10 Greatest True Sports Movies
I want to preface this article by saying that my love of film surpasses my love for sports. I watch and analyze movies with a burning passion, even more so than with sports. I like to review and rate movies, and I would like to share my thoughts on what I think are the greatest sports films. There are a couple of movies like Hoosiers and Bill Durham that are always called great sports movies, but I haven’t gotten around to checking them out. However, I find a lot of sports movies pretty generic and clichéd, so there will be quite a few popular favorites such as Field of Dreams or Rudy that will be left out. I’m not saying at all that they’re bad movies, but I don’t consider them among the greatest. I don’t even really classify Field of Dreams a sports movie but more of a fantasy, and you won’t find any fantasies on this list. I also didn’t include any documentaries, or Hoop Dreams would have made the list for sure. There are several movies that I really enjoy such as The Hurricane and Jerry Maguire, but I can’t consider them sports movies like others do. The Hurricane is about a boxer wrongly accused of murder, and Jerry Maguire is about a sports agent who finds love and becomes friends with a client. To me, those movies aren’t about sports. I didn’t even feel good about putting Raging Bull on this list. To be honest, I found it hard to find 10 movies that I like and consider as sports movies. This will probably be considered the worst list of greatest sports movies or maybe just the most unique one.
1. Rocky (1976)
Is this really a surprise? Everybody loves an underdog, and the tale of Rocky Balboa is the greatest underdog story of all time. It’s also one of the earliest ones, and that’s why it has such a big impact. Rocky started out as a debt collector with a heart of gold, but he wins our love by going up against the heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Sylvester Stallone becomes the perfect manifestation of Rocky’s character, and it’s hard to imagine Rocky played by anybody else. There are many scenes in this film that are iconic and show up throughout popular culture. Everybody knows the famous scene of Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For Rocky, this was the defining moment of his journey to go the distance with the best boxer in the world. For me, this was one of the greatest moments of cinema history. When I saw Rocky celebrating at the top of the steps, I saw a determined man who would stop at nothing until he reached his goal. As you’re reading this sentence, people are out at that museum recreating that beautiful scene, because it represents the everyman rising up to a challenge.
2. He Got Game (1998)
Spike Lee is one of my favorite directors. Denzel Washington is one of my favorite actors. Of course, He Got Game is one of my favorite movies. After watching it, Ray Allen became one of my favorite basketball players, and I always know him as Jesus Shuttlesworth. It is pretty unbelievable how well this professional athlete can act. In He Got Game, Jesus is the number 1 ranked basketball prospect and has to decide which college to play for. Denzel Washington plays his father Jake, a man that is released out of prison for a week in order to convince his son to commit to a particular school. In return, Jake would be granted a reduced sentence. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the growing maturity of both characters after seeing each other and spending some time together. I also enjoyed the inside look at how high school basketball players get recruited by colleges. Spike Lee is not a traditional filmmaker, and He Got Game is not a traditional sports movie. The relationship between this father and son is more powerful to me than any upset victory.
3. Raging Bull (1980)
I always see this Martin Scorsese film at the top of greatest sports movie lists, but I don’t really consider it a sports movie. Sure, the film is about a boxer, but does the film really have anything to do with boxing? Raging Bull is probably the greatest movie on this list but not the greatest sports movie for me. I think Robert De Niro is one of the two greatest actors, with Al Pacino being the other, and he does a fantastic job of portraying Jake LaMotta. When De Niro’s character isn’t in the ring, he is sparring with his inner demons. This character is not the easiest to explain on paper, because he seems more like an animal rather than an actual human being. As always, the pairing of Scorsese and De Niro creates great movies. Most sports movies are feel-good, but Raging Bull may actually make you feel worse by the end.
