40 best sports movies of all time

40 best sports movies of all time

Get your kit ready and gather your team; kick-off time is just around the corner. Let’s dive into the best sports movies of all time and see who the real champion will be.

With the release of Challengers, the hottest new movie in theaters this week, we’ve taken to the whiteboard and started thinking tactically about sports movies.

Whether you’re into balls, bats, or boxing gloves, the world of sport has often been translated to the big screen. Sometimes, that transition works beautifully, others, it doesn’t quite feel right.

But we’ve got the best movies in the league for you here. From old flicks to new, funny to thrilling, these are the 40 best sports movies ever made.

40. Space Jam (1996)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: When a dastardly alien sends his minions to steal the talents of the NBA’s greatest players, the Looney Tunes enlist the help of Michael Jordan to take on the Monstars in a basketball game to decide the fate of the universe.

What we think: My love for Space Jam is entirely founded on nostalgia and not at all on logic, but I’ve made peace with that. A blend of animation and live-action, the wacky, slapstick moments are great fun for younger viewers, but there’s enough for adults to enjoy, too.

Where to stream: Max

Author: Jakob Barnes

39. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Directed and starring Clint Eastwood, this Oscar-winning picture tells the story of Margaret “Maggie” Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a young woman who turns to boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) to realize her dream of becoming a prize-winning fighter. Things don’t quite go to plan, but the pair form a bond that changes them both forever.

What we think: At first glance, Million Dollar Baby seems like a rather dark and dour affair and a far cry from the traditionally uplifting spirit of the sporting genre. However, beneath its grim exterior lies a film about the redemptive power of human connection. Couple its surprisingly introspective themes with a stellar cast and Eastwood’s moody direction, and you’ve got a recipe for a knockout. Sure, it’s not quite Rocky, but hey, at least it’s not Rocky 5.

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Where to stream: Rent on Prime Video

Author: Tom Percival

38. The Damned United (2009)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: A dramatic retelling of Brian Clough’s (Michael Sheen) disastrous tenure as manager at Leeds United (he only lasted 44 days in the job), The Damned United captures the heartbreaking magic of the beautiful game. 

What we think: Disaster movies are always entertaining, no matter how small-scale disaster, and The Damned United is no different. Cleverly written and fantastically engaging (even non-football fans will find something to love), this film isn’t one for the historical purists, but if you’re a fan of rampant ego being pricked by the sharp edges of reality, you’ll find a lot to love here. It helps, of course, that Sheen’s playing Clough. He’s easily the best thing about the film, finding just enough nuance in the cartoonish Clough to keep our sympathies on-side. 

Where to stream: Prime Video

Author: Tom Percival

37. The Karate Kid (1984)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Forced to move from New Jersey to Los Angeles by his mother, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) finds himself targeted by school bully Johnny Lawrence and his Cobra Kai gang. With nowhere else to go, Danny turns to his apartment building’s eccentric handyman, Mr. Miyagi, for help. After weeks of training, Danny becomes a karate master and enters the All-Valley Karate Championship tournament in the hopes of becoming the champion.

What we think: Exciting and fun, Karate Kid may not offer many surprises, but its charm and heart made it a beloved staple of its era. Perhaps the film’s best quality is its unforgettable characters; you only need to watch The Karate Kid once to fall in love with the likes of Mr. Miyagi and Danny. Hell by the end, even Johnny’s got his fans. If you do watch it just remember one thing, “Wax on! Wax off!”

Where to stream: Netflix

Author: Tom Percival

36. King Richard (2021)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: The film that won Will Smith his Oscar (that’s definitely what we all remember from that particular Oscars ceremony), King Richard tells the story of Richard Williams — the tennis-obsessed father of Venus and Serena Williams — as he fights to turn his little girls into champions.

