The Top 10 Sports Movies of All Time

Derek HartCorrespondent INovember 26, 2008

After many years as a sports fan, it's time for me to 'fess up.

Along with my enjoying sports as a fan, athlete, and youth coach, there is something else that I enjoy and have a passion for—films.

That's right, I am a movie buff. There, I said it.

Owning over 300 films on video, my tastes range form dramas, to comedies, to documentaries, to musicals, and (of course) to athletics.

Being so into films, I thought it would be appropriate to reveal my list of the top ten sports movies of all time.

These are flicks that have inspired and influenced me. They've made me cheer, cry, think, and have reminded me of why I like the sports world so.

So without further ado, in chronological order—I just couldn't choose a number one out of this bunch—here's my list, starting with the 1976 Academy Award winner for Best Picture...


ROCKY (1976)

The original of Sylvester Stallone's series about that eternal underdog club brawler from Philadelphia, it is also the best.

By far.

It was the fact that he was that "bum from the neighborhood" with no chance who went fifteen rounds with the all-powerful champ Apollo Creed—played by Carl Weathers—that was compelling and inspiring. Even though he lost, Rocky still won because he able to "...go the distance."

And the audiences absolutely loved it.

That trumpet fanfare and the scene where Rocky ran up those steps to "Gonna Fly Now" was exciting, too.

By the way, he wins the heavyweight title in the second Rocky, released in 1979. It should have ended there—all of those other Rockys were SO unnecessary.

Especially the ones with Mr.T and that big Russian guy.



Along with the Los Angeles Dodgers' appearance in the 1977 World Series, this film about those so-called little league ballplayers inspired me to get involved with baseball as a kid.

I remember playing ball in those days pretending to be Kelly Leak, that motorcycle riding delinquent who was an absolutely sweet stud with the bat.

I patterned my hitting style after that character, played by Jackie Earle Haley, and it worked quite well for me over the years.

That's why I felt so duped when Haley, in recent interviews, said that he couldn't hit and they had to throw the ball over the fence for his home runs.

How disillusioning!

This movie is also why I've always felt that girls were equal to boys, even as a youngster. Watching Tatum O' Neal blowing her fastballs by those batters will do that to a young boy.

To say that this flick had a big influence on me would be a huge understatement.


SLAP SHOT (1977)

The Mighty Ducks who?

Forget those ice skating Bad News Bears wannabes—Slap Shot is absolutely, positively, and unquestionably the greatest hockey movie ever made.

With its focus on hockey's bush leagues, without this film there wouldn't have been a Bull Durham. And that's the truth.

One word describes this classic—FUNNY.

Especially those Hanson brothers, the three greatest characters in sports movie history.

With them wanting to use their one phone call in jail to call the pizza man, starting brawls during pre-game warm-ups, and going into the stands a la Ron Artest in 2004, those three bespectacled guys were an absolute riot.

And Paul Newman as coach Reggie Dunlop wasn't bad either.



This classic about high school basketball in Indiana—which is king in that state—during the 1950s is quite possibly the number one hoops movie of all time.

Based on tiny Milan High School's epic state championship in 1954, not only does it give timeless lessons about perseverance and overcoming the odds, as that Hickory High squad did, redemption is also a significant theme in the form of Gene Hackman's coach Norman Dale, whom Hickory was his last chance stop.

I particularly remember a pre-game speech Hackman delivered in which he said that if the team gave its best effort, "...I don't care what it says on the scoreboard at the end of the game, in my book we're gonna be winners!"

Eloquently put. And an essential lesson for all coaches to teach their athletes.

My favorite scene was at the end of the championship game, when their stud star Jimmy Chitwood sank the winning shot from the top of the key, triggering absolute pandemonium.

If he weren't a fictional character, Chitwood—played by Maris Valentis—would have been one of the greatest high school basketball players ever.



Simply put, this is the quintessential baseball movie.

My mother once showed this film to a former player for the San Diego Padres that she dated. He said that it was a dead-on accurate portrayal of life in baseball's minor leagues.

Considering that the writer and director, Ron Shelton, was an ex-minor league player, this film should have dead-on accuracy.

As journeyman catcher and career minor leaguer Crash Davis, Kevin Costner gave a performance so poignant that not only did Tim Robbins' character, the dim-bulbed phenom Nuke LaLoosh, learn much about what it takes to get to the majors from Crash's mentoring, but we in the audience learned much about "The Show" too.

I certainly did.

And as longtime groupie Annie Savoy, Susan Sarandon was at her sexiest. Not only did she and Robbins' character hook up in the film, they hooked up in real life.

