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The 50 best sports movies of all time

Get into the game with our definitive list of the best sports movies, from inspirational dramas to rude comedies

By David Fear, Joshua Rothkopf, Keith Uhlich and Trevor Johnston |
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best sports movies

In ranking the 50 best sports movies of all time, we stuck to traditional athletics. (Please, chess and billiards fans, save the fury for another comments board.) That said, here are some of the best action movies of all time—and even an Oscar winner or two. To get in shape, we pounded the heavy bag, swore off sweets and drank plenty of raw eggs—by which we mean we watched a lot of Blu-rays. Surely there are titles we’ve missed. Raise a penalty flag if that’s the case. Remember, it’s not about winning, unless you’re counting backward in a ranked list. What’s the mightiest sports film of all time? Dive in and find out.

RECOMMENDED: Our list of the 100 best movies of all time

Best sports movies: 50–41

50
Sports movies: Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Movies, Comedy

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Fresh-faced Keira Knightley became a star when this crowd-pleasing cross-cultural drama booted its way into American multiplexes. Even if the definitive soccer movie is yet to be made, this one—about the importance of inclusiveness on the field and off—scores nicely.—Joshua Rothkopf

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49
Sports movies: Big Fan (2009)
Movies

Big Fan (2009)

Folks in the stands are thanked plenty enough come postseason, but how often do they get their own movie? After scripting The Wrestler, writer-director Robert D. Siegel turned his attention to the subject—darkly and with great empathy—via this tale of a Giants fan (Patton Oswalt) tackled by his own obsession.—Joshua Rothkopf

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48
Sports movies: Murderball (2005)
Movies, Documentary

Murderball (2005)

Quadriplegic athletes don’t want your sympathy—and to watch them play their variation of wheelchair rugby, flesh and metal merging into living cruise missiles, they don’t want casual entertainment either. This exuberantly rude documentary captures the essence of sports euphoria in a surprising, universal way.—Joshua Rothkopf

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47
Sports movies: Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Movies, Comedy

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)

The bane of young nerds everywhere, this violent playground game offers the perfect vehicle to parody sports-movie clichés: the team of lovable misfits, the rich snob rivals, the tournament with a decisive sudden-death moment. Grafted onto a kids’ game, the high stakes seem hilariously absurd, even as you sincerely root for Vince Vaughn & Co. to be the last ones out.—David Fear

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46
Sports movies: Eight Men Out (1988)
Movies

Eight Men Out (1988)

Because it’s a John Sayles movie, you can expect the director’s heady brand of politicized entertainment. Still, the real-life scenario—about the infamous Chicago “Black Sox,” who threw the 1919 World Series—makes the stridency go down in riveting fashion, as does a dynamite cast led by John Cusack.—Joshua Rothkopf

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45
Sports movies: Big Wednesday (1978)
Movies

Big Wednesday (1978)

Everybody’s goin’ surfin’—including Jan-Michael Vincent, Gary Busey and William “The Greatest American Hero” Katt —in this borderline-ridiculous comedy from director John Milius, who’s better known for his right-wing war epics (Red Dawn, etc.). Never mind the acting and go for the totally tubular set pieces, some of the best wave-riding footage ever captured.—Joshua Rothkopf

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44
Sports movies: Field of Dreams (1989)
Movies

Field of Dreams (1989)

Grown men have been known to weep like babies at the finale of this paean to baseball, apple pie and father issues. “If you build it, they will come.” Okay, fine, we’ll build it already! Kevin Costner, a natural in sports movies, is better shown off in Bull Durham (it’s coming up on this list), but he acquits himself nicely here as a baseball-obsessed DIY-er who turns his backyard into a diamond.—Joshua Rothkopf

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43
Sports movies: A League of Their Own (1992)
Movies, Comedy

A League of Their Own (1992)

Penny Marshall, the artist formerly known as Laverne, hits a solid line drive in this pop-feminist period piece about a WWII-era women’s baseball team. Tom Hanks has one classic line (“They’re no crying in baseball!”), while cringeworthy performances from Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna are offset by Lori Petty and the always-reliable Geena Davis.—Joshua Rothkopf

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42
Sports movies: Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Movies, Drama

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

When white-trash dreamer Hilary Swank wanders into wise old trainer Clint Eastwood’s backstreet gym, another Rocky fairytale looms, yet this modern fable takes us into darker territory—the perilous lure of success and the impassable road to redemption. As a performer, Eastwood himself digs deep; as a director, he holds his nerve, to chastening, memorable effect.—Trevor Johnston

