David vs Goliath
With Creed soon to step into the ring in UK cinemas, we thought it was about time we rounded up the best sports movies to date. Everyone loves an underdog story and no matter how many times the formula is played, the very best movies make you cheer along regardless.
To compile the list, we've chosen to omit sports documentaries as we feel that's an entirely different category, so that's why the likes of Senna and Hoop Dreams are nowhere to be seen. What remains covers everything from snowboarding and pool to football and boxing, and every single one has us hollering at the screen.
30. Blades of Glory (2007)
The story: Two rival Olympic ice skaters (Will Ferrell and Jon Heder) are permanently banned from the men's single competition after a fight at the World Championships. A few years later, they find a loophole that will mean they can compete as a pairs team.
Why it's great: With committed performances from Ferrell and Heder (and brilliant support from Amy Poehler and Will Arnett), Blades of Glory is supremely silly, consistently hilarious and, crucially, manages to lovingly spoof the sports movie template without being mean-spirited.
29. Tin Cup (1996)
The story: Talented golf pro Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner) owns a driving range in Texas with almost no customers. The visit of a psychologist Molly Griswold (Rene Russo) starts him on a journey to return to the PGA golf tour to compete in the US Open.
Why it's great: A hugely likeable sports-centred rom com that marks the first of several Costner appearances on this list, and possibly his most charming. It saw the actor reunite with his Bull Durham (more on that later) writer-director Ron Shelton, and delivers the expected rousing finale albeit in unpredictable fashion.
28. Chalet Girl (2011)
The story: Former skateboarding champion Kim Mathews (Felicity Jones) discovers her gift for snowboarding when she starts working at an exclusive ski resort and decides to enter a competition with a big cash prize.
Why it's great: Sure, the use of a Lostprophets track as the soaring background music to the finale is now a bit dodgy, but there's no denying that Chalet Girl absolutely nails the crowdpleasing underdog triumph finale needed in a sports movie. It owes a lot to a completely winning performance from Jones that should have made her a bigger star already. Ah well, Rogue One should sort that out this year.
27. Bring It On (2000)
The story: Recently named captain of her school's winning cheerleading squad, Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) is determined to lead her team to another national title. But they'll face stiff competition from a Los Angeles hip-hop squad who are looking to settle a grudge.
Why it's great: It may be lightweight, but Bring It On excels due to the witty and cutting script from Jessica Bendinger and the energetic cast that also includes Eliza Dushku and Gabrielle Union. Even the most cynical will be cheering along with the routines. Just maybe forget about the direct-to-video sequels...
26. Space Jam (1996)
The story: When a gang of aliens kidnap Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes, Bugs challenges them to a basketball game to determine their fate. The aliens agree but steal the powers of talented NBA players, leading Bugs to get some help from a certain Michael Jordan.
Why it's great: It might not be the most sophisticated movie on this list, yet surely everyone can enjoy the bonkers sight of Bugs playing basketball with Michael Jordan? One of the best mixes of live action with cartoons since Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Space Jam is a first-rate family crowdpleaser that doesn't forget the joyous climactic win.
25. Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001)
The story: After the England team's manager dies of a heart attack, the FA offer the position to inept manager Mike Bassett (Ricky Tomlinson) who finds himself trying to lead England to victory at the World Cup.
Why it's great: There may be a limited amount of actual football in the movie, but sports fans will appreciate the sharply observed gags on tactics, the unforgettable half-time expletive-ridden rant and how it gets the despair of supporting England at major tournaments absolutely spot-on. And it even gets its own soaring moment involving Rudyard Kipling and "four-four-f**king-two".
24. White Men Can't Jump (1992)
The story: Hustler Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) banks on black players underestimating his basketball skills. One of his victims, Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) spots a chance to earn some money and they become partners on the con game across Los Angeles.
Why it's great: Over 20 years later, and White Men Can't Jump remains as fresh as the day it was first released. A lot of that is down to the strong chemistry between Harrelson and Snipes who you'd happily watch verbally sparring for hours, and who give the movie its heartwarming edge among the laughs.
