En español | There’s nothing like a great sports movie: the characters, the overcoming of adversity, the (nearly always) eventual triumph. They’re a universal pleasure, and no matter what your favorite sport is (or what season we’re in), these 16 best of the best sports films, all available to stream from your living room, are here to inspire you on any given day.
The Natural (1984)
If you've seen this adaptation of Bernard Malamud's literary masterpiece inspired by a mad fan's 1949 shooting of Phillies player Eddie Waitkus, it's even better the second time around. And if you haven't, what are you waiting for? Robert Redford is at the peak of his blonde, matinee-idol prime as Roy Hobbs, a baseball phenom whose career is cut short by a shooter (Barbara Hershey) and a femme fatale (Kim Basinger). But he loves the game too much to give it up, and returns for one last shot at glory. This is a magical movie in every sense of the word. Glenn Close, Robert Duvall and Wilford Brimley seal the deal.
Gene Hackman plays a basketball coach who gets the last chance of his endangered career, trying to take a small-town high school team to the Indiana state championship. The newcomer coach angers the locals, and shocks them by hiring the town drunk (Dennis Hopper) as his assistant. Of course, the drunk knows basketball, and the team — based on the 1954 Indiana team that played one of the most miraculous games in sports history — knows basketball. Except for Rocky, there are practically no sports movies as inspiring as this one.
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Bull Durham (1988)
In a movie that's an elegant, eloquent love letter to baseball, Annie (Susan Sarandon) supports her beloved team by having an affair with a player each season. Should it be Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), a down-on-his-luck one-time major league player now forced to play in the low minor leagues? Or should she become the lover and life coach of the talented, untrained rookie pitcher, Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins)? How about both? Funny and original, with a backspin of lovely melancholy, this may be the great American movie about the great American game.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Tom Hanks is hard-drinking Jimmy Dugan, manager of the all-female baseball team the Rockford Peaches (Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell and brilliant Geena Davis) — who prove one can cry and still hit it out of the park. Inspired by the actual All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, started in 1943 when male players were off at war, it's written by the authors of Parenthood and Splash and directed by Penny Marshall (Big), with all the smart comic spirit of their previous smash hits. It's a lighthearted romp with affecting moments, some great catches and one of Hanks’ most famous lines: “There's no crying in baseball."
High on any sports junkie's list of the greatest sports movies ever made, Rudy is the kind of film that wears its heart unabashedly on its sleeve. And if you find that sort of emotional arm-twisting to be manipulative, you may want to look elsewhere. But if it's a lump in your throat the size of a beach ball you're after, then this is the football flick for you. Sean Astin (now 49) stars as Rudy Ruettiger, a runty blue-collar dreamer whose only aspiration in life is to play football for his beloved Notre Dame. He gets his wish … well, sort of … when he's chosen to basically be the team's tackling dummy at practice. Eventually, all of his teammates grow so fond of Rudy that he gets a chance to take the field. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have something in my eye.
Blue Chips (1994)
Written by Ron Shelton, who played in baseball's minor leagues and wrote Bull Durham and Tin Cup, Blue Chips shows us the darker side of college basketball recruiting — without ever letting up on the gas when it comes to on-court action. It's part morality tale, part ESPN highlight reel, with Nick Nolte as a grizzled NCAA coach in the mold of Bobby Knight, who bends the rules to save his job. Shaquille O'Neal, Larry Bird, and Penny Hardaway all chip in to give it some authenticity.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Without question the greatest sports documentary ever made. Steve James follows two inner-city Chicago basketball phenoms for their entire high school career. The obstacles they face are devastating, but their dreams are boundless. This is as personal as filmmaking gets, and at times you want to look away, but can't. You're already in too deep — too invested in these kids’ lives. This is a movie about beating the odds, and what happens when the odds beat you. A masterpiece.
Tin Cup (1996)
Kevin Costner took a break from blockbuster hero roles to play an irresistible antihero, Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy, a brilliant golfer who won't play the careerist game, always going for the risky shot, not the sure thing. His old frenemy (a perfectly cast Don Johnson) made it as a pro, so wouldn't it be sweet if Roy could shake off his lazy ways, steal his rival's psychiatrist girlfriend (incomparable Rene Russo in one of her finest roles) and make it to the U.S. Open? Golf has a loping pace that this sharp, heartwarming comedy really gets. Cheech Marin steals a lot of scenes as Roy's caddy and golf philosopher.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
We could argue for days about why there aren't nearly as many great football movies as baseball movies, but this Oliver Stone pigskin flick is wild, and wildly entertaining. Al Pacino hams it up mightily as the old-school head coach of the fictional Miami Sharks, struggling to adapt to the new-school corporatization of the sport he loves. Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, James Woods, Dennis Quaid, Charlton Heston, Ann-Margret, and about a million other A-list stars round out the cast.