What we think: A captivating story about the power of belief and determination in the face of adversity, King Richard isn’t exactly breaking the mold when it comes to sports movies, but its uplifting message makes it a hard film to dislike. A large part of its success comes from Smith’s superb performance. Yes, we know this film was an Oscar vehicle, but he deserved the award for this layered and proud performance.

Where to stream: Max

Author: Tom Percival

35. Caddyshack (1980)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Think golf is dull? Think again. Directed by the late, great Harold Ramis, Caddyshack follows Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), a down-on-his-luck caddie with dreams of getting a college scholarship who gets drawn into a fierce rivalry with his golf club’s co-founder.

What we think: A classic slobs versus snobs comedy, Caddyshack might not be as anarchic and wild as its spiritual predecessor, Animal House, but it’s no less hilarious and every bit as free-spirited. The film’s biggest selling point is arguably its impressive cast, which includes comedy legends like Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. Yet it’s Bill Murray who steals the show, playing Carl Spackler, the golf club’s eccentric groundskeeper who’s trapped in a Looney Tunes-esque battle with a pesky gopher. 

Where to stream: Rent on Prime Video

Author: Tom Percival

34. Foxcatcher (2014)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: The wealthy John du Pont (Steve Carell) invites young wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to his stately home with the promise of helping him find Olympic glory and a chance to step out of the shadow of his older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo).

What we think: This is the first of four wrestling movies on this list, and it’s also the darkest. The highlight here is Steve Carell, who sheds his stereotypically comic approach to cast a far more sinister shadow as John du Pont. Foxcatcher is not a comfortable watch, but it is compelling.

Where to stream: Rent on Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

33. Cool Runnings (1993)

40 best sports movies of all time

What It’s About: Jamaica miraculously sent a bobsled team to the 1988 Winter Olympics, thanks to the ingenuity of sprinter Derice Bannock. Their preparations were perilous, and their competition short-lived, but the journey was one for the ages.

What We Think: An attempt at Olympic Gold built on legacy, a dream, and just a dash of delusion makes for an endearingly harebrained comedy. Leon Robinson keeps the narrative on point as Bannock, girded by Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, and Malik Yoba’s exuberant chemistry. They’re so good you almost forget about John Candy as their coach. Director Jon Turteltaub would go on to make National Treasure, and a young Hans Zimmer served as composer. Gold medallists, one and all.

Where to stream: Disney+

Author: Anthony McGlynn

32. Remember the Titans (2000)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Set in 1971, a high school football team in Virginia deals with the societal strains of racial integration. Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) joins the coaching staff and, through hard work and tenacity, manages to bring together players of all races and backgrounds to form a winning team.

What we think: It may not be the best Denzel Washington movie, but Remember the Titans is a stirring and powerful take on a true story. The game of football takes a back seat to an examination of racial tensions here, but it never becomes overwhelming or too heavy. Plus, the film features Ryan Gosling in his breakout role, so there are bonus points to be had there.

Where to stream: Disney+

Author: Jakob Barnes

31. A League of Their Own (1992)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: While America’s young men fight in World War II, sisters Dottie and Kit are drafted into a women’s baseball league. Jimmy, an alcoholic former athlete, struggles to manage the team of underdogs as they try to win matches and overcome sexism in the sport.

What we think: While Abbi Jacobson’s TV adaptation did the sociopolitical elements of the story more justice, Penny Marshall’s original film has aged beautifully. Full of charming performances from the likes of Geena Davis and Madonna, A League of Their Own is a heartfelt and seriously funny sports drama about a real game-changing team.

Where to stream: Rent on Prime Video

Author: Trudie Graham

30. The First Slam Dunk (2022)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Shoto High School takes its shot at the regional champions in a climactic sequel to the ’90s basketball anime. The close-knit players find their skills and camaraderie tested in what’s a prime example of a sports film not really being about the sport.

