The 33 Greatest Sports Movies of All Time
Whether you're into football, baseball or figure skating, these classic sports movies will keep you munching on your popcorn
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Sports films that will inspire you
Sports are one of the most ancient leisure activities, so it’s not entirely surprising that sports movies are among the best movies of all time. Whether you’re a fan of team sports like baseball, basketball and football, or you enjoy the virtuosity of boxing and figure skating, there are sports action movies and drama movies out there to appeal to everyone.
Good sports movies are often about great underdogs, and that’s something we can all relate to—whether we have any athletic ability or not. Compared with live sports, movies provide a great opportunity for the audience to live vicariously. Not everyone can play for the NFL, but everyone can definitely watch the best football movies.
For this roundup, we consulted Rotten Tomatoes, Vulture and the American Film Institute to provide you with a list of films that will have you rooting from your couch like a superfan. The movies on this list are entertaining and thought provoking, just like a good game of sports. Once you’ve binged them all, you may be ready to tear through the best ’80s movies, sci-fi movies and classic family movies too.
Memorable quote: “I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what.”
One of the last funny movies that John Candy appeared in, Cool Runnings is based on the inspiring true story of the Jamaican bobsleigh team, which competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics despite a lack of experience and resources. Celebratory and high-spirited, this box office success was Disney’s highest-grossing live-action film. It continues to inspire Jamaican bobsledders, and the national team made an appearance in the 2022 Winter Olympics after a 24-year absence.
Memorable quote: “Gods come pretty cheap nowadays, don’t they?”
Hoosiers is an iconic comeback story that also has one of the best movie soundtracks, for which composer Jerry Goldsmith received an Oscar nomination. In small-town Indiana, where basketball is a religion, gruff coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) is hired to whip the local high school team into shape, even though his best player just quit and the townspeople have no faith in him. Aptly described by Roger Ebert at the time as a “movie that is all heart,” this ultimate underdog film illustrates the power of sports in bringing a community together.
Field of Dreams
Memorable quote: “If you build it, they will come.”
One of the most well-known family movies that’s centered around baseball, Field of Dreams follows Ray Kinsella (the always charming Kevin Costner), an Iowa farmer who hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field on his farm. Fans love the film for its heartfelt message, and viewers can’t stop rooting for Ray to convince everyone that he’s not losing his mind. The movie is so popular that Major League Baseball recreated the film’s final game during the 2021 season, with current players walking out of corn fields just like they did decades ago on-screen.
Memorable quote: “Adapt or die.”
Based on the bestselling book by Michael Lewis and one of this list’s many books made into movies, Moneyball is a story of statistics, opportunity and a man who changed the game of baseball forever. In 2002, the Oakland Athletics, one of the lowest-salaried teams in Major League Baseball, set the league record for winning streaks. Brad Pitt plays manager Billy Beane, the mastermind behind the new, sabermetrics-heavy method of scouting, and Jonah Hill is Peter Brand, his trusted analyst. Directed by Bennett Miller, with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, Moneyball will appeal to seasoned sports fans and novices alike.
Million Dollar Baby
Memorable quote: “Instead of running from the pain like a sane person would do, you step into it.”
A tearjerker of a movie if there ever was one, this film is about about ambition, love and loss. Million Dollar Baby follows Maggie (Hilary Swank), a working-class woman who aspires to be a boxer, as she fulfills her dream with help from aging trainer Frank (Clint Eastwood). When tragedy strikes, Maggie forces Frank to make a difficult choice. The film received seven Academy Award nominations and was widely praised, but its twist ending was criticized by some activists with disabilities. If you’re in the mood for a good cry, we rounded up more sad movies here.
Memorable quote: “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”
Another one of Kevin Costner’s sports-movie classics, this flick was inspired by writer-director Ron Shelton’s own experience toiling in the minor leagues. Bull Durham offers a closeup view of a Triple-A baseball team and its players and fans. Costner plays washed-up catcher Crash Davis, who finds himself caught between arrogant rookie pitcher Calvin LaLoosh and alluring baseball fan Annie Savoy (a sexy Susan Sarandon at her finest). Full of wit and insight about life on and off the field, Bull Durham is one of the best sports comedy movies in film history.
Love and Basketball
Memorable quote: “When you’re a kid, you see the life you want, and it never crosses your mind that it’s not gonna turn out that way.”
