The Top Ten Sports Movies

Last night, the 2012 NFL season officially kicked off, and in conjunction, today brings my list of the Top Ten Sports Movies of all time.

This was a difficult list to compile. Mainly due to the difficulty of defining what a “Sports Movie” actually is. A number of great movies use sports as an element, but in reality may be about something else. Perhaps the movie is a drama (“Raging Bull”) or has a strong romantic element (“Bull Durham”). How does one compare those as “Sports Movies” against a movie such as, say… “Miracle”, which is purely focused on a sport?

Compounding the challenge is the fact that this category has an enormous number of movies up for consideration. It would have been easy to go top 20 or even 30 here… I had to cut a number of movies that I’m a big fan of. There are some really, really painful omissions out there.

But I pushed on and worked it out! Click through to check out my list of the Top Ten Sports Movies of all time!

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10) Slap Shot (1977)

“Slap Shot” is the story of minor league hockey franchise the Charlestown Chiefs, and player-coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman). In spite of rumors of an impending sale, Dunlop learns that the franchise is going to be disbanded at the end of the season. After that fact comes to light, it’s anything goes as Reg and his team try to fill the stands. “Slap Shot” is a hysterical look at both hockey and hockey players.

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9) Raging Bull (1980)

If our topic today were simply “Greatest Movies”, “Raging Bull” would obviously place much higher. But even though its central focus isn’t necessarily on the sport of boxing, boxing is integral to the film. An unflinching look at a man the sport hailed as a champion, Martin Scorsese makes the sweet science look more brutal than it ever has before.

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8) The Natural (1984)

Barry Levinson’s look at the game of baseball has “storybook” written all over it. It’s less of a baseball movie than it is a baseball fairy tale… Robert Redford’s Roy Hobbs is less the way baseball players are, and more the way we want them to be. Golden, good-looking idols with a touch of magic to them. It features a storybook ending that may just be too good to be believable. _____________________________________________________________________________

7) Major League (1989)

Baseball has never been funnier. Trying to activate an escape clause in their stadium lease, a greedy owner intentionally assembles the worst team possible, attempting to kill attendance. She doesn’t anticipate the team will form remarkable chemistry and start winning. Great cast that includes Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen and Dennis Haysbert.

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6) Miracle (2004)

“Miracle” is a 200 proof sports movie. Pure as they get. No side plots. No romances. No comedy. Just a dramatic re-enactment of one of the biggest upsets in sports history, the “Miracle On Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics. It delivers an unadulterated sports experience. Team building. Coaching, Training. And above all, the thrill of victory. Do I believe in miracles? YES!

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5) Field of Dreams (1989)

This movie isn’t so much about the sport of baseball as it is about the love of baseball. “If you build it they will come.” Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella is willing to follow his heart and listen to the mysterious voice he hears. The result is a magical event that will touch the heart of any baseball fan. Nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

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4) Caddyshack (1980)

“Caddyshack” unquestionably left its mark on the sport of golf in a way no other sports movie has. Millions of amateur golfers world-wide quote this movie like scripture. “It’s in the hole!”, “Be the ball…”, “Let’s go! While we’re young!”, almost every line from “Caddyshack” is quotable. Not just one of the greatest sports comedies ever, it’s one of the greatest comedies ever. CLASSIC.

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3) Bull Durham (1988)

Part sports flick, part chick flick, “Bull Durham” mixes sports, comedy and romance successfully to create a unique movie about the minor league experience. Baseball (and sports) wisdom abounds, as Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis schools Tim Robbins’ Nuke LaLoosh up about both baseball and life. “Bull Durham” deservedly has become a beloved sports movie.

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2) Rocky (1976)

This film has become synonymous with the term “underdog story”. It practically gave birth to the “Training Montage”. It’s based on the inspirational story of a boxer who… put up a good fight. Oscar Winner. AFI top 100. A great movie that is also a great sports movie, “Rocky” spawned 5 sequels over the course of 30 years and earned itself a prominent place in the pop culture consciousness.