What we think: The most effective marketing for basketball since Space Jam, The First Slam Dunk scores a three-pointer from the halfway line for the original show. The breakneck speed of the court is well-captured by smooth animation, and although we spend most of our time with Ryota Miyagi, it truly is a team effort that’ll have you cheering from the sidelines. There’s no doubt about it, this is the best sports anime around.

Where to stream: Crunchyroll

Author: Anthony McGlynn

29. Dodgeball (2004)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Vince Vaughn stars as Peter LaFleur, the owner of a financially-doomed gym called Average Joe’s. When his rival, White Goodman (Ben Stiller), the owner of the newer and shinier Globo Gym, attempts to buy and demolish Average Joe’s, there’s only one solution: Peter will have to enter a dodgeball competition, of course.

What we think: There’s something so comforting about this kind of 2000s comedy movie. It’s incredibly silly, leans heavily on slapstick humor, and has Ben Stiller going above and beyond with his villainous energy. Dodgeball is such an easy watch, and understands that sports fans want one thing from the movies: training montages!

Where to stream: Disney+

Author: Jakob Barnes

28. Hustle (2022)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) is a down-and-out basketball scout who discovers a game-changing talent plying his trade in local pick-up matches in Spain and decides to push him to the very top. The player, Bo Cruz, has anger issues, strong commitments to his family, and a criminal record holding him back, but Sugerman manages to help him realize his potential.

What we think: When Adam Sandler isn’t trying to make us laugh every single second, he’s actually a really endearing and talented dramatic actor. Hustle still has moments of levity that land brilliantly but is predominantly framed as a rousing underdog story, and that balance in tone works perfectly for this streaming service hit.

Where to stream: Netflix

Author: Jakob Barnes

27. Fighting with my Family (2019)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Fighting with my Family tells the true story of English wrestler Paige (Florence Pugh), who ventures over to the US and tries to make her name in WWE. A star-studded cast, including the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, and Vince Vaughn, brings comedy and heart to this inspiring tale.

What we think: If you’d have told me Stephen Merchant would even attempt to make a film about wrestling, I’d laugh you out of the ring. But, not only does he try, he succeeds, and then some. Fighting with my Family has all the wit you’d expect from the talent involved, but is also really charming and 

Where to stream: Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

26. Rush (2013)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Rush focuses on the intense rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 season. Rush dissects the vastly contrasting personal lives of the iconic racers and depicts their heated on-track battles. It all concludes with an edge-of-the-seat, title-deciding race in Japan.

What we think: Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl may be best known for their roles in Marvel movies nowadays, but the pair have never been better than in this racing biopic. Hemsworth shines as the larger-than-life Hunt, while Brühl’s more subtle, meditative performance as Lauda offers the perfect contrast to his co-star.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

25. Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Long before the world of women’s football became a mainstay in the public eye, Bend it Like Beckham pushed boundaries for the sport. It’s the story of Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra, a young Sikh living in London who harbors a dream of playing football. Despite her family’s objection, Jess develops her skills in secret and earns a scholarship in America.

What we think: It’s very rare indeed for films about football to work, but Bend it Like Beckham succeeds because it doesn’t waste time trying to depict the sport being played in a realistic fashion. Instead, it leans into the more fun, cheesy elements, the romantic subplots, and the heart and passion within those who love the game.

Where to stream: Disney+

Author: Jakob Barnes

24. Jerry Maguire (1996)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Tom Cruise stars as the titular football agent who, after having a wake-up call about the NFL and the way agents operate, decides to start his own business. The problem is he ends up with only one client, Rod Tidwell. The good news is, with his focus entirely on one player, Jerry comes up trumps and makes Rod a success.

What we think: Jerry Maguire is another movie that benefits from steering away from on-the-pitch action and leaning on the human side of sports. Cruise brings a delightful energy and likeability to the role, while Cuba Gooding Jr. is fantastic in support. Jerry Maguire is fun and brilliantly cheesy, while also packing a punch in its more uplifting moments, too.

