jordan would be like rooting for the Yankees. I just couldn't do it. But man, I loved Looney Tunes. Who didn't?
This movie made me respect Michael Jordan*, and it's safe to say that this is my favorite basketball film of all-time. Everybody I know loves this film, really.
Most would think that means that Space Jam isn't underrated at all, then; however, look at that IMDB score. 5.6... 5.6?! A travesty. This is easily the most entertaining basketball film ever made.
It has an all-star cast! Jordan, Murray, Wayne Knight. Tune Squad vs. MonSTARS. This would have been my number one most underrated, but I had to stop myself...
*I heard Jordan was an absolute pain to work with on the set of this film... Something along the lines of making the production crew set up a basketball court on set so he wouldn't be bored. Maybe that's why I never liked Jordan, I just inherently knew he was smug.
Directed by: Randall Miller
Stars: Marlon Wayans, Kadeem Hardison
IMDB Score: 5.1 (2,346 votes)
Plot: "Antoine and Kenny Tyler are NCAA college basketball players, and Antoine is the star. Suddenly Antoine dies of heart attack and Kenny has to fill his shoes as leader of team. Some time later, Antoine returns as a ghost and helps Kenny in game and in life, but Kenny changes in the process and doesn't quite like it."
This is why The 6th Man is my most underrated basketball film: Hardly anybody has seen it, it's legitimately a great/exciting/fun film, and it's got a lot of heart*.
I remember watching this movie almost every day when I was younger. Each time, I found something new to like about it. Your first watch is going to be emotional, no doubt. Miller doesn't go light in his directing when it comes to the death of Antoine, Wayans's brother in the film. It's pretty heart-wrenching.
The characters have depth, though, and that's what I like about this seemingly cheesy film. Wayans struggles through the death of his brother/leader/best friend, but when he comes back in spirit form to help the team win, Wayans would rather his brother just leave him alone forever.
With only a 5.1 rating on IMDB, The 6th Man is definitely worth a better score, and definitely worth a watch.
A and K all the way.
*Well, except for Antoine... Too cheap?