12 Sports Films You Must See Before You Die

October 11, 2013

1 – Remember the Titans

RemembertheTitans

Based on actual events, this film is about a high school football coach who finds himself fighting for stakes much higher than the state championship.

Driving the action is a 1971 court order that forced three Alexandria, Virginia, high schools – two all-white, one all-black – to integrate their student bodies and faculties for the first time.

Will Patton and Denzel Washington turn in great performances as the football coaches who inspire their reluctant students to face the facts about integration.

2 – Chariots of Fire

ChariotsofFire

Winner of the 1981 Academy Award for best picture, this British historical drama is based on the true story of two very different men who competed as runners in the 1924 Paris Olympics.

The film follows each man as he trains for the competition. It forcefully drives home the idea that victory attained through devotion, commitment, integrity, and sacrifice is the most admirable feat that one can achieve.

Even if you haven’t seen the film, you’re probably familiar with its Oscar-winning score. The Chariots of Fire theme is a staple at corporate retreats and high school graduations.

3 – The Natural

TheNatural

This unforgettable film is loosely based on the Bernard Malamud novel about Roy Hobbs, a farm boy and mythical baseball prospect. Early in his career, Hobbs was shot by an enigmatic woman. He returned 16 years later to partly fulfill his mythical promise.

Hobbs is played wonderfully by Robert Redford, who works with a strong supporting cast, including Glenn Close, Wilford Brimley, and Kim Basinger. Randy Newman’s dramatic score adds a bit of grit to this corny but captivating timepiece.

4 – Hoop Dreams

HoopDreams

The best documentary ever filmed about sports in America, Hoop Dreams follows the aspirations of two high-school basketball players from inner-city Chicago.

The movie traces the lives of the two young men during their entire high-school careers, beginning with their participation in playground games as young teen-agers and ending with their being recruited by colleges.

5 – Field of Dreams

FieldofDreams

A line from the film – “If you build it, they will come” – has become part of the American lexicon.

The story involves an Iowa farmer (played by Kevin Costner) who constructs a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield.

The farmer seems to be the ghost of disgraced ballplayer Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), who materializes on the ball field and plays a few games with the awestruck farmer.

This captivating film is undeniably entertaining, but you must be an imaginative baseball fan with an open mind regarding the supernatural to get the most out of this movie.

6 – Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit

Director Gary Ross does a wonderful job translating a masterful novel by Laura Hillenbrand into a film, which is a re-make of the 1949 version starring Shirley Temple.

Seabiscuit tells the story of a smallish thoroughbred who reaches unexpected heights and helps inspire Americans in the Depression era of the 1930s.

Excellent performances by Tobey Maguire, William H. Macy, Chris Cooper, Jeff Bridges, and Elizabeth Banks make this movie a must-see.

7 – Raging Bull

RagingBull

Director Martin Scorsese chose to use black-and-white film to create a brutally frightening and realistic atmosphere in this true story of middleweight boxer Jake La Motta, a violent man in and out of the ring who thrives on his willingness to take a beating.

Robert De Niro gives an unforgettable performance as La Motta. The film is based on La Motta’s memoirs.It is an uncompromising portrait of an unlikable man and his ruthless profession.

8 – Rocky

Rocky

This low-budget 1976 film launched the career of Sylvester Stallone and won the Oscar for Best Picture, inspiring five mostly forgettable sequels in the process.

Stallone plays a slightly dimwitted amateur boxer from the tough streets of Philadelphia. The action starts when he gets a surprise shot at fighting for the heavyweight championship.

At the same time, he finds love in the arms of a shy, reclusive girl who works in the local pet store.

Helping enormously is Burgess Meredith, who is cast perfectly as a crusty old trainer who advises Rocky. The theme song is still used today as an anthem for underdogs.

9 – Hoosiers

Hoosiers

Hoosiers is the inspiring true story of a group of 1950s-era high-school basketball underdogs who become champions in Indiana, where hoops is a religion.

Gene Hackman is perfectly as a hard-luck, unemployed college basketball coach who gets a chance to coach a small-town high-school team.

Facing resentment from the community and the team itself, Hackman manages to inspire his young athletes, leading them to the state championship.

 10 – Bull Durham

BullDurham

This immensely entertaining film is not, admittedly, for those who take their sports too seriously. The movie treats the sport of baseball with casual reverence, highlighting both the drama and the humor inherent in the game.

The plot concerns a Minor League team called the Durham Bulls. It details the intertwined lives of veteran pitcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), young hotshot Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), and love interest Annie (Susan Sarandon).

Watch this one with your girlfriend. Seriously. The interplay between Costner and Sarandon will get her motor running, guaranteed.

11 – Moneyball

MoneyBall

This intriguing film is based on a book by Michael Lewis that revolutionized the game of baseball.

The movie stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s and the guy who recruits new players.

Forced to reinvent his team on a tight budget, Beane hires Ivy League grad Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) in an unlikely partnership, recruiting players other scouts have written off.

When the new players prove they can get on base, score runs, and win games, Beane and Brand are vindicated.

12 – Million Dollar Baby

MillionDollarBaby

Hilary Swank plays Maggie Fitzgerald, a 31-year-old woman who decides that boxing is her ticket out of a meaningless life.

