From boxing dramas to bowling comedies, we are counting down our choices for the 30 best sports films of all time. Here is the list:
No No: A Dockumentary (2014)
Ellis is most famous for claiming that he once pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD, but as Jeff Radice’s documentary makes clear, the Pirates pitcher had a pretty noteworthy career, intersecting with one of baseball’s wildest decades. Ellis was in the thick of it all, from free agency to drug abuse to debates in the media over black players being “too cocky.” Despite its shortcomings, it provides insight into MLB in the Seventies.
It is easy to forget that our sports heroes aren’t always dazzling, dynamic individuals. The best thing about Gavin O’Connor’s tribute to gruff coach Herb Brooks is that it never stops reminding us that the man who led the underdog U.S. hockey team to an unlikely gold medal was no heart-warming, touchy-feely guy. Brooks is portrayed by Kurt Russell as a merciless taskmaster who whips his players into shape before they face the fearsome Soviet Union team during the 1980 Winter Olympics. The film is no less riveting because of Russell’s superb performance or because we know how the ending will pan out. It only adds to the joy of his team’s accomplishment.
The film conveniently ignores some details and pretends that Rudy wasn’t charged with securities fraud in 2011. As with any great myth, this sports movie requires a grain of salt. A story about a hard-working, huge-hearted hero who overcomes all obstacles (dyslexia, diminutive size, coach Dan Devine) to get his chance in the final home game of the 1975 season is reason enough not to let facts get in the way. Directors David Anspaugh and Angelo Pizzo, the guys who directed Hoosiers, created the underdog story to end all underdog stories, adding yet another folk hero to the Notre Dame football team (as if it needed any more help). Though many Fighting Irish haters roll their eyes, it’s impossible to deny how thrilling it is to watch Rudy realize his dreams…and over all, a better gridiron story than Ron Powlus’s.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
The acclaimed political provocateur Oliver Stone would not seem to be an ideal person to direct a big sports movie, would he? False. This look at a turbulent season in the life of a struggling Miami football team serves the director well because of his flair for the epic. He feels the mythic desperation of his characters, too. The characters in this movie are all at crossroads: lonely, broken-down coach Al Pacino; injured, aging quarterback Dennis Quaid; hotshot quarterback Jamie Foxx (then mostly known as a comic actor); and ruthless team owner Cameron Diaz. It is precisely because of that collective sense of anxiety and hopelessness that Pacino’s climactic “Life’s just a game of inches” speech to his troops has earned its place as one of the all-time greatest sports movie speeches.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
As a first-generation immigrant caught between her old-world Indian culture and the cultural requirements of Britain, Jesminder “Jess” Bjamra only wants one thing in life: to make the national soccer team of India, like her idol David Beckham. The main obstacle in her path is a disapproving mother who would never let her daughter play such a ruffian’s sport. Jess may be able to achieve her goal with some help from a player on a local team and a cute coach. Without Parminder Nagra’s winning performance and an understanding of the ways in which sports can boost self-esteem and self-identity among young women, Gurinder Chadha’s follow-your-dreams story wouldn’t work half as well.
Based on the Hungarian film Two Half Times in Hell, director John Huston’s potboiler stars Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, and Pele as WWII POWs attempting to escape the Germans. All is going as planned – until the Nazis enter the pitch, and the players wonder if they can actually do more good by beating them. Even though Stallone may be a metaphor for all the Americans who were just learning about “the beautiful game” in the early 1980s, watching Pele display his footwork on the field, you almost believe that the soccer god could have stopped Hitler’s troops in their tracks.
The Wrestler (2008)
If you think pro wrestlers aren’t athletes, watch Mickey Rourke in “The Ram”: an ex-superstar who gets beaten to death whenever he entertains. It contrasts the lurid details of the sport with the bleak reality of Ram’s offstage life, which is spent between his crumbling trailer and his minimum-wage job in a wintry New Jersey suburb. The movie tells us what happens to people who abuse their bodies professionally until they become shells of their former selves. Even the blaze of glory at the end couldn’t dispel the bleakness.
The Endless Summer (1966)
This unassuming piece of counterculture anthropology is so likable that it had kids all over the world buying boards and heading to the California coast looking for the perfect barrel. The Endless Summer tells the story of two wave chasers (Mike Hynson and Robert August) who avoid winter by trekking around the world, as well as weaving primers on beach-bum terminology throughout bitchin’ footage of gnarly tubes. During the final sunset of the film, director Bruce Brown’s half-smile, half-gushing narration feels more like an irresistible sales pitch.
Fat City (1972)
In John Huston’s tragicomic film, sweat, smoke, and whiskey odors hang heavy over the relationship between Billy (Stacy Keach) and Ernie (Jeff Bridges), the younger fighter who inspires the older fighter to try for a comeback. It’s more about what happens between bouts than what happens in the ring in this boxing movie. Stockton’s long-gone skid row, the film’s grimy bars and flophouses serve as regular neighbors to its pugilist hero, and the film hints that the latest newbie will likely also end up there, no matter how talented they are. This is one movie that makes you want to take a shower right after you see it.
There are times when you just want to be moved beyond all reason. In this dizzyingly feel-good sports film, a troubled coach (Gene Hackman) motivates a team of underdog 1950s Indiana high schoolers to play the best basketball they have ever played by sticking to the fundamentals. Television director David Anspaugh’s feature debut is not earnest nostalgia: Hoosiers is a proudly dewy homage to bygone innocence, to a time when only doing your best was enough to defeat giants. It’s a fable that’s delivered without a wink, embodied by Hackman’s perfectly-aged performance that’s filled with rock-ribbed quiet decency.