4. Major League (1989)
If I told you that there was one movie that made me want to become a major league pitcher, you probably would have guessed a movie like The Rookie. It was actually Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn who gave me the inspiration to pick up a baseball and chuck it as hard as I could. Unfortunately, it turns out that I don’t make a very good pitcher, but I still love Major League, a movie about a ragtag team assembled to lose as many games and stadium attendees as possible. This satirical baseball movie inspired similar movies such as The Mighty Ducks and The Replacements. I found Major League to be very funny, and there are many interesting characters such as Willie Mayes and Pedro Cerrano, a talkative but speedy outfielder and a voodoo-practicing slugger played by Wesley Snipes and Dennis Haybert, respectively. Every time I see Charlie Sheen step out of the bullpen at the end of the movie, it makes my heart sing.
5. Remember the Titans (2000)
Denzel Washington makes another appearance on this list in the form of the coach Herman Boone in Remember the Titans. The movie is about a football team of a recently desegregated high school. It sends a powerful message about racism, as it shows how the bond from being teammates can overcome different skin colors. I don’t have to say much about Remember the Titans, because it’s one of those movies that always seem to come up when great sports movies are discussed.
6. Friday Night Lights (2004)
Friday Night Lights is another movie about a high school football team. This is one of those movies that focuses more on the characters rather than the story. It doesn’t really matter to me what happens to the team, but it is more interesting to watch each character’s story unfold. I put Friday Night Lights on this list, because there are too many typical sports movies telling underdog stories. This movie is pretty different from other sports movies.
7. Warrior (2011)
I remember watching the trailer for this movie awhile back and thinking that Warrior would just be another clichéd sports movie. Now, this movie star Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as two brothers competing against each other in a MMA tournament called Sparta. This premise makes Warrior unlike any other sports movie, because there isn’t one person or team that you’re supposed to root for. Each of these two brothers has his own reasons for trying to win the $5 million prize. They have their flaws and complicated history, but as viewers, we grow to like them both. Just by simply making the movie about two separate characters breaks down all sports clichés. This movie is a true story of forgiveness and redemption. Everybody is seeking forgiveness from each other, and what you get is an emotionally satisfying and gripping movie. The fights are well choreographed, and each character is an interesting one. I enjoyed all three main actors’ performances. Nick Nolte is well-deserved for his Oscar nomination in this movie. To be honest, Warrior doesn’t really belong in a list of the greatest sports movies, because it’s too recent and has not had any impact on our culture. It’s still one of my favorite sports movies.
8. The Karate Kid (1984)
Here’s another underdog story from John G. Avildsen, the director of Rocky. How many times do we have to hear people quote Mr. Miyagi? How many kids wanted to start doing karate like Dan LaRusso? In the end, Ralph Macchio’s character beats the bully and gets the girl. It is every kid’s fantasy, and it’s not very creative. However, this journey that we take with LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi helps us appreciate martial arts and learn important life lessons.
9. Miracle (2004)
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Miracle. It’s a Disney movie, and it definitely feels like one. However, it’s an awesome sports movie, because it tells the greatest American underdog story that happened in real life. The USA hockey team who beat the heavily favored Soviet team in the 1980 Winter Olympics was not a perfect team. Herb Brooks, played by Kurt Russell, whipped this team to shape and motivated it to pull off one of the greatest upset victories. As an American, it feels good to see my national team win it all in the end.
10. Any Given Sunday (1999)
I don’t think Any Given Sunday is a particularly good movie, but I like it a lot as a football movie. Oliver Stone has previously brought immense intensity to subjects like the Vietnam War and Wall Street. He brings the same intensity to the game of football in Any Given Sunday. Most football movies have football as a backdrop while bringing more personal matters to the foreground. Any Given Sunday is a film that is compromised mostly of football scenes. This is a both a plus and a minus to the film. With a long running time, the football scenes don’t take too much away from the dramatic scenes. I always admit bias when I have it. As a football fan, I see these football scenes like battle scenes in other movies. To me, Any Given Sunday seems like any other sprawling epic such as The Lord of the Rings movies. Any Given Sunday shines a light on almost every facet of a football franchise, from the front office to sports doctors. I enjoyed the movie a lot, even with all the overly dramatic cuts and MTV-style production. Also, the tense speech from Pacino towards the end of the movie is pretty awesome. I highly recommend the film to fans of football.