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1) Hoosiers (1986)

Strong sports focus? Check. Great characters? Check. A sporting event you can follow? A Team you can root for? Check and check. Hoosiers is sports movie heaven. From the inspirational quotes (“I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners!”), to the drama (“I play, coach stays. He goes, I go.”), to the underdog story, “Hoosiers” is the total sports movie package.

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NOTES: “Brian’s Song” and “61*” are TV movies, Poker is questionable as a sport, so “Rounders” is excluded. I will openly mock suggestions that I should have included “Jerry Maguire”.

Well, that’s the scoreboard folks.

There were a LOT of great movies that didn’t make my list. And with such a disparate mix of comedies and dramas, plus the differing levels of sports content within each film… I’m sure there will be lots of discussion regarding the rankings!

So what do you think? Did I leave one off that you think deserves to be on the list? Have a problem with the order? Something needs to be higher or lower? Let me hear it! Tell us what you think!!

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110 thoughts on “The Top Ten Sports Movies

  1. Fogs, you’re in my wheel house now with sports films.

    Here’s a list I put together sometime last year:
    1.Rocky
    2.Raging Bull
    3.Hoosiers
    4.Caddyshack
    5. Remember the Titans
    6.Jerry Maguire
    7.The Natural
    8.Field of Dreams
    9.The Hustler
    10.Miracle

    Let me first say that I’ve never watched Bull Durham start to finish, hence my reasoning for leaving it off the list. Also, I know arguments have been made that Jerry Maguire isn’t a sports movie, and if that’s the case then I’d substitute Hoop Dreams (an incredible documentary about 2 basketball players), and would actually probably put that in the #5 spot.

    Although I expect much grief for admitting this, I also have never seen Slap Shot. :(

    So many movies, so little time..

  2. Excellent list! I would replace Raging Bull with Rudy, by virtue that is the only movie I didn’t see. I would also stick Invincible in there, knock Major League to honorable Mention.

    • Wellllllllll I cant NOT have Major League. That’s a big one to me.

      But I will say this… I actually debated Raging Bull vs Rudy. That exact matchup. Raging Bull is a much much much better movie of course, but Rudy is more a Sports Movie. So it was a serious debate for me.

      In the end, Rudy didn’t make the team. LOL. :(

  3. RUDY! RUDY! RUDY! A good sports movie’ll make you cry. Done and done. Also, glaring omission of A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN. But I won’t cry about it because there’s “no crying in baseball.”

    • LOL. I’m not even that far in, and I strongly regret my decision to go with Raging Bull over Rudy already. LOL. I’m tellin you Joanna, it’s always the one on the bottom of the list.

      As consolation, here’s the actual sack Rudy recorded :D

      Never that big a fan of a League of Their Own, but I do have to admit that that line has become a classic and then some. LOL :D

      Thanks for stopping by and chiming in!

      • I love League of Their Own b/c it’s a portrait of war-time America as much as it is about women’s rights and sports–and how awesome Tom Hanks is. It’s got a little of everything. It’s also insanely quotable, which isn’t necessarily the mark of a good movie (bad quotes are memorable, too) but says something about its staying power. “There’s no crying in baseball.” “Avoid The Clap, Jimmy Duggan” etc etc etc. :)

  4. Great list. I’m not the biggest sports-movie fan, so I can’t gripe about any of your picks. I love cycling, so I would have included Breaking Away even though it’s not in the same tier as most of these.

      • I absolutely love Breaking Away. However, the entire film does not focus on the cycling, so as a sports film I could see why the it may not be in the top 10. That said it is a sentimental favorite movie generally of mine. Nice mention Philip.

        Moocher: [looking at Dave's beat up bike] Doesn’t look that bad to me…
        Dave: That’s cause you don’t have to ride it!
        Moocher: Well, you know, you don’t have to ride it either, Dave. We’re not gonna beg you.
        Cyril: We may plead, but we would never beg!

