Entertainment

The Best Sports Movies of All Time

There are few things that’ll get you from zero to ready-to-bust-down-a-wall in 30 seconds. A Kool-aid commercial for example. A better example is the sports-movie training montage. Rocky, Remember the Titans, The Karate Kid—all home to hill sprints/ab crunching/bench-pressin’ that will, through the power of a good ’80s synth bop or Meek Mill verse, send you straight into… well, not quite an exact replica. What you end up doing is probably more akin to busting out a couple pushups in the corner of your living room.

You know what else is awesome? Sports movies, in general. So we took it upon ourselves to list our favorite—and what we deem the most triumphant—sports movies of all time. It’s not on this list, but we have to quote Dodgeball here: “It’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for him!” (Only Esquire is the “him” here, if you got that.)


Air Bud

What happens: A doggo leaves his side gig as a mediocre clown to become the star guard of a middle school boys basketball team.

Moment of triumph: Air Bud figures out that his big dog nose has Steph Curry range.

Why Bronze: “Buddy, get. You have to go, Buddy. Please, Buddy. Go! Get! GO! GET OUT OF HERE! GET! I DON’T WANT YOU ANYMORE! GET!”

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Air Bud (1997) ORIGINAL TRAILER [HD]

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Kill the Umpire

What happens: William Bendix plays a bumbling idiot who can’t hold a job because he’s addicted to drinking and watching baseball. His father-in-law comes up with a genius idea: get a job as an umpire so you can work and watch baseball at the same time.

Moment of triumph: When he learns to respect umpires, his greatest source of ire as a fan of baseball.

Why Bronze: He learns to respect umpires.

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1950 KILL THE UMPIRE – Trailer – William Bendix, Una Merkel

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Coach Carter

What happens: Coach Samuel L. Jackson is tired of this shit, but he’s gonna coach the hell out of these kids anyway.

Moment of triumph: If we’re being honest, it’s the soundtrack—there’s never a moment where Faith Evans and Twista’s “Hope” won’t fill you with, uhm, hope.

Why Bronze: This was still Channing Tatum’s awkward phase, tbh.

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Cool Runnings

What happens: Jamaicans bobsled.

Moment of triumph: The Jamaicans’ bobsled breaks down just yards from the finish line, and the guys carry it the rest of the way, heads held high.

Why Bronze: It has all the earmarks of a heartwarming sports movie, but it gave us that Jimmy Cliff cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” that made the whole world a dentist’s waiting room for a few months in 1993.

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Miracle

What happens: 1980 U.S. Men’s Hockey Team faces Soviets.

Moment of triumph: 1980 Men’s Hockey Team defeats Soviets.

Why Bronze: It is beautiful and stirring, but the 2001 made-for-TV documentary Do You Believe In Miracles got there first, with commentary from the actual guys and narration by Liev Schreiber.

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Foxcatcher

What happens: Legendary wrestling coach turns murderous.

Moment of triumph: Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo try to out-macho each other during a quiet practice session.

Why Bronze: Steve Carrell’s prosthetics.

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Foxcatcher Official Trailer #1 (2014) – Channing Tatum, Steve Carell Drama HD

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Without Limits/Prefontaine

What happens: Good-looking guy sprints, grows mustache, dies.

Moment of triumph: Some truly glorious late 1960s hair bounces majestically as a ribbon is run through.

Why Bronze: Two of these movies is one too many. The “Prefontaine Pair,” as nobody called it back then, came out around the time of Deep Impact / Armageddon and Volcano / Dante’s Peak, when America was gripped with redundant movie fever. We give the edge to Without Limits, because we’re up to here with Method Actor Jared Leto right now.

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The Way Back

What happens: Dude who peaked in high school returns to said high school, which is in need of a coach for its high school hoops squad.

Moment of triumph: Ben Affleck delivers an all-timer of a sad-man-in-therapy moment, but everyone forgot about it because The Way Back debuted in March 2020. Womp.

Why Bronze: Benny boy can’t catch a break, so we’re giving him one here. The Way Back‘s ending is truly subversive for the sports genre, which I can’t say about a too-large chunk of the movies on this list.

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Creed

What happens: Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis, grows up to be a boxer just like dad. And you guessed it, another stroke of fate: He crosses paths with the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa.

