Top 10 Greatest Sports Movies of All Time
Anyone who loves sports has watched at least a handful of movies about sports in their lifetime. Ranking the best sports movies of all time is a topic that has been covered time and time again. There is no way to indicate which film is the best because it’s all based on opinion.
With that said, as an avid sports fan since 1972, I’ve watched my share of cinematic portrayals of true athletic stories and those that are fictional. I’ve seen so many sports movies that I can’t list them all but below is a list of those I enjoyed the most. These certainly are not all the movies I’ve watched and there are plenty of others that could be ranked that may not make it into my top 10, so narrowing it down to a top 10 is in by no means easy.
- Bad News Bears
- Bang the Drum Slowly
- Blue Chips
- Breaking Away
- Brian’s Song
- Cinderella Man
- Cool Runnings
- Eight Men Out
- Fear Strikes Out
- Field of Dreams
- Friday Night Lights
- Gridiron Gang
- Jerry Maguire
- Million Dollar Baby
- Pride of the Yankees
- Raging Bull
- Remember the Titans
- Rocky series
- The Blind Side
- The Karate Kid
- The Longest Yard
- The Sandlot
- Vision Quest
- We are Marshall
- White Men Can’t Jump
From the group above, I give you my personal top 10 best movies of all-time counting down from 10.
#10 - Pride of the Yankees
I’m a big fan of movies that are based on true stories. With this movie, we get to experience what Lou Gehrig did at the tail end of his life after being stricken with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which following Gehrig’s death would become known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Several movies in this list will cause the weak of heart to either choke up or tear up because of tragic circumstances or due to the story being told a “feel good” theme.
With “Pride of the Yankees” we not only get to see Babe Ruth playing himself but we hear Gehrig’s famous Yankee Stadium speech when he announced his illness and subsequent retirement from the game. His exit from baseball ended the longest consecutive game playing streak that would eventually be broken by Cal Ripken Jr. but for the “Iron Horse” he would play in 2,130 straight games until his illness halted the record that would stand for 56 years until Ripken passed him by.
Whether you are New York Yankees fan or not, if you are a fan of baseball, love a good story about baseball and admire athletes with superior character then this movie is worth watching. After all, it’s based on the true story of one of the greatest baseball players ever.
#9 - The Sandlot
For those who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, the movie “The Sandlot” will bring back several childhood memories. This especially true if you were playing any type of baseball during that era let alone just growing up in that period. This fictional tale of one group of kids who thrived on pickup baseball is a nostalgic comedy that features several different personalities of a ragtag bunch of pre-teens who just wanted to enjoy hitting and throwing a baseball around and just being a boy growing up at that time.
The Sandlot reminded me of the street I grew up on and the neighborhood where I lived as it was common to have pickup baseball games and carry on during non-school hours much like Smalls, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, “Ham” Porter,” “Squints,” “Yea-Yeah,” and Timmy Timmons among the others did. “Your killing me Smalls!” is one of the all-time most remembered quotes from a sports movie.
#8 - Blue Chips
Basketball fans were treated to the truth in plain sight view of collegiate basketball in 1994’s fictional tale of what is already known about NCAA basketball. That is, there’s more to recruiting than meets the eye. In this story, the school in the center of the storm is Western University coached up by Nick Nolte and while his program gets caught up in a losing rut, the university boosters encourage Nolte’s character Pete Bell to allow them to intervene with an array of compensation to some of the best high school basketball players in the country to get them to sign on with Western University. The compensation ranges from vehicles and homes to money, to a tractor for a player’s farm.
The fun part of the movie is seeing actual NBA players in main roles primarily Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. But other appearances are made by Bob Cousy, Bobby Knight, Rick Pitino, and Larry Bird. If anyone believes these kinds of indiscretions don’t take place in major college sports, one better think again. It happens. The movie even includes an incident of point shaving by Hardaway’s character. The drama and storyline in this movie are excellent and it takes a stab at one of the most glaring problems with major college sports.
#7 - Gladiator
As a big combat sports fan (primarily MMA and boxing), this movie tells the fictional tale of the dark side of boxing, but the illegal side. That is, the main characters in the film led by Cuban Gooding Jr. and Brian Dennehy are involved in underground boxing kept out of the mainstream public with the assistance of a local police force.
The fights are centered upon heavy gambling and inside the squared circle, bouts take place without regard to basic rules. It’s like a street fight with gloves. The scenes are grimy the characters shady and thug-like but the plot of the movie is very good and well acted out. It’s not a “feel-good” Rocky-like movie, but the sole bad guy in the film loses out in the end. If you are a diehard boxing fan you should enjoy this movie.