  5. Not being much of a sports fan, in just about any sense of the phrase, when I saw the title to this entry my first thought was: Slap Shot had better be on that list. That is one of the few outright sports movies that I not only love, but own a copy of.

    Some of the listed, I’ll just have to take their inclusion on your word, because I’ve never been interested enough to bother viewing them. In fact, I think I’ve only seen half of the movies in your ten, two of which were in class back in high school. Since you’ll likely want to know, those two were Hoosiers and Field of Dreams. The other two (because I’ve already mentioned Slap Shot) are Caddyshack and Rocky.

    I have not yet seen Raging Bull, it’s on the list. Lets just move on and not bring this part up, yeah.

    • Actually, I had the toughest time whether to include “Raging Bull” or not… it’s not your typical sports movie, lets put it that way. Great movie though, you should definitely see it on that basis alone!

      Glad I didn’t let you down by omitting Slap Shot Dak! :D Who could fogret the Hanons, though? :D

      • I know RB is a great movie. I have seen a significant portion of it, in increments, just never more than small bits of it in any one sitting. I recognize many of the references to it, but maybe not all of them. Its been on the list for a long while now, I will try to bump it up in priority.

        As for the Brothers Hanson, well… they just kinda make the movie, don’t they? Makes sense, when you consider that the movie is ipso facto based on the very guys playing them. The other big aspect that made that movie fun for a non-sports-fan like myself was the way Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) would play the politics of the situation by feeding the rumors and so on.

  6. It’s funny how often people forget about “Miracle”. Fun fact: Al Michaels recreated his commentary from the big game EXACTLY for the movie, right up until the last 10 seconds when he makes the iconic “Do you believe i miracles?” call where they switch to the archival recording. If you listen closely you can hear his voice get higher in a seamless transition.

    • :D I’ll have to be on the look out for that.

      I wonder why they didn’t just use the archival audio for the whole thing. We have the technology now to make it sound spotless…

      Anyways, yes. Totally ture, people DO forget Miracle, and they shouldn’t its a REALLY good sports flick. Love that one. “Who do you play for?”

  7. I would have put Field Of Dreams at #1. I’ve seen all 10 movies and own 5 (Major League, Field Of Dreams, Rocky, Raging Bull and Caddyshack). Great list.

    • Yeah, you know, my issue with “Field” was that there’s actually no competition… there’s no sporting event to follow/root for who wins or loses. Great flick, but atypical. Thats basically why I ranked it as “low” as I did.

  8. The one litmus test for a sports’ movie is, if you take the sport(s) out of the movie do you still have a movie. That’s why “Jerry Maguire” doesn’t qualify, it’s pretty much intact after you remove any sports element. Good, well thought out list of flix. I never regarded “Rocky” as highly as you did. Too much emotional manipulation for me.
    I see where “Netflix” now has a separate sports movie category. I don’t think that list will change much month to month. Sad day today sports’ wise, you know why.

    • Ohhhhhhhhh. That IS a good litmus test. Yeah….

      I shoulda thought of that. LOL. :D I do like that, a LOT!

      I like it so much Im going to ignore your sleight of one of the greatest movies and movie characters ever to grace the silver screen.

  9. I know people have already mentioned these before, but it’s a travesty you didn’t include Breaking Away and Rudy. On the positive side, you did not include The Hustler. Thank you for that.

    • LOL. Well, the ‘T’ in FMR does stand for Travesty! :D

      I love Breaking Away. If this were more a list based on favorites, I’d have had that and Bad News Bears ranked highly.

      The Hustler is a great movie with a horrible quarter. It’s the reason the “Chapter Skip” button was invented on the DVD player…

  10. I don’t really disagree with this list. As long as the film focuses on the sport which these all do and operate in that rarified air of their craft which they all do, they fit.
    Great post.

    Personally, I would have considered at least the following:

    CHARIOTS OF FIRE – excellent film dramatizing 1924 track olympians with an unforgettable score (played during credits).