Produced by the legendary Spike Lee and Sam Kitt, Love and Basketball is a delightful movie and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s directorial debut. Basketball players Monica Wright and Quincy McCall are childhood sweethearts, but their relationship is put to the test as their sports careers take off. Stars Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps have plenty of on-screen chemistry, and the film is a great romantic comedy, as well as an honest examination of the different ways society treats male and female athletes.
Memorable quote: “You had me at hello.”
Tom Cruise—perhaps in his most charming role—stars in this romantic drama about a sports agent who has a moral reckoning on the job. The always lovable Renée Zellweger shines as his steadfast accountant and (spoiler alert!) eventual wife. Jerry Maguire was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, and the film was both a huge commercial and critical success. It earned an impressive five Academy Award nominations, and a very young and jubilant Cuba Gooding Jr. took home the trophy for Best Supporting Actor. If you’re still in the mood for love, check out more romantic movies on Netflix.
Memorable quote: “I don’t feel lucky to be alive! I feel lucky I’m not dead. There’s a difference.”
One of the American Film Institute’s best sports movies and most inspiring films, Breaking Away is a tender portrayal of four high school friends in an Indiana university town. Dennis Christopher is Dave, a stonecutter’s son who aspires to be an Italian champion cyclist and fills his house with related paraphernalia. When Dave falls for a college student, the distance between who he is and what he wants seems longer than ever. This coming-of-age story has sharp insight about class tension, as well as some very exciting cycling sequences. For more out-of-this-world experience, check out our roundup of sci-fi books.
Memorable quote: “We have a pool and a pond. The pond is better for you.”
The original stoner comedy and one of the great movies of the ’80s, Caddyshack follows a host of colorful characters in a country club. The plot is essentially a series of loosely connected vignettes, with Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and Ted Knight lighting up the screen with their chemistry honed from years of standup and improv. Bill Murray is particularly memorable as a zany groundskeeper at war with a gopher, and even though elements of the movie feel dated, this golf comedy remains a cult classic beloved by many.
Memorable quote: “Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give … it’s about how many you can take and still keep moving forward.”
No sports movie list is complete without this classic written by and starring a young and gritty Sylvester Stallone, a small-time fighter who rises to the occasion as a contender in the world heavyweight championship. Stallone completed the script in just three-and-a-half days, and several of his family members appeared in the film due to its low budget. Rocky was a box office success—earning 10 Academy Award nominations, inspiring multiple sequels and making Stallone a superstar.
The Karate Kid
Memorable quote: “You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity.”
Loosely inspired by the life of screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, The Karate Kid follows 17-year-old Daniel LaRusso, who starts dating the cutest girl at his new school and is bullied by her ex-boyfriend. He befriends Mr. Mayagi, the janitor of his building and also a martial arts zen master, who teaches him karate as well as a host of valuable life lessons. A box office success, this teen movie spawned several sequels, including 2018’s Cobra Kai.
The Cutting Edge
Memorable quote: “It can’t be any harder to stay together than it was to stay apart.”
A cult classic from the 90’s, The Cutting Edge is a charming blend of the opposites-attract pairing with the sports-underdog narrative. Set against the backdrop of the Winter Olympics, spoiled figure skater Kate and former ice hockey player Doug (D.B. Sweeney) must work together to win gold—and each other’s hearts. Described somewhat dismissively by the Washington Post as “Rocky on skates,” this whimsical romantic comedy has gained a devoted fanbase since its release.
Memorable quote: “If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win.”
A powerful portrait of male insecurity, Raging Bull is based on the true story of boxer Jake LaMotta’s memoir. In the ring, LaMotta—played by the always stellar Robert DeNiro—is relentless and ferocious, but the same energy proves to be self-destructive in the real world. The film captures the brutality of boxing matches with closeups and masterful cinematography. One of director Martin Scorsese’s most successful films, Raging Bull is ranked as the fourth greatest American movie of all time by the American Film Institute.
Bend It Like Beckham
Memorable quote: “Anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?”
Directed by Gurinder Chadha, Bend It Like Beckham is a rom-com that follows soccer-obsessed Punjabi Sikh teenager Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra), who lives in London. After impressing Jules (Keira Knightley, in one of her first major roles) with her on-field prowess, Jess joins the local women’s soccer team, much to her family’s chagrin. Nagra and Knightley make a wonderful duo in this film about growing up and finding your community. The movie is so beloved, in 2010 it became the first Western-made film to broadcast in North Korea.