Where to stream: Rent it on Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

23. Field of Dreams (1989)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has an epiphany and decides to ignore his financial troubles and instead turn his farm into a kind of purgatory for the souls of baseballing legends. He then goes on a cross-country mission to find more lost spirits and help them fulfill their sporting aspirations in his backyard.

What we think: A story about Kevin Costner building a baseball field in his garden and the ghosts of famous players turning up for a game sounds ridiculous, and it is, but good lord it works. It’s a far cry from the gruff Costner we see yelling at the Yellowstone cast, but his Ray Kinsella is filled with optimism and kindness, which makes Field of Dreams impossible to dislike.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

22. Phantom of the Open (2021)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: A dramedy based on the real-life events that led one Maurice Flitcroft to try his hand at golf and enter the 1976 Open, despite never swinging a club before in his life. Mark Rylance stars in this charming British flick from young director Craig Roberts.

What we think: As someone who picked up a golf club for the first time at the start of last year and immediately became obsessed with the sport, watching Phantom of the Open was the perfect complement to my struggles and successes on the course. It’s such a sweet film, is laugh-out-loud funny, and simply has a really great story at its core.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

21. Talladega Nights (2006)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Will Ferrell loves a goofy sports movie (more on that later in this list), and Talladega Nights sees him take on the persona of Ricky Bobby, a brilliant but braindead racing driver. He’s abandoned by his father, usurped by his best friend (John C. Reilly), and bested by French newcomer Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), but Ricky Bobby never forgets the all-important rule: If you ain’t first, you’re last.

What we think: I’m a sucker for any Will Ferrell comedy, to be honest. The dumber, the better, and Talladega Nights is about as stupid as they come. This one is endlessly quotable, combines slapstick comedy with smart one-liners, and even created a racing maneuver — though you really shouldn’t try the Shake and Bake at home.

Where to stream: Netflix

Author: Jakob Barnes

20. Challengers (2024)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: After an injury, tennis wunderkind Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) is forced to step back from the sport. Years later, she’s a professional coach, working with her tennis star husband, Art (Mike Faist). When she enters him into a Challenger tournament to boost his confidence after a string of losses, they’re both forced to confront their past when his opponent is Tashi’s ex-boyfriend and Art’s estranged best friend, Patrick (Josh O’Connor).

What we think: As cool as they often are, it’s rare to find a sports movie that’s elevated and sexy. Challengers takes this brief and knocks it out of the park, cleverly playing with narrative to explore a toxic and sensual history between three very different players. Never before have on-screen athletes been so sweaty, so manipulative, or so damn competitive. With a killer leading trio and an electric, pulsing score, Challengers brings a little edge to the genre. For a full breakdown, check out our (very positive) Challengers review.

Where to watch: In theaters now

Author: Jessica Cullen

19. Happy Gilmore (1996)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: When a failed hockey player needs to help his grandmother pay off the IRS to keep her house, he realizes that hustling on the golf course could be the solution to his problems. With an unorthodox playing style and a troublesome temperament, Happy wins the adoration of golf fans along the tour but has to battle the establishment, who can’t wait to expel him from their game.

What we think: If Phantom of the Open underpins the calm and soothing nature of golf, Happy Gilmore represents the chaotic and volatile side of the sport. It’s by far one of Adam Sandler’s funniest films, and it features a top-class supporting role for the late, great Carl Weathers. I cannot wait for Happy Gilmore 2!

Where to stream: Rent it on Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

18. Semi-Pro (2008)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Semi-Pro is what happens when a man who never got to achieve his dreams is just rich enough to buy a very small, very bad basketball team and put himself in the starting lineup. Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) is the owner-manager-star player for the Flint Tropics, but an NBA merger threatens the very existence of his team, which leads him and the rest of the players to actually try and win some games.

What we think: As far as Will Ferrell comedies go, Semi-Pro is criminally underappreciated and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Step Brothers and Anchorman. The 1970s aesthetic and music is a great touch, but it’s Jackie Moon’s cavalier, spoiled-brat attitude that really makes this one of the funniest films of all time.

