Sports movies are often popular not because they are just sports-themed movies, but because they are often tales of the indomitable human spirit. They show human triumph over some sort of challenge or adversity. They paint a storybook picture of everything sports fans love to see: an underdog story, a longtime athlete taking the field one last time, or a young hometown hero finally making it to the big stage.
Sports movies can be inspiring to viewers in a way that it gives them a comparison to their own life. Inspirational stories give viewers hope that no matter what they are going through in life, they will eventually find their moment of triumph and success similar to that of the character in the film.
With that being said, here are some of the best sports movies in cinema history in no particular order:
Miracle (2004) (PG)
Miracle is based on the true story of the 1980 United States men’s ice hockey team, with a centralized theme around the story of Herb Brooks, the team’s head coach. Brooks is given the task of taking a team full of unfocused and undersized college hockey players and turning them into a physically and mentally sound hockey team. As the team finds success in the Olympics, they eventually end up beating the best hockey team in the world, the Soviet Union. The USSR had a team of seasoned veterans, and no U.S. team had ever beaten them in the previous 20 years. The win against the Soviets came at a time that was during the Cold War, the Iranian hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and United States gas shortages. As America itself was itching for some sort of hope or patriotism, the story of the 1980 US men’s hockey team ignited hope and spirit in the people of the United States, and it is accurately portrayed in this 2004 film.
Rudy (1993) (PG)
Based on the story of Rudy Ruettiger’s life, the film shows the triumph of Ruettiger’s life and his journey to playing football for the University of Notre Dame football team. Ruettiger at first doesn’t even have the grades to attend Notre Dame, let alone play for the football team. Rudy attends Holy Cross College where he brings his grades up and eventually is accepted into Notre Dame. He eventually walks on to the football team and is nowhere near as talented as the other players, but he had heart. He gave up his body in practice every day, and the movie comes to an emotional climax in the final scene where he finally gets to take the field for Notre Dame, and live out his dream of playing football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Rudy is an inspirational classic that even non-sports fans should enjoy.
Bull Durham (1988) (R)
Bull Durham is a romantic sports/comedy about an MLB veteran Crash Davis (Kevin Kostner), and the Durham Bulls, a former minor league single-a affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. Davis is an aging catcher who has made it up to the big leagues and is brought to the team to provide mentoring for “Nuke” LaLoosh, a young fiery pitcher that lacks command and maturity on the mound. The romantic side of the movie is a love triangle between Davis, LaLoosh, and Annie Savoy, a local Durham woman who dedicates her heart to one Bull Durham player each season. Though the romantic side of the movie is unrealistic and most likely wouldn’t pan out the same in real life, this movie is an entertaining and comical movie and is a classic about America’s pastime.
Rocky (1976) (PG)
Rocky is a particularly unique sports film in the idea that the main protagonist, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), loses. The cliche for most sports movies is that the main character is triumphant in the end, comes out victorious, and is the ultimate hero. But in Rocky, the main character actually loses in the climax of the film, the fight versus Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Rocky is a poor, hard-nosed fighter from the streets of Philadelphia. Creed, the heavyweight champion of the world, chooses to select a no-name underdog for a publicity stunt exhibition match at a shot against the heavyweight champion. He chose Rocky because he liked his fighting name, “The Italian Stallion.” Rocky didn’t wish to win the fight, but only to put up a respectable fight, to go the distance, all 15 rounds. In the end, Rocky loses by a split decision, but he went all 15 rounds and earned his respect, he went the distance. Rocky is an all-time sports movie and the film’s message of persistence and the ability to keep moving forward makes it a powerful movie.
Hoosiers (1986) (PG)
Hoosiers is about a small, rinky-dink, Indiana high school basketball team in the 1950s that treks all the way to the state championship. In the 1950s, all high school teams played in the same tournaments regardless of the size of the school. Hickory High School, home of the Hoosiers, is so small it can barely form a basketball team. But their story is one of an underdog triumph, a David vs Goliath story, something that is common in sports movies but is ever so perfect. The team’s coach, Norman Dale (Gene Hackman), is a former college coach who goes to smalltown Hickory to rebuild his career after a scandal in his past. Hoosiers shows the incredible culture of a small-town community in Indiana, a state that holds basketball tradition unlike any other. The movie has a theme of second chances, redemption, and overcoming adversity. Three themes that are certainly a part of the recipe towards crafting a good sports movie.