The 20 Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time

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Sports movies have a special place in cinema. They capture the drama, passion, and inspiration that happens in arenas around the world. The stories showcase triumph in the face of adversity, the thrill of competition, and the bonds formed between teammates.

In compiling our list of the 20 best sports movies, we looked at films that embodied the spirit of sports. They feature compelling characters and storylines that resonate with viewers. Many explore larger themes related to determination, teamwork, growth, redemption, and more.

How We Ranked the Best Sports Movies

In determining the 20 greatest sports movies, we used the following ranking criteria:

●   Critical Acclaim: Highly rated by critics and reviewers.

●   Impact: Influential movies that shaped the sports genre.

●   Rewatch Value: Entertaining films that viewers want to experience over and over.

●   Inspirational Story: Uplifting narratives about overcoming challenges.

●   Cultural Relevance:
Movies that captured the spirit of their time.

Using these metrics, we single out the most outstanding sports movies that continue to inspire, move, and excite audiences.

20 Great Sports Movies

Here are the 20 movies that cut the best sports films of all time:

20. The Big Blue (1988)

This fictional story brings dramatic flair to the dangerous world of free diving competitions. It follows two friends and rivals, Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca, as they push themselves to the limits pursuing deeper and deeper dives. While not 100% realistic, the movie plunges viewers into the mental and physical challenges of the sport in a gripping way.

19. Meru (2015)

Meru documents three climbers’ attempts to complete the treacherous Shark’s Fin route on the Indian Himalayas’ Meru Peak. Capturing both their 2008 failed summit as well as their ultimate 2011 success, this edge-of-your-seat film provides an intimate look into the mind of elite climbers pushing themselves to the extremes.

The 20 Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time

18. Pelé (2021)

There may be no bigger sports icon in Brazil—or the world—than soccer legend Pelé. This documentary charts his rise from childhood poverty to become the only player ever to win three World Cups. It celebrates an athlete who brought pride and hope to Brazil during a difficult political period.

17. The Karate Kid (1984)

This classic underdog story sees a bullied teenager learn karate from his building’s handyman, Mr. Miyagi, to compete against his tormentors. It became a pop culture sensation, inspiring kids everywhere to start taking karate lessons and delivering the iconic line “wax on, wax off.”

16. The Damned United (2009)

Soccer manager Brian Clough’s disastrous 44-day tenure leading the Leeds United club gets dramatized in this film. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at the egos and tension between players and coaches in professional sports.

15. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Far more than just a basketball film, this documentary examines issues of race, economic opportunity, competition, family, and more. It intimately follows two talented teens striving to make the NBA, depicting their immense struggles along the way.

14. I Am Bolt (2016)

The fastest man alive gets the documentary treatment with this film exploring the life and career of eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt. It provides unprecedented access to the Jamaican sprinter as he trains for the 2016 Olympics and recovers from injury.

13. Senna (2010)

Brazilian racecar driver Ayrton Senna endures as a national treasure thanks to his skill behind the wheel that yielded three Formula One championships. Senna reflects on his career using archival footage and interviews to showcase one of racing’s lost talents.

The 20 Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time

12. King Richard (2021)

The rise of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams gets depicted through the perspective of their father, Richard Williams. His vision and unconventional coaching tactics guided them from a young age to change the sport forever.

Additional Notable Sports Movies

Movie

Year

Genre

Rocky

1976

Boxing Drama

Raging Bull

1980

Boxing Drama

Space Jam

1996

Live Action/Animation

Million Dollar Baby

2004

Boxing Drama

Ford v Ferrari

2019

Auto Racing Drama

11. I, Tonya (2017)

Margot Robbie dazzles as infamous figure skater Tonya Harding in this sports black comedy based around Harding’s connection to an attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. It amusingly plays with the discrepancies around the events to pose thought-provoking questions around truth, scandal and public perception.

10. Murderball (2005)

This documentary profiles the fierce rivalry between the US and Canadian wheelchair rugby teams leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games. It spotlights a little-known but full contact sport while showcasing the athletes’ competitive spirit and resilience navigating everyday life.

09. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro turns in a career-defining performance as real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, whose violence-fueled temper and jealousy causes his downfall, both personally and professionally. The gritty black-and-white film stands as one of cinema’s all-time masterpieces.

08. Rocky (1976)

An Academy Award winner for Best Picture, this ultra-inspiring underdog story launched Sylvester Stallone’s career and spawned a lengthy, beloved franchise. It memorably chronicles working class boxer Rocky Balboa getting his million-to-one shot against the heavyweight champ.

The 20 Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time

07. Space Jam (1996)

Basketball icon Michael Jordan teams up with Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Toons for this live action/animated mashup. Jordan must help the cartoon characters triumph in a high-stakes game against alien kidnappers threatening to enslave them at an amusement park. It delivered feel-good family fun with MJ charm.

06. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Clint Eastwood directed and starred in this gritty drama about an aging boxing trainer reluctantly taking on an underdog female boxer. After serious injuries in the ring cut her career short, deeper bonds emerge in the face of hard questions about life and death.

05. Tyson (2008)

With unparalleled access to its controversial subject, Tyson examines the meteoric career and fall from grace for one of boxing’s most fearsome and fascinating figures, Mike Tyson. Interviews with Tyson himself combined with archival footage provides new dimensions to the ups and downs of his life.

04. Over the Limit (2017)

This documentary offers a raw look at the extreme physical and emotional toll faced by young rhythmic gymnasts like Margarita Mamun as she trains relentlessly for the Olympics. It exposes the sometimes abusive measures that coaches use in pursuit of glory.

03. Touching the Void (2003)

Recounting a disastrous climb of the Peruvian Andes, this intense survival documentary dramatizes the broken leg, abandoned partner and seemingly impossible survival story of mountaineer Joe Simpson. The emotionally piercing depiction highlights the extreme mental fortitude required in the sport.

02. The Hustler (1961)

Paul Newman commands the screen as pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson who longs to defeat legend Minnesota Fats. His obsession leads to a high-stakes showdown but jeopardizes his relationships and soul along the way. The film remains an all-time classic for its rich characters, gritty atmosphere and sharp dialogue.

The 20 Greatest Sports Movies Of All Time

01. Chariots of Fire (1981)

This Best Picture winner chronicles two British track athletes preparing for the 1924 Olympics while overcoming prejudice and staying true to their principles. The film captures competition not for glory or fame, but for the pure love and joy of the running. Its inspiring message and iconic score cement its legacy.

Conclusion

The 20 movies on our list reveal the immense power of sports cinema to move, teach and thrill audiences. The greatest sports films contain compelling stories about underdogs defying odds, legends pushing limits, fighters battling society’s ills or competitors finding deeper meaning on the field.

From riveting documentaries to fictional dramas, comedies to tragedies, these movies distill what makes athletics such a vital part of the human experience. They remind us how sports can bring people together, provide hope in bleak times and show us triumphing even when confronted by profound adversity.

The classics here have and will continue to inspire viewers and influence filmmakers for years to come. So grab some popcorn and experience the magic for yourself. Just don’t be surprised if you walk away motivated to get out there and try something great.

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