The soundtrack to it was pretty good and James Marshall who played the part of “Ghost” as referred to by Gooding Jr.’s character played his role in the hilt. Marshall also starred in “A Few Good Men.” I’ve seen this movie several times and could easily watch it again. It’s that good.
#6 - Eight Men Out
As I indicated, I like true story movies. Here’s another. These days, baseball players and other athletes get suspended and fined for steroid use and other performance-enhancing drugs. We’ve seen a rise over the last few years of domestic violence incidents that resulted in punishment to pro athletes, but those have been the major sources of penalties.
With “Eight Men Out” we travel back to 1919 and the story of how players from the Chicago White Sox took bribes to throw the World Series that year to the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately for the “Black Sox” as they became known, they got busted and several players paid the ultimate price. Banishment from baseball for life.
Pete Rose would suffer the same fate many years later but for Chick Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, Oscar Felsch, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, Charles Risberg, Buck Weaver, and Lefty Williams, they all suffered the fate of never being allowed to play major league baseball again. Not a member of the team but playing for the St. Louis Browns was Joe Gideon who also got the lifetime ban because he was aware of the “fix” and said nothing about it until he tried to get rewarded for his knowledge that in the end cost him his baseball career.
It’s an intriguing story, one that’s true and a sad one for Joe Jackson who was one of the greatest players of his time and a man that took his proclamation of innocence to his grave. In an interesting twist to this movie, Charles Risberg and some of the other banned players missed the diamond and so attempted to go on a barnstorming tour of three states to continue playing. But then Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis informed anyone that played against them or on their team would also be banned for life.
#5 - We Are Marshall
The world of sports has suffered many tragedies at times involving an individual and in other cases, multiple people. Marshall University in West Virginia suffered what might be the worst sports disaster in the history of the United States. What happened on November 14, 1970, became the movie “We Are Marshall” in 2006 with a cast of actors led by Matthew McConaughey.
If you are not familiar with the story of “The Thundering Herd” football team of 1970 or have not seen this true story film, this is an ABSOLUTE must-see. It provides you with a mix of sadness, pride, and warming of the heart in one touching story. What happened on that fateful day was that following a loss to East Carolina University, Marshall’s football team chartered a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 plane back to their home city of Huntington, West Virginia but just one mile from their destination, the plane hits some trees causing a crash into a gully.
Sadly, 75 people that were on the plane all perished. That included 37 football players, the head coach (Rick Tolley) and five men on his staff, the school’s athletic director, trainer and assistant trainer, the sports information directory, and the radio play-by-play announcer. Others losing their life on that fateful evening were 25 booster members and all five plane crew members. The President of Marshall University at the time (Donald Dedmon) sought to suspend the football program but because of encouragement from Marshall’s students and people living in Huntington as well as several players who did not make that trip to East Carolina, Dedmon’s decision was reversed.
That East Carolina game was the final game of 1970 and the Thundering Herd finished with a record of 3-6. The football program had only been playing since 1962 and only had experienced two winning seasons since its inception (5-4 in ’63 and 7-3 a year later). The team reformed for the 1971 season and finished 2-8. Marshall University did not experience another winning season until 1997 when they won 10 of 13 games on the schedule. Leading the offense that year was future NFL quarterback Chad Pennington and he was throwing the ball to Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss. Those were just two stars coming out of Marshall as Byron Leftwich also was a Thundering Herd quarterback and is famously known for playing on a broken leg and being carried on the field by his teammates.
Since 1962, Marshall University has played in 15 bowl games and has won all but two losing to Cincinnati University in 2004 at the Fort Worth Bowl and to Ole Miss in the Motor City Bowl in 1997. To this day, Randy Moss remains the only selection for Consensus All-American in the history of the school’s football program.
As a final note to this film, in the actual events leading up to the making of this movie, head coach Rick Tolley was married to Mary Jane Edmundson a wedding that took place in 1963 and they did not have any children. Following his passing, Mary Jane never remarried and she can be seen in the movie during the final scene when people gather around the Marshall University’s Memorial Water Fountain as they honor the victims.
Don’t miss this movie! It’s a great but tragic story.
#4 - Brian's Song
Many movies are remade years after their debut and several have been sports movies. With Brian’s Song, the original movie was a made for TV movie that starred James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. The remake reprised those two original characters with Sean Maher and Mekhi Phifer.