    Eric Liddell: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.
    And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

    RUDY – an amazing story of an average guy who worked into the ND and later the football team.

    Fortune: You’re 5 foot nothin’, 100 and nothin’, and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years. And you’re gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody but yourself. And after what you’ve gone through, if you haven’t done that by now, it ain’t gonna never happen. Now go on back.

    REMEMBER THE TITANS – remarkable coach who brought together a team and community during a time of great racial divide during school desegregation in early ’70s.

    Coach Yoast: All right, now, I don’t want them to gain another yard! You blitz… all… night! If they cross the line of scrimmage, I’m gonna take every last one of you out! You make sure they remember, forever, the night they played the Titans!

    SECRETARIAT- a story about a wife and mother who persevered to support a racehorse she could barely afford after her father’s passing that became first triple crown winner in 25 years in 1973 that still holds best times in each race.

    Penny Chenery: My father’s legacy is not his money. My father’s legacy is the will to win.

    • All considered. BUT!

      Chariots of Fire, my consideration went like this (Total consideration time .5 seconds) Great theme song. That movie is boring. That movie robbed Raiders of an Oscar. Denied.

      Remember the Titans just… I dont know, it just feels too Hollywood. And I know its a true story, etc, but… Couldnt pull the trigger on it. I cant bump any of these for it.

      Secretariat is an excellent movie, but… the horse racing element throws me. Horses arent humans, and I dont connect with the sport as well. Seriously, this is the type of difference maker we’re talking here. :D

      Rudy.

      I knew that little shit would give me trouble. DAMMIT!! LOL :D

  11. There is a no win situation with this sort of abridged list. I would have tackled no less than 20. Unfortunately I wouldnt even include 3 of these in that top 20 so my lit would look very different.

    I tip my hat to you sir for trying!

  12. Hmmmm… I haven’t seen that many sports movies. Here are my top 10 nevertheless:

    1.) Rudy — as explained above: “Ruuuudy! Ruuuudy! Ruuuudy!”
    2.) Rocky — hey, can’t complain about the obvious choice. It still may be the best and most realistic character that Stallone has ever played.
    3.) Shaolin Soccer — the sleeper! It’s soccer … but ramped up to cartoony Dragonball Z levels! This is seriously the prized possession of my DVD collection. It’s currently with my brother-in-law as he fishes the Bering Sea, though, because no man should be without Shaolin Soccer.
    4.) ESPN 30 for 30: June 17th, 1994 — OK, not released in theaters, but seriously the best 30 for 30 I have ever seen. Just cuts of footage of the different sports related news stories on that date: the World Cup in the US, Arnold Palmer’s last game … and LAPD chasing OJ Simpson down a freeway. Perhaps one of my favorite documentaries ever.
    5.) Happy Gilmore — One of Sandler’s best, and another great attempt at enlivening a sometimes boring sport.
    6.) Cinderella Man — Boxing movies seem to excel at underdog stories. Similar to Rocky in many ways.
    7.) Jerry McGuire — OK, so this movie is cheeseball is hell… But I’m man enough to admit that the “You had me at hello” scene gets me every time. EVERY TIME. You many now openly mock me. Show me the monn-ayyyyy!
    8.) We Are Marshall — nice portrayal of a team coming together after a real life tragedy and playing for something that’s beyond wins and losses.
    9.) Field of Dreams — I don’t even like baseball that much, but man did this ever teach me about the Black Sox. Perhaps one of the first ever “mumblecore” movies I remember seeing. :)
    10.) Cool Runnings — That poor Jamaican bobsled team. Clearly they deserved to win that Olympics. Clearly one of the grittiest underdog dramas of our time. … What? It was a comedy? And the Jamaicans just weren’t very suited for a winter sport… and were actually kind of a joke? Are you telling me the movies lied to me?

    • I missed that 30 for 30, Dammit. That was a great series.

