You shouldn’t anticipate The Blind Side (2009) to be included on this list of football films. The most well-known boxing films in all of cinema, including Rocky (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and Million Dollar Baby (2004), won’t be featured either. The same holds true for basketball and Hoosiers (1986) as well as baseball and A League of Their Own (1992).
Even if you are unfamiliar with the films on the list, you are likely familiar with the filmmakers who are in charge of them or at least the stars of their A-list ensembles. Having said that, listed below are the best sports films of all time.
Table Of Content
- 1 42 (2013)
- 2 All the Right Moves (1983)
- 3 Any Given Sunday (1999)
- 4 Big Fan (2009)
- 5 Bleed for This (2016)
- 6 Borg vs. McEnroe (2017)
- 7 Champions (2023)
- 8 Chuck (2016)
- 9 Concussion (2015)
- 10 Draft Day (2014)
- 11 Everybody Wants Some! (2016)
- 12 For Love of the Game (1999)
- 13 Goon (2011)
- 14 Leatherheads (2008)
- 15 Million Dollar Arm (2014)
- 16 Race (2016)
- 17 Resurrecting the Champ (2007)
- 18 School Ties (1992)
- 19 Southpaw (2015)
- 20 The Basketball Diaries (1995)
- 21 The Boxer (1997)
- 22 The Hurricane (1999)
- 23 The Program (1993)
- 24 The Slaughter Rule (2002)
- 25 The Way Back (2020)
Jackie Robinson, a true baseball great, was played in 42 (2013) by Chadwick Boseman, a legendary performer. He reinvents himself to fit the part, in this case, the first black player to play in Major League Baseball in the contemporary age. However, Jackie Robinson’s fame virtually goes beyond baseball, and the movie’s title alludes to the fact that all MLB teams retired the number on the back of his jersey in 1997.
It follows Robinson from the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he made his Major League debut, until they reached the 1947 World Series. The end product is a sports movie that comes close to being great but doesn’t receive nearly as much praise from reviewers and viewers as it should. In the end, 42 comes out on top of the list because it is really one of the best baseball films ever filmed.
All the Right Moves (1983)
Although it’s not as good as All the Right Moves (1983), it received mixed reviews when it first came out. This movie about Tom Cruise playing a high school football cornerback came in at number 23 due to its underwhelming box office performance as well as its mixed reviews from reviewers. There’s a delicate line when ranking movies as undervalued.
The movie you’ll read about today isn’t the best one, either. But it’s also better than its success statistics may suggest. Other early performances from Chris Penn and Craig T. Nelson serve as the cherry on the underappreciated cake to Cruise’s standout turn as Stefen Djordjevic. All the Right Moves is still worth seeing if you’ve never seen it.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Despite having a stellar ensemble that included Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Jamie Foxx, and many other well-known actors, this football-themed film disappointed critics when it was first released. And although it has a respectable brand value today, it wasn’t exactly a hit in the theatres. But for crying out loud, even LL Cool J shows up. Nobody knows for sure what went wrong.
Any Given Sunday (1999) isn’t precisely a sports film classic, but it does well in many other areas of filmmaking. It has several poignant scenes and outstanding performances, and it deserves to be remembered in a more positive light than the 52% approval rating Rotten Tomatoes now accords it.
Big Fan (2009)
Big Fan (2009), starring Patton Oswalt and Kevin Corrigan, is an example of what happens when a straightforward idea is combined with excellent execution. At this point, it is obvious that Oswalt was the project’s major star and that Robert D. Siegel served as its director. He also gave an excellent performance as the main character Paul Aufiero, who touts himself as the “world’s biggest New York Giants fan” in the play.
One of his favourite players is found in the open by him, along with a few colleagues, and he follows him a few towns over. This encounter serves as the game’s catalyst. The group is less than thrilled as he proceeds to reveal that he has been watching the players. They severely beat him, and the story’s entertainment value only increases from there. It is without a doubt one of the most underappreciated sports films ever, with a terrible box office performance and a name worth that hasn’t increased since. Why audiences weren’t more enamoured with this one is a mystery.
Bleed for This (2016)
As Southpaw and Chuck have already been included on the list, the middle of the 2010s was the underappreciated period for boxing films. However, Bleed for This (2016), which stars Miles Teller who recovers from the most catastrophic and life-altering injury the sport of boxing has ever seen, is the most underappreciated of the group. Along with Teller as the hero, it also stars Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds, and Ted Levine. It is based on the true life of former world champion Vinny Pazienza.
