This is not a list of the best sports movies of all time. Instead, it’s a list of my favorite sports movies. These are all based on films I have owned and seen multiple times.
My rankings are based on vibes.
I’m just kidding, but not really. Impact, humor, and storyline will all play a role in where they are placed on this list of my top 10 favorite sports movies.
10. Gracie (2007)
I don’t know how we came to possess this movie. I imagine we probably picked it up from the clearance bin in Best Buy before a long road drive. I think I watched it for the first time on a 12 hour road trip.
Gracie is based on a true story during a time where females were still fighting to play sports after Title IX. The movie is a sad, but realistic telling of Gracie’s determination to play soccer to honor her brother, who died in a car accident. Her grief takes over until her father invests time in training her and helping her channel her grief into soccer.
The school rejects her from playing on the boys’ team, but an appeal grants her a spot. She fights her way onto junior varsity, and then a spot on varsity where she gets to play in the championship where all her hard work pays off.
The montage of the state championship game sticks with me as a particularly well done sequence. It’s played in the rain (obviously, for dramatic effect), but there’s a part where she misses a shot and crumbles. There’s silence as she tries to fight through the disappointment, which parallels her brother missing the game-winning shot before he died. However, her heartbreak is interrupted as the game moves on, and Gracie redeems herself.
I recommend Gracie wholeheartedly if you’re looking for a sports drama about grief, family and breaking barriers.
There’s a lot of drama without much comic relief, and it can be hard for me to watch movies like that often. So Gracie gets the number 10 spot.
9. Rudy (1993)
I haven’t watched Rudy in a long time, but I remember Notre Dame being my dream school because of this movie.
A biographical movie, it follows Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger as he overcomes significant obstacles to realize his dream of playing football for the Fighting Irish. Rudy overcomes financial obstacles, bad grades and his small stature to make the team.
Rudy’s grit and determination are admirable to all viewers. He loses his best friend in an accident at the steel mill where he works, enrolls at a junior college hoping to transfer, works to overcome his dyslexia, becomes homeless, and endures multiple rejections from Notre Dame before eventually being accepted and even making the football team as a walk-on. Rudy finds a mentor in Fortune, the stadium’s groundskeeper, who gives Rudy a place to sleep and one of the most inspiring speeches in any sports movie.
Rudy’s determination, the “Don’t quit” speech and Rudy’s ultimate triumph will have you ready to run through a wall by the end. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rudy. But like Gracie, I’ve only watched it a handful of times compared to the rest of this list.
8. Mighty Ducks (1992)
Mighty Ducks is one of those cheesy, feel-good movies about misfit kids learning how to become good players and better teammates. Number eight is a good spot for the Ducks. Quack, quack.
The movie centers around attorney Gordon Bombay, who gets a DUI and is forced to coach a little league hockey team to complete his community service. It’s a very cheesy storyline about a begrudging adult trying to relive his glory days while he warms up to the players and all of their quirks.
Gordon loses track of his purpose when the team starts winning, resorting to the unsportsmanlike tactics used by the rival coach, who mentored Gordon when he was a young hockey player. In the end, Gordon learns the true meaning of team sports.
The players are the stars of the movie when it comes to bringing the humor. Goldberg, Averman, Fulton, Karp and Peter are the quirkiest of the bunch, and they deliver some great lines.
It’s exactly the perfect recipe for a cheesy sports movie — a lesson learned, romance, laughs and a happy ending. The Mighty Ducks 2 and 3 get kind of iffy, so watch them at your own risk.
7. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
“Caroline, enough about soccer!” No, absolutely never. I would put more soccer movies on here if I could. Any movie with Keira Knightley is an instant classic.
Jess is breaking away from her traditional Indian family’s dreams for her to get married. Instead, Jess idolizes David Beckham and hopes of playing professionally. Jess meets Jules, who is also trying break away from her family’s expectations of being a girly-girl.
