Sports movies: The top 50 sports films of all time

Get into the game with our definitive list of the best sports movies: inspirational dramas, rude comedies and classic documentaries celebrating the real thing.

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  • Sports movies: Olympia (1938)

  • Sports movies: When We Were Kings (1996)

  • Sports movies: Senna (2010)

  • Sports movies: Slap Shot (1977)

  • Sports movies: The Wrestler (2008)

  • Sports movies: Caddyshack (1980)

  • Sports movies: Bull Durham (1988)

  • Sports movies: Hoop Dreams (1994)

  • Sports movies: Raging Bull (1980)

  • Sports movies: Rocky (1976)

Sports movies: Olympia (1938)

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Sports movies: Olympia (1938)

Olympia (1938)

The legacy of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl will always be tarred by her willing association with the Nazi Party: She directed the towering Triumph of the Will (1935), a landmark of propaganda, and stuck around Germany long enough to enjoy the good life as a pet artist of the Reich. Yet Riefenstahl was also the inspired mind behind this stylish account of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, a classic piece of sports glorification. Among its innovations are the tracking shot through cheering crowds, the prerace close-up of a concentrated athlete’s face and the balletic filming of divers seemingly in defiance of gravity. Rising to the occasion, Riefenstahl celebrated the physique of multiple-medal winner Jesse Owens; disturbingly, the film cuts to Adolf Hitler, impressed. In many ways, the movie is a utopian fantasy.—Joshua Rothkopf

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9
Sports movies: When We Were Kings (1996)

When We Were Kings (1996)

Blessed with total access to what would be a seismic, symbolic event, documentary director Leon Gast headed to Zaire, Africa, to capture 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle,” the apotheosis of Muhammad Ali’s legend. Among the many subjects straying in front of Gast’s perceptive camera are wire-haired promoter Don King, sports writers Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, soul godfather James Brown (on fire in performance) and pitiless dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, grabbing the world’s attention. But all eyes ultimately turn to the fleet-tongued Ali, charming in his training routine and fierce against George Foreman via the celebrated “rope-a-dope.” Ali’s connection with crowds of cheering Zaireans became a spiritual bond, one that turned him into a global icon of pride and power.—Joshua Rothkopf

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8
Sports movies: Senna (2010)

Senna (2010)

It takes a certain kind of man to get behind the wheel of a Formula One race car and strategically outmaneuver other speed demons while going 200mph—and the late Ayrton Senna was most certainly that kind of man. Asif Kapadia’s documentary on the Brazilian world champion keeps talking-head testimonies and expert voiceovers to the barest minimum. Instead, he tells Senna’s story almost entirely through footage of press conferences, vintage interviews with the star himself and the races, as seen from the cockpit-cam—there’s virtually no separation between Senna the person and the Senna the driver, who took home three top F1 trophies. Kapadia’s movie doesn’t spend the bulk of its running time fixating on the loss of a great sportsman; instead, it celebrates his accomplishments and lets viewers laud Senna’s remarkable life one lap at a time.—David Fear

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7
Sports movies: Slap Shot (1977)

Slap Shot (1977)

For all the high-minded glory of honorable competition, you don’t get a complete picture of sports without a healthy dose of animal rage, vulgarity and shameless rule-breaking. This is where George Roy Hill’s beloved hockey comedy comes in: It undermines the lure of winning with an appeal to the worst instincts. Player-coach Paul Newman leads a squad of ruffians who resort to on-ice fighting to spur interest. The ploy doesn’t work long-term, but for a brief moment in a mill town demoralized by unemployment (the team itself becomes a rumored sell-off), the fans have something worth shouting about. Bloodlust courses through the veins of the film, lending it an unholy potency. And before you call it a “guy movie,” know that the script was written by quick-witted Nancy Dowd (inspired by her hockey-playing brother).—Joshua Rothkopf

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6
Sports movies: The Wrestler (2008)

The Wrestler (2008)

Everyone loves a comeback—and though it doesn’t seem possible for fictional Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a down-on-his-luck pro wrestler who longs to relive his ’80s glory days, it was definitely achievable for former leading man Mickey Rourke. This unflinching portrait of death-wish dedication would be unthinkable without the actor, who imbues the role with a heartbreaking pathos—especially in the tender scenes with his estranged daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood. The Wrestler reminded everyone what this great performer was capable of; it also gave a boost to director Darren Aronofsky, who underplayed the heavy stylistics that sunk his ridiculous otherworldly romance The Fountain and achieved a new, bracing sincerity.—Keith Uhlich