23. Caddyshack (1980)
The story: While working as a caddy to raise money for his college education, Danny Noonan (Michael O'Keefe) volunteers to caddy for an influential club member (Ted Knight) while following advice from golf guru Ty Webb (Chevy Chase).
Why it's great: Endlessly quotable and a cult classic, Caddyshack qualifies not just as one of the funniest sports movies but as one of the funniest comedies of all time. Whether it's Bill Murray's Carl Spackler or Knight's snobby Judge Smails, every character has their memorable moments. And you don't even have to like or even understand golf to appreciate it.
22. The Bad News Bears (1976)
The story: Hard-drinking Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) agrees to coach a Little League baseball team of misfits and outcasts. And fails . But his luck looks to change when feisty pitcher Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O'Neal) joins the team.
Why it's great: Forget the lacklustre remake, the original version of The Bad News Bears is deliciously un-PC, despite being suitable for children. Led by O'Neal, the group of child actors assembled is flawless, making sure that when they care about the outcome of the games, we care too. Matthau's drunkard coach is just the icing on the cake.
21. Slap Shot (1977)
The story: With the failing ice hockey team Charlestown Chiefs set for their last ever season, player and coach Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman) agrees to let the Hanson Brothers play, and their violent style of play excites the fans and draws big crowds.
Why it's great: Probably one of the most brutal sports movies on our list, Slap Shot is undoubtedly violent and filthy, but also still very, very funny, almost four decades on from its original release. It's also notable for a terrific performance from Newman in one of his few comedic roles.
20. The Big Lebowski (1998)
The story: Laid-back Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) isn't happy that his beloved rug has been soiled. Enlisting the help of his bowling buddies, he sets out to get even with the mobsters who are after the wife of the millionaire he's been mistaken for.
Why it's great: OK, so The Big Lebowski is much more than just a bowling movie, but it's absolutely pitch perfect in showcasing the undying friendships that can develop between sports teams. And it's also one of the few insights into the world of competitive bowling which, as we all now know, is not 'Nam. There are rules.
19. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
The story: Veteran boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) only has one close friend, Eddie 'Scrap Iron' Dupris (Morgan Freeman). That all changes when Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) arrives in his gym and he reluctantly agrees to share his expertise.
Why it's great: Winning four Academy Awards, including Best Director for Eastwood and Best Actress for Swank, Million Dollar Baby is a powerful, intense and often heartbreaking drama. It will raise your spirits as Swank's knockout performance pulls you in, but be prepared for a brutal low blow as the movie heads into its final round.
18. A League of Their Own (1992)
The story: When a professional all-female baseball league is started up, competitive sisters Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and Kit Keller (Lori Petty) join it and recruit has-been coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks). But their growing rivalry threatens their team's success.
Why it's great: Based on the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of Their Own is a fluffy yet charming movie that also provided one of cinema's great quotes: "There's no crying in baseball." If that's not enough, who wouldn't want to see a movie that teams up Hanks and Davis with Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell?
17. The Wrestler (2008)
The story: Long past his prime, Randy 'The Ram' Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is limping along performing at town hall shows on the indie circuit. As he tries to pursue a relationship with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) and reconnect with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), he finds himself lured back into the ring.
Why it's great: Boasting a career-best performance from Rourke that should have won him the Oscar, Darren Aronofsky's drama doesn't shy away from the visceral nature of wrestling (hello, razorblades). Yet despite not being an easy watch (and often a heartbreaking one), it remains an essential one for showcasing what happens when a sporting career is nearing its end.
16. Any Given Sunday (1999)
The story: Tony D'Amato's (Al Pacino) American Football team Miami Sharks are struggling after a series of losses. And if that wasn't bad enough, he's under pressure to win at any cost from the young president of the organisation, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz).