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41
Sports movies: The Fighter (2010)
Movies

The Fighter (2010)

Using vintage Betamax cameras and hiring veteran cable-sports crews to replicate the look of HBO’s mid-’90s boxing matches, David O. Russell adds a level of period-perfect verisimilitude to this biopic on welterweight champ Micky Ward. The stoic Boston brawler is played, punch for punch, by Mark Wahlberg, who personally nurtured the project for years.—David Fear

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Best sports movies: 40–31

40
Sports movies: The Set-Up (1949)
Movies

The Set-Up (1949)

Before shooting Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese gave this influential movie a spin or two. Robert Ryan is an over-the-hill boxer who must either throw his last fight or risk a cement-shoe trip to Palookaville. This is the kind of resourceful, no-budget noir craft that still prompts film lovers to bow down to RKO, despite all the crap the studio gave Orson Welles, etc.—Joshua Rothkopf

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39
Sports movies: Personal Best (1982)
Movies

Personal Best (1982)

The characters are U.S. track-and-fielders striving to qualify for the women’s team headed for the 1980 Olympics (a Games the States would boycott). But what will always set this drama apart is its exploration of physical attraction between same-sex competitors, presented in an honest, nonexploitative manner. Side note: Here’s how you do arm wrestling.—Joshua Rothkopf

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38
Sports movies: Knute Rockne All American (1940)

Knute Rockne All American (1940)

Pat O’Brien may have played the titular character in this ode to the legendary Notre Dame football figurehead, but it’s Ronald Reagan’s gridiron all-star, George Gipp, who inspired football’s most famous inspirational motto: “Let’s win one for the Gipper!” So many coaches have quoted the movie’s line that Reagan’s estate should be paid annual royalties.—David Fear

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37
Sports movies: Gentleman Jim (1942)
Movies, Action and adventure

Gentleman Jim (1942)

Hollywood legend Errol Flynn shines as real-life boxer Jim Corbett: scrappy, arrogant, proud and capable. Director Raoul Walsh serves the material with a minimum of showiness; it was reportedly the star’s favorite role and the acting is definitely the high-point here, not the fight scenes.—Joshua Rothkopf

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36
Sports movies: Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
Movies

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)

The director, Stacy Peralta, was a teenage celebrity in the late-’70s: a SoCal skateboarder whose revolutionary style got him all the way to a cameo on Charlie’s Angels. His affectionate, irreverent profile of his fearless comrades plays more like a rock documentary, the band broken up by money, endorsements and bad luck.—Joshua Rothkopf

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35
Sports movies: This Sporting Life (1963)
Movies, Drama

This Sporting Life (1963)

Long before he sang about MacArthur Park and leaving that cake out in the rain, Richard Harris made a name for himself with this angry-young-man drama in which a English North Country miner becomes a local rugby star. It’s British class warfare and disillusionment at its finest, crafted by an inspired filmmaker in his prime, Lindsay Anderson (If…).—Joshua Rothkopf

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34
Sports movies: Undisputed (2002)

Undisputed (2002)

Fueled by a scrappy, improvisatory energy, this prison-set boxing drama pits a recently incarcerated heavyweight champ (Ving Rhames) against a yard favorite (Wesley Snipes). Apart from the imminent clash of fists and egos, there’s a fascinating side plot concerning promotion, masterminded by elderly con Peter Falk in one of his craftiest turns.—Joshua Rothkopf

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33
Sports movies: Pumping Iron (1977)
Movies, Documentary

Pumping Iron (1977)

The biceps are watermelon-size, the grunts deafening and the imposed narratives a little dodgy. But boring this docudrama is not. Mainly, it serves as a fascinating peek at two future superstars, Arnold Schwarzenegger (witty and already a ham) and TV-Hulk-to-be Lou Ferrigno, his chief competition for the title of Mr. Olympia.—Joshua Rothkopf

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32
Sports movies: White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Movies, Comedy

White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

No film better captures the psych-out art of athletic trash-talking than Ron Shelton’s ode to playground B-ballers. Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes display serious game on the court, but it’s the way they gracefully ace lines like “Still throwing up bricks? What is this, a mason’s convention?” that makes the duo so dynamic.—David Fear

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31
Sports movies: Jerry Maguire (1996)
Movies, Comedy

Jerry Maguire (1996)

