These Movies and TV Shows About Women in Sports Will Have You Cheering
Get excited for a new ‘League of Their Own’ with this champion lineup of great comedies, dramas and documentaries streaming right now
Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection; Melinda Sue Gordon/Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a groundbreaking law that granted girls and women the right to equal opportunity in sports at educational institutions that receive federal funds. Perhaps coincidentally, on August 12, Amazon Prime is releasing a new television adaptation of A League of Their Own, which follows new characters and story lines in the same universe of World War II–era women’s baseball as the 1992 flick. Created by Will Graham (the showrunner of Mozart in the Jungle) and Abbi Jacobson (costar and cocreator of Comedy Central’s Broad City), the show will star Jacobson, Chanté Adams (A Journal for Jordan), D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place), Roberta Colindrez (Broadway’s Fun Home) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) as the team’s coach, Casey “Dove” Porter. Much like in real life, women athletes haven’t always gotten the attention they deserve in sports movies and TV shows, but we’ve drafted a watch list of a dozen woman-centered stories you can stream this summer — including, of course, the Penny Marshall–directed classic.
Battle of the Sexes (2017)
Emma Stone shines as feminist tennis icon Billie Jean King (78) in this biopic from Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton (65) and Valerie Faris (63). The centerpiece of the film is the infamous 1973 matchup between the 29-year-old King and the 55-year-old ex-champion Bobby Riggs, a hustler and gambling addict who revels in his male chauvinism and is played to sleazy perfection by usual nice guy Steve Carell, 59. Reliving this pivotal moment in the history of women’s sports in America may elicit a twinge of nostalgia, so it’s no wonder that the movie was nominated for an AARP Movies for Grownups Award for Best Time Capsule.
Most valuable player: Stone, who gained 15 pounds of muscle during her three months of training and spent time with King to master every tiny detail, like the way she always bounced the ball twice before a serve.
Watch it: Battle of the Sexes on Amazon Prime, Apple TV
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Much like the aspiring young soccer players at its heart, this British comedy by director Gurinder Chadha, 62, proved to be the little film that could: With a modest budget of just $5.6 million, it went on to become the highest-grossing film ever about soccer — or, uh, football. Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) is the daughter of a traditionalist Indian Sikh family living in London who loves playing soccer and idolizes David Beckham. When her new friend Jules (Keira Knightley) invites her to join a local amateur squad, Jess must decide whether she’s willing to go against the wishes of her parents to pursue her sports dreams.
Most valuable player: Nagra, who did 20 weeks of intense training with English coach Simon Clifford and eventually mastered the signature title move of “bending” the ball. Chadha has said that when she finally got the kick right, “everybody jumped up and cheered.”
Watch it: Bend It Like Beckham on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max
Don’t miss this: The Most Awesome Superheroines in Screen History, Ranked
Blue Crush (2002)
Amateur surfer Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) lives with her teen sister (Mika Boorem) and her two best friends, Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake), in a tiny beach shack on Oahu’s North Shore, in this sun-drenched love letter to the world of surfing. Sure, you’ll get all the requisite wanderlust-inspiring Hawaii content you crave (golden tans, on-location beach shots, appearances from real surfers), but what makes the film resonate is its depiction of the hard work the women put in — including as housekeepers at a luxury resort — to make their big-wave dreams come true.
Most valuable player: Lake, a pro surfer who went on to sign a Billabong contract like the one Anne Marie is trying for in the film.
Watch it: Blue Crush on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Peacock
AARP Membership -Join AARP for just $12 for your first year when you enroll in automatic renewal
Join today and save 25% off the standard annual rate. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.
This Emmy-winning Netflix reality series charts the ups and downs (and launches and human pyramids and crashes and falls) of the nationally ranked Navarro College Bulldogs cheer team as they prepare for the annual championship tournament in Daytona Beach. The cheering is, of course, wildly impressive, but the show’s addictive magic comes from getting to know the inspiring team members, like the “cheer-lebrity” Gabi Butler and the team’s lovable black sheep with a troubled past, Lexi Brumback.
Most valuable player: Head coach Monica Aldama, who released her memoir, Full Out! Leadership Lessons from America’s Favorite Coach, this January.
Watch it: Cheer on Netflix
Fighting With My Family (2019)
Dwayne Johnson, 50, and WWE Studios produced this biopic about English professional wrestler Paige, who grew up in a family of fighters, including father Patrick “Rowdy Ricky” Knight (Nick Frost, 50), mother Julia “Sweet Saraya” Knight (Lena Headey) and brother Zak “Zodiac” Knight (Jack Lowden). Tackling — or body-slamming? — the role of Paige (born Saraya Jade-Bevis) is future Oscar nominee Florence Pugh, whom Geoffrey Macnab of The Independent called “completely convincing as the wrestler,” continuing that she “has all the moves in the ring and shows the same defiance, scruffy glamor and self-deprecating humor” as the real Paige.
Most valuable player: The unsung stuntwoman Tessa Blanchard, who doubled for Pugh during her fight scenes. “She’s such a wonderful wrestler,” the real Paige said. “She’s going to make me look good.”
