Sports may seem inconsequential in the scheme of life. After all, what's the big deal about throwing a ball or running a race around a track? Any athlete knows that the lifestyle of sports represents so much more than the mere actions of the games on the pitch, though. Teamwork and humanity combine in perfect unison when we play sports, and therefore the best sports dramas, both television and movies, capitalize on the innate qualities that have made athletics a worldwide phenomenon for centuries now. These are the 22 best sports drama shows and movies, ranked!
Sylvester Stallone's biggest hit endures a half-century later due to iconic music, ageless messaging, and phenomenal lead performances. Rocky's timeless tale of an underdog defeating bigger and better opponents in the boxing ring against all odds drives home inspirational points in everyone. The franchise went on to create many sequels and even a spinoff series, but the original remains the best.
2. Raging Bull
Raging Bull differs from other sports films in the way it depicts the psychology of its protagonist. Robert De Niro digs into the deepest parts of Jake LaMotta's psyche in the autobiographical tale of the boxer's life inside and outside boxing. Martin Scorsese helped build his reputation based on the greatness of this film.
3. Field of Dreams
Baseball has an aura around it that other sports don't. People get very nostalgic, even religious when it comes to America's pastime. Field of Dreams dives head first into the corny, but heartfelt qualities of baseball in Kevin Costner's quest to build a baseball field with supernatural abilities. The father-son story at the core of the film makes it a classic.
4. Brian's Song
Starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, Brian's Song often tops lists of films most likely to make grown men cry. The friendship between football players Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers grows deeper as the former's life comes to an abrupt close after a bout of terminal illness. The film grapples with race relationships, toxic masculinity, and the power of football to heal.
The late Chadwick Boseman brings Jackie Robinson to life in goosebump-inducing ways in 42. The pioneer of Black representation in MLB often received jeers instead of cheers in the 1940s, something younger generations may have forgotten in the decades since. Harrison Ford gives awesome supporting work as the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
6. Ted Lasso
The first TV show on our list, Ted Lasso feels like an energy drink in a minefield of depressing TV. Jason Sudeikis never fails to put a smile on our faces as the American soccer coach tasked with leading a European club while wistfully remaining out of his element. The show only went three seasons, never losing its special qualities.
7. Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights remains one of the only sports franchises to succeed as both a television show and a movie. We're named the series here because of the brilliance of the long-form storytelling. Kyle Chandler won an Emmy for his role as a high school football coach who juggles the responsibilities of teaching the game and maintaining his family in rural America.
8. Million Dollar Baby
Million Dollar Baby dares to step outside the masculine confines of boxing films to let Hilary Swank shine. Swank plays Maggie Fitzgerald, an ambitious fighter who will do whatever it takes to climb the mountain of professional boxing with her crude but fair trainer Frankie Dunn. Morgan Freeman shouldn't go unnoticed as one of Frankie's former fighters who helps Maggie. He won an Oscar, after all.
9. Cobra Kai
Cobra Kai takes everything audiences love about The Karate Kid and updates it for a modern audience enjoyed by new and old fans alike. Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso's fiery rivalry stands the test of time. Xolo Maridueña from The Blue Beetle excels as Miguel Diaz.
The Gene Hackman vehicle Hoosiers endures as a classic basketball film by relying on genre tropes and underdog cliches, but somehow never feels trite or repetitive. The film's geographic focus on Indiana seems to rally the Midwest in ways other films have failed to do so. For almost 40 years, the Hickory High boys basketball team has made us want to run through a wall!
11. I, Tonya
The story of Tonya Harding initiating the stabbing of Nancy Kerrigan fascinated the world back in 1994, and it still captures our attention 30 years later. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney keep viewers engaged and force them to think about the complicated interpersonal issues that led to one of the sporting world's most famous crimes.
12. King Richard
The Williams sisters revolutionized and dominated women's tennis for two decades. Their father, Richard, gets his due in King Richard, the story of a dad's dedication to his daughters and the power of belief over all else. Serena and Venus were heavily involved in the filmmaking process, and Will Smith won his long-deserved Academy Award for playing Richard Williams.
Another sports drama focused on violent tragedy, Foxcatcher displayed the skills of Steve Carrell outside the world of comedy. The film tells the story of millionaire John du Pont and the devastating events that occur when he tries to create a wrestling team for the Olympics. Channing Tatum joins Carrell as a usual comedic actor turned dramatic star.
The “Miracle on Ice” remains a landmark patriotic moment in American sports. Miracle helps us relive the thrill of the win over the Russian ice hockey team in 1984 with a strong performance from Kurt Russell as head coach Herb Brooks. The film gives a solid summary of the various turning points in the Americans' run to the gold medal.
Two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant serves as the inspiration for this Apple TV+ drama about the trials and tribulations of high school athletes juggling sports and family life in a tough urban environment. O'Shea Jackson Jr. gives one of the true unheralded performances in a sports drama in the last decade.
Baseball fans who appreciate the art of mathematics and how numbers affect the game will love this Academy-Award nominated picture starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Moneyball gives power to the people in the front office, chronicling the smarts of Billy Beane, the general manager who overcame cheap ownership to maintain relevance with the Oakland A's in the early 21st century.
17. One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill targets a teenage audience rather than an adult one, but several universal sports tropes are represented in the series. The plot revolves around high school basketball players Lucas and Nathan Scott. They stereotypically have to figure out how to handle dating, homework, college admissions, and basketball against a suburban backdrop.
18. Love and Basketball
Sports romance movies sometimes have a hard time finding an audience because the former genre skews towards men and the latter towards women. Both genders find they enjoy this classic about Quincy McCall and Monica Wright's romance built through proximity and a love for the game. Spike Lee provides name value and pedigree as a producer.
19. Chariots of Fire
One of the only films on the list to win Academy Awards, Chariots of Fire depicts the juxtaposition of motivations for running track and field. Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams both compete at the Olympics, but for different reasons: religion and freedom. Social constructs and deep thematic contemporary issues help make this a standout film.
20. Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty
Unfortunately canceled after only two seasons, Winning Time uses fantastic actors like Adrien Brody as Pat Riley and Jason Clarke as Jerry West to mythologize the most entertaining dynasty in the history of sports. The real-life members of the Showtime Lakers weren't always happy with this series, but the HBO drama fearlessly depicted the personal lives of the people on and off the court.
Dwayne Johnson stars as a version of himself in this drama about the glitz and glamor that comes with being a football standout. Cultural references to the Rock's past and awesome supporting performances will entice any football fan to watch this HBO program.
22. The Crossover
One of the Disney Plus sports shows, The Crossover teaches life lessons through the lens of a basketball coach and his middle school-aged sons. As father Chuck Bell starts to succumb to cancer, his sons struggle to find their value outside the game he taught them so well. Kids and adults should enjoy this sappy and fun program together!
Shawn Laib is a writer who has loved all things pop culture from a young age. Growing up playing classic Nintendo games and being introduced to a variety of movies and shows, he always enjoyed analyzing and getting to the bottom of the point of a story. As he went into high school, basketball and sports in general became a main focus. Shawn decided to put his skills in English class to good use and majored in the subject area at the University of Washington, graduating with a B.A. in 2020. He began his freelance writing career after college with sites like SUPERJUMP, Den of Geek, and Quote.com. He now remains a fixture with publications like The Manual and Wealth of Geeks.