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The 20 Greatest Sports Films Of All Time

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May 15, 2013 by Craig Sutherland


Sports films… We all know the drill. The underdog overcomes incredible odds to win whilst learning valuable life lessons along the way.

Is that all they really are or is there more to them? Decide for yourselves but here are 20 of the greatest Sports Films of all time… (In My Opinion)

20) Whip It (2009)

In a town near Austin, Bliss Cavendar’s strong-willed mom believes Bliss, at 17, can win pageants – the key to a happy life. Bliss isn’t the beauty pageant type: she’s shy, quiet, and has just one friend, Pash, her fellow waitress at a diner. Things change for Bliss when she discovers a women’s roller derby league in Austin, tries out, proves to be whip fast, and makes a team. Now she needs to become someone tough on the rink, keep her parents from finding out where she goes twice a week, and do something about a first crush, on a musician she meets at the derby. Meanwhile, mom still sees Bliss as Miss Bluebonnet. Things are on a collision course; will everyone get banged up?

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19) When We Were Kings (1996)

It’s 1974, Muhammed Ali is 32 and thought by many to be past his prime. George Forman is ten years younger and the Heavyweight champion of the world. Promoter Don King wants to make a name for himself and offers both fighters five million dollars apiece to fight one another, and when they accept, King has only to come up with the money. He finds a backer in Mobutu Sese Suko, the dictator of Zaire and the “Rumble in the Jungle” is set. A musical festival, featuring the America’s top black performers, like James Brown and B.B. King, is also planned.

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18) White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

Billy and Sydney think they’re the best basketball hustlers in town, so when they join forces, nothing can stop them, except each other. To add to their problems, Billy owes money and is being chased by a pair of gangster types…

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17) Happy Gilmore (1996)

Happy Gilmore is a rowdy boy, who was raised by his grandmother. He wants to be a hockey player but isn’t because of one thing, he can’t skate. When his grandmother’s house is foreclosed cause of her failure to pay her taxes, and she’s placed in a retirement home, Happy must try and find a way to make some money. One day while at a driving range, he discovers that he can hit a golf ball a hundred feet, so the range pro, convinces him to try being a pro golfer. Reluctant at first, because he considers himself a hockey player, but when he learns he can make a lot of money, he gives it a try and surprisingly, in addition to his amazing driving ability, his antics have made him the darling of the crowd. Shooter McGavin the tournament leader, thinks that Happy’s an embarrassment and is jealous that he is stealing his spotlight, tries to get him thrown out or get him to quit.

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16) Any Given Sunday (1999)

An aging football coach finds himself struggling with his personal and professional life while trying to hold his team together. A star quarterback has been knocked out of the game and a naive football player replaces him only to become exposed to the world of sports and become a danger to himself and to his players. Meanwhile, the coach finds himself constantly at battle with the team owner’s money and power-hungry daughter intent on moving the team out.

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15) The Waterboy (1998)

31-year-old waterboy Bobby Boucher is constantly tormented by the team he works for until he is fired by the coach. He then finds a new coach to work for. Here he finds a new talent, tackling people by pretending they’re making fun of them. Soon, he becomes the best linebacker in college football, but he must keep it secret from his overprotective mother.

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14) Tin Cup (1996)

Roy McAvoy is a failed pro golfer who lives in a Winnebago at a crummy driving range which he owns in the West Texas town of Salome. One day, a beautiful woman, Dr. Molly Griswold, appears at his driving range for golf lessons. She turns out to be the new girlfriend of McAvoy’s longtime nemesis, the smarmy PGA superstar David Simms. Molly inspires Roy to start taking himself seriously again, and he decides to try to qualify for the US Open.

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13) Invictus (2009)

The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s rugby team as they make their historic run to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship match.

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12) The Karate Kid (1984)

Daniel is new in town, and is getting picked on by the local bullies, who all are adept in karate. Determined to stick up for himself, Daniel begins to teach himself karate, only to discover that the caretaker at his apartment seems to be a grand master in karate. Agreeing to teach Daniel, Mr. Miyagi shows Daniel that there is more to karate than violence, and perhaps the best way to solve the problem he has with the bullies is in the All Valley Karate Championship.

**Special Mention to The Karate Kid (2010), A fantastic Re-make With Jaden Smith & Jackie Chan**

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11) The Mighty Ducks (1992)

Gordon Bombay, a hotshot lawyer, is haunted by memories of his childhood, when, as the star player in his champion hockey team, he lost the winning goal in a shootout, thereby losing the game, and the approval of his coach. After being charged for drunk driving, the court orders him to coach a peewee hockey team, the worst in the league, Gordon is at first very reluctant. However, he eventually gains the respect of the kids and teaches them how to win, gaining a sponsor on the way and giving the team the name of The Ducks. In the finals, they face Gordon’s old team, coached by Gordon’s old coach, giving Gordon a chance to face old ghost.

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10) Kickboxer (1989)

Kurt Sloan is the corner-man for his brother, U.S. kickboxing champion Eric Sloan. When Kurt witnesses his brother become maliciously paralyzed in the ring by Thailand champion Tong Po, Kurt vows revenge. With the help of Zion, a kickboxing trainer who lives in a remote area of Thailand, Kurt trains for the fight of his life.

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9) Rollerball (1975)

In a futuristic society where corporations have replaced countries, the violent game of Rollerball is used to control the populace by demonstrating the futility of individuality. However, one player, Jonathan E., rises to the top, fights for his personal freedom, and threatens the corporate control.