But the movie boasts more than simply stellar acting. Its moving story will knock you out in every round of a gritty, drawn-out fight, but it’ll also make you chuckle. In fact, it covers the entire emotional spectrum while striking the ideal tone balance and seeing the whole thing come together.
Borg vs. McEnroe (2017)
Björn Borg is portrayed by Sverrir Gudnason, and John McEnroe, played by Shia LaBeouf, completes the title combo. Together, the two actors who played the real-life individuals gave tennis fans the most dramatic back-and-forth matches the court had ever seen, which was brilliantly captured in the conclusion of Borg vs. McEnroe (2017).
Due to the contrast in these two characters’ characteristics, the story has a wide range of emotions and is driven by both of their emotional growth and athletic prowess. Through and through hilarious—largely due to LaBeouf’s controlled chaos—it is also a moving story of a professional rivalry that in many ways went beyond tennis itself. And Borg vs. McEnroe perfectly represented the rivalry.
The story of a minor-league basketball coach who is arrested and assigned to a team of players with intellectual disabilities as community service is told in Champions (2023), the solo directing debut of Bobby Farrelly, one half of the comedic movie-directing combo known as the Farrelly Brothers.
American actor Woody Harrelson plays the lead role, and he shines with equally talented actors like Ernie Hudson, Kaitlin Olsen, and Cheech Marin. In spite of the unimpressive reviews it has received from critics, the project is entertaining. And as it was the most current movie on the list, it obviously lost favour with audiences. However, you should really put Champions on your watchlist.
In terms of emotional resonance, Chuck (2016), also known as The Bleeder in the UK, has what is arguably the most moving scene of any film on the list. If you’re not familiar with the real-life fighter Chuck Wepner, you’ll definitely recognise him from the 1976 movie Rocky, which Sylvester Stallone was inspired to make by his fight with Muhammad Ali.
With the greatest boxer of all time, Wepner came close to going a full fifteen rounds and even knocked Ali out in the ring. However, it is especially depressing to see a man basking in the triumph of a fight in which he was technically knocked out. And it’s obvious that the main character in Chuck has peaked as he watches Rocky win Best Picture at the 49th Academy Awards live on television.
Concussion (2015) is by no means the best film you’ll read about today, yet despite its awkward on-screen accent from Will Smith, it still manages to be emotionally impactful. Without a doubt, he excels in his role as Bennet Omalu, a forensic scientist studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in the National Football League.
Smith even received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in recognition of his work, and the entire movie is enjoyable from beginning to end. Even if it’s not the most typical sports drama, it nevertheless deserves to be on our list.
Draft Day (2014)
This one has Kevin Costner in the lead role, with Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Chadwick Boseman, Terry Crews, Sam Elliot, and a host of other well-known actors playing supporting roles. Aside from Costner and Gardner, who have a unique relationship because the latter is expecting the former’s child, Ivan Reitman and Jim Brown are the two names that stand out as most deserving of note.
Brown, a former football player himself, went on to have a successful acting career once his sporting career was over. He plays himself in a small part, but it’s important because it’s his last playing job before passing away in 2023. The only difference with Reitman is that he was the director who passed away in 2022, therefore the same thing does not apply to him. Nevertheless, this was his last film. They are two legends, and Draught Day (2014) deserves more praise just for that. It helps that it’s a watchable, thoroughly enjoyable sports caper about the titular NFL draught day.
Everybody Wants Some! (2016)
Richard Linklater, the director of Everybody Wants Some, may be the best teen comedy director around. (2016), which doubles as a baseball-themed piece, is reminiscent of some of his earlier works, like Dazed and Confused (1993). However, the current sports movie was much less well-liked by viewers and performed terribly poorly at the global box office.
It’s a movie about a bunch of high school baseball players in 1980s Texas, the kind of hangout movie for which Linklater’s name has generally come to be known. Although reviewers gave it high marks, audiences unquestionably passed over Everybody Wants Some.
For Love of the Game (1999)
The vast number of underappreciated films that American director Sam Raimi has produced is impressive. In addition, his fictitious baseball story For Love of the Game (1999) is one of the most underappreciated sports films ever made. It centres on Billy Chapel, played by Kevin Costner, who must balance the stress of pitching his last game in Yankee Stadium with his frenetic relationship with Jane Aubrey, a single mother played by Kelly Preston.