They are still together to this day.

Favorite line? When Costner describes life in "The Show" on the team bus, talking about how  " hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals...and the women all have long legs and brains."

Makes the big leagues that much more desirable, eh?



If you want to learn about the Black Sox Scandal during the 1919 World Series, this is the movie to see.

John Sayles' film about the eight Chicago White Sox players throwing the World Series for gamblers, based on Eliot Asinof's book, serves as a master historical lesson.

It describes in detail about how those Sox, which included the legendary "Shoeless" Joe Jackson but were led by the first baseman Chick Gandil, took a dive to spite their greedy, miserly, abusive, Scrooge-like cheapskate of an owner  Charles Comiskey.

One scene illustrated the reasons behind the fix almost perfectly...

It was early in the movie. The White Sox had just won the pennant and had arrived in their clubhouse to find a case of champagne waiting for them. When asked when Comiskey would pay the bonuses he promised, the assistant who brought the champagne said, "This is your bonus."

With the owner pulling stunts like that, no wonder that fix was set up.


RUDY (1993)

If you are not a fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Rudy will make you one. Or go a long way in doing so.

As you watch this film, you find yourself absolutely rooting for the diminutive football player without "...a speck of athletic ability," who hung in there with that traditional powerhouse for two years.

Sean Astin was perfect in his portrayal of "Rudy" Ruettiger, the steelworker who after much struggle and hardship following his dream to play for the Irish, finally got to see action in the last 30 seconds of the last game. In his last year.

When Astin sacked the opposing quarterback on his only pay and was carried off the field—the last Notre Dame player to be awarded that honor—a couple of tears formed in my eyes. And millions of other eyes to be sure.

It was that underdog mentality and ultimate triumph over adversity that made this a great football movie.

And with Notre Dame's fortunes being what it is lately, those Irish could sure use Rudy now.



This film about the epic "Rumble In The Jungle", the 1974 heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire (now Congo), is one of two documentaries on this list.

Like Eight Men Out, if you want to learn about thet Ali-Foreman brawl, see this movie.

Not only was Ali his usual funny, joking, jovial, rhyming self, the film also depicted his connection with the people of Zaire, his openness that led to them chanting, "Ali, Bombaye! (Ali, Kill Him!)".

By fight night, Foreman didn't stand a chance, even though he was heavily favored.

The rope-a-dope strategy Ali used to tire Foreman out was genius as well. Plus we even get to see people as diverse as B.B. King, James Brown, Miriam Makeba, and a young Don King, whom this was one of the first fights he promoted, if not the first.

Oh, and it won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Most deservedly so.



The other documentary on this list, this film about two inner city high school basketballers from Chicago trying to get college scholarships, make it into the NBA, and make it out of the "hood" was so riveting that it quickly became a classic.

William Gates and Arthur Agee. the young men featured, became instant heroes as they struggled to do whatever it took to make a better life for themselves and their families through basketball.

We see the two guys enroll in a suburban private school with a big time hoops program as ninth graders, and watch their struggles and triumphs over their four year prep careers.

Though neither Gates nor Agee ended up playing in the NBA (though they did get college scholarships), both young men turned out fine. By the movie's end you want to give them a standing ovation, as they both received at the movie's premiere.



Before this movie came out, I considered Rudy, Any Given Sunday, The Longest Yard, and Everybody's All-American the best gridiron flicks.

Friday Night Lights, based on H.G. Bissinger's book, surpasses them all.

Covering in detail the Panthers of Permian High School in Odessa, TX during their 1988 football season, this film illustrates the culture of Texas high school football in such a realistic and brutally honest way that you feel like you are right there on the field with the team.

And in the locker room.

And in the stands.

And even in the players' and coaches' homes.

The intensity of those Panthers, and what they went through in '88 to try and win a state championship, showed quite brightly from the college football-like atmosphere surrounding the games to the pressure of their head coach, played superbly by Billy Bob Thornton, to win and keep the town happy.

It's a fairly close call, but this is the best football film I have seen.


Well, there you have it—my list of the ten best sports films.

I know full well that some of you will vehemently disagree with me on my choices here.

I know my case will be jumped on for leaving out such fare as Raging Bull, Brian's Song, and Field Of Dreams, a favorite of many. Not to mention those 1940s smashes Knute Rockne, All American with our former president Ronald Reagan, or that ode to Lou Gehrig, Pride Of The Yankees.

And you know something? I wouldn't have it any other way.

Let the debating begin!