There have been many articles over the years ranking the best sports movies. If you look them up, THEY ARE ALL WRONG! We had to set the record straight as well as include movies that have been made since these lists were published. Below is the judging criteria/rubric for what makes a sports movie great.
Has to get going early, not too much time on side plot, right into mid-movie montage. It doesn't get too serious near the climax and there should be a final game or showdown. If you pay attention, most sports film come in around the 2 hours mark--and I will give you credit if you can come in under.
Sports scenes have to be good
Some movies cast athletes that can't play. Some of the scenes with sports are not that captivating (e.g. 42.) Slow motion helps, jock jam helps, and --while it does not get you points off--we love to see real teams and franchises with some cameos from real athletes or sports broadcasters talking and interacting with the fictional characters.
No brainer. We love it.
Background friendship or romance
All sports, all the time is less entertaining. But too much focus on relationships and it's just Jerry Maguire or Love and Basketball
This is what we remember from these movies. They live on in locker rooms around the world throughout time. Sometimes, a good speech can save a mediocre movie (e.g. Any Given Sunday.)
No documentaries and points off for a straight-laced biopic
1) Remember the Titans (2000, 1h 53m)
This is a perfect movie. I cannot believe they fit all of this into an 1h53m film; it moves so well. Denzel and the acting is phenomenal. There is hardship, friendship. The sports scenes are great and the soundtrack is killer. If you have not seen this one in a while, you have to go back and give it a proper rewatch.
2) Rocky IV (1985, 1h 31m)
I'm sorry, but this is the best Rocky movie. It is basically one big montage, with the Russian snow training montage to "Hearts on Fire" being maybe the best montage ever. Rocky avenges Apollo's death against the unstoppable Drago and then delivers the "if i can change, you can change" speech at the end. Unbelievable. I could watch it one thousand times.
3) Hoosiers (1986, 1h 54m)
This movie just puts you in a certain emotional state for two hours. Hackman hits all the right spots, there is a background romance that seems true, Dennis Hopper is great, and the sports scenes with the crowd are ahead of their time. Could easily be number one.
4) Bull Durham (1988, 1h 48m)
I love a narrator and Susan Sarandon is an American Treasure. Baseball is America's pastime and this movie captures it all. Rookie on the rise, salty vet on the tail end of a career. The soundtrack of this movie has become the soundtrack to every ball park in America.
5) The Natural (1984, 2h 18m)
This movie is 18 minutes too long, or else it could be number one. There is one too many characters between The Duke, Mr. Magic Eyeball and Robert Duvall's reporter character. otherwise, this is a perfect sports movie. I still get chills when they play that score "bom-bom-bom-bombombom" and Hobbs circles the bases in slow motion.
6) Major League (1989, 1h 47m)
Underdog story, the world is against us, started at the bottom. A real cast of characters that are all working through their own issues. My wife gets upset that every time this movie is on cable, I have to stop and leave it on.
7) Friday Night Lights (2004, 1h 58m)
This movie is much more of an underdog story than I remembered. The underlying theme is that Permian is "too small" to play big games. This movie full well captures what it is like to go out and lose your last game, knowing you may never play the game again--leaving it all on the field with your best friends. Billy Bob shines and his speeches in this movie are perfect.
8) Coach Carter (2005, 2h 16m)
This movie remains underrated in this conversation. A bunch of young movie stars on the rise with Samuel L. Jackson leading the charge. It is two-scenes too long but otherwise deserves to in the conversation. It was made in a time where alot of other movies have not aged as well, but this one does.
9) Warrior (2011, 2h 20m)
This movie is absolutely gripping from the very start. We have an unreal fight scene in the first 10 minutes, an rollercoaster arc for these two brothers and their father. The action in the last hour up to the finale is edge-of-your-seat, and it surely gets credit for being the best/preeminent MMAa movie. Must watch if you have not seen this film.
10) Field of Dreams (1989, 1h 47m)
The ultimate nostalgia film. America's pastime. Real Americana Heartland fodder. If you built it they will come. Costner is throwing gas and I dare you not to tear up when he asks " Dad, do you want to have a catch?"