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5
Sports movies: Caddyshack (1980)

Caddyshack (1980)

After scoring as the screenwriter of Animal House and Meatballs, Harold Ramis made his directorial debut with this hilarious comedy set at an exclusive golf course. Initially the film was supposed to focus on the teenage caddies played by Michael O’Keefe and Scott Colomby, but cast members Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray began improvising, brilliantly. What could have been an unmemorable youth comedy became an endlessly quotable classic, from Murray’s famous “Cinderella story” tee-off (created entirely in the moment) to Dangerfield’s bull-in-a-china-shop quips (“Hey, baby, you must’ve been something before electricity”). Tiger Woods has cited this snobs-versus-slobs satire as a personal favorite (snooty Ted Knight types need not apply), and animatronic gophers with a taste for Kenny Loggins agree it’s a hole in one.—Keith Uhlich

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4
Sports movies: Bull Durham (1988)

Bull Durham (1988)

Baseball’s finest comedy celebrates the sport in ways that are often overlooked: the long stretches of bum luck, the wispiness of job security, the transient thrill of a valiant at-bat. (Writer-director Ron Shelton had played in the minors and became the go-to guy for authentic scripts.) The movie sets up its themes via three wonderfully complex characters: Catcher “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner at the peak of his likability) is the aging also-ran, clutching to memories of a 21-day stint in “the Show” while struggling to stay relevant as a leader in the single-A leagues. Annie (Susan Sarandon) is the superfan, luring fresh players to her bed while depositing serious wisdom. And “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) is the goofy hotshot pitcher, undisciplined and the future of the game. The three of them make up a triangle of need and resentment, undergirding a movie of rare grace. (It’s really about the game of life.)—Joshua Rothkopf

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3
Sports movies: Hoop Dreams (1994)

Hoop Dreams (1994)

Arthur Agee is a wispy kid who worships Isiah Thomas; William Gates is a soft-spoken young man with a killer layup. Both of these 14-year-old NBA hopefuls will see their lives change drastically over the next five years, but the one constant remains basketball. Filmmaker Steve James followed Agee and Gates around Chicago throughout their respective high-school careers, and what he emerged with was something much deeper than a look at up-and-coming B-ballers. This is the ultimate real-life portrait of what sports mean to young men of a certain social class and background, and how the ability to consistently get the fast break offers a ticket to a better life (or doesn’t). By this epic film’s end, you’ll have a better understanding of how the game is played—and how sometimes the game can play you.—David Fear

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2
Sports movies: Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese’s evocative black-and-white biopic about real-life brawler Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is an intensely physical movie, tracing with operatic grandeur its protagonist’s life from volatile middleweight contender to an obese has-been. The punches land hard in and out of the ring—LaMotta’s confrontations with his long-suffering wife (Cathy Moriarty) and loyal-to-a-fault brother (Joe Pesci) often seem bloodier than any of the astonishingly visceral slugfests. It’s also a deeply spiritual film, in no small part due to De Niro’s monastic commitment to the role. His much publicized regimen—training with LaMotta himself to get into tip-top fighting condition, then plumping himself up for the final scenes via a four-month eating binge—is the ultimate in actorly sacrifice.—Keith Uhlich

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1
Sports movies: Rocky (1976)

Rocky (1976)

He’s called a bum, a chump, a never-was—even a “tomato.” Truthfully, if you were to watch boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in his two-bit amateur matches, you’d think he was on the express train to Palookaville. But Philly’s forgotten son is about to get a once-in-a-lifetime chance: challenging the heavyweight champ. Written by its star (who insisted he play the lead), this Oscar-winning hit is the ne plus ultra of underdog movies, the story of every guy who’s been pegged a loser so many times that he believes it. Then Bill Conti’s iconic score kicks in and, suddenly, Rocky becomes a symbol for finding the true winner in all of us. It’s a Cinderella story pumped up to perfection, the kind that gets you out of your seat and cheering the way real athletic events do. By the time Stallone’s battered everyhero steps into the ring with Apollo Creed, it doesn’t matter whether he gets the belt. The man has “gone the distance”—and that makes him the victor.—David Fear

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Users say

57 comments
Zachary Shelton
Zachary Shelton

There are many movies that you left off this list: -Glory Road -Coach Carter -Remember the Titans -Cool Runnings

Paul
Paul

i think the list is pretty good, some stuff i hadn't seen before. agree cool runnings should be there or thereabouts and am i the only one who loves midnight sting??

tigerGUY
tigerGUY

Are you f'ing kidding me?

seriously?
seriously?

friday night lights should easily be top 5 all time

della
della

where is remember the titans? cant leave denzel out of this list and the story is very touching.