The 2001 version can not come close to matching the drama of the original. If you like a tear-jerking, tug at the heartstrings movie, this one will do it for you. The movie is the story of Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and his teammate and roommate the legendary Gale Sayers. The two become very close friends and Brian’s Song follows the relationship between the two that begins stormy and finishes with a story of how Piccolo and Sayers became as close as two brothers.
It would be a huge surprise if you fail to get choked up or shed a tear watching this film. While I list Brian’s Song at #4, there is another movie also a true story that mirrors this film. That would be “Something for Joey” which is the story of Penn State running back John Cappelletti who had won the Heisman Trophy in 1993 and dedicated the award to his dying younger brother Joey, who was suffering from leukemia. Like Brian’s Song before this film, Something for Joey was a made-for-TV movie that came out in 1977. Again, a story that will leave you with a lump in your throat.
#3 - Remember the Titans
On December 18, 2019, Herman Ike Boone passed away from lung cancer at the age of 84. If you are asking yourself who is Herman Boone then you haven’t seen “Remember the Titans.” Football head coach Herman Boone was leading T.C. Williams High School’s team from 1969 until he was unfortunately fired in 1979 for the reasons of allegedly abusing players along with complaints issued from three of his coaching assistants.
However, this movie is a portrayal of what Boone faced in taking over the high school’s football team who nickname is part of the movie title, “Titans” and the adversities Boone, the school, the players, and his primary assistant Bill Yoast faced primarily the racism the team felt not just from within but from other schools as well. This all stemmed from the fact that three high schools in the Alexandria, Virginia area were integrated into T.C. Williams High School in 1971.
As the movie follows the team on its way to the state championship in 1971, what begins as a dislike between two defensive stars of the team, Julius Campbell who is black and the white Gerry Bertier evolves into a tight friendship leading to a scene in the hospital as Bertier is paralyzed after an automobile accident where he introduces Campbell to a nurse as “his brother.”
Tragically, Gerry Bertier crashed his mother’s 1967 Camaro just after the undefeated season of 1971 leaving him as a paraplegic. Bertier was the only occupant of the vehicle but he would turn the tragedy into a positive as he became an athlete in Paralympics. Bertier would win a gold medal in the shot put and take part in the Wheelchair Basketball League as well. He also set state and national records in the United States Paralympics.
Bertier’s fate met an even more tragic end when in 1981 after learning how to drive as a paraplegic, a drunk driver collided with Bertier’s car head-on and he lost his life at the hospital two hours later. In the movie, there is a sad scene of his teammates and coaches gathering at his funeral. Sadly in real life, not only did Gerry Bertier pass before his time, but assistant coach Bill Yoast’s daughter also portrayed in the movie died at the tender age of 34 from a heart ailment. Bill Yoast lived a long life passing at the age of 94 earlier this year.
Remember the Titans is a fantastic story full of laughter, tears, pride, and inspiration much like the next movie on my list.
#2 - Rudy
Standing just 5’6” and weighing around 165 pounds is Daniel Eugene “Rudy” Ruettiger. Growing up in Joliet, Illinois where he graduated from Joliet Catholic High School, Ruettiger had dreamed of playing for Notre Dame University which in the 1970s was one of the country’s powerhouse collegiate football programs.
Thanks to the head coach at the time, Ara Parseghian, the Fighting Irish head coach had encouraged walk-ons for his team to serve on the practice squad. “Rudy” made it onto that unit after transferring from Holy Cross College to Notre Dame. The movie by his nickname portrays his struggles to live out his dream and then his attempt to play in a live game.
That dream became reality in the final game of his Notre Dame career albeit just three plays at the tail end of a game with Georgia Tech that the Irish had already sewn up a victory in. In truth, while the movie gives viewers the impression that players demanded that he dress for that final game, it was new head coach Dan Devine that wanted Rudy to take part.
The portrayal of Ruettiger registering a sack on the game’s final play was true. It happened. So did the act of his teammates propping him up on their shoulders and carrying Rudy off the field, something that had never been done before in the history of the school and was never repeated until members of the Fighting Irish repeated the stunt over 20 years later in 1995 when Marc Edwards was lifted off the field by teammates.
Unlike Brian’s Song and Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, or Pride of the Yankees, Rudy has no sadness in it. It’s all inspiring and one of the best “feel good” movies of all time. While watching the film you may even find yourself joining in on the chant of “Rudy” in the movie’s final scene.
