Sports and movies are incredibly similar. Each are complex with intricate characters, comprised of long, detailed storylines. They can make you laugh, cry, and scream. On occasion either can build to a transcendent moment that you’ll never forget.
Those similarities are why the sports movie is such an enduring sub-genre in cinema. A sports movie can be anything: a dirty comedy, an inspirational drama, a documentary, a kick-ass action movie, a kids movie, it can even be a sci-fi or horror movie. Sports are such a universal language, they can be translated at will and never lose their power.
This week, another film enters the sports movie conversation: McFarland, USA, the true story of a cross country running team from a very poor town in central California. It’s a solid, entertaining sports movie that gets by because it adheres to the beats of the genre while adding a little something extra and different.
Because there’s a new sports movie out this week, I decided to take the occasion to rank my favorite sports movies of all time. Now, these are not the best sports movies of all time. Just my favorites. And there are major omissions, because we all have those. But to me, these are the 15 sports movies I can watch again and again.
NA: McFarland, USA
McFarland, USA doesn’t make this list. But since that’s the reason I’m writing about the rest of the movies on this list, and the only one you can see in theaters this weekend, I figured I’d offer some thoughts. McFarland, USA is a very well done, inspirational sports movie. Period. It differentiates itself from some others by showing an American we rarely see highlighted in a big film — the blue collar immigrant worker — and explores how those skills and determination helped a town become racing champions. The film is a little long and a little obvious but the ending is one of the best sports movie moments in the past twenty years. If you like sports movies, it’s definitely worth watch.
Now onto the list:
15. The Mighty Ducks (1992)
You’ll notice this list has lots of the movies from the Nineties on it. That’s when I grew up so that’s where lots of my tastes came from. And few sports movies are as Nineties as The Mighty Ducks. This Disneyfied hockey film is your super-typical nobody to somebody sports story. However, it’s populated with a memorable and eclectic cast of characters, filled with laughs, and is incredibly heartwarming. Any movie that spawned two sequels and a professional team is all right by me.
14. Major League (1989)
When you’re nine years old and a movie has as much cursing and nudity as Major League, it’s hard not to fall in love with it. Thankfully, 25 years later, the film still holds up. Lead by an incredible cast (most notably Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Rene Russo and Wesley Snipes), the film has a wonderful sports spirit to go along with the classic zeroes to heroes story. You get to meet the fans, the city, the owner, there’s a great villain, it pretty much has everything you’d want in a sports movie as well as lots of wonderful laughs.
13. Caddyshack (1980)
What I still love so much about Caddyshack is that it’s almost four or movies rolled into. There’s the story of Danny Noonan, the Caddy, and then about a million things going on around him featuring legendary performances by Ted Knight, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield and a Gopher. Somehow, all the stories come together in an exciting, hilarious, WTF sport movie ending that’s only made better by the great Eighties vibe and soundtrack.
12. Rocky IV (1985)
Yes, the first Rocky – the Best Picture winner – is the best Rocky. And for pure cheese, Rocky III is pretty hard to beat. But growing up, Rocky IV was the one I watched the most. A major character dies, the foe is even more unbeatable than the other movies and the film is about 35% montage. Sylvester Stallone basically took all the drama that made the original films so good and replaced it with montages. The film is an absolute blast.
11. Hoop Dreams (1994)
Honestly, Hoop Dreams might be the best sports movie ever. Steve James’s incredible documentary about two youths fighting for the ultimate dream of sports immortality is awe-inspiring. What makes it so good is that it shows what most other sports movies do not. Sometimes the dream is just that, no matter how hard you fight for it. It would be higher on the list if it was a bit more rewatchable but it’s still a masterpiece.