White Men Can’t Jump
Memorable quote: “You can put a cat in an oven, but that don’t make it a biscuit.”
In White Men Can’t Jump, Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson play two streetball hustlers, one Black, one White. Basketball is their means of survival—or has the game become a way for them to avoid real-life responsibilities? Written and directed by Ron Shelton, who also made Bull Durham, this razor-sharp sports story showcases top-notch dialogue and spotlights the always talented and hilarious Rosie Perez.
Memorable quote: “There’s no such thing as truth … Everyone has their own truth.”
Is Tonya Harding a villain or a victim? A swaggering biopic, I, Tonya throws the question back at us with mockumentary-style interviews and lightning-speed pacing. Margot Robbie is irresistible as the ambitious and lonely Harding, and Allison Janney won an Oscar for her performance as Harding’s overbearing mother. This high-octane movie makes viewers feel complicit in the making of one of the most controversial figures in American sports history.
Memorable quote: “The only ones gonna tell me when I’m through doing my thing, is you people here. You people here … you’re my family.”
Haunting and impactful, The Wrestler depicts an aging athlete who struggles to figure out his life outside the arena. Actor Mickey Rourke has a background in boxing, and he perfectly captures the warring emotions of a wrestler past his prime. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, this emotional drama received praise from the professional wrestling community for its authentic portrayal of the sport.
Memorable quote: “Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.”
A celebration of perseverance and teamwork, Rudy is based on the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, an unlikely football player for the University of Notre Dame. Helmed by David Anspaugh, who also directed the basketball classic Hoosiers, this movie is ranked among the American Film Institute’s most inspiring films of all time. As the titular Rudy, Sean Astin delivers a nuanced and powerful performance.
Memorable quote: “I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life.”
Based on the novel by Enid Bagnold, National Velvet is an 80-year-old classic that stars Mickey Rooney, Angela Lansbury and a teenage Elizabeth Taylor. When 12-year-old Velvet Brown enters the Grand National Steeplechase with her horse The Pie, she learns the lesson of a lifetime from a mysterious boy and her own mother. After filming ended, Taylor received the horse who played The Pie as a gift.
Chariots of Fire
Memorable quote: “I’ve known the fear of losing, but now I am almost too frightened to win.”
Based on a true story, Chariots of Fire opens with one of the most iconic scenes in sports movies: a team of athletes running along an austere Scottish beach, accompanied by rousing music. The plot is equally inspiring, with focus on two runners, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, who endure rigorous training to make it to the 1924 Olympics. The film was lauded upon its release, receiving four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Memorable quote: “When the CIA wants to learn new dirty tricks, they observe figure skaters and their moms.”
Michelle Trachtenberg plays STEM-obsessed teen Casey, who discovers that her aptitude for physics and computer algorithms helps her excel as a figure skater. Joan Cusack, Hayden Panettiere and Kim Cattrall round out a solid cast. And even though giving up a Harvard scholarship might not be the best idea, Ice Princess is an endearing portrait of a smart, driven young woman finding her calling.
Memorable quote: “The fans are standing up to them! The security guards are standing up to them! The peanut vendors are standing up to them! And by golly, if I could get down there, I’d be standing up to them!”
One of the best sports movies of all time and now a cult hit, when it was released, Slap Shot was controversial for its bawdy humor and depiction of violence. The legendary Paul Newman stars as Reggie Dunlop, a player-coach on the fictional minor league hockey team the Charlestown Chiefs. Attempting to revive his community, Dunlop encourages his players to brawl and adapt a more violent playing style. Director George Roy Hill only hired actors who knew how to skate, adding to the authenticity of the film, and Newman repeatedly named Dunlop as one of his favorite characters to have played.
Battle of the Sexes
Memorable quote: “Times change. You should know you just changed them. Someday we will be free to be who we are and love who we love. But now … It’s time to join the dance.”
Battle of the Sexes depicts the events surrounding the game that changed tennis forever. Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King, the No. 1-ranked female tennis player at the time, who reluctantly faces off against Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), an over-the-hill athlete and proud chauvinist. Stone is transcendent as the determined, lovable King, who struggles with the limelight as well as her burgeoning relationship with her hairdresser, and the film is a moving drama about a profound event with lasting impact.