Where to stream: Max

Author: Jakob Barnes

17. A Prayer Before Dawn (2017)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Tells the real-life story of British boxer Billy Moore, who is arrested during a trip to Thailand for possession of stolen goods and a firearm. What follows is Billy’s traumatic experiences of being transported around various prisons as he is subjected to horrific violence and abuse. But, when he showcases his boxing talents, he may just find a way to freedom.

What we think: This is not the kind of film you’ll want to watch more than once, as it’s incredibly bleak. Still, A Prayer Before Dawn is a blistering and brutal fighting movie centered around a phenomenal performance from Joe Cole in the lead role. It’s a visceral and violent drama that’ll leave you terrified of a trip to Thailand, that’s for sure.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

16. Senna (2010)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: The first of two Asif Kapadia documentaries to make it onto this list, Senna details the incredible success of Brazilian F1 driver, Ayrton Senna, before his death at the age of just 34. Using archival footage, interviews, and personal accounts from those closest to the legendary racer, this is a true celebration of one of the finest to ever take to the track. 

What we think: There’s just something about the way Kapadia uses his documentarian lens to inform, engage, and elicit strong emotional responses from his work. I knew nothing about Ayrton Senna when I first watched this film, but by the end I was stunned to silence by the tragedy that unfolded.

Where to stream: Max

Author: Jakob Barnes

15. The Iron Claw (2023)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: The story of the Von Erich family, one of the most infamous and iconic wrestling families to ever grace the ring. Driven by their dad, Fritz, siblings Kevin, David, Kerry, and Michael give their all to bring the NWA Championship belt home and suffer greatly for it.

What we think: This movie is beautifully shot, The Iron Claw cast delivers incredible performances throughout (with a particular shoutout to Zac Efron), and the whole thing is edited with a relentless energy. It’s not an easy watch by any means, with an exceptionally bleak tone, but it’s a film that’ll certainly leave its mark on you.

Where to stream: Rent on Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

14. Creed 3 (2023)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: The Creed trilogy came to a close (for now) with star Michael B. Jordan making his directorial debut. An old face emerging from Adonis’ past should be a happy moment for the fighter, but the return of Damian Anderson only brings trouble for our protagonist, resulting in one of the most personal and powerful fights in the franchise.

What we think: This may be Michael B. Jordan’s first attempt at directing, but you can’t tell. Creed 3 is incredibly slick, combining kinetic fight scenes with searing human drama and an epic training montage that Rocky Balboa himself would be proud of. Also, can we talk about those anime influences? That Goku-style gut punch had me hootin’ and hollerin’ in the cinema.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

13. Ford v Ferrari (2019)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: This one pretty much does what it says on the tin. Car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) collaborate to create a new racing car for Ford in the hopes of besting the legendary Ferrari motors in the Le Mans 24 event of 1966.

What we think: Put this in the same category as movies like Top Gun: Maverick. It’s a bit of a dad movie, admittedly, but it’s damn cool and very, very effective at giving life to an interesting story with dynamic filmmaking, slick editing, and great actors. 

Where to stream: Disney+ and Netflix

Author: Jakob Barnes

12. Rocky (1976)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Sylvester Stallone began a long and successful career in Hollywood when he brought Rocky Balboa to the screen for his first fight. Balboa, an unknown entity in the boxing world, is picked for a battle with the champion of the world, Apollo Creed, and earns the respect of everyone in the sport for his dogged attitude in the ring.

What we think: The world is a better place for the Rocky franchise existing, and this first installment is a perfect blend of gritty realism and inspiring sports action. It speaks volumes that, despite the high-octane, climactic fight, it’s the subplots of the blossoming romance between Rocky and Adrian and the titular character’s navigation of everyday life that are the more fascinating elements of this story.

