With the entire country of Canada going insane ever since the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA Championship (Congratulations!), it got us thinking about some of our favorite sports movies and how watching feel-good stories like Rudy and Rocky inspire us never give up and to reach for your dreams. Which sports movie inspired you the most growing up?
From Robert De Niro’s unforgettable performance in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull to cult classic starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, there have been many memorable sports movies made over the years, so in celebration of DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story‘s 15 year anniversary, join us as we countdown the 15 of the greatest sports movies ever made. Enjoy!
15. Major League (1989)
Released in 1989, Major League is a sports comedy and cult classic about a new owner who purposely puts a team of misfits together hoping they’ll lose so that she can move the team from Cleveland to Miami. Unfortunately for the former showgirl turned team owner, her villainous plan backfires when her team of injury-prone delinquents starts winning games.
Directed by David S. Ward and starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, and Rene Russo, Major League is without a doubt one of the funniest and most entertaining sports films ever. Nowadays Sheen is widely considered a joke, but back in the day he was one of the best and his portrayal of convicted felon and Cleveland Indian’s pitcher Rick “Wildthing” Vaughn, will never be forgotten because as the song goes, “wild thing, you make my heart sing.”
14. Field of Dreams (1989)
Written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson, Field of Dreams tells the inspiring story of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), a family man and Iowa farmer who after hearing a mysterious voice tell him “If you build it, he will come,” promptly builds a baseball field on his farm. Although nobody else can hear the voice, Kinsella carries on with his plan and upon finishing, is visited by ghosts of the infamous 1919 Black Sox team.
Although some might dislike the film and disagree with it being included, as a longtime fan of both James Earl Jones and Kevin Costner, our list wouldn’t be complete without Field of Dreams making the cut. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in ’89, one for Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.
13. Slapshot (1977)
Speaking of cult classics, we’ve got a great one for you right here. Slapshot, directed by George Roy Hill, is a highly underrated sports comedy that stars the amicable Paul Newman as Reggie Dunlop, the beleaguered player/coach of the Charlestown Chief hockey club, perennial losers who end up thrashing opponents physically and mentally in order to keep their fans entertained. One of the few sports films made about hockey (they are an alarming rarity, surprisingly enough), Slapshot has enough gags, one-liners and (pardon the pun) slapstick humor to keep you in stitches for its entire running length; moreover, a strong performance by the suave Newman keeps us emotionally invested as the team runs into trouble when the local mill is believed to be closing. Of course, this cookie-cutter plot really only stands to service the hijinks of the players at hand, and it does so well enough that Slapshot remains a worthwhile watch to this day.
12. The Replacements (2000)
We’re well aware that The Replacements, starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman, isn’t a critically lauded film. It certainly wasn’t raging commercial success, making just over $50 million back on a $50 million dollar budget. What The Replacements has going for it (that many other mediocre sports films don’t) is charm and gobs and gobs of it. Reeves is in classic form as a soft-spoken but ultimately good-hearted quarterback who has seen better days, but it’s the lovable supporting cast made of up Orlando Jones, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans and Troy Winbush who really help elevate this otherwise middling sports comedy. Funny and familiar (it’s a classic underdog story), rumor has it Reeves was so good at portraying a QB that the Baltimore Ravens offered him a tryout after the movie had finished filming (it was filmed at the Ravens M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore).
11. The Sandlot (1993)
Set in the summer of 1962, David Mickey Evans’ Sandlot is a coming-of-age story about a kid named Scotty Smalls who moves with his parents to the San Fernando Valley. Shortly after his arrival, Smalls befriends a young baseball prodigy named Benjamin “Benny” Franklin Rodriguez who takes him under his wing and introduces Smalls to his wild and rowdy team, resulting in many heartwarming and hilarious adventures.
Released in 1993 on a budget of only $7 million, the nostalgia-filled adventure has since grossed roughly $33 million and is widely considered a cult classic to many, especially those born in the ’80s and ’90s.
10. White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
One of the greatest things about sports films is that they provide equal opportunity of both comedy and drama; while some genres skew heavily towards one or the other, sports films usually come with a good deal of both, and 1992’s White Men Can’t Jump is a great example of that. Directed by Ron Shelton and starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as two savvy street basketball players looking to hustle on the courts, White Men Can’t Jump has become a cult classic due to its snappy dialogue and a script that aspires to more than simply basketball. The dialogue between Snipes and Harrelson is hilarious and the film’s plot breezes along, and the movie does an excellent job of making sure its audience is invested in the characters and are not just watching them hustle opposing players out of their hard-earned cash. A legitimate sports comedy with laughs and drama to spare, White Men Can’t Jump is a cult classic that you’re sure to love.
9. Hoosiers (1986)
We’re doubling down on Gene Hackman to kick this list off, and given the man’s magnetic screen presence we’re inclined to think that’s a good thing. In Hoosiers (1986), directed by David Anspaugh, Hackman stars as Norman Dale, a basketball coach with a troubled past who moves to the small, rural Indiana town of Hickory to coach high school basketball. The film, which of course sees the troubled coach lead his small town squad to a victory in the state championship, is loosely based off the 1954 Indiana State Championship, which featured a similar story. Hoosiers received great reviews upon its release and it is still commonly cited as one of the strongest sports films of all time, with particular notes of attention being paid to Hackman’s performance and well-developed characters who are fleshed out beyond the shallow stereotypes that pervade most sports films.
8. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
It’d be easy to forget that underneath all the humor and ridiculousness and Ben Stiller that Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) is a sports movie, first and foremost. Sure, it isn’t a noble or esteemed sport that one could base a film off of, but who’s to say whether this gym class classic is any less worthy of a feature film than baseball? Football? Horse racing (we’re looking at you, Seabiscuit)? Dodgeball, directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber and featuring a hilarious ensemble that includes Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Alan Tudyk, Rip Torn and Justin Long, is self-aware enough to understand that it leans heavily on the underdog plotline with which we’re all intimately familiar (it is in the title, after all) and it plays on these expectations in just the right kind of way. A hilarious screwball comedy that’s great for viewing alone or with friends, Dodgeball transcends its high school roots to earn a place on this list.
7. Friday Night Lights (2004)
For the record, we’re speaking of the Friday Night Lights movie and not the critically acclaimed (and well worth watching) television show that starred Kyle Chandler and aired on NBC for seasons. Although if we could we’d bundle both together and view them as such, as both focus on the hotly contested topic of high school football in the small town of Odessa, Texas. The film, directed by Peter Berg and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund and Tim McGraw, is adapted from the H.G. Bissinger novel of the same name and is loosely based off the true events of the 1988 Permian Panthers high school football team, which rode an indomitable wave of energy all the way to the Texas state championship. A sincere drama which focuses on the people playing as much as it does the sport, Friday Night Lights ultimately surmises that surprise, that there are more important things in life than football (although those things are few and far between).
6. Caddyshack (1980)
Caddyshack shares many similarities to the aforementioned Dodgeball, in that it’s more a comedy dressed up in the trappings of a sports film than it is a movie about sports. Ya dig? While there’s certainly an air of competition and some level of athletic prowess plays into the film’s plot, it’s more about the innumerable shenanigans that occur while sports are being played than about the game itself. Still, it’s clear that a love of golf pervades Caddyshack, and stars Chevy Chase and Bill Murray are both avid golfers to this day. Murray, in particular, gives one of the strongest comedic performances of his or any career as groundskeeper Carl Spackler. A cult classic that has developed a massive following since its release to warm reviews, Caddyshack also features Rodney Dangerfield and was directed by the late, great Harold Ramis (of Ghostbusters fame).
5. Rudy (1993)
Directed by David Anspaugh, Rudy is a biographical sports film based on the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, a young man who dreamed playing football at the University of Notre Dame but lacked the grades and money to attend, as well as the talent and physical stature needed to play college ball. The heartwarming film stars Sean Astin as Rudy, alongside Ned Beatty, Jason Miller, and Charles S. Dutton.
Rudy is widely regarded by fans and critics as of the best sports films ever made, but some fans might not know is that in 2006 the American Film Institute (AIF) recognized Rudy as 54th most inspirational films of all time.
4. Remember the Titans (2000)
A lesson in race relations disguised as a sports movie, 2000’s Remember the Titans uses the familiar trappings of the gridiron to deconstruct the tepid state of race relations in the small town of Alexandra, Virginia, in the early 1970s. A heartwarming film that combines strong morals with a lovable cast and a great soundtrack, Remember the Titans has become a rallying pole for high school football players everywhere, who can relate to many of the film’s scenes/montages regarding training, locker room relations and the importance of teamwork. The film, which stars Denzel Washington, Will Patton and Donald Faison (among others), received strong reviews upon release, despite the fact that some critics commented on the heavy-handedness with which the issues surrounding race were approached. Now a sports movie classic, Remember the Titans is an inspiring flick that’ll have you off the couch and singing along to Marvin Gaye in no time.
3. Moneyball (2011)
Adapted from Michael Lewis’s 2003 nonfiction book of the same name, Moneyball (2011) was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, a fact that places it in rarified air amongst sports films. However, for all the critical and commercial success it garnered, Moneyball ensures there’s still a heaping dose of humanity present over the duration of the film, which sees Brad Pitt star as Billy Beane, the general manager of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics and one of the first front office professionals to adapt to the controversial “sabermetrics” style of analytical scouting, pioneered by Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill in the film). It’s often rare that a film lives up to the hype surrounding it, but Moneyball is a legitimately enjoyable film that really does fulfill its potential.
2. Raging Bull (1980)
Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring frequent collaborator Robert De Niro, 1980’s Raging Bull is adapted from boxer Jake LaMotta’s memoir of the same name. Following LaMotta, a violent and self-destructive individual, on his journey as a professional boxer, Raging Bull is presented entirely in black and white (literally, not metaphorically) and features a tour-de-force performance by De Niro (it’s quite possibly the finest of his career). Notorious weight gain aside, De Niro softens the vicious rage of LaMotta with a wounded, almost animalistic sincerity that is as haunting as it is devastating to watch. An all-time classic and one of the greatest sports films ever made, Raging Bull is a must-watch that’ll have you ripping through heavy bags in no time at all.
1. Rocky (1976)
What’s to say about Rocky (1976) that hasn’t already been said? Of all the films on this list, it’s quite possibly the most inspiring, as Sylvester Stallone’s boxing drama (he wrote and starred in the film) has been the sole source of motivation for fighters, athletes and even troubled teenagers just going through a tough time. After all, “it ain’t about how hard you get hit…,” yadda yadda yadda. Everyone’s heard it, right? But that ubiquity is what makes Rocky such a wonderful film. The fact that it’s base platitudes contains such wonderful glimpses of legitimate human truth is what gives a film an enduring legacy, accessibility to generations both past and to come. Rocky is one of those films, with its intense boxing scenes and motivational training montages that gets your blood pumping. It’s also maybe the only film in history that makes us want to go to Philadelphia, amirite? (Just kidding Philadelphians, we all love cheesesteak!).