The One Must-See Movie for Every Major American Sport

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2016

The One Must-See Movie for Every Major American Sport

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    CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/Associated Press

    Field of Dreams is the quintessential baseball movie, is it not?

    There are a million "best sports movie" lists out there. This is not that. No, this is a subjective listing of the most relevant films for every major American sport (and, where applicable, their youth/amateur circuits).

    These are the movies that, if you haven't seen them, your friends will make fun of you. Like people who still haven't seen Game of Thrones, they will shame you and make you feel like some type of non-member of society who clearly doesn't own a television.

    In a hypothetical land where you had never watched a single sports movie and you can only watch one for each major American sports category, watch these first—if only for the pop culture references.

    This is not a comprehensive list of all the movies for each sport, but don't worry; each will receive some honorable mentions.

    And yet, there can only be one quintessential movie for each sport. It's not necessarily the best, but it is the one film whose absence in your memory bank would produce the most shock and awe among your sports fan compatriots.

    Rocky vs. Raging Bull. This should be good.


    Yo Adrian! What’s the most memorable line from your favorite sports movie? From Rocky to The GodfatherCaddyshack and more, the stories behind the movies you love are coming to CNN! The new CNN original series The Movies, from the people who brought you The Seventies and The Eighties, starts Sunday, July 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT only on CNN.

Honorable Mentions

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The following films don't represent major American sports, but they are still pop culture classics:


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    ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

    So, here's some knowledge for you. Will Ferrell's Kicking & Screaming is the highest-grossing soccer movie of all time, raking in over $52 million, according to Box Office Mojo. She's the Man, starring Amanda Bynes, is second (really), and Bend It Like Beckham is third.

    Bend It Like Beckham is a long way from the best soccer movie ever, but it's probably one of the more recognizable titles in the United States. It is named after (and features a cameo from) uber-celeb David Beckham, after all.

    Must-See: Bend It Like Beckham

    For pop culture relevance, see Bend It Like Beckham. For entertaining soccer movies, see these:


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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    In late March, Bill Murray's son revealed he had never seen Caddyshack, which was stunning on so many levels. Isn't Caddyshack the quintessential golf movie? Perhaps more importantly: Come on, man, that's your dad!

    Sure, there is Tin Cup, starring sports movie specialist Kevin Costner. And there is Happy Gilmore, one of Adam Sandler's best films (also starring Carl Weathers, who also played Apollo Creed).

    And yet, it still seems nothing can top Caddyshack. Three comedy legends are in this movie: Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. Great lines like, "Thank you very little," and, "You'll get nothing and like it," actually seeped their way into general vernacular. 

    The sequel was a disappointment, but the original is a classic.

    Must-See: Caddyshack

    Bottom line: Luke Murray needs to see Caddyshack, but Tin Cup and Happy Gilmore are up there too.

Youth Sports

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    Eric Charbonneau/Associated Press

    Making youth sports its own category is cheating a little bit, but it's too hard to stomach leaving out The Sandlot or The Mighty Ducks.

    The Sandlot is a charming, enduring classic about, well, sandlot baseball. It produced such epic quotes as, "You're killin' me, Smalls," and, "Heroes get remembered, but legends never die." It's so enduring, in fact, that the sports world saw fit to celebrate its 20-year anniversary with a cast reunion.

    Really, the choice between the two might come down to sport allegiances, because The Mighty Ducks (especially the original) has all that same pop culturey goodness. A real NHL team is named after the movie, the Edmonton Oilers have actually performed the "Flying V" and coach Gordon Bombay tweets about hockey like it's 1992.

    Must-See: The Sandlot

    The Sandlot wins in a tight one (basically a coin toss), but if you haven't seen The Mighty Ducks, you haven't lived. Also check out these other youth sports gems:

Amateur Basketball

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    Tom Strickland/Associated Press

    Hoosiers is probably the first movie that comes to mind in terms of the quintessential high school basketball film. It's generally beloved, but then again, not by everyone.