What better way to commemorate the Miracle on Ice than with this rousing box-office sleeper starring Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks, head coach of the U.S.A. men's hockey team? Russell's wig and closetful of loud plaid sports coats are a draw in themselves. But the real attraction is watching him whip a ragtag band of scrappy, blue-collar college players into the crack squad that would finally topple the Soviet Union's decades-long reign at the Olympic Games. Inspiring stuff.
This one lies a little below the radar, which makes it ripe for discovery for baseball fans who've already cycled through the more celebrated titles on this list. Algenis Perez Soto leaps off the screen as a 19-year-old pitching phenom in the Dominican Republic — an impoverished country where dreams of major league stardom are as plentiful as sugar cane. Nicknamed “Sugar” after the sweetness of the fastballs that whip from his arm, he earns a spot on a Class A team in Iowa only to discover that dreams rarely hold up in reality. Part sports saga, part immigrant tale, Sugar is an unexpected change-up of a film that shows us that the only thing that truly matters is a player's love of the game.
Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals (2010)
They first met at the 1979 NCAA Championships. Larry Bird was the “hick from French Lick” playing for Indiana State; Earvin “Magic” Johnson seemed to possess an effortless grace on the court playing for Michigan State. The next year they would enter the NBA, redefine the sport and spark an East Coast-West Coast rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers for the next decade plus. Narrated by Liev Schreiber and featuring interviews with both of the legends, this is a giddy, glorious snapshot of the moment when the NBA came of age.
Before he vaulted to superstardom as the Marvel superhero Black Panther, the late Chadwick Boseman established himself as one of the most gifted actors of his generation in a string of smaller films that emphasized emotion over special effects. Take this biopic about a different kind of superhero (a real-life one), Jackie Robinson. 42 (Robinson's uniform number) charts the inspirational and barrier-breaking story of the first African American player in the majors — both what he had to endure and how he managed to summon the quiet strength to overcome adversity. Anyone who saw Boseman as Jackie when 42 hit theaters back in 2013 knew that he was going to be a star. Sadly, his untimely death from cancer cut short a career that would have been a privilege to see where it went next.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)
Imagine Bull Durham, but real. Then you'd have something like the Portland Mavericks, a motley gang of renegade baseball players formed by ex-TV Western star Bing Russell, who shocked the minor leagues in the mid-'70s. Bing built it and the crowds came. Bing's son, Kurt Russell, played for the team and lends this wacky documentary some of his grinning mischief. It's a look at a brief window of time when a band of outsiders became insiders … before it all went up in smoke.
Where to watch: Netflix
Battle of the Sexes (2017)
Emma Stone never had a better role than tennis champ Billie Jean King, who challenged self-proclaimed male chauvinist, former champion and gambling addict Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in a much-hyped, televised 1973 match watched by 90 million people. King struggles with a closeted gay love affair, and Riggs with aging, his gambling problem and his rich wife (Elisabeth Shue). Made by the creators of Little Miss Sunshine, this one's a ray of warmth for tennis fans.
Borg Vs. McEnroe (2017)
They were diametric opposites on the tennis court: Bjorn Borg, the cool, precise baseline automaton and John McEnroe, the brash, serve-and-volley hothead. Fire and ice. In Janus Metz's underseen snapshot of their brilliant rivalry, a perfectly cast Shia LaBeouf steals the show as the “super-brat” McEnroe, showing us what made this champion tick against the backdrop of the two players’ epic match in the finals at Wimbledon in 1980.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 19, 2020. It has been updated with additional movies.
Chris Nashawaty, former film critic for Entertainment Weekly, is the author of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story and a contributor to Esquire, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Tim Appelo is AARP’s film and TV critic. Previously, he was Amazon’s entertainment editor, Entertainment Weekly’s video critic, and a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, LA Weekly and The Village Voice.