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

31 comments
dimitris ionas
dimitris ionas

sorry but a list without major league is disgraceful. Cant argue with rocky being number 1, but i think the 2nd one was better.

Drew
Drew

The lack of "Warrior" degrades this list tremendously.

awesome one
awesome one

I can agree that rocky is the greatest sport film of all time.

Corey
Corey

uh, no Remember the Titans, Cinderella Man, Basketball Diaries..this list sucks

capitaine514
capitaine514

you forgot Nick Nolte-Blue chips ;) keep it up!

Devin Howard
Devin Howard

May be top 100 would be better, because there are a lot of other films out there. "He Got Game" "Above the Rim" "varsity Blues" and oh lol Rob Lowe "Young Blood"

jcwebb
jcwebb

Not in any specific order....Bull Durham, Raging Bull, Rocky, Hoosiers,Major League, The Natural, always make every top10. Hoop Dreams and Caddyshack top 10? Good flicks...not top 10, esp. when Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, and so many othe great films ranked lower!

Chris Williams
Chris Williams

The wrestler made the list and not The Program? Where is Rocky 4? Remember the Titans? He Got Game? Blue Chips?

Rhys
Rhys

Raging Bull should have been number 1 in my opinion it was so masterfully done. And I agree Cinderella Man should have been included.

Daniel
Daniel

What about Secretariat or Cinderella Man? And Any Given Sunday shouldn't even be on the list. It was terrible.

Kent U
Kent U

How could you or anybody else not even mention not to have Secretariat. Come on that is one of the greatest sports stories of all time. Karate Kid and not Secretariat.

Kirk
Kirk

I no I'm not from the "greatest city on earth", yawn! but this list is wildly inconsistent, and geocentric to New Yawk. While I applaud the research done to compile a list that includes many forgotten and great sports doc's, therein lies the problem. Is Lincoln up against Searching for Sugarman for best pic this year? No, and it shouldn't be, different art form. So I take issue with the criteria used for ranking them, personal taste, I suppose. Guess I'm just bitchin cuz I'd have Hoosiers over the Italian Stallion, and I'm from Michigan! But I went through the whole damn list, so...thanks!

Darrin
Darrin

And you have field of dreams at 44. And how did the Karate Kid make this list. Caddy Shack is a good movie but not much of a sports movie.

Darrin
Darrin

Wow you forgot Warrior, The Longest Yard, Sandlot, Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, and a number of others.

Sport
Sport

Remember the titans, we are marshall, coach carter, road to glory.... are you serious?!

KEVIN & GORDY
KEVIN & GORDY

DID ANYBODY ELSE NOTICED IN # 27 THAT THE PERSON IN THE PICTURE IS GOING TO THROW THE BALL RIGHT-HANDED. AND WE ALL KNOW THAT IN THE MOVIE ROY HOBBS STRIKES OUT THE WHAMMER ON 3 PITCHES, LEFTHANDED!

Funkysylvanelf
Funkysylvanelf

How about Remember the titans?? Return to your homeworks son!

James
James

Really? No Mighty ducks?

tch71
tch71

what about The Color of Money and The Hustler?

Gwen
Gwen

VICTORY, Michael Caine Sylvester Stallone, and Pele!!!

Geoxie
Geoxie

Bump for Brian's Song - And, ehem! ROLLERBALL? Duh.

John G.
John G.

Are you kidding me?! No Rudy and Any Given Sunday at #20? That's silly.

alfred weiss
alfred weiss

Too bad the trendy shunnung of musicals kept DAMN YANKEES off the list.

sara
sara

good list ! My favorite is Bull Durham !

Sally
Sally

Thank you,Thomas,I couldn't agree more...

Jordan
Jordan

This list is weak. Rocky at number one is cliche. Being that this is TimeOutNY not TimeOutBoston (or Philly), there are plenty of Yankees movies you left out, and "Pride" should be a helluva lot higher than 11th. It had Babe Ruth in it for God's sake! Also where is Basketball Diaries? I like sports movies that invoke childhood memories of the City.

Thomas
Thomas

What about Rudy?