This box-office blockbuster gave us Tom Cruise as a redemption-seeking sports agent and spawned the oft-quoted catchphrase “Show me the money!” Writer-director Cameron Crowe was only on the ascent at this point in his career, balancing revelatory performances (especially from Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Renée Zellweger) with sharp comic moments and uplift.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Best sports movies: 30–21

30
Sports movies: Sugar (2008)
Movies

Sugar (2008)

For every Adrián Beltré success story (he was signed to the Dodgers at age 15 and transitioned well), there are a dozen Dominican players like the fictional composite Miguel “Sugar” Santos—a talented pitcher hacking it out in the U.S. minor leagues. Filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden lay on the culture clashes beautifully, but it’s the dangling promise of the American Dream that really gets this movie hitting fly balls over the fence.—David Fear

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29
Sports movies: Pat and Mike (1952)
Movies, Comedy

Pat and Mike (1952)

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy play a golf pro and her shady but lovable manager in this likable example of the duo’s relaxed chemistry. That’s really Hepburn on the course, a natural athlete with a beautiful swing. Hepburn and Tracy, a real-life couple offscreen, make a totally captivating pair, even as the story gets complicated.—Joshua Rothkopf

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28
Sports movies: Friday Night Lights (2004)
Movies

Friday Night Lights (2004)

Before there was a beloved TV series, there was Peter Berg’s feature film about high-school football in Texas—a lyrical, stirring look at the way communities revolve around their pigskin heroes. Even a viewer who doesn’t know a punt from a pass could understand how these games could give an economically gutted small town something to believe in.—David Fear

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27
Sports movies: The Natural (1984)
Movies

The Natural (1984)

This is the moment when baseball becomes golden-hued pageantry onscreen, the diamond dappled with sunbeams and the promise of redemption. Even if the film changed the ending of Bernard Malamud’s classic novel, there’s no doubting the genius of cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (Zooey’s dad) and effortless star Robert Redford.—Joshua Rothkopf

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26
Sports movies: The Endless Summer (1966)
Movies, Documentary

The Endless Summer (1966)

Here’s proof that if you’ve seen one surf doc, you haven’t quite seen them all. Bruce Brown’s look at two wavehounds—longboarders Mike Hynson and Robert August—on a mutual quest for the perfect ride is easily the best work about surfing ever made, as well as a perfect cultural time capsule. Hang ten, dudes.—Joshua Rothkopf

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25
Sports movies: Ali (2001)
Movies, Drama

Ali (2001)

Michael Mann’s overly schematic biopic proudly refuses to demystify its subject (played by a transformed Will Smith), as if constantly whispering in our ear: This man really did these things. While the movie suffers from tired narrative turns (much of Ali’s life may be storybook-perfect, but we expect more grit), the fight scenes are unsurpassed: brutal, kinetic and purely expressive.—Joshua Rothkopf

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24
Sports movies: Seabiscuit (2003)
Movies, Action and adventure

Seabiscuit (2003)

A racehorse takes center stage here, as a taciturn but sensitive trainer (Chris Cooper) and a gifted jockey (Tobey Maguire) come along for the ride. If you know the outcomes of these contests, there’s not much suspense here. Still, Gary Ross’s screenplay has sociopolitical resonance, foregrounding the Depression-era dreamers that turned this wobbly bay colt into a symbol of resilience.—Joshua Rothkopf

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23
Sports movies: Tokyo Olympiad (1965)
Movies, Documentary

Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

Japan’s first hosting of the Games in 1964 was considered a massively important moment for national rebranding. After testy Akira Kurosawa was taken off the plum assignment, the job went to the more flexible Kon Ichikawa, who produced an unusually thorough and artful tribute to both winners and losers.—Joshua Rothkopf

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22
Sports movies: The Karate Kid (1984)
Movies

The Karate Kid (1984)

Wax on, wax off and practice your crane before you see this classic bit of ’80s uplift. Make Mr. Miyagi proud. But don’t be surprised if you secretly wipe away a tear or two: Hollywood really knew how to construct a coming-of-age movie in the Reagan era. Ralph Macchio is excellent (“the best around,” you might say) and this movie delivers a roundhouse of an emotional kick.—Joshua Rothkopf

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21
Sports movies: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
Movies, Comedy

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

Tom Courtenay (so fine with Charlotte Rampling in the current 45 Years) gives a classic angry-young-man performance as a borstal boy who starts training for a race while in the juvie clink. You’ll consider his final act either heroic or downright foolish and nihilistic; we’re still undecided, which only adds to the film’s greatness.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Best sports movies: 20–11

