20 Best Sports Movies Of All Time

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Sports movies have a unique ability to inspire and motivate us. Whether it’s tales of underdog teams beating the odds, athletes overcoming adversity, or bitter rivals pushing each other to new heights, these films showcase the raw power of sports to profoundly impact lives.

With so many great sports movies to choose from, narrowing it down to the 20 best of all time was no easy task. To create this definitive list, we evaluated films on criteria including critical acclaim, cultural impact, entertainment value, and how well they captured the essence of sports.

The resulting list spans decades and represents both fiction and non-fiction stories from around the globe. There are shocking documentaries, hilarious comedies, gripping dramas, and everything in between. So lace up your sneakers and get ready for the 20 best sports movies ever made.

20. The Big Blue (1988)

Luc Besson’s fictional story of two rival free divers is visually stunning and an interesting character study of obsession and competition. It follows Jacques Mayol (Jean-Marc Barr) and Enzo Molinari (Jean Reno) as they break world records in the dangerous sport of no limits free diving.

While a dramatized version of real events, The Big Blue captures the allure and danger of pushing the human body to its limits. The gorgeous underwater scenes transport the viewer, while the rivalry between Mayol and Molinari keeps the stakes high.

19. Meru (2015)

This documentary profiles three elite climbers and their ill-fated attempts to be the first to ascend the treacherous Shark’s Fin route of the Meru Peak in the Indian Himalayas.

Not only does Meru showcase cutting-edge climbing, it also reveals the personal obstacles each climber must transcend. The footage of nature’s majesty and the human struggle to overcome is visually breathtaking.

20 Best Sports Movies Of All Time

18. Pelé (2021)

There could be no discussion of the greatest sports movies without mentioning Pelé, Brazil’s most legendary soccer player. This Netflix documentary charts Pelé’s rise from poverty to become the only player to win three World Cups.

Using amazing archival footage and interviews, Pelé intimately profiles this national hero and socially-conscious athlete. It offers a window into the man, his country, and their shared love for “the beautiful game.”

17. The Karate Kid (1984)

Despite being over 35 years old, The Karate Kid remains one of the most inspirational underdog sports movies ever made. The film follows Daniel LaRusso, who moves to a new high school where he runs afoul of bullies from the vicious Cobra Kai dojo.

When Daniel begins training with enigmatic mentor Mr. Miyagi, iconic moments are born as Daniel readies for a climactic karate tournament against his tormenters. Though predictable, the story still invests viewers in Daniel’s journey thanks to strong writing, acting, and themes of courage and self-confidence.

16. The Damned United (2009)

A must-see for soccer fans, this dramatized depiction of a turbulent period for Leeds United has stellar performances from Michael Sheen as brash manager Brian Clough and Timothy Spall as his assistant and foil, Peter Taylor.

With razor sharp dialogue and fully realized characters, The Damned United explores ambition, loyalty, and redemption against the backdrop of professional sports. Though Clough’s epic rise and fall is exaggerated for effect, the film distills all the best elements of a sports biopic.

15. Hoop Dreams (1994)

The critically acclaimed documentary Hoop Dreams follows two talented African American teens with hopes of a career in basketball over their entire high school career. As their family situations worsen, the film evolves into a deeper examination of race, class, and education in America.

20 Best Sports Movies Of All Time

With incredible access and years of footage, we intimately get to know Arthur Agee and William Gates on their quest for success in both sports and life. Raw and honest, Hoop Dreams reminds us of how much athletic achievement is tied to a supportive community.

14. I Am Bolt (2016)

Few modern athletes reached the pure dominance of Usain Bolt in track & field. This documentary grants behind-the-scenes access to the charismatic Bolt at the peak of his powers as he trains to cement his legend at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

We see the hard work behind Bolt’s playful persona, while reminders of his roots in rural Jamaica add effective context about the culture that shaped this singular talent. Though hagiographic at times, the rare glimpses of Bolt’s life compensate to create an insightful profile.

13. Senna (2010)

Similar to Pele in Brazil, Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna was a national treasure and hero to Brazilians. Senna
constructs this charismatic driver’s story strictly from archival footage, creating a gripping narrative about his quest for greatness in the dangerous world of F1 racing.

The film’s 180 minutes fly by as we gain incredible insight into Senna’s own mind through old interviews and thrilling racing sequences. Free from talking head interviews or narration, Senna
plays out vividly like a drama except it all really happened.

12. King Richard (2021)

The unbelievable true story of Richard Williams and his daughters Venus and Serena was perfectly adapted into this crowd-pleasing drama. With Will Smith delivering career-defining work as Richard, King Richard presents the extreme efforts and vision that produced two of the greatest tennis players ever.

But more than just an underdog sports story, the film explores themes of family, race, privilege, and the American dream. Uplifting while still grounded, King Richard earned its widespread acclaim and place among the best sports biopics.

20 Best Sports Movies Of All Time

11. I, Tonya (2017)

Margot Robbie disappears into the role of infamous figure skater Tonya Harding in this mockumentary-style dramedy. While a character study more than just a skating film, I, Tonya still delivers several exhilarating skating sequences.

Director Craig Gillespie adeptly toggles between absurd comedy and gut-wrenching drama as we relive Harding’s meteoric rise and disgraceful fall from grace. Robbie’s committed performance drives this wholly unique take on the typical sports biopic.

10. Murderball (2005)

This documentary introduces viewers to the extremely competitive world of quad rugby aka “murderball.” We follow the rivalry between the Canadian and American teams leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games.

Murderball
movingly presents the uplifting stories and camaraderie of these tough athletes. The film breaks down misconceptions and asks us to rethink our preconceptions about individuals with disabilities through these displays of courage and strength.

9. Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese’s gritty masterpiece fictionalizes the life of former boxing champion Jake LaMotta, played with ferocious intensity by Robert De Niro in his prime. Though troubled and disturbing, Raging Bull stands tall as an unflinching exploration of toxic masculinity and jealousy.

Through stunning black & white photography and immersive sound design, Scorsese puts the audience directly into the violent boxing matches and chaotic mind state of LaMotta. An uncompromisingly brutal sports film that doubles as a psychological character portrait for the ages.

8. Rocky (1976)

The definitive underdog boxing story, Rocky
is also one of the most uplifting and crowd-pleasing sports movies ever made. Sylvester Stallone achieved immortality as Rocky Balboa, an unassuming club fighter who gets an improbable shot at a title fight with the intimidating champion Apollo Creed.

Full of iconic training montages and perfectly executed fight scenes, Rocky nails the archetypal sports plot of an underestimated nobody defying expectations. We watch Rocky slowly build his confidence in equal measure to his burgeoning physical power. A true stand up and cheer movie.

7. Space Jam (1996)

The highest grossing basketball film of all time might seem like an oddball choice on this list, but the cultural significance of Space Jam can’t be ignored. This wacky live action/animation hybrid features Michael Jordan teaming up with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes for an intergalactic basketball showdown.

Aside from Jordan himself, the animation and sheer imagination of Space Jam are the real stars. This movie shaped countless young viewers’ passion for basketball in the ‘90s. And with LeBron James now starring in his own sequel, this franchise keeps evolving with the times.

6. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Hilary Swank’s gut-wrenching performance as an underdog female boxer carries this nuanced Clint Eastwood film about dreams, class, and self-determination. Both an inspiring sports story and melancholic character study, Million Dollar Baby earned its Best Picture Oscar.

As crusty gym owner Frankie Dunn, Eastwood provides grizzled gravitas to complement Swank’s gusto. The film treats viewers to some great boxing sequences, but also subverts expectations with its refusal to offer easy answers to life’s hardest questions. Prepare to feel as punched in the gut as any fighter by the emotionally devastating finale.

5. Tyson (2008)

There may be no more infamous or polarizing boxing icon than Mike Tyson, who granted director James Toback full access for this unflinching documentary. Simply titled Tyson, the film allows its controversial subject to recount his life story in his own words.

We hear Tyson honestly discuss the good, the bad, and the unthinkable from his legendary career and time in the spotlight. Toback wisely realizes Tyson alone is enough without additional flourishes. The result is a singular portrait of a deeply flawed sports titan who simmered with uncontrollable emotions and intensity.

4. Over the Limit (2017)

Margarita Mamun’s sacrifices to become an Olympic champion rhythmic gymnast form the core of this intimate documentary. With incredible behind-the-scenes footage, Over the Limit follows the Russian athlete across international competitions, exhausting practices, and her battle with an eating disorder.

Director Marta Prus grounds Mamun’s quest by contrasting it with her coach’s harsh training philosophies and the national Russian team’s draconian athletic bureaucracy. Uncomfortable yet inspiring, these perspectives compel us to ponder if these extreme demands on athletes do more harm than good.

3. Touching the Void (2003)

The fact that Touching the Void
depicts real events makes this story about perseverance all the more astounding. We follow climber Joe Simpson as he attempts to scale a Peruvian mountain before suffering a horrific broken leg. Presumed dead, he still manages an improbable struggle just to live.

The documentary mixes interviews with the actual people alongside dramatizations of the terrifying ordeal. While a chilled portrayal of survival against impossible odds, Touching the Void’s
unbelievable plot plays as harrowingly as any thriller.

2. The Hustler (1961)

Before the famous sequel The Color of Money, Paul Newman commanded the screen as complex pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson in this gritty drama. Eddie’s obsessive desire to beat legendary player Minnesota Fats leads to risky gambles and tests of ego.

20 Best Sports Movies Of All Time

With flawless cinematography capturing the tense pool hall atmosphere, The Hustler examines winning vs. success and the dangers of unchecked ambition. Supported by Piper Laurie as Eddie’s crippled love interest and George C. Scott as his cunning manager, Newman creates a tragic antihero that sticks in one’s mind.

1. Chariots of Fire (1981)

As the Academy Award winner for Best Picture, no other film captures the sheer euphoria of athletic competition like 1981’s Chariots of Fire. From iconic composer Vangelis’s opening piano riff to the iconic slo-mo beach running, the film celebrates the inspirational power of sports.

The based-on-a-true-story plot sees two British track stars, a devout Christian (Ian Charleson) and Jewish son of an immigrant (Ben Cross) competing in the 1924 Paris Olympics. But Chariots
remains timeless for honoring those who run for the simple glory of it rather than just to win. Both sentimental and gracefully exciting, this is the standard bearer for all sports films.

Frequently Asked Questions

What baseball movie made the most money?

The highest grossing baseball film ever is 1992’s A League of Their Own. The fictional story about the real women’s professional baseball league during World War II earned over $132 million dollars.

What movies inspire athletes the most?

It’s hard to narrow down any single most inspirational sports film. But movies like Rocky, Chariots of Fire, Hoosiers, and more remind athletes that hard work, perseverance, and passion matter more than talent alone. Their uplifting messages about believing in one’s self resonate across sports.

What defines a sports drama film?

Sports dramas are films mainly focused on an athlete or team trying to overcome long odds to achieve greatness. They emphasize the struggles, failures, triumphs, and emotional journeys of sports pursuits. These movies use the compelling setting of sports as an entry to explore relationships, motivation, competition, and more.

20 Best Sports Movies Of All Time

So there you have it – the definitive ranking of the 20 greatest sports movies ever made. From shocking documentaries to poignant human dramas, all these films perfectly encapsulate why sports thrill us and touch our lives so profoundly. Let us know your picks for the best sports movies!

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