Neither performer particularly stood out as poignant or anything. Nevertheless, they made admirable efforts, and Costner’s Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actor was viewed as somewhat excessive. The supporting cast includes several well-known actors including John C. Reilly and J.K. Simmons. Their performances still hold up today, and they add a lot of name recognition to the production as a whole. Given how enjoyable it is from beginning to end, it is surprising that movie failed miserably at the box office and received just average reviews from reviewers.
Goon (2011), starring Sean William Scott as a hockey player who can hardly even skate, is possibly the funniest movie on the list. His nickname was inspired by the fact that he excels at striking men in the face. The enforcer is a vital player in hockey who fights opponents’ players who use unsportsmanlike or violent tactics to prevent goals or stop momentum.
There might not have been a better candidate for the position. Sean William Scott excels as the dim-witted but steadfastly devoted Doug Glatt, and his co-stars Live Schreiber, Alison Pill, Jay Baruchel, and Eugene Levy are as impressive. Even if they missed it in theatres, Goon is still essential watching for aficionados of sports comedies. It is ranked number 18 in this list.
The star-studded quality of Leatherheads (2008)’s cast, which includes George Clooney, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, and Renée Zellweger, should be noted right away. It is primarily a comedy film that details the early years of American football’s professional game.
And it’s without a doubt one of the greatest comedies the genre has ever produced, with a 52% rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes and $41 million in worldwide box office receipts off a $58 million budget, making it appear to be somewhat underestimated. Even if those are some of the poorest scores on the list, they shouldn’t be used as a measure of the movie’s overall calibre. You should give Leatherheads some time.
Million Dollar Arm (2014)
American actor Jon Hamm plays J.B., a sports agent who spots the promise of baseball pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, in this biographical sports drama from Walt Disney Pictures. They demonstrated their prowess by triumphing in a reality show competition, and from that point on, a sports movie that ought to have been more well-received by reviewers when it was first released develops.
Even if it did reasonably well at the box office globally, you might not have been aware that this project even exists. Along with excellent performance, it also has a powerful music. Other actors include Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton, and Lake Bell. Million Dollar Arm (2014) merits a place on the list for that reason.
Despite the fact that everyone is familiar with Jesse Owens, you might not be familiar with this biographical sports drama directed by Stephen Hopkins. It obviously has to do with track and field, particularly the 1936 Berlin Olympics where Owens set a record by winning a record-breaking four gold medals.
In addition to Stephen James, the cast of Race (2016) also features Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, and William Hurt. However, James portrays Jesse Owens, who is the subject of this tale, with a special amount of fervour. His performance alone deserved a more positive reaction from the critics.
Resurrecting the Champ (2007)
The fact that Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett starred in a boxing movie may surprise fans of the genre. It centres on Hartnett’s sports journalist who encounters Jackson’s titular character, a homeless man claiming to be the former heavyweight boxer Bob Satterfield. And they both give outstanding performances in their respective parts, with passion brimming from every angle of this depressing but captivating story.
Resurrecting the Champ (2007), which starts out as a story about professional ethics, eventually turns into a story about pure friendship. The two main characters not only make for a terrific on-screen chemistry, but they also give viewers something to think about in the long term. You’ll be kept on your toes and confidently hopping around the ring as if you’re slipping punches like Satterfield.
School Ties (1992)
This underappreciated football movie, starring Brendan Fraser, centres on David Greene, a Jewish high school quarterback for a prestigious prep school in Massachusetts. In a performance that is just as underappreciated as the movie itself, Fraser gives an outstanding performance as the lead in School Ties (1992). But his co-stars, including a teenage Matt Damon, Cole Hauser, and Ben Affleck, are equally significant.
Even though Affleck just has one line of conversation in a background exchange, his appearance doesn’t really matter. However, the other actors add a delightful dynamic as teammates and friends who face heartbreaking academic issues. And despite these compelling plot developments and strong acting, School Ties failed to recoup its $18 million budget at the global box office. Despite not being stars at the time of the film’s release, the cast undoubtedly is now. And their efforts unquestionably endure.
American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, one of the more underappreciated actors of his generation, has starred in a number of underappreciated films. The most underappreciated of the bunch is perhaps Antoine Fuqua’s 2015 boxing thriller Southpaw. It centres on Billy Hope, a light-heavyweight champion who recently lost his wife. And as he works to give his life new purpose, he loses custody of his daughter.