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8) Escape To Victory (1981)

During World War 2 when some Swiss inspectors inspect one of the camps, one of the Germans accompanying them sees that the inmates play football. And when he recognizes one of the men, Colby as a former player for England, he suggests that his men play against a team of Germans. Colby agrees provided that his players be provided with certain amenities. At the same time, one of the prisoners an American, Hatch is planning to escape. But his plan hits a snag because of the football game. He joins the team cause it’s the only way his plan can work. The officers at the camp want him to go to Paris, where the game will be held, so that he can contact the underground and see if its possible for the team to escape. Hatch makes it and after meeting them, they think there’s a way but Hatch has to get caught so that he could be sent back to the camp so that he can inform the team of the plan. Which he does but unfortunately the Germans are keeping him in isolation so Colby must convince the Germans that he needs him for the team so that he could be released.

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7) Moneyball (2011)

In 2001, General Manager Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s lose to the Yankees in the playoffs then lose three stars to free agency. How can Beane field a competitive team when the A’s player salaries total less than a third of the rich teams’? To the consternation of his scouts, Beane hires and listens to Peter Brand, a recent Yale grad who evaluates players using Bill James’ statistical approach. Beane assembles a team of no names who, on paper, can get on base and score runs. Then, Beane’s manager, Art Howe, won’t use the players as Beane wants. Can Beane circumvent Howe, win games, make it to the 2002 Series, and stand baseball’s hidebound conventions on their heads?

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6) The Fighter (2010)

As a welterweight from the wrong side of the tracks, Dickie Eklund is the pride of working class Lowell, Massachusetts. Living in his shadow is his half-brother and sparring partner Micky Ward. It’s part of the Irish pride to let Dickie lead the way and win a championship belt first. However, after suffering a humiliating defeat to Sugar Ray Leonard, Dickie plunges into a nightmare of crack addiction, violence and prison. His family’s hopes are crushed in the wake of Dickie’s demise. Like a real life Rocky, Micky fights on his own terms and pulls his family out of despair with his meteoric rise in the ring. Freshly paroled Dickie finds redemption training his little brother, now known as “Irish” Micky Ward, for his Welterweight Championship bout with Shea Neary.

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5) The Wrestler (2008)

American filmmakers may have rediscovered emotional realism, but no conversion is more surprising than Darren Aronofsky’s. His unadorned portrait of a pro-wrestling has-been is built around a fantastic, physical performance by Mickey Rourke, captured with a documentary style that renders his dingy world all the more strange, funny and heartbreaking. In his own words, he’s “a broken-down piece of meat,” and Rourke, back from actor purgatory, brings ample baggage to the role—including his bulked-up, modified body, his sandpapered larynx and his craving for an unlikely comeback. Randy “The Ram” Robinson can’t keep doing pile drivers forever, especially as the game evolves into something even more brutal, but what else is there? He’s distant from his daughter, but he has a flirtatious, tentative relationship with an aging stripper (Marisa Tomei) who’s facing the same injustice of the ticking clock. The movie, with its dime-store romance, breezy dialogue and telegraphed emotion, feels a bit like a grungier Rocky, but at times the understated attitude, grime and destitution are closer to Raging Bull.—Robert Davis

4) Days of Thunder (1990)

From the engine roar and fever pitch of professional stock car racing, Days of Thunder explodes with racing action. Race driver Cole Trickle, whose talent and ambition are surpassed only by his burning need to win. Discovered by businessman Tim Daland, Cole is teamed with legendary crew chief and car-builder Harry Hogge to race for the Winston Cup at the Daytona 500. A fiery crash nearly ends Cole’s career and he must turn to a beautiful doctor to regain his nerve and the true courage needed to race, to win and to live.

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Rocky 33) The Rocky Franchise (1976 – 2006)

Rocky is a boxing saga of popular films all written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, who plays the character Rocky Balboa. The film series has grossed more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Never got a chance to see all of the rocky films? Here’s the full the franchise in one paragraph…

2) Senna (2010)

Senna’s remarkable story, charting his physical and spiritual achievements on the track and off, his quest for perfection, and the mythical status he has since attained, is the subject of SENNA, a documentary feature that spans the racing legend’s years as an F1 driver, from his opening season in 1984 to his untimely death a decade later. Far more than a film for F1 fans, SENNA unfolds a remarkable story in a remarkable manner, eschewing many standard documentary techniques in favour of a more cinematic approach that makes full use of astounding footage, much of which is drawn from F1 archives and is previously unseen.

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1) Raging Bull (1980)

Often regarded as Scorsese’s masterpiece, this biopic about boxer Jake LaMotta is a compelling character study, chronicling LaMotta’s violent outbursts inside and outside the ring. It’s beautifully shot in bleak black-and-white, and Robert De Niro (who won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance) plays the prizefighter like a clenched fist, lashing out at friends, family and anyone who looks at him the wrong way.

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There we have it, 20 of the greatest with some obvious omissions… Like Jerry Maguire (More about a Sports agent than a Sport) and Million Dollar Baby (I just Hate it, no rational explanation)

Feel free to comment your own top fives or top tens or even top fives in the same sport! I look forward to hearing from you!

2 thoughts on “The 20 Greatest Sports Films Of All Time

  1. Lauti says:

    Nice list. Except for Days of Thunder, i think Tony Scott hated that movie. I could add “Hoosiers”, “Bull Durham” and “Field of dreams”.

    • Craig says:

      Thank you, maybe I see Days Of Thunder through rose-tinted-glasses as I grew up watching that and Top Gun!

      What would be your top 10?

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