Where to stream: Hulu

Author: Jakob Barnes

11. Diego Maradona (2019)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Believe it or not, this is a documentary about… Diego Maradona. The legendary Argentinian footballer is possibly the greatest to ever play the sport, and Asif Kapadia delivers an in-depth profile on the man, the myth, and the madness behind his antics on and off the field.

What we think: Once again, Kapadia perfectly captures the balance between intrigue and information. It would be so easy to sensationalize Maradona’s story, but instead, this documentary understands that, though he may have been a god on the pitch, he was a human away from the sport.

Where to stream: Hulu

Author: Jakob Barnes

10. Creed (2015)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Creed continues the Rocky franchise by turning the attention to Adonis Creed, son of Apollo. Already a talented fighter, Adonis looks for help from Balboa as he attempts to make a name for himself away from his late father’s shadow.

What we think: The idea of rebooting the Rocky series with Apollo Creed’s son sounds like the kind of thing people joke about when discussing the way IPs are mined for everything they’ve got in the modern movie industry, but Creed is a triumph. It honors the legacy of the original movies while treading its own path and adding something fresh to the story. Michael B Jordan is a revelation in the lead role, while Stallone has arguably never been better.

Where to stream: AMC+

Author: Jakob Barnes

9. Air (2023)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Details the story of Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike employee who put together the monumental deal to sign Michael Jordan to the brand in 1984, thus saving the company’s basketball shoe division. Vaccaro meets with Jordan’s parents, helps design a completely unique shoe, and battles with other brands and corporate heads to make the deal happen.

What we think: Matt Damon is clearly the ultimate dad movie actor because this is yet another crowd pleaser to add to his impressive repertoire. Here, he plays an incredibly likable and fun Sonny Vaccaro, with excellent support from Chris Messina, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, and Jason Bateman. The beauty of Air, though, is that it knows how to cut to the chase. It’s a film with very few frills and even less fat, just a straight-shooting story and lots of humor.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

8. Raging Bull (1980)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Follows the rise and fall of middleweight boxing champion, Jake LaMotta. From his early days in the ring to his life outside it, and the way he handled retirement, this Martin Scorsese epic examines the man behind the athlete with a no-holds-barred approach.

What we think: Arguably the most stylish and technically magnificent sporting picture to ever exist. With a striking monochrome palette, genius sound design, and a top-drawer performance from Robert De Niro, Raging Bull is a masterpiece. The way Scorsese’s lens dances around the ring with LaMotta allows the audience to feel every punch, every bead of sweat, and every drop of blood.

Where to stream: Rent on Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

7. The Hustler (1961)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Paul Newman stars as “Fast Eddie” Felson, a pool player who challenges the legendary “Minnesota Fats” to a high-stakes, 25-hour-long battle of the balls. Down and out, and with only $200 left to his name by the end of it, Eddie abandons the sport. But he’s drawn back in when a mobster offers to stake him for another shot at glory.

What we think: This may be the oldest film on the list, but The Hustler is a timeless classic that understands the merits of a simple story. Newman has the gravitas to imbue this one with so much charm and energy that we hang on to his every action, and the way the rallies are shot and edited together adds a real weight and tension to proceedings. Pool may not be the most athletic of sports, but you’re bound to be sweating after watching The Hustler.

Where to stream: Rent on Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

6. The Wrestler (2008)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) really should quit wrestling. He’s too old, has hearing issues, and has an estranged daughter to reconnect with. But, he can’t resist taking on just one more bout in the ring.

What we think: There’s something about The Wrestler — be it the shaky cam or the intrusive nature of the story — that makes this feel almost documentarian. Mickey Rourke leaves it all on the mats for us in an incredibly raw and emotional performance. Somehow, he makes a larger-than-life beast of a man feel so small and vulnerable at times. No wonder he picked up an Oscar nomination for his troubles.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

5. I, Tonya (2017)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Professional figure skater, Tonya Harding, had it all. Or at least, in the rink, she did. Tonya overcomes a difficult upbringing to become the first American woman to perform a triple axel and looks set for Olympic glory. But, just three years later, her husband puts in motion a gruesome crime against one of her rivals that leaves Tonya’s name in the dirt.