20
Sports movies: Any Given Sunday (1999)
Movies, Drama

Any Given Sunday (1999)

Leave it to Oliver Stone to make you enjoy feeling like a tossed-around pigskin. His absorbing look at a fictional pro-football team and the veteran coach trying to lead them to victory (Al Pacino at full bellow) packs a testosterone-filled blitz into two-and-a-half thrillingly steroidal hours.—Keith Uhlich

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19
Sports movies: Offside (2006)
Movies

Offside (2006)

Several Iranian female soccer fans are detained at the stadium gates (women aren’t allowed to attend such taboo “male” events) and engage in a dialogue with the guards about the ridiculousness of it all. Never one to shy away from pressing issues, censored director Jafar Panahi debates the topic of his society’s sanctioned sexism with a more whimsical (and more winning) tone than usual.—Joshua Rothkopf

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18
Sports movies: Breaking Away (1979)
Movies

Breaking Away (1979)

Dennis Christopher refuses to be just another Indiana nobody…so why not pretend to be a champion Italian cyclist? Peter Yates’s feel-good sports drama says a lot about the allure of competitive biking, but this is really a movie about relying on your teammates—the friends who’ll always get you across the finish line.—David Fear

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17
Sports movies: Chariots of Fire (1981)
Movies, Drama

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Even if all you remember is that shot of Olympians running on the beach to Vangelis’s pounding synth score, it’s fine. Sometimes a great sports movie only needs sweat and exhilaration. Return to the story, though, and you’ll be beguiled by a real-life tale of British resolve, imperial hauteur and religious tolerance.—Joshua Rothkopf

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16
Sports movies: Fat City (1972)
Movies, Drama

Fat City (1972)

In John Huston’s engrossing drama, Stacy Keach plays a past-his-prime boxer who acts as both mentor and rival to cocky up-and-comer Jeff Bridges. The ensemble is stellar—especially Susan Tyrrell as a belligerent barfly—and ace cinematographer Conrad L. Hall brings out the seedy poetry of the back-alley California setting.—Keith Uhlich

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15
Sports movies: Miracle (2004)
Movies, Drama

Miracle (2004)

This uplifting drama about the U.S. hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Olympics is a fabulous paean to coaching. Kurt Russell fully transforms himself body and soul into impassioned trainer Herb Brooks, never shying away from his character’s family-neglecting obsessiveness, even while delivering spirited speeches that would have amateurs entering the rink.—Keith Uhlich

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14
Sports movies: North Dallas Forty (1979)
Movies, Thriller

North Dallas Forty (1979)

The mightiest of football movies enters the world of pro athletics through the beer-and-drug-laced locker room, the debauched lifestyle and endless partying. Intended as a satirical comedy, the darker truth of the circus surrounding the game lingers, as does a terrific Nick Nolte performance as a hero past his prime.—Joshua Rothkopf

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13
Sports movies: The Bad News Bears (1976)
Movies, Comedy

The Bad News Bears (1976)

Not a small number of film lovers—those who see themselves in these foulmouthed little-leaguers—would call this one of the key movies of the ’70s. They wouldn’t be wrong: Subversively, it’s a comedy that revels in the dirty nature of American competition, criticizing it as well as celebrating it to the operatic strains of Carmen.—Joshua Rothkopf

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12
Sports movies: Hoosiers (1986)
Movies

Hoosiers (1986)

Small-town athletes make good in this enthralling underdog drama about a gruff coach with a checkered past (a terrific Gene Hackman) who leads his high-school basketball team to the state championships. Dennis Hopper is especially memorable as an alcoholic father given a redemptive second chance to get on the winning side.—Keith Uhlich

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11
Sports movies: The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Movies, Drama

The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Fans were still mourning the death of legendary pinstriper Lou Gehrig when Sam Wood’s film about the first baseman hit screens, barely a year after his passing. This tip of the cap was the perfect salve to their grief. Gary Cooper’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech captures the dignity, grace and resolve of one of the game’s true MVPs.—David Fear

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Best sports movies: 10–1

10
Sports movies: Olympia (1938)
Movies

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)
Movies, Documentary

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)
Movies, Documentary

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)
Movies

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)
Movies

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)
Movies

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)
Movies, Comedy

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)
Movies, Documentary

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)
Movies, Drama

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)
Movies, Action and adventure

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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