Did You Know?The film Raging Bull, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, was chosen by the American Film Institute (AFI) as the greatest sports movie of all time.
The emotional roller-coaster in sports, with its human elements of hope, determination, bravery, dejection, and comebacks, touch a chord in the very primal places in our psyche. As a result, sports are vastly effective in influencing the mood of those who watch them, as countless spouses will undoubtedly testify. This makes sports an apt subject to be depicted in movies.
Here's a list of some of the most famous and praised sports films ever made.
The movies have not been 'ranked' in any way, and is a personal choice of the writer. Opinions will almost certainly differ.
Director: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Sylvester Stallone
A lowly loan shark makes it big in the boxing scene when an unprecedented situation forces him to enter the ring against the reigning heavyweight world champion.
The ever-popular story of the underdog rising above his circumstances, this iconic Sylvester Stallone movie and the subsequent series is arguably the most popular sports movie of all time. A career-making performance from Stallone, which led one reviewer to compare him to a young Marlon Brando, elevated this story into the upper echelons of movie fame. Stallone wrote the script after watching a fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, and―thank god―stayed firm on his demand to star in it himself.
Made on a budget of just over 1 million, this movie garnered 225 million, proving to be an unexpectedly bumper hit. The third and fourth movies in the series are particularly famous.
Oh, and there's the small matter of the third Rocky film giving us the eternally effective workout track: Eye of the Tiger.
Director: David Anspaugh
Starring: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper
This story of a basketball coach winning over the affection of a town after initially falling foul of the majority of its citizens is considered one of the best sports movies ever made. Gene Hackman stars as the basketball coach Norman Dale, who, having arrived in Hickory, Indiana after hitting a student at his previous job, turns around the team's fortunes and leads them to the state championship. The 1954 Milan High School Basketball team was the inspiration for this movie.
It's absolutely formulaic, some would even say cheesy, but the content has been handled in such a manner that you can't help but get involved in the fortunes of the Hickory basketball team. Noted critic Roger Ebert described this film as "all heart".
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Hillary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman
A waitress overcomes poverty, an unsupportive family, gender-based prejudice to progress along the boxing ladder, but ends up a paraplegic when a cheating opponent throws a sucker punch.
All three main actors were nominated for the Academy Awards, Swank and Eastwood for the Best Actor and Best Actress, and Freeman for Best Supporting Actor. Hillary Swank's portrayal as the tough waitress Maggie earned her her second Academy Award for Best Actress, and Morgan Freeman also won the award for the Best Supporting Actor. The movie won the Best Picture, and Eastwood won the Best Director award as well.
Controversial for its depiction of euthanasia, this film divides opinions among moviegoers, but Maggie's rise to the top remains one of the most inspiring stories told in sports movies.
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Anupam Kher, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
A British Punjabi girl, Jess, faces opposition to her passion for football from her conservative family, but she pursues the sport in secret and eventually makes her family come to terms with it.
This light caper is doubtless one of the best soccer movies of all time. The story of a Punjabi girl switching between her saari- and jersey-wearing alter egos became a surprise hit in the UK, India, and Canada. Both Nagra and Rhys-Meyers received acclaim for their roles, the latter playing the role of Jess' football coach and romantic interest.
Director: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, Martin Kove
A scrawny teenager, played by Macchio, gets into an altercation with the school bully when he befriends a popular cheergirl. With the help of the handyman in his apartment, who is secretly a karate master, he is successful in defeating the bully in an organized fight, also earning his respect in the process.
This movie is arguably the best of the clutch of teenage movies released in the 1980s, and became a cultural icon. Morita, who played the handyman in the movie, got the chance to break free of the stereotype he had acquired through his previous roles, and went on star in the three sequels of the original movie. He also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Though the later sequels (and to some extent the 2010 remake) eventually led to a demise of the franchise, the original remains hugely popular.
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Kurt Russell, Noah Emmerich
Miracle recounts the story of the USA's success at the 1980 Winter Olympic ice hockey tournament, focusing on their victory over the USSR, one of the most famous sporting moments in American history. It depicts the harsh training and challenges faced by the American team. The film emphasizes the togetherness cultivated in the team by coach Herb Brooks, and the seemingly impossible task they achieved due to it.
The film won the ESPY award for the Best Sports Film of 2004, and is one of the best sports movies based on real events. Herb Brooks himself helped the team during the making of the film, though he sadly passed away before it was released. It was praised by the actual players depicted in it for its realistic depiction of the tension within the U.S. camp.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro
This biopic of boxer Jake LaMotta tells the story of his rise in the sport even as the extremes of his personality alienated him from his family. LaMotta himself met with the production team and De Niro to add credibility to the role.
De Niro's fourth film with longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. Raging Bull is frequently mentioned as one of the best films ever made, and, as mentioned before, was even chosen by the AFI as the best sports film ever.
Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill
This much-acclaimed movie depicts the story of Oakland Atheltics general manager Billy Beane, who took his unfancied team to the top of American League West employing revolutionary use of sabermetrics. Beane brought in rejected players, whose statistical performance belied their general estimation. The Athletics achieved an unprecedented 20-game winning streak in the 2002 season and finished top of the League West, vindicating Beane's methods. Beane's efforts to connect with his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife, form the background for the action on the field.
The film was criticized by former Athletics manager Art Howe, who disagreed with the way he had been portrayed in the film; Howe's stance was supported by Scott Hatteberg, a player who is portrayed to have a difficult relationship with Howe. The film takes several artistic liberties with the recruitment of players by Beane, often portraying players as being freshly recruited by Beane, when in reality they had been playing for the Athletics for some time. Despite the inaccuracies, the movie was nominated for six Academy Awards, though it didn't win any.
Director: Hugh Hudson
Starring: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson
Depicting the real story of 1924 Olympic gold medalists Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire is among the best films ever made, regardless of the genre. It shows the progress of the two runners, in the face of opposition in varying forms; Abrahams is opposed due to latent antisemitism, and Liddell, the son of Scottish missionaries in China, is forced to decline to participate in the 100 meters event since it occurs on a Sunday.
The soundtrack of Chariots of Fire, unusually composed with modern instruments and technology despite the film's setting in the 1920s, has become iconic, and has been used in other films with similar subject matter. The score, composed by Vangelis, was one of four aspects of the movie to reap an Academy Award; the movie won the awards for the Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Costume Design as well.
Director: Asif Kapadia
The turbulent life and career of the late Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna was always going to be difficult to contain in a documentary, but Asif Kapadia does a memorable job.
The documentary describes Senna's career from its start at Toleman in 1984 to his fatal crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, shedding light on his turbulent life on and off the field, his heated rivalries―including the famous one with Alain Prost―and his perplexing nature. Though it didn't portray the change in the relationship between Senna and Prost after the latter's retirement in 1993, an aspect heavily criticized by Prost, this film is successful in portraying the development of the famous rivalry in a manner that makes even non-racing fans interested in the human drama behind the machinic facade of F1.
These were some of the best and most acclaimed sports films of all time. Apart from these, ESPN's 30 for 30 series of documentaries is a notable collection of sports movies.
Which one is your favorite? Do you agree with our choice? Let us know in the comments section below.