Moment of triumph: Adonis sprints through Philly’s streets to a total rager of a Rocky-soundtracked remix of Meek Mill’s “Lord Knows.”

Why Silver: It’s too soon to put this one alongside the OG. Check back with us in 20 years when we get a franchise revival featuring Adonis’s son.

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42

What happens: Baseball legend Jackie Robinson—who almost single-handedly broke the league’s racial barrier—gets the biopic treatment.

Moment of triumph: Jackie gives the business to the infamously racist former Phillies manager, Ben Chapman.

Why Silver: Robinson’s story doesn’t exactly translate as well as it could with Warner Bros.’s Disney-esque, storybook retelling of his life.

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42 Official Trailer #2 (2013) – Harrison Ford Movie – Jackie Robinson Story HD

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Uncut Gems

What happens: Big-shot jeweler/bad dad/Adam Sandler lookalike Howard Ratner develops a sports-betting addiction a few years before the dawn of DraftKings and pays the price for it.

Moment of triumph: Howard tries to fight The Weeknd at a skeezy-looking nightclub because he’s probably-definitely fucking his coke-snorting girlfriend, but the music’s blaring so loud you don’t really know what’s going on.

Why Silver: The puddles of sweat you’ll find in each and every unwanted crevice of your body after Howard walks a few city blocks.

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Uncut Gems | Official Trailer HD | A24

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Warrior

What happens: Jacked brothers do mixed martial arts.

Moment of triumph: A long-simmering brotherly feud is resolved in the octagon, you immediately do your maximum amount of crunches.

Why Silver: It feels like it was made in a laboratory with the single purpose of making grown men cry.

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Personal Best

What Happens: Mariel Hemingway and real-life track and field athlete Patrice Donnelly play lesbian lovers!

Moment of triumph: There actually isn’t a whole lot of triumph here, as it’s about their training for the 1980 Summer Olympics, on which the US ends up bailing. But it is pretty hot.

Why Silver: The Carter presidency did not give us much in the way of triumph all the way around.

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The Sandlot

What happens: A group of kids hit a baseball over the fence and into the yard of the scariest dog in the neighborhood. Antics ensue.

Moment of triumph: When Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez retrieves the ball and becomes your favorite fictional baseball player since Pablo Sanchez.

Why Silver: I think I’ve seen this movie over 30 times because it’s the only film they showed kids when it rained during recess.

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The Sandlot (1993) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

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King Richard

What happens: Enterprising father raises not one, but two girls who go on to change a whole damn sport.

Moment of triumph: Not Jon Bernthal’s short shorts, but it came close. It’s the thrilling portrayal of Venus’s coming-of-age at the 1994 Bank of the West Classic.

Why Silver: Needs some distance between you know what.

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KING RICHARD – Official Trailer

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The Mighty Ducks

What happens: Ragtag kids’ hockey team slowly gets it together, with the help of gruff but lovable coach.

Moment of triumph: The Ducks win the Pee Wee Championship!

Why Silver: Two sequels, plus an animated spinoff series with actual hockey-playing ducks in outer space.

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D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994) Classic Trailer – Emilio Estevez Movie HD

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I, Tonya

What happens: A world-class figure skater gets so jealous of her slightly-better peer that she orders the prison-shanking of said peer.

Moment of triumph: Impossible to choose. Allison Janney dangling a cig between her fingers. The shoulder bird. Sebastian Stan’s ‘stache. Robbie’s nasal, Pacific-Northwestern accent. Or maybe her bangs. Definitely her bangs.

Why Gold: Biopics—especially of the sports variety—don’t see much better than Robbie’s take on Harding, which shows the former Olympian as a spinning, sassing antihero smiling through the pain.

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I, Tonya Trailer #1 (2017) | Movieclips Trailers

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Happy Gilmore

What happens: Psychotic hockey player becomes a psychotic golfer.

Moment of triumph: “YOU SON OF A BITCH BALL, WHY DIDN’T YOU GO HOME? THAT’S. YOUR. HOME!

Why Gold: Peak Sandman deserves every and any medal.

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Happy Gilmore Official Trailer #1 – Christopher McDonald Movie (1996) HD

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Moneyball

What happens: Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane is the first jock to figure out that math nerds aren’t all that bad—which changes baseball forever.

Moment of triumph: Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt? Brad Pitt.

