Whether you love gritty biopics like King Richard, which tells the story of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams' father, or you're a sucker for feel-good popcorn flicks like Space Jam: A New Legacy, or have a penchant for MMA fighting and Halle Berry, Hollywood has produced some incredible sports films over the years.
These 10 Sports Films Hit It Out of The Park
When we watch sports movies, it isn’t for the game's accuracy but rather for the inspiration we can find in the sports we know and love. Watching Kevin Costner build a baseball field or a football team from Texas trying to take home a national title isn’t because they’re the best portrayal of actual football or baseball. If we wanted that, we’d go watch a game.
Instead, we come to our sports movies to be uplifted and to understand why we sit through hours of these games in the first place. So let’s talk about ten of the best sports films today.
1. For Love of The Game
Sam Raimi’s For Love of the Game is the most recent of Kevin Costner’s baseball cinematic universe (he has a thing for baseball movies!) and truly one of the best sports movies ever made. Focusing on Billy Chapel (Costner), the movie centers around Chapel pitching a perfect game, but instead of his thoughts remaining focused on the game before him, they start to drift towards all the things that brought him to this moment on the mound while he’s trying to “clear the mechanism.”
It’s one of those movies you want to stand up and cheer for while watching it. And Chapel pitches for the Detroit Tigers. It’s just a movie about a man rounding out his career in a sport that views age as a death sentence and shows his worth while looking back on his life and trying to figure out if he thinks it was all worth it. It’s beautiful and one of Sam Raimi’s best movies.
2. Fighting With My Family
Sure, one might argue that wrestling is not a sport, but to those people, I say, “You’re wrong,” which is why Fighting With My Family made the cut. Based on the rise to fame of wrestler Paige (Florence Pugh), the movie is a unique look into the world of the WWE and how wrestlers can work their way through training to end up headlining and working with talent like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
It isn’t Florence Pugh’s first movie, and while many name things like Little Women or Midsommar as her best, there is just something about Fighting With My Family that is heartwarming and inspiring, even if it is a movie about wrestling. Paige constantly wanted to give up and throw in the towel, but she didn’t, and she kept coming back until she was the wrestler we all now know her to be, and watching that rise to fame in Fighting With My Family is incredible.
3. Friday Night Lights
Yes, it went on to be a better TV show than it ever was a movie, and yes, there are probably people out there who don’t think it is a great sports movie, but there’s just something about Friday Night Lights that works. It's clearly because they went on to make it into one of the greatest television series ever created. (Coach Taylor hive for life.)
A small town in Texas has one thing to live for: football, but when their star player gets badly injured in the first season of the game, the team must fight their way back to success before the season is out. Friday Night Lights works in movie and TV formats because it isn’t just about winning. It is about making a team work together in every sense.
The coach can’t do his job if he’s fighting with his wife, the players can’t work together if they hate each other, and the town won’t succeed if they’re not all supporting each other. And that’s what makes Friday Night Lights so good.
4. Field of Dreams
If you build it, he will come… It is a quote you’ve probably heard time and time again, and it is a mark of a good movie when we can easily identify it. Field of Dreams isn’t just a baseball movie. It’s a movie about loss and grief, coping with the pain of losing someone, and not having the closure you need to press on.
Ray (Kevin Costner) hears a mysterious voice that tells him to build a baseball field that will bring his dead father back to him for one game, and Ray does it to try and get that closure he’s missing between them. He wants to play catch with his dad and will do whatever it takes. And while the movie itself is more based around the idea of the sport, it is a classic and one of the best movies made.
5. Ford V. Ferrari
Picture this: Christian Bale’s wild energy mixed with Matt Damon’s “I’m just trying to get a job done” vibe and throw in some Formula 1 cars and you have Ford V. Ferrari. A history lesson, in a way, of Le Mans in France in 1966, the movie gives us a look at Carroll Shelby (Damon) and Ken Miles (Bale) as they race for Ford Motor Cars against the race cars of Enzo Ferrari.