Soccer is one of the sports thar can expose how painfully un-athletic an actor is (see: She’s the Man), but this movie does a good job of at least hiding the lack of soccer skills.
This movie includes fun scenes as Jess tries to move between practicing for her sister’s wedding and going to soccer practice. There’s practice and game montages as she and Jules become unstoppable teammates. Overall, its a fun movie about chasing your dreams and supporting your teammates, so Bend It Like Beckham receives the number seven spot.
6. Miracle (2004)
Oh Kurt, I mean Herb. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Miracle, and I wish it hasn’t been.
Miracle is about the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team and their road to victory against the Soviet Union in the Winter Olympics.
Athletes competing in the Olympics were not allowed to be professionals back int he day, so the team was made up of college athletes. It was Herb Brooks’ job as the new head coach to get these college players in shape to face an unstoppable Soviet team.
I vividly remember the scene where the team isn’t trying at all and Herb makes them sprint skate from goal line to goal line. The players hit the line, exhausted, and he continually shouts, “Again!”
Miracle is one of those sports dramas that’s filled with struggle until the satisfying payoff: a defeat of the Soviets preceding a win against Finland for the gold medal. The audience watches Herb struggle to bring the team together and strategize against the Soviets. He toils with the strain coaching puts on his relationship with his family and his players. Kurt Russell has the perfect voice for narration to pull on even more heartstrings in the audience.
The patriotic theme of today will have you chanting “USA!” along with the final scene. Maybe I’ll go watch Miracle right now.
5. The Sandlot (1993)
“You’re killing me, Smalls” and Ham’s subsequent explanation of how to make a s’more are a classic.
The Sandlot is a childhood favorite that I can’t not include on this list. It’s just goofy movie that follows kids on the sandlot trying to act like their big league idols. Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, Smalls, Yeah-Yeah, Ham, Squints, and the rest. The names, the quotes, the whole premise makes The Sandlot one of my favorite sports movies.
The story is told from the perspective of an adult Scotty Smalls, who reminisces about the summer when he was taken under the wing of the misfit kids of the sandlot.
There are a few points in the movie that definitely reflect the humor of that time, like Ham using “You play ball like a girl” as the ultimate insult and, of course, the lifeguard scene. They make me wince. I’ll give the movie a pass considering it was made in 1993.
Overall, the movie encapsulates that summer feeling of running around the neighborhood playing with your best friends. The wild, irrational rumors about a monstrous dog and the mean old owner are reflective of the same rumors that would get passed around when I was kid. I am always down to watch this group of nine wreck havoc and play ball.
4. The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)
The Greatest Game Ever Played is a golf movie based on the true story of 18-year-old Francis Ouimet playing in the 1913 U.S. Open. Francis Ouimet, played by Shia LaBeouf, grows up struggling in Boston, where he is held back by the same type of elitism that his idol Harry Vardon faced in England.
The story subtly points to the “gentlemanly” aspect of golf that restricted access to the game from the lower class. The movie flashes back to Harry Vardon’s experiences with growing up in a struggling family and trying to play during a time when golf was reserved for the elite. These flashbacks supplement Francis’ story, as we watch him fight to hone his game and eventually earn a spot in the Open, winning the respect of Vardon as they duel for first place.
Despite being based on a true story and the many struggles we watch Francis endures, there is still a comedic element brought to the movie. Eddy, Francis’ 11-year-old caddy, drops some iconic lines that I still quote to this day.
Some of his best lines include, “easy peasy lemon squeasy” and the best golf advice ever told: “read it, roll it, hole it.”
This movie has everything a sports movie really needs. It gives us comic relief on top of a compelling storyline, along with the best golf sequence ever dramatized about a playoff played in the pouring rain.
Let’s be honest, its the “easy peasy lemon squeasy” that puts this movie in my number four spot.
3. Remember the Titans (2000)
Remember the Titans is based on a true story about Coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington, who coaches a Virginia high school team during its first season of integration.