Why Gold: Just like the Michael Lewis book Moneyball is based on, the film does the impossible, making cubicle chatter just as exciting as a grand slam.

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Moneyball (2011) Movie Trailer – HD – Brad Pitt

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Remember the Titans

What happens: Coach Herman Boone takes over as the head coach of a college (the college has a racist culture, too) football team with about 27 difficult personalities. Training montages, The Temptations, victory.

Moment of triumph: The entire team—youngin Ryan Gosling and all—crumples up an old newspaper and uses it as a mic for a locker-room performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Why Gold: Denzel Washington’s turn as real-life coach Boone is easily a top-10 sports-movie performance.

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Remember The Titans [Official Trailer]

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Ice Castles

What happens: Skater goes blind in freak accident, keeps skating.

Moment of triumph: She nails her routine, trips on roses thrown by the crowd, is led off the ice by Robby Benson.

Why Gold: Take it from someone who was alive when this movie was released: there was a moment when a nation of pre-teen girls kind of wished they were blind. Such was the raw power of a 1978 Robby Benson.

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The Bad News Bears

What happens: Ragtag kids’ baseball team slowly gets it together, with the help of gruff but lovable coach.

Moment of triumph: The Bears lose just barely, are allowed to drink beer anyway.

Why Gold: Because we kind of miss the days when alcoholism was written like a harmless, fun little quirk.

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The Bad News Bears (1976) – Trailer

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Bang the Drum Slowly

What happens: In one of his earliest roles, Robert De Niro plays a baseball player who learns that he is terminally ill.

Moment of triumph: When the team’s star pitcher demands that his contract include a clause that De Niro’s character remains his catcher.

Why Gold: Will make your dad weep.

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1973 Bang The Drum Slowly Official Trailer 1 Paramount Pictures

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Hoop Dreams

What happens: The heartbreaking true story of two kids who dream of joining the NBA.

Moment of triumph: When the film makes you think they actually just might pull it off.

Why Gold: Hoop Dreams is a nearly three-hour-long documentary. but trust me when I say that it’s one of only a handful of films that truly justifies the length.

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Chariots of Fire

What happens: British guys run on the beach in slo-mo, a million parodies are born.

Moment of triumph: Both the leads win gold!

Why Gold: On Oscar Night in 1982, I asked my parents if I could make and throw confetti if it won Best Picture (over On Golden Pond and Raiders of the Lost Ark). They said I could. It won. I did. Eleven years later I came out of the closet to them, and they had the nerve to be surprised.

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Chariots of Fire – New Trailer – In cinemas July 13

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Rudy

What happens: Little guy works his way onto Notre Dame football team, with help from maximum-density Jon Favreau.

Moment of triumph: Rudy gets in the game, sacks the quarterback, gets carried off the field, after which we must imagine he says to himself, “Well, shit. What now?”

Why Gold: If it doesn’t give you chills, you died four months ago and nobody told you.

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A League of Their Own

What happens: A women’s baseball league comes together as World War II rages.

Moment of triumph: Perpetually overshadowed Lori Petty scores the winning run! Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell meet in real life! What do they even talk about?

Why Gold: Because if it’s on television, you cancel your next two hours of plans every single time.

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A League of Their Own – Official Movie Trailer

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The Karate Kid

What happens: Little shit is humbled by janitor who also happens to be a GOATed karate master.

Moment of triumph: Oh, c’mon. Do I even have to say it? Crane kick.

Why Gold: Made everyone and their kid sibling want to get a black belt in the ’80s.

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The Karate Kid (1984) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

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Rocky

What happens: Sylvester Stallone slurs, punches meat, romances shy woman, gets beat the hell up.

Moment of triumph: Rocky goes the distance! Shy woman overcomes discomfort with crowds!

Why Gold: A Sylvester Stallone movie beat Taxi Driver, Network, and All The President’s Men for Best Picture at the 1976 Oscars, and the entire world was like, “Yeah, this feels right.”

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Rocky Official Trailer #1 – Burgess Meredith Movie (1976) HD

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Hoosiers

What happens: Rag-tag small-town Indiana high-school basketball team slowly gets it together.

Moment of triumph: Shooter stays sober some of the time! Hickory wins state! You cry!

Why Gold: Because it is completely without flaws.

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Hoosiers Official Trailer #1 – Dennis Hopper Movie (1986) HD

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