Memorable quote: “I like being part of something that’s bigger than me, than I. It’s good for your soul to invest in something you can’t control.”
Adapted from the 1997 movie based on the 1992 novel by Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch is about a devoted Red Sox fan, played by Jimmy Fallon, who must expand his life beyond baseball when he meets a charming lawyer. Drew Barrymore is irresistible as the love interest, and Fallon does a fine job in one of his handful of film roles. The movie cautions against the danger of never growing up, while celebrating one of the best parts of being a sports fan: the feeling of belonging.
Memorable quote: “I believe we have two lives … the life we learn with and the life we live with after that.”
Known for its sweeping score by Randy Newman, The Natural is a heartfelt tribute to the game of baseball. Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs, a middle-aged baseball player hoping to regain his hitting prowess after a tragedy. Though heavy-handed in parts, this “fable about success and failure,” as deemed by Variety, is a fun, sentimental ride.
Memorable quote: “Everybody thinks we found this broken-down horse and fixed him, but we didn’t. He fixed us. Every one of us. And I guess in a way we kinda fixed each other too.”
With thrilling race scenes and moving performances, Seabiscuit tells the story of the horse that captured America’s heart. Seabiscuit is the ultimate underdog, a lazy colt who is transformed into American Horse of the Year by two men who believed in him, played by Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges. This heartfelt sports movie is sure to make you shed a few tears.
Trouble with the Curve
Memorable quote: “Being comfortable is overrated.”
Clint Eastwood takes on the role of yet another curmudgeonly old man in this drama directed by Robert Lorenz, but his grumpy presence is softened by the effervescent Amy Adams, who plays his onscreen daughter Mickey. Trouble with the Curve looks at baseball statistics from the viewpoint of an aging scout (Eastwood), the kind of man who frustrates Brad Pitt in Moneyball. Justin Timberlake also makes an appearance as a player-turned-scout for the Boston Red Sox. If Justin has you feeling nostalgic, here are some ’90s movies to scratch that itch.
Friday Night Lights
Memorable quote: “Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could.”
Perhaps better known as the hit TV series, Friday Night Lights the movie came before its small-screen counterpart and has just as much heart. In Odessa, Texas, a town where football is king, the coach and young players struggle when their star running back is injured, jeopardizing their chance of going to the state championship. Co-written and directed by Peter Berg, who also created the TV show, this warmhearted portrayal of a small town with big dreams is one of the most iconic sports movies.
Memorable quote: “I don’t care if they like me. I didn’t come here to make friends. I don’t even care if they respect me. I know who I am.”
The film’s title, 42, refers to Jackie Robinson’s jersey number, which is retired across all teams in Major League Baseball. This biopic of the first Black player in MLB stars Chadwick Boseman, who made his film debut as charming, determined Robinson. Well-researched and respectful, 42 brings to life one of the most important figures in American sports history.
Memorable quote: “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”
Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale play brothers Micky and Dicky in this gritty movie set in a working-class Massachusetts town. Micky is a rising boxer, while Dicky’s career is ruined by his addiction. Directed by David O. Russell, The Fighter is based on a documentary about the Eklund-Ward brothers, and both Bale and Melissa Leo—who plays the mom—won Oscars for their performances.
Memorable quote: “I can take losing the money. I cannot take loosing the chance for our kid to be happy.”
Sports movies aren’t all about boxing, baseball or football. Drew Barrymore’s Whip It! follows a former pageant contestant as she finds empowerment through competitive roller derby. Elliot Page plays Bliss Cavendar, a rebellious Texan teen who joins a derby league outside Austin, and Marcia Gay Harden is her beauty-queen mother. This coming-of-age story is bittersweet and entertaining, with hints of Juno and Little Miss Sunshine.
Bring It On
Memorable quote: “This is not a democracy, it’s a cheerocracy.”
This upbeat, big-hearted teen movie stars Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union as rival cheerleading captains. When Dunst’s character discovers that her team has been stealing routines from another high school, she must find a way for the squad to forge their own future. Bring It On! was a surprise hit when it debuted in the summer of 2000, and the actors exude so much joy onscreen, you can’t help but smile, even if cheerleading isn’t exactly your thing.