Like many movies that are “based on a true story,” there are a few inaccuracies here. One being that T.C. Williams High School was integrated in 1963, and their championship season occurred in 1971. According to IMDb, “The successful 1971 football season was not credited to integration, but to the consolidation of two other high schools; the tripling of the class sizes gave them a larger talent pool to choose from.”
IMDb also tells us that the racial tensions were not over the integration of the football team as depicted in the movie, but instead because of a white convenience store owner killing a black student.
Disney simplifies the storyline to illustrate a feel-good story about a football team overcoming racial tensions to become state champions.
If Disney is good at one thing, it’s creating sappy movies. The film’s main themes surround integration and racism, and are lightened by humor and the brotherhood that forms on the team. People often remember the team singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the arrival of “Sunshine” and Petey being Petey.
The relationship between Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell is used to symbolize the progression of the team coming together. Both were leaders of their respective teams before the integration o the schools, and their power struggle marinates until they finally put their differences aside and lead together. Their brotherhood makes Gary’s accident all the sadder, and the eventual state championship win all the more bittersweet.
Bittersweet. It’s a good word to describe a movie that covers such a heavy theme with triumph and then, ultimately, ending with more grief.
Left side. Strong Side.
2. Field of Dreams (1989)
“They’ll come to Iowa City and they’ll think it’s really boring.”
Talk about a movie with some iconic lines. Field of Dreams is a sports fantasy drama about Ray Kinsella, who builds a baseball field for Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the deceased 1919 Chicago White Sox team. Ray is guided by an ominous voice that tells him “If you build it, they will come,” “Ease his pain,” and “Go the distance.” The vague messages send him on a journey to unlock what the mysterious voice means.
Ray builds the field and comes face-to-face with Shoeless Joe and the ghosts of the other White Sox. He thinks it’s his job to help Shoeless Joe and the rest of the team, but the voice continues to speak to him. He dreams of helping sports writer Terence Mann, and while at a Boston Red Sox game he receives another message about Archie “Moonlight” Graham.
Audiences follow Ray as he continues to help Mann, Shoeless Joe and Archie Graham make their dreams come true. They, in turn, help Ray realize the real purpose of the messages. Both Terence and Ray’s daughter, Karin, prophesize that people will come from all over to watch the cornfield games, happily paying admission and helping Ray save his farm. In the end, Shoeless Joe grants Ray the opportunity to right the wrong that had tormented him since childhood.
Some of the funniest scenes include Ray trying to kidnap Terence with a finger gun in his pocket, Ray’s brother-in-law finally seeing the players and Shoeless Joe asking if Iowa was heaven.
Field of Dreams is a movie full of mystery, time travel, comedy and a heartwarming twist
1. Secretariat (2010)
Maybe I like this one so much because I used to ride horses, but I’m inclined to believe people will love this movie even if they’ve never ridden a horse.
The movie follows the true story of how Secretariat became one of the greatest competitors in the history of horse racing. Secretariat was the ninth horse to win the American Triple Crown, which consists of winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes consecutively. Secretariat was the first in 25 years to win, and he still holds records for all three races, including a record-breaking 31 lengths win at the Belmont Stakes.
The movie follows Secretariat’s path to the Triple Crown and romanticizes his story. His owner, Penny Chenery, had limited knowledge of horse racing and many doubted that she and her horse could even win a race.
Chenery navigates the male-dominated horse world with the help of eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin and horse groomer Eddie Sweat. The movie gives viewers a look into the complicated dynamics of training and building a Triple Crown caliber race horse.
Chenery’s fierce nature, Lucien’s expertise and Sweat’s personal connection with “Big Red” (Secretariat’s nickname based on his reddish coat) all surround Secretariat and bring depth to his story.
Doubts and tribulations plague Secretariat’s path before the satisfying ending as he astonishes not just his rivals, but all who are watching. This movie does an incredible job of pouring all the best sports pathos into a story where the protagonist has no lines. I tear up every time.