    Rodger Sherman of SB Nation wrote: "Hoosiers is a boring, racist movie about an abusive coach teaching us that the best way to succeed is to have a talented person show up and help you. It is a bad movie." Bold, but not unfair.

    On the other hand, let's talk about how solid Hoop Dreams and He Got Game were. The former is an excellent documentary following two inner-city high school players as they dream of playing pro ball. Spike Lee directed He Got Game, the story of a touted recruit starring Denzel Washington and former NBA star Ray Allen.

    And yet, if you put it to the "What movie would my friends be most shocked I hadn't seen?" test, Hoosiers takes the cake. Given it's based on a true story and set in Indiana, the basketball capital of America, it's not going to be topped.

    Must-See: Hoosiers

    See Hoosiers so you can form your own opinion on its merits, but seriously, check out these other great movies about high school and college basketball:

Pro Basketball

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    Marty Lederhandler/Associated Press

    Gotta be Space Jam right? It's a little ridiculous to give this one to a movie starring Bugs Bunny, but then again, Space Jam is a true classic. It's also the highest grossing basketball film of all time, according to Box Office Mojo, bringing in over $90 million lifetime.

    It also stars the great Michael Jordan and features appearances from NBA legends the likes of Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Larry Bird. Rumors of a sequel starring LeBron James have even brought the 1995 classic back to current relevance.  

    Also, there's not a lot of competition on the professional basketball side. There's a little WNBA action in Love & Basketball, and Will Ferrell is his typical goofball self in Semi-Pro, but there's no beating a basketball movie starring the GOAT.

    Must-See: Space Jam

    Honorable mention to White Men Can't Jump, which is neither high school, college nor pro. Really, it is sort of in its own category about street ball hustlers, but the cinematic chemistry between Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson makes it well worth a watch.


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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    Since The Mighty Ducks franchise goes under the "youth sports" category, there are really only two solid choices for most relevant hockey movie: Miracle and Slap Shot.

    Miracle tells the story of the iconic U.S. Olympic hockey team of 1980. Its subject matter alone is enough to make the film better than average, but luckily the filmmakers also did the story justice.

    Paul Newman starred as a player-coach in Slap Shot, a comedy about a struggling minor league team that uses rough-and-tumble play to entertain fans. Newman was sort of an early (and better) Dennis Quaid—that is, he was in a lot of great sports movies, from boxing flick Somebody Up There Likes Me to The Hustler, the pool version of White Man Can't Jump.

    Slap Shot is hilarious and certainly up there with the best hockey movies ever, but perhaps it's a little old to beat out Miracle for most culturally relevant.

    Goon, starring Seann William Scott (aka Stifler in American Pie) as a minor league hockey enforcer, is also a bit of a new cult classic.

    Must-See: Miracle

    See Miracle for the Herb Brooks locker room speech and also just to get all the feels. But for real, see Slap Shot too. You won't regret it.

High School Football

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    Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

    High school football is its own cultural phenomenon in America, and there are certainly enough movies to represent that.

    There are several excellent based-on-a-true-story tales, including the story of a newly integrated football team in Remember the Titans, a real-life representation of the archetypal Texas team in Friday Night Lights and the story of NFL lineman Michael Oher's journey in The Blind Side.

    Did you know The Blind Side is the highest grossing sports movie ever? Not just football, but all sports, bringing in over $300 million worldwide, according to Dave Bath of The Richest.

    Really though, doesn't Varsity Blues just scream "pop culture?" The late Paul Walker nailed his role as the injured superstar quarterback. The 1990s tween legend Dawson Leery (aka James Van Der Beek) played next man up "Mox." Throw in Jon Voight as one of the most hated fictional coaches of all time and Ali Larter's whipped cream bikini, and it was all pure magic.  

    As for Friday Night Lights—it was a quality book and a decent movie, but the film version can't take the cake here since the television show was so much better than both.

    Must-See: Varsity Blues

    Varsity Blues is the source of many a pop culture reference, but these films are also required reading for high school football fans:

    • Remember the Titans
    • Friday Night Lights
    • The Blind Side
    • Undefeated

Pro Football

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    MARK J. TERRILL/Associated Press

    North Dallas Forty came out in 1979, a fictional account of professional football loosely based on the experiences of Peter Gent, former wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys. Jack Moore of Vice Sports wrote that when it came out, the film "was hailed by some reviewers as the most incisive satire of football ever produced."

