Underdogs, Competition, And History: The Greatest Sports Films Of All Time

Culture | 4/26/22

There is nothing that brings people together quite like sports, even if they’re fictionalized games and people in films.

From underdogs to legends and boxing to football, there are many movies in the sports genre that are considered some of the greatest of all time, and Rocky and Rudy are just the beginning!

Miracle

Based on the famous “Miracle on Ice,” the 2004 film Miracle follows the story of Herb Brooks as he brings together a group of amateur ice hockey players to compete in the Winter Olympics.

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Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

There, the team finds themselves in the biggest game of their lives — the semi-finals against Soviet Russia. Winning gold, the USA’s victory over the Soviets is considered one of the biggest sports upsets in history.

The Wrestler

Released in 2008, The Wrestler is a story of redemption both inside of the ring and out, as Mickey Rourke’s character Robin Ramzinski tries his best to regain the fame he had back in the 1980s while mending a broken relationship with his daughter.

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Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures

According to film critic Roger Ebert, The Wrestler was one of the year’s best films. Rourke’s performance even earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Hoosiers

Starring Gene Hackman and Norman Dale, Hoosiers tells the story of a small Indiana high school basketball team as they make their way to the state championships. The film was met with stellar reviews, even earning a 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Orion Pictures
Orion Pictures

According to film critic Roger Ebert, “Hackman is gifted at combining likability with complexity — two qualities that usually don’t go together in the movies. He projects all of the single-mindedness of any good coach, but then he contains other dimensions…It’s a movie that is all heart.”

The Fighter

A story about family, fighting, and redemption, The Fighter is arguably one of the best boxing movies out there. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, the true story of the Eklund-Ward family wound up winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actor.

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Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

One reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes said, “The Fighter is a solidly entertaining, albeit predictable, entry in the boxing drama genre.”

Million Dollar Baby

Led by the all-star duo of Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby follows Maggie Fitzgerald as she seeks out former boxer Frankie Dunn to help her train in the ring in the hopes of becoming a professional.

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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The film was widely praised and even went on to win four Academy Awards — Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor.

A League of Their Own

The 1992 film A League of Their Own is a fictionalized telling of the first-ever all-female baseball team, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

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Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Starring actors such as Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, and Tom Hanks as the manager Jimmy Dugan, this film is widely praised for the performances of the entire cast.

No No: A Dockumentary

In 2014, No No: A Dockumentary premiered during the Sundance Film Festival and was met with fantastic reviews. The documentary focuses on the professional baseball career and controversies surrounding MLB player Dock Ellis and the rowdy time of the sport in the 1970s.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Steve Greene of Indiewire wrote, “No No: A Dockumentary becomes a supremely successful biography in acknowledging the reason for Ellis’ fame while showing how that story is just a sliver of what defined his later years…”

42

Based on the life of baseball player Jackie Robinson, 42 stars Chadwick Boseman as he breaks barriers during the 1946 season of major league baseball.

42
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The biographical sports drama was met with amazing reviews, particularly on the performances given by both Boseman and Harrison Ford, who plays the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey. Rachel Robinson the wife of Jackie, even went as far as saying, “I love the movie. I’m pleased with it. It’s authentic, and it’s also very powerful.”

Jerry Maguire

Tom Cruise plays the title character in Jerry Maguire, a film about a slick sports agent who does the impossible — leaves his well-to-do firm to start his own business. When he ventures off on his own, McGuire soon realizes he left all his eggs in one basket, banking on his one client, football player Rod Tidwell.

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TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

The film wound up being one of the highest-grossing films of 1996 and was nominated for five Academy Awards, with Cuba Gooding Jr. winning Best Supporting Actor.

The Sandlot

Sports movie fans can’t forget the movie The Sandlot. Revolving around a group of friends who love nothing more than to play the game of baseball, this movie is about friendships and what the summertime is like when people are 12 years old.