What we think: With lots of fourth-wall-breaking, moments of silly humor, and a wild story, it would be easy to forget just how dark and disturbing I, Tonya is in places. Margot Robbie gives a performance of a lifetime, while Allison Janney is a formidable point of contrast as Tonya’s overbearing and cruel mother.

Where to stream: Hulu

Author: Jakob Barnes

4. Rocky 4 (1984)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Years into Rocky Balboa’s career as a champion boxer, he faces his greatest-ever threat in the form of Russian fighter Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). After Drago mercilessly kills Apollo Creed in the ring, Balboa makes it his mission to take down this machine-like adversary once and for all, and he’ll have to do it on Russian soil, too.

What we think: No training montage will ever beat the iconic scenes of Rocky Balboa dragging himself through the snowy mountains of Moscow juxtaposed with Drago pounding the treadmill in his high-tech laboratory. Rocky 4 has the greatest final fight, too. If you don’t stand and cheer and punch the air as Balboa wins over the Russian crowd, you’ve never known joy.

Where to stream: Hulu

Author: Jakob Barnes

3. Moneyball (2011)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Put simply, Moneyball is about statistics, which sounds really boring. But actually, this film utilizes the mind-boggling methods of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics graduate who has a radical approach to navigating the baseball draft. With his sabermetric strategy, Brand helps Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) assemble a squad capable of competing at the very top of the game.

What we think: Moneyball is a masterclass in screenwriting, first and foremost. Every word uttered in this movie earns its place on the page and on the screen, and it’s all delivered with aplomb by the talented cast. Honestly, a movie about spreadsheets and mathematics really shouldn’t be this rousing, but Moneyball is just as entertaining and frenetic as a sweaty slog in the boxing ring.

Where to stream: Netflix

Author: Jakob Barnes

2. Warrior (2011)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: Two estranged brothers are selected for Sparta, the world’s biggest, fiercest MMA tournament. Tommy (Tom Hardy) is a veteran with hate and grief in his blood, while Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is a UFC dropout-turned-teacher who needs the prize money to avoid bankruptcy, and they both resent their father Paddy (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic with a history of abuse. They fight their demons, pasts, and each other — but there can only be one winner.

What we think: I discovered Warrior when I was 14, and nothing else has — or will — top it. Muscular in every sense of the word, and for my money, there isn’t a better sports movie. Warrior is total, unabashed, macho euphoria that’s intimate in scope but epic in feeling. Gavin O’Connor stepped into the ring and left with the GOAT.

Where to stream: Rent on Prime Video

Author: Cameron Frew

1. The Color of Money (1986)

40 best sports movies of all time

What it’s about: A sequel 25 years in the making, as “Fast Eddie” Felson returns to our screens, this time as a questionable mentor to a cocky new hustler, Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise). Spotting Vincent’s talents around the pool table, Eddie invests heavily in his success and gets a little too involved in his personal life, too.

What we think: While The Hustler kept things relatively simple, The Color of Money sees Martin Scorsese go all out, with dazzling cinematography and framing, slick editing, and actors having lots of fun in their roles. The Color of Money delivers the kind of kinetic, pulsating tempo you’d expect from a combat sports movie or a racecar epic, but it confines all that energy to the green felt of the pool table, letting it simmer, ready to explode.

Where to stream: Rent on Prime Video

Author: Jakob Barnes

And there goes the final whistle on our list of the best sports movies. If you want the sporting action to go into overtime, check out our guide to Full Swing Season 3 and Welcome to Wrexham Season 3. Or, dive into the 2024 boxing schedule and what we know about the WWE draft.

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