#1 - Rocky Series
We’ve reached my personal #1 sports movie of all-time and I give you a handful of movies as the best. The Rocky movies are my favorite sports movies of all time. Picking a favorite from Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V, Rocky Balboa, Creed, and Creed II for me is impossible. Therefore, my number one movie is a tie for the top sports movie of all time as the Rocky series lopped into one is how I will rank the best.
Right off the bat, I can eliminate Rocky III. This was the weakest of the eight movies in the series as I found it sort of lame with the appearance of Hulk Hogan and a professional wrestling twist thrown in. Additionally, with the introduction of “Mr. T” tossed in as primary challenger and then champion, it just didn’t work for me. The one scene I did enjoy was Adrian’s speech to Rocky on the beach about being afraid. Talia Shire’s portrayal of Adrian Pennino in the five movies of the set she starred in was excellent and so well acted, believable as Rocky’s wife.
For those unaware, Sylvester Stallone as an aspiring actor and movie writer created the script for the original Rocky and presented it to United Artists for production but producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff wanted a well more established actor to fill the main character role with thoughts of Robert Redford, Ryan O’Neal, Burt Reynolds, or James Caan getting the role. But Stallone wanted nothing to do with that and threatened not to turn over rights to his script unless he got the role of Rocky. The rest is history.
In the end, Stallone’s acting along with his supporting cast earned the original Rocky an Oscar for Best Picture. John Avildsen won the award for Best Director. Stallone was nominated for Best Actor but failed to win and then the Best Film Editing category was taken by Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad. Other nominations for the film included:
- Best Actress (Talia Shire, won by Fay Dunaway in “Network”)
- Best Original Screenplay (won by Network)
- Best Supporting Actor (Burgess Meredith, won by Jason Robards in “All
the President’s Men”)
- Best Supporting Actor (Burt Young)
- Best Music (Original Song) for "Gonna Fly Now" (Bill Conti, won by Jerry
Goldsmith for “The Omen”)
- Best Sound (Arthur Piantadosi, Les Fresholtz, Dick Alexander, Jim Webb
for All the President’s Men)
Rocky I was the launching pad for the remaining seven movies and the great thing about the series is that the theme never changed. It gives viewers the experience of watching a professional boxer’s career from his rise to the top to the last bell. One aspect of the Rocky series I enjoyed the most is the portrayal of the relationship between Rocky and Adrian. What we get from that is that their marriage was special and they truly represented what soulmates are all about.
Rocky’s relationship with Mickey is also special and Burt Young’s character “Paulie” was comical most of the time. Even when Rocky Balboa was no longer fighting (Creed and Creed II), it didn’t take away from the last two movies in the series which had a solid plot and was well acted with the boxing scenes coming off very realistic much the way it was in Rocky Balboa when he had his final fight. In Creed II, Florian Munteanu got the role of Drago’s son but I thought it should have gone to real MMA fighter Sage Northcutt who looks almost identical to the original Drago played in Rocky V and again in this movie by Dolph Lundgren.
In the end, you have movies that turn into sequel after sequel (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.) but I do not believe any have reached the level of quality, interest, enthusiasm, and loyalty that the Rocky series has. The original Rocky is such a great movie that it’s watchable again and again and again and again. It never gets old. Additionally, the first four or five movies in the series may have the greatest movie soundtracks ever.
As an honorable mention, a movie that could have made the list is “The Longest Yard.”
Some movies from the past get a remake and often the second time around is nowhere near as good a film as the original. That’s the case with this football movie starring the late Burt Reynolds. In the attempt to redo the movie, Adam Sandler played Reynold’s original character, Paul Crewe but the humor from the original 1974 version does not come close in the 2005 release of the movie. One of the best lines of the movie came from the mouth of Richard Kiel who said, “I think I broke his f&$%#’in neck!”
For those unaware, Burt Reynolds was a football player getting a scholarship to Florida State University as a running back. But because of injuries, his career came to a screeching halt following his freshman season. Two knee injuries and an automobile accident costing his spleen ended his gridiron career. But in the books are 134 yards rushing on 16 attempts including two touchdowns and four receptions for another 76 yards.
So there you have it, my own personal top 10 sports movie countdown and I’m quite confident that as you read this article, you will disagree with some of my choices, or movies that were left out and belong in the top 10, but narrowing it down to just these movies was not an easy task. There are plenty of great sports movies out there but for me, Rocky and all the sequels leave all other movies in their dust.