Joe Mamma
Joe Mamma

Seriously? Where's Rudy? As I was scrolling I was truly expecting Rudy to be #1. Unreal.

Lee rust
Lee rust

the fact that "Mystery Alaska" isnt in this makes me not respect any of this!! also ihate baseball but "The Sandlot" come on both of these movies should be gimmies!!!

kyle
kyle

the legend of bagger vance....

st anger
st anger

No remember the titans? For shame.

Shane
Shane

umm remeber the titans???

Anthony Bullaro
Anthony Bullaro

I do not know how the author of this list graded these movies but as soon as I saw "A League of Their Own" was ahead of "Field of Dreams" I could not keep reading.

You Reahomo
You Reahomo

oh and Sandlot, Remember the Titans, Rudy, The Mighty Ducks, Warrior, and HAPPY GILMORE! f*ck you

You Reahomo
You Reahomo

You missed Mystery Alaska and Space Jam. This list is pathetic

Joe
Joe

Leaving out Rudy and Remember the Titans while including Bend it like Beckham and Dodgeball is asinine. Not to say that Dodgeball is a bad movie, but Rudy and Remember the Titans are classic feel good sports movies that define the genre.

Omer
Omer

Warrior should be in this list and easily on the higher end!

Mark06
Mark06

where is Rudy(1993)?!

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David Reynolds
David Reynolds

How on Earth is Remember the Titans not on this list?!

ian
ian

Rudy?

tom
tom

no For Love of the Game?????

Solomon Keithley
Solomon Keithley

Bend it like beckham is on here....... but no rudy? this is a joke

Melanie
Melanie

I love the fact that Rocky is the first one

nathan
nathan

I enjoyed the article, but in my opinion you are missing a terrific movie from the list: Remember the Titans. Although it's a disney movie, there is no way that it is not in the top 50 sports movies. Well acted and a touching thesis, the only thing left to be desired is an ending that isn't such a hollywood cliche.

chris
chris

Where is Rudy?

adam
adam

Rudy??? Ever heard of it? I was surprised to see that it was not in your top ten, but not even on the list...Seriously? Yet, Dodgeball, Bend it like Beckham, and Any Given Sunday are? This list is a joke.

Matthew Kessel Lyon
Matthew Kessel Lyon

I'm sorry, but I don't respect and "top sports movies" list that doesn't include Remember the Titans.

Charles
Charles

No Rememer The Titans, the Pistol? come on...

Horse
Horse

did I miss Rudy?

wf!
wf!

This list, should bring shame to your family. Cinderella Man in my opinion, is the greatest boxing movie of all time. To not have it in your list is inexcusable! SHAME!

Thomas
Thomas

Great list except missing one of the best Boaz Yakin's Rememeber the Titans

jb
jb

no rudy is a joke

Sam
Sam

This list means nothing. Unless I missed it, Remember the Titans isn't even on there....

RISSE75
RISSE75

ever see Major League? if you had, it would be in this list. So go watch it and fix the list.

Jack Winters
Jack Winters

No Remember The Titans, Warrior or Waterboy but you made space for Bend It Like Beckham?

Darren
Darren

Awesome article but shocked that Remember the Titans(top 5, if not number 1) one of the greatest sporting movies ever made, and Coach Carter didnt crack the list! 'Ya'all wanna victory?"

joe
joe

Senna was so excellent. Great list.

Alex
Alex

Why is Remember the Titans not on here???

fred
fred

What about "Remember the Titans" or "We are Marshall" The two best in my opinion.

Giorgio Meneses
Giorgio Meneses

Remember The Titans? Glory Road? Coach Carter? Space Jam?

Dylan Dierig
Dylan Dierig

Hoosiers and miracle dont even crack the top ten????? thats messed up

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