From beginning to end, it’s a heartbreaking story, and everyone of the actors—including Gyllenhaal—gives their all—as do Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, and Naomie Harris. Despite its moving plot elements and excellent performances, the final result didn’t exactly win over the critics; on Rotten Tomatoes, it only has a 60% approval rating. That rating is unquestionably a little harsh.
The Basketball Diaries (1995)
The Basketball Diaries (1995) was criticised by several critics for its realistic portrayal of heroin addiction, yet just knowing the name of the movie’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio, may be enough to convince moviegoers to see it. One of his underrated parts in his career is that of a high school basketball player and aspiring author who develops a heroin addiction.
The autobiographical novel of the same name, written in 1978 by Jim Carroll, the real-life person DiCaprio plays as the protagonist, is based on a true story. This one should be approached with as little knowledge as possible; the outcome will surely stay with you.
The Boxer (1997)
Boxers have been represented on film by some of the most well-known actors of their respective generations, whether they were playing fictional or biographical characters. Christian Bale portrays Dickie Eklund, and Robert De Niro plays Jake LaMotta. The man of the moment, though, is Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrays Danny Flynn. He’s just been released from prison and wants to start a boxing gym for young people in the neighbourhood to change his life.
His co-star in The Boxer (1997), Emily Watson, offered a dynamic that served as the movie’s most crushing blow. Even without considering the poignancy of the plot, their performances make it worth watching.
The Hurricane (1999)
As acclaimed as Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980), Hilary Swank’s in Million Dollar Baby (2004), or Christian Bale’s in The Fighter (2010) were, Denzel Washington’s name deserves equal respect for his sincere work as Rubin Carter in The Hurricane (1999). The name ‘The Hurricane’ on his in-cage uniform perfectly matches his fighting style, making him the title character. But it also captures the zany and surreal tone of the movie.
The Norman Jewison-directed film follows Rubin as he is unjustly imprisoned for three counts of murder. Of course, the tale is based on actual occurrences with the same names. This boxer may be recognisable to you if you’ve heard Bob Dylan’s song “Hurricane” from 1976; it’s too bad the movie isn’t more well-known. Even though it barely broke even at the global box office and receives little attention in the overall scheme of current boxing films, critics were impressed by its calibre. It truly deserves to be remembered as one of the best works ever.
The Program (1993)
In terms of the sports genre as a whole, the 2010s were the decade of underappreciated boxing films, whereas the 1990s were the decade of underappreciated football films. The Programme (1993) perfectly bridges the gap between Any Given Sunday at the close of the decade and School Ties at its beginning. But another overlooked fact worth mentioning is that James Caan, an American actor, is featured in The Programme.
He is most recognised for his supporting performance as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974). He also acted in the underappreciated heist picture Thief (1981) and the underrated gambling movie The Gambler (1974). The Programme, though, might be the one that gets the least attention. Alongside well-known actors like Omar Epps and Halle Berry, he shines as Coach Sam Winters. But Caan is the major takeaway, giving the most underappreciated sports movie ever a lacklustre critical reception and dismal box office returns. In actuality, it’s well worth a look.
The Slaughter Rule (2002)
The Slaughter Rule (2002), the smallest movie of the lot, cost half a million dollars to produce but only generated $13,000 at the box office. It is seldom well-known and even difficult to find online. But if you do locate it, you’ll enjoy the cast: Ryan Gosling gives a strong early performance and David Morse plays his co-star.
Despite the fact that only a small number of renowned professionals in the field actually reviewed the movie, critics applauded their efforts. But if you like watching football films and can get your hands on The Slaughter Rule, it won’t let you down.
The Way Back (2020)
The Way Back (2020), starring American actor Ben Affleck as Jack, features a fascinating battle between the lead character and his alcoholic tendencies. He currently works as an ironworker, is divorced, and consumes a bottle of alcohol with each meal. But when he is hired as the basketball coach at the high school where he had played, things start to turn around.
In reality, he was the team’s star, and his time on the floor coincided with their last playoff run. He first appears to be the ideal candidate for the position, but when his addiction throws a wrench in the plan, filmmaker Gavin O’Connor takes viewers on an emotional journey to uncover the human condition at the heart of Affleck’s character. Although the reviews for The Way Back were generally favourable, film failed miserably at the box office. As a result, it falls to position nine.
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