Why it's great: While not peak Oliver Stone (although the performances are strong), Any Given Sunday deserves its place on this list almost single-handedly thanks to one of the best speeches in a sports movie. Pacino's spine-tingling delivery of the "inches" speech is brilliantly performed and undeniably stirring, even if you haven't the foggiest about American Football.
15. The Karate Kid (1984)
The story: Daniel (Ralph Macchio) finds himself the target of bullies after he moves to Southern California. He befriends martial arts master Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita) who trains him up to compete against the Cobra Kai gang.
Why it's great: Predictable it may be, but you just try to resist the charm of the original The Karate Kid. With affecting lead performances from Macchio and Morita, who showcase an easy chemistry, it's about as warm-hearted as a sports movie can get. All together now: wax on, wax off.
14. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
The story: Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) rebels against her strict parents when Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley) convinces her to play for their semi-pro team. Jess has to balance hiding the matches from her family while dealing with her feelings for the team's coach (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
Why it's great: Led by an infectiously enthusiastic Nagra, Bend It Like Beckham is a thoroughly forward-thinking and sensitive culture-clash comedy. But it's not just Nagra's movie, Knightley also excels in one of her earliest roles helping to make the movie one of the best British efforts of the 2000s.
13. Bull Durham (1988)
The story: When the 'mascot' (Susan Sarandon) of baseball team the Durham Bulls takes new recruit Ebby Calvin Laloosh (Tim Robbins) under her wing to teach him about life and love, a love triangle forms between the two and veteran player Crash Davis (Kevin Costner).
Why it's great: Ron Shelton's superb directorial debut (which he came close to replicating with Tin Cup) made a star of Costner, effectively launched the career of Robbins while boosted Sarandon's. Not bad for a raunchy and fizzy romance set in the minor leagues of baseball.
12. Creed (2015)
The story: Former world heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) agrees to train up Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his late friend and rival Apollo Creed.
Why it's great: Unquestionably the best Rocky outing since the original, Creed delivers the expected crowdpleasing beats in a knock-out fashion. Bolstered by excellent performances from Stallone and Jordan, this doesn't reinvent the rulebook but makes it feel fresh and modern, ensuring it appeals to both long-term fans and a potential new audience.
11. Escape to Victory (1981)
The story: The head of a German PoW camp, Karl von Steiner (Max von Sydow) organises a football match between Nazi players and their Allied captives, including former professional player John Colby (Michael Caine). As the team train for the match, fellow PoW Robert Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) plans a daring mass escape.
Why it's great: It really shouldn't have worked and yet Escape to Victory is easily the best movie about football ever made. Not only do you get to see the likes of Pel and Bobby Moore strut their football skills, but you get a full-throttled soaring sports and war movie to boot. Hitler wouldn't have known what hit him.
10. Jerry Maguire (1996)
The story: Sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) gets fired when he writes a company-wide memo after a crisis of confidence. Aiming to hold onto his athletes, he starts up his own management firm and banks on their sole client, football player Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.).
Why it's great: Cameron Crowe's romance is about more than "show me the MONEY". In showcasing the relationship between Cruise's agent and Gooding Jr.'s football star, we're given a surprising and fascinating glimpse behind the curtain of professional sport. And in "you had me at hello", it has a crowdpleasing moment to match any euphoric last-minute sports win.
9. Friday Night Lights (2004)
The story: When star player Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) is injured during the first game of the season, new coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) has to inspire the other team members of the high school football team to victory.
Why it's great: More people have probably watched the excellent TV series by now, but the movie packs a season's worth of drama into two captivating hours. Thornton is the anchor around which the movie's relationships develop, brilliantly depicting the pressures on-and-off the field.
8. The Mighty Ducks (1992)
The story: After being arrested for drink driving, lawyer and former hockey player Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) has to coach a distinctly average kids hockey team for his community service. It leads him into a championship face-off with his former coach, Jack Reilly (Lane Smith).