    So, North Dallas Forty is culturally significant, but perhaps not so much currently. Your friends probably won't chide you at parties if you haven't seen it.

    Any Given Sunday, starring Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx, is more likely to incite that reaction from fans nowadays. That movie also has sports movie star extraordinaire Dennis Quaid and LL Cool J. Classic.  

    Mark Wahlberg's Invincible was decent but forgettable, and The Replacements was classic but in a bad way. Burt Reynolds' 1974 film about prison football, The Longest Yard, was relevant enough to get a remake in 2005.

    Really, the only rival to Any Given Sunday in terms of notoriety is Brian's Song, the true and emotional story about a friendship between Chicago Bears teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. That one will tug on your heartstrings.

    Must-See: Any Given Sunday

    Check out Any Given Sunday for the stellar cast, jarring football scenes and that famous Pacino locker room speech, but don't miss out on these, either: 

    • Brian's Song
    • North Dallas Forty
    • The Longest Yard

College Football

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Yes, football is getting three categories because there are just that many football movies.

    In the college category, there's really no other logical choice but Rudy. This one has it all—rags to riches, underdog grit, the storied football program at Notre Dame and (obviously) a young Vince Vaughn cameo. Above all, if you are a sports fan who hasn't seen it, your friends will most likely harass you when they find out.

    Still, don't sleep on We Are Marshall, a movie with emotional subject matter and one of the first films to indicate Matthew McConaughey might actually be on the road out of Rom-Com Town.

    Necessary Roughness was an underrated gem as well. Kathy Ireland kicking footballs? That's cinematic gold.

    Must-See: Rudy

    No one is topping Rudy here, but the following are worth a watch as well:


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    RUSTY KENNEDY/Associated Press

    Boxing isn't what it used to be in the American sports landscape, but it has been the subject of many great sports movies.

    Robert DeNiro's performance as real-life boxer Jake LaMotta in the iconic Raging Bull won him an Oscar. Million Dollar Baby was an absolute masterpiece, taking home four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (Clint Eastwood) and Best Actress (Hilary Swank).

    And yet, if there is one boxing movie (or in this case, series of movies), most relevant to American pop culture, it has to be Rocky.

    From the iconic training scenes to memorable quotes ("Yo, Adrian!"), even non-sports folks recognize the series' most memorable moments. If you haven't seen the Rocky movies, first, that's impressive. Second, not to worrySpike TV should (probably) be airing a marathon soon.

    In July 2015, Beatrice Verhoeven of The Wrap reported Rocky IV was the highest grossing boxing movie of all time, taking in $125.5 million domestically. Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III and even Rocky Balboa were also on the top-10 list.  

    Must-See: Rocky series

    See the Rocky series (sans Rocky V) so you can feel like a true American, but see these too if you just like good movies:


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    CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/Associated Press

    This is a tough one—tougher than boxing even. Quality baseball movies are abundant, luckily for those who adore America's pastime. To choose just one as the most culturally relevant is a tall task indeed.

    That said, the winner probably has to have baseball movie king Kevin Costner in it, right? The man has starred in three great baseball films: Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and For Love of the Game.

    Of course, there have been other gems. A League of Their Own immediately comes to mind. Tom Hanks' "There's no crying in baseball" is an oft-repeated phrase relevant to a startling amount of situations.

    Of course, the same can be said for, "If you build it, he will come."

    In 2013, Newsday listed A League of Their Own as the top-grossing baseball movie of all time. Field of Dreams came in at No. 5 after The Rookie42 and Moneyball (all also good). And yet, perhaps no other movie captures the spirit of baseball as well as Costner's 1989 classic.

    Must-See: Field of Dreams

    See Field of Dreams for a highly concentrated dose of baseball nostalgia and the soothing sounds of James Earl Jones' voice, but don't forget about these in your spare time:


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