Yes, it is a fun and interesting look at racing and a story that not that many people know about. Still, it is also a funny and heartbreaking screenplay from Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller. In one of Christian Bale’s finest performances, he brings Ken Miles to life in a way that makes his fearlessness charming while showing us a softer side to Miles by including his son (Noah Jupe) in the story. And who doesn’t love watching cars go incredibly fast?
6. The Karate Kid
Come on. There’s a reason we all are obsessed with Cobra Kai now. The Karate Kid takes us on a journey of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) as he trains with Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) to fight against Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). It isn’t perfect, and we’re all well aware of that now, but there is something addictively fun about The Karate Kid franchise. This is why we’ll watch a bunch of teenagers fighting using karate in a mall in Cobra Kai.
What’s fascinating about The Karate Kid is that it sets up Johnny Lawrence as our typical 80s villain. Then we get to see his trajectory throughout the film series and into the TV show, and he went from a punk kid who thought he knew better and turned into a man down on his luck just trying to make something of himself. And that world that we’re now still obsessed with is all thanks to The Karate Kid.
7. Tin Cup
Golf movies aren’t something you’d think of as exciting but throw Kevin Costner and Don Johnson into a movie together, and you’re bound for success. And that’s exactly what makes Tin Cup such a good movie, even if it is about golf. When Roy McAvoy (Costner) loses his chance to go pro due to his rebellious nature, he becomes a golf instructor instead. Yes, that’s right, Tin Cup is about a bad boy golfer.
But when Roy ends up working with Dr. Molly Griswold (Rene Russo), he decides to make a run at the PGA tour to try and win her heart while also hurting her boyfriend (and Roy’s rival) David Simms (Johnson) in the process. It’s a romantic comedy with sports mixed in that seemed to be popular in the 80s and 90s (and even more so with Costner as the lead), but it is still a fun sports film, and who doesn’t want to see young Costner golfing?!
8. The Replacements
Keanu Reeves, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans, and Orlando Jones play football. That’s it, and that should be all you need to know to want to watch The Replacements. When the Washington Sentinels go on strike, there is little that the owner can do. So they bring in legendary coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) to recruit players in one week and get them to play together as a team to try and make it through the playoffs.
It is chaos, but The Replacements has an all-star cast and one of the best movie endings I have ever seen, and there’s just something fun about watching this team come together and learn how to work together that is uplifting and wonderful. Plus, you get to see football player Keanu Reeves, so it is a win-win situation for all of us. Oh, did I mention that both Rhys Ifans and Orlando Jones are in this movie?
9. A League of Their Own
There may be no crying in baseball but A League of Their Own inspired generations of women around the United States and told us that we could do whatever we set our minds to. When the young men of the U.S. get shipped out for World War II, those left behind need something to look to, and so the all-female baseball league begins with a cast of characters that make us love baseball and this amazing team of women.
Starring Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Tom Hanks as coach Jimmy Dugan, there is a reason that young people still turn to A League of Their Own for inspiration. It isn’t about women kicking ass or being empowering, but rather it is a movie about joy and coming together to experience something as a collective in a dark time and now, with the new TV series coming out based on the movie, there’s even more reason to turn back to the Penny Marshall film for love and guidance.
10. Like Mike
Like Mike is a movie that came out in 2002 and is very specific to kids who are my age. I remember seeing shoes hanging over telephone wires and thinking, “Those might be Michael Jordan’s shoes” because of the movie, and I remember Li’l Bow Wow’s song at the end of the movie because it is so very much a 2002 movie and yet one of the greatest basketball movies out there.
When Calvin Cambridge (Bow Wow) finds shoes that have the initials“M.J.” written on the inside of them, he quickly becomes an NBA superstar, channeling the power and talent of Michael Jordan. Now, would this movie hold up? Maybe not. Does it have a soft spot in my heart because I was ten years old when it came out? Absolutely. I fully believe that Like Mike is one of the greatest sports movies out there, and maybe it is time to revisit it.
Rachel Leishman is a writer based in New York City. She specializes in yelling about her favorite properties. A real-life Leslie Knope, she loves her fictional characters and knows probably too much about Harrison Ford's career.