Watch it: Fighting With My Family on Amazon Prime, Apple TV
The hairdos are big and the personalities are bigger on this 1980s-set comedy series about the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling league. Alison Brie stars as struggling actress Ruth Wilder, who finds success in pro wrestling with her Cold War–inspired character, Zoya the Destroya. If you liked the sprawling female ensemble cast of fellow Netflix dramedy Orange Is the New Black — which shares an executive producer in Jenji Kohan, 53 — you’ll love this ragtag bunch of misfits, which includes Sydelle Noel as Cherry “Junkchain” Bang, Britney Young as Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade and British pop singer Kate Nash as Rhonda “Britannica” Richardson.
Most valuable player: Betty Gilpin, who earned three best supporting actress Emmy nominations for her role as Debbie “Liberty Belle” Eagen, the all-American heroine of the league who clashes with her best frenemy, Ruth.
Watch it: GLOW on Netflix
I, Tonya (2017)
If you ever needed proof that women’s sports can be just as brutal as men’s, look no further than the story of figure skater Tonya Harding, 51, and the scandalous 1994 attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, 52. Before the incident, Harding was a rags-to-riches underdog, whose career trajectory looked quite different from the trajectories of the upper-class ice princesses against whom she competed. Margot Robbie got deliciously down and dirty in this fourth-wall-breaking mockumentary, which also starred Sebastian Stan as her boyfriend Jeff Gillooly and Paul Walter Hauser as Gillooly’s friend Shawn Eckardt.
Most valuable player: Allison Janney, 62, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role as Harding’s abusive, chain-smoking mother, LaVona Golden.
Watch it: I, Tonya on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu
King Richard (2021)
OK, we know Will Smith, 53, grabbed a lot of attention, both on-screen and especially off-, for his Oscar-winning role as the titular tennis coach Richard Williams, 80. But this rousing biopic wouldn’t exist without the two future GOATs at the heart of the story: Richard’s daughters, Venus and Serena Williams, played respectively by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton. The duo bring an understated charm to the film without a lick of precociousness, and you can’t help but cheer as they make their unexpected rise from the community courts of Compton to the biggest matches in the world, picking up multi-million-dollar endorsements and Grand Slam victories along the way.
Most valuable player: Aunjanue Ellis, 53, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing the girls’ protective and oft-overshadowed mother, Oracene “Brandy” Price.
Watch it: King Richard on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max, Hulu
A League of Their Own (1992)
According to manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks, 66), “there’s no crying in baseball!” But in this beloved Penny Marshall comedy, there’s tears, laughter, heart-swelling inspiration and every other kind of emotion you can imagine. It’s World War II, and while the men are away, the women will play — in the first female professional baseball league. Geena Davis (66) and Lori Petty (58) star as sisters Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller, who develop a sibling rivalry as they make their way in the big leagues. Rosie O’Donnell, 60, steals scenes as the bouncer-turned-third-basewoman, and she’s set to show up in the new TV series as a bar owner named Vi.
Most valuable player: Madonna, 63, who not only delivered perhaps her finest film role to date as “All the Way Mae” Mordabito but also performed the Golden Globe–nominated song “This Used to Be My Playground.”
Watch it: A League of Their Own on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Invest in a few boxes of Puffs Plus before settling in for this all-time tearjerker about scrappy upstart boxer Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), who trains with cantankerous gym owner Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood, 92, who also directed) — despite his early protest “I don’t train girls.” In 2017, The New York Times named it the third-best film of the 21st century, with A.O. Scott writing, “Fifty years from now, as the end credits scroll on whatever screen viewers are watching on, they will reach the same conclusion my editor did back in 2004. This is what a movie looks like.” Million Dollar Baby went on to clean up at the 77th Academy Awards, picking up wins for best picture, best director, best actress and best supporting actor for Morgan Freeman, 85.
Most valuable player: Swank, obviously — but we’re also partial to Margo Martindale, 71, who turns in an impressively unlikable performance as Maggie’s monstrous mother.
Watch it: Million Dollar Baby on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max
Producer Dan Fogelman struck TV gold with his family drama This Is Us, but he also debuted a second series just two days later in the fall of 2016 that sadly got ignored by viewers and was canceled after one season — despite scoring an impressive 93 percent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Pitch follows the ascent of MLB’s first female player, the (fictional) rookie pitcher Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), who gets called up from the minor leagues to play on the San Diego Padres. Before she was cast, Bunbury had never played baseball, but she underwent intense training for the role and ended up being able to lob pitches at an impressive 60 mph.
Most valuable player: Bunbury, whom TV Guide’s Liz Raftery called “a breakout star” and “a role model for young female athletes everywhere.”
Whip It (2009)
Drew Barrymore made her directorial debut with this energetic ode to roller derby, starring Elliot Page as a small-town Texas teen who lies about her age to join the Hurl Scouts, picking up the nom de guerre Babe Ruthless. Based on the young adult novel Derby Girl, by Shauna Cross, and featuring a killer soundtrack (Dolly Parton! Ramones!), the film stars a murderers’ row of kick-ass actresses, including Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem, Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven and rapper Eve as Rosa Sparks. Roger Ebert wrote that, while the film “may not reflect the kind of female empowerment Gloria Steinem had in mind, it has guts, charm and a black-and-blue sweetness.”
Most valuable player: Barrymore, who pulls triple duty as director, producer and actress — she plays Smashley Simpson.
Watch it: Whip It on Amazon Prime, Apple TV
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.