Why it's great: Essentially a family-friendly version of Slap Shot, The Mighty Ducks triumphs due to its engaging cast (hi, Joshua Jackson!), unapologetic following of conventions and, in Smith's coach, one of the best 'boo-hiss' villains in a sports movie. It's so good, it even spawned its own professional real-life team. Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack.
7. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
The story: To save his gym, Average Joe's owner Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) and a group of members and employees enter a dodgeball contest with a big cash prize. All they have to do is beat White Goodman's (Ben Stiller) powerful team from high-end business rival Globo-Gym.
Why it's great: With one of Stiller's best performances, and Vaughn doing his prime everyman shtick, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is unashamedly daft and consistently hilarious. Basically just 90 minutes of people getting hit with balls (snigger), it's the closest we've come to a modern-day Caddyshack. And its Lance Armstrong gag is as fitting as it's ever been.
6. Field of Dreams (1989)
The story: "If you build it, he will come." That's the message farmer Ray (Kevin Costner) hears that persuades him to build a baseball diamond in his field. The ghosts of players, including 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), start to appear as Ray learns valuable life lessons.
Why it's great: Of course it's sentimental and a bit cheesy, that's kind of the point. Even the hardest of hearts will find the room getting dusty throughout the delightful Field of Dreams, due to its blend of dry humour and fairy tale fantasy. Costner's rarely been as engaging.
5. Hoosiers (1986)
The story: Failed coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) gets a shot at redemption when he's hired to direct the basketball programme at a high school. However, when their star player is persuaded to quit, Dale struggles to develop a winning team alongside his assistant coach, alcoholic Shooter (Dennis Hopper).
Why it's great: When something does the feel-good underdog story as well as Hoosiers does, it's almost churlish to complain that it's an altogether straightforward tale. Pining for a simpler time, David Anspaugh's feature debut is nostalgic in the extreme, but Hackman will keep you quietly cheering on.
4. Chariots of Fire (1981)
The story: Centring on the fact-based story of two athletes - devout Christian Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and English Jew Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) - who train for the 1924 Paris Olympics.
Why it's great: Even if you haven't seen Chariots of Fire, you've almost definitely heard of the iconic score by Vangelis. Winner of four Oscars, including Best Picture, it's an inspiring tale well-told, and one that's made all the more remarkable by the fact that it's a true story. You might know the outcome, but that doesn't make the two runners overcoming their issues any less triumphant.
3. The Hustler (1961)
The story: After losing all of his money, up-and-coming pool player Fast Eddie (Paul Newman) returns to challenge legendary player Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Along the way though, he falls for Sarah (Piper Laurie) and ends up paying a terrible cost in his quest for redemption.
Why it's great: The defining role for Newman and rarely-better turns from Gleason and Laurie make The Hustler an unforgettable watch. A compelling and morally murky character study of the lengths people go to to succeed, it will rip your heart out but keep you going back for another rack.
2. Raging Bull (1980)
The story: Middleweight boxer Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) rises through the ranks to get his first shot at the title, but finds that his violence and temper destroys his life outside of the ring, including his relationships with his wife and family.
Why it's great: Marking Martin Scorsese's first collaboration with his long-time Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Raging Bull is an essential watch with one of cinema's greatest ever performances from De Niro. Crowdpleaser this isn't. It's a raw and violent psychological character study that ranks as the most realistic portrayal of boxing on screen. Even if you don't like the sport (Scorsese didn't when he made it), you need to watch it.
1. Rocky (1976)
The story: You know the tale by now. Small-time boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is arbitrarily chosen to take on the reigning world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) when his opponent is injured. As he prepares for the fight with respected trainer Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), Rocky falls for Adrian (Talia Shire).
Why it's great: Pretty much the polar opposite of Raging Bull, Rocky is one of the defining cinematic underdog stories. Launching Stallone as a movie star (he also won an Oscar for writing it), Rocky builds from a honest portrayal of a sports star given the classic 'one last shot' to an absolutely unforgettable and brutal final fight. The most telling thing about the brilliance of Rocky is that no matter how many times its finale has been homaged and aped, it still retains its power 40 years on.