11) Seabiscuit (2003, 2h 20m)
This movie is so good. (Though, I will admit I am a sucker for horse movies and horse racing.) This movie is a little slow on the front end, but it all seems necessary to set the story for later. Star-studded cast that is very well acted. The score is phenomenal and makes this film feel rather timeless.
12) Rudy (1993, 1h 54m)
This usually comes in higher on these lists. At times, this movie is hard to watch because they make Rudy so frustrating to watch in his relentlessness. Also, we could do without the side plot of Jon Favreau's character trying to get a girlfriend. But this really is a great triumph and towards the end of the movie it really does move well and leading up to the final game really is fantastic.
13) Rocky (1976, 2h)
I love Rocky. I know it won 3 Oscars. It is filmed in a really artsy, minimalist style which holds up. However, it does lull in the middle a bit, not alot of fighting, Apollo is overacting for much of the film, and the final boxing match really is not as compelling as some of the other movies.
14) Caddyshack (1980, 1h 38m)
Classic. Plays by its own rules. Still funny.
15) Glory Road (2006, 1h 58m)
It is like Miracle, but with basketball. Great mid-movie montage when they are winning all their games. Josh Lucas hits all the notes of the hard nose coach, and by the end you are very invested in all the players and it feels real good when they beat Kentucky.
16) Varsity Blues (1999, 1h 46m)
This is the 90s on steroids (maybe literally!) Everything you want in a Texas high school football movies, characters like Billy Bob and Tweeter are iconic. It doesn't get much better than the final game where Coach Bud walks out and Paul Walker invents the spread offense to win their final game on a trick play. I give it a TEN!
17) Tin Cup (1996, 2h 15m)
I don't know why is have a soft spot for this movie. Costner is in the pantheon for sports movie actors, Renee Russo is great, and I am sure everyone has tried to play a round with a 7 iron after seeing this movie.
18) Moneyball (2011, 2h 13m)
A little long and a little less rewatchable on cable, but is a refreshing take on a baseball movie.
19) Rocky III (1982, 1h 39m)
After a slow and boring Rocky II, they find the winning formula for the Rocky movies--fight at the beginning, tragic death, self-doubt from Rock, and maybe the best slow motion scene in all sport movies with Apollo and Rocky running in the sand then jumping an hugging in the ocean. Pity the fool!
20) The Fighter (2010, 1h 56m)
Won 2 Oscar and feel very much like and Oscar movie. Based on the true underdog story, we get HBO fights, Cristian Bale in jail, and the "Strip My Mind" mini-montage.
21) Creed (2015, 2h 13m)
It is certainly a rehash, calling back to Rocky film nostalgia. But it doesn't matter. This movie does not feel 2h 13m. Can get a little corny sometimes, but nothing gets you fired up like those four-wheelers popping wheelies.
22) Any Given Sunday (1999, 2h 42m)
This movie is soooo long. The camera filming makes me a little nauseous sometimes, but it really is like they took every plot from every sports movie and injected it into one movie. Life and death, grown man stuff. The Al Pacino "game of inches" speech at the end may be the best sport's movie speech.
23) Hustle (2022, 1h 57m)
New kid on the block, and if you have not seen it now is your time. Always love an underdog story, and maybe the best mid-movie training montage.
24) Pride (2007, 1h 44m)
I keep moving this one up the list. This movie did not get a lot of buzz when it came out, but Terrance Howard and Bernie Mac are phenomenal. The movie has a great pace to it. you get really invested in the characters and just a great story.
25) Breaking Away (1979, 1h 41m)
This comes in pretty high on most lists, and maybe it gets credit for being the only real cycling movie. It is really fun to watch, pretty light, alot of shirtless Dennis Quaid. Moves more like a coming-of-age tales rather than a sports movie.
26) Days of Thunder (1990, 1h 47m)
I had to make the list one extra, just to include this movie. Our great NASCAR movie. This movie is a force and Tom Cruise is going 200 mph up on the wall in this movie. It unfortunately lulls a little too long after the accident, but is otherwise a fuel-injected sports movie ride. Rubbing is racing.
Just Missed the Cut
Miracle, Bad news bears, The Replacements, Draft Day, The Way Back, Brian's Song, Slapshot
Hardball, The Rookie, All the Right Moves
I will not watch Raging Bull again. It is no good.