      LOL @ you calling Field of Dreams “mumblecore” :D Cinderella Man was a good flick and had an outside chance at my top 20. Happy Gilmore is currently burdened by Adam Snadler backlash, so… I haven’t seen Shaolin Soccer. I’ll have to check it out.

      And finally, as promised above, suggestions of Jerry Maguire would be mocked, so here’s a clip for you from one of your top ten sports movies, Santo!

  13. I totaly agree with your #1, Hoosiers is an excellent sports film. But all I can say after that is: “Your the captain of this blog, ACT LIKE IT!”

    • I know, I know. Thanks for the support on #1. Apparently everyone’s ok with it, since no one has said boo against it. [Shrugs]

      Meanwhile, I’m giving myself more hell over omitting Rudy than anyone else is… LOL

  14. Count me as a vote for Rudy, and for Raging Bull as well, but I would have voted against Caddyshack as a Sports Movie. (Golf isn’t a sport, it’s a hobby. Trust me, any sport which can be played by someone in the kind of shape I’m in, doesn’t qualify).

    Hoosiers I haven’t seen in a long time, and I dont remember it that well, but I wouldn’t have placed it anywhere near number 1. I am a big fan of Chariots of Fire, however.

    • Rudy AND Raging Bull? My paradigm is shattered, here. I dont know how to react to that thought.

      Caddyshack stays, bro. You’re super minority there. LOL

      I’m pretty comfortable with Hoosiers at one. Great flick. Well respected. When researching in order to not overlook any great titles, Hoosiers was number one on all kinds of lists… I concur!

  15. I have to admit, I kind of hate The Natural. It’s about as far from real baseball as a serious baseball movie could be. Give me Eight Men Out. It’s the Anti-Natural.

    Also, the awesomenocity of 61* is more than enough to overcome that it was made for cable.

    • Well, then I’d have to consider Brian’s Song, too, and before you know it, half the top ten is getting reconsidered.

      The Natural IS definitely about 1,000,000 miles from “Real” baseball, but it’s got a big heart for the game.

      I considered 8 Men Out, obviously, but that’s almost more historical drama than sports movie. I dont know… its not a reflection on the calibre of the movie, I just didnt have enough love for it to bump it bast any of these, John. :(

      • I’d be all for including Brian’s Song. Really, those are the only two made for TV sports movies I can think of. But that’s just me. It’s your list and so forth.

        Really, that’s what these lists come down to- personal preference. It’s your list and you should damn well do what you want with it, not what I want with it.

        (even if The Natural did suck)

        (I kid, I kid…)

  16. Slap Shot should be higher. Just saying. Here are some I like/love that didn’t make it onto your list: A League of Their Own, He Got Game, Blue Chips, Any Given Sunday, Basketball Diaries (feel free to veto that one), and The Bad News Bears.

    C’mon, no Space Jam?

  17. You’ve done it again, Fogs!

    Thank goodness this list doesn’t have any sequels in it, would’ve ruined it completely!
    Great assemblage. I would put Rudy in that 11-20 range along with Chariots of Fire, Remember The Titans, The Longest Yard (original, obviously), Brian’s Song, Tin Cup, A League of Their Own, Bad News Bears, Hoop Dreams (if docs are allowed), Victory and MAYBE then Jerry Maguire. Um, does Karate Kid qualify as a sports movie? I’ve said too much!

    Here’s our obligatory Jerry Maguire clip:

    • You almost MAYBE got yourself a Jerry Maguire video of that cute kid, there Classick. LOL :D

      You’re pretty much nailing my 11-20 range though. Longest Yard was one of those that didnt make the cut due to the sports content quotient. Nothing against that movie at all, I love it!

      Karate Kid could be a sports movie, yeah, definitely, but I’d have to dump it down the list (might make 11-20) cause… well… it doesnt feel very “Sports”, and this from someone who used to DO Karate tournaments. Just doesnt come immediately to mind when you think sports, you know?

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