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

While the film was released in 1993, it wasn’t until years later that it gained a cult following.

Rocky

One of the truest underdog stories to appear on the silver screen, Rocky brings viewers into the world of boxing as Rocky Balboa, a small-time club fighter, goes for the title of heavyweight champion.

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MGM
MGM

The film went on to earn ten Academy Award nominations, winning Best Picture and shooting actor Sylvester Stallone into stardom.

Raging Bull

The 1980 film Raging Bull shows what happens when anger, jealousy, and rage come into the way of life, something Robert De Niro’s character, middle-weight boxer Jake LaMotta, lets out in a furry while in the ring.

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United Artists
United Artists

The film is considered director Martin Scorsese’s most important work and is widely considered one of the greatest movies of all time, not just in the sports genre.

Cinderella Man

Inspired by the life of world heavyweight boxing champion James J. Braddock, Cinderella Man is one of the greatest boxing movies to grace the silver screen.

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Touchstone Pictures
Touchstone Pictures

A true rags-to-riches story, the film is set during the Great Depression, following Braddock while he goes from a day laborer to training every day for the world title.

The Longest Yard

Starring Burt Reynolds as ex-football star Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, The Longest Yard follows him as he winds up on the wrong side of the law and earns an 18-month sentence in Citrus State Prison.

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Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

There, he winds up in the middle of an inmate vs. guards football game. After some blackmail, brutality, and fighting for what is right, the film garnered so much interest that it has been remade three times.

Caddyshack

According to ESPN, Caddyshack is “perhaps the funniest sports movie ever made.” Taking place at the Bushwood Country Club, the movie revolves around Danny Noonan, a caddy who wants nothing more than to win the caddy scholarship to help him go to college, even if that means dealing with the pressure of the Caddy Day Gold Tournament.

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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Of course, there is also the comedic genius of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray for people to enjoy! The film has developed a cult following since its release in 1980 and is widely considered one of the greatest sports films of all time.

The Natural

Starring Robert Redford, the 1984 film The Natural follows Roy Hobbs, a gifted baseball player whose dreams of making it to the professional leagues get derailed after he is shot.

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TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Of course, there is a whole lot more to the movie. Like Hobbs getting back on his feet and on the field to help bring the New York Knights, the worst team in the MLB, to the World Series.

The Endless Summer

Released in 1996, the documentary The Endless Summer follows surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August as they surf in some of the most beautiful and remote locations around the world.

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Cinema V
Cinema V

Praised for the beautiful cinematography and feel-good nature of the two surfers showing off their sport while teaching various locals the joy of surfing, The Endless Summer is one sports documentary that should be on everyone’s to-watch list.

The Pride Of The Yankees

In 1942, the story of New York Yankees power hitter and first baseman Lou Gehrig was told in the sports biopic The Pride of the Yankees. The film follows Gehrig’s life, relationships, and as he goes from one of the team’s greatest players to his diagnosis with ALS, now known as Lour Gehrig’s disease.

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RKO Radio Pictures
RKO Radio Pictures

The film went on to receive 11 Academy Award nominations and remains a movie that has a striking final line that is considered one of the greatest of all time — “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

Hoop Dreams

Shot over the course of five years, the documentary Hoop Dreams follows the story of William Gates and Arthur Agee as they travel 90 minutes each day from Chicago to St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Illinois, with the hopes of utilizing the high school’s basketball program and one day making it to the NBA.

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Fine Line Features
Fine Line Features

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “This is one of the best films about American life that I have ever seen.”

Rudy

The 1993 film Rudy is based on the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, the epitome of an underdog. Growing up in a blue-collar family, Rudy’s dream is to make it to Notre Dame and play on the football team, despite being very small for a collegiate athlete.

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Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

The American Film Institute ranked Rudy as the 54th-most inspiring film of all time, while ESPN named it one of the 25 best sports films in the past 25 years (in 2005).