Fitzgerald manages to convince Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), a down-on-his-luck veteran boxing trainer, to take her on despite his misgivings. The chemistry between the two actors gives the film a special quality, and the emotional bond between the characters is inspiring.

Adapted from a short story by F.X. Toole, a former corner man with years of experience in the fight game, the movie is a directing triumph for Eastwood.

19 Comments

  1. Ph.

    December 1, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    no Warrior? seriously?

  2. Dr_Marvel

    December 10, 2013 at 2:02 am

    Slapshot?

  3. Patrick

    December 10, 2013 at 11:04 am

    What? All except one a USA-centric view of movies and sports. Not saying that these are not good movies, but hello? Lift your head up and smell the roses! There is life and culture outside the USA believe it or not. The Football Factory? Fever Pitch? Two movies from the world’s most popular team sport that might just about make a less myopic list.

    • FoxyMoustache

      December 11, 2013 at 8:52 am

      I was about to say a similar thing.

    • Smith_90125

      April 13, 2014 at 10:47 am

      “Victory” (1980) was cheesy, but fun. Sylvester Stallone as a soccer player? Yeah, right.

  4. John

    March 31, 2014 at 3:29 am

    What about Major League?

    • Burt

      May 1, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      Major League was Great, I mean one of the best sports comedies out there, but it does not come close to the ones posted as well. There have been over 100 really enjoyable sports movies. The list is probably just about right.

      • David Lafleche

        May 9, 2014 at 9:08 pm

        Bad News Bears was better.

  5. Paul

    April 10, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    A League of Their Own

  6. Smith_90125

    April 13, 2014 at 10:45 am

    That list was written by someone under 30 (chronologically or mentally) who hasn’t seen many movies. That “author” left out “The Longest Yard” (1974, not the lousy remake…then again, all Sandler movies are lousy) yet he included crap like “The Natural” and “Remember The Gonads”? “Major League” and “Wildcats” were better movies than those, and they weren’t that great.

    Auto racing alone has “Le Mans”, “Grand Prix” and “Rush”, three movies better than half that list. And if you’re not an ignorant flag waving jingoist, watch “Net Worth” (1995) about Ted Lindsay’s attempt to start an NHL union. The crap that baseball players faced when trying to form the MLBPA was nothing compared to what Lindsay endured.

    • Jesradi

      May 10, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      Opinions are like a$$holes, everybody has one…and I have one too. I’m 30×2 and I liked every movie on this list. I agree that the original “The Longest Yard” should’ve been there, and the original “Rollerball”. I wonder why “For Love of the Game”, “The Sandlot” and “Rudy” are not.
      But “ignorant flag waving jingoist”?…what does aggressive foreign policy have to do with sports movies? You just needed something nasty-sounding to say to those immature mental midgets who think differently?

      Here’s laughin’ at you, kid.

  7. used2bdisgusted

    April 16, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Absolutely agree w/Smith’s inclusion of the ’74 Longest Yard. Going back further, the original “Rollerball” with James Caan. Speaking of which, many would have included “Brian’s Song” in such a list. Personally, I’d go for two other somewhat obscure ’60s gems — “Paper Lion” with Alan Alda and many Detroit Lions, and “Number One” with Charlton Heston.

  8. Burt

    May 1, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Longest yard was good but does not rate with the ones posted. I mean Burt Reynolds, come on.

  9. Chiavarm

    May 5, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    IIRC in Bull Durham Costner was a veteran catcher not pitcher. He told the opposing team’s batter the pitch to teach the pitcher a lesson

  10. David Lafleche

    May 9, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    How could you leave out The Bad News Bears (1976, not the crummy remake)? That was not only the best baseball movie EVER, but also the most realistic sports movie of any kind. Pay attention to the subplot: Councilman Whitewood sues the City Council to create the team, so his son Toby could have a chance to play. In the climactic Championship Game, Coach Buttermaker decides to put in his benchwarmers, so THEY could “have a chance to play.” Councilman Whitewood hypocritically objects, saying, “What are you DOING??? We have a chance to WIN!” Look for a downright chilling scene when Coach Turner decks his own kid.

  11. Hz

    May 10, 2014 at 1:26 am

    There are a lot of gaps (notably the motor sports films) and the list is very US-centric, but surely the most notable exclusion is Invictus. It’s not only a well executed sports film with stand out performances from Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman (two of the finest actors of their respective generations) but it also tells the tale of a pivotal moment in not only South African but world history. It portrays beautifully the character, strength, intelligence and nobility that made Nelson Mandela one of the greatest human beings of all time. Even putting the hard politics to one side, few if any films have ever been able to so accurately convey how a particular sporting event can transcend mere entertainment and profoundly touch and change people’s fundamental sense of self and their values.

    • Brian

      May 12, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      Absolutely. Invictus is not only one of the greatest sports movies of all time, it’s one of the greatest movies, period. And if I ever need cheering up, I watch Major League – Another great movie.

  12. Dazed and confused

    May 16, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Breaking Away. Outstanding (and funny) film. And won an Academy Award for best screenplay.

  13. Merle226

    May 17, 2014 at 12:30 am

    Bang the Drum Slowly is a glaring omission and Seabiscuit has no business being anywhere near a list like this. I would also include The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner should also be on this list but not sure if everyone would consider it a ‘sports film’.

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