Sports movies: the realm of great motivational speeches, inspirational stories of overcoming the odds and dazzling feats of athleticism.
It's true, not all sports movies are created equal -- how can you compare baseball to football? Comedy to drama? Tough-as-nails coach to plucky quarterback? But we're competitors. And we love a challenge just as much as we love movies ... and sports ... and movies about sports.
Check out our list of the 25 sports movies that pack the most punch.
25. 'Friday Night Lights'
It's 'Varsity Blues' plus better acting and directing, minus the whipped cream bikini. With this true-life tale, director Peter Berg paints a moving (and disturbing) portrait of '80s small-town Texas: Racism still rages, the economy is ailing and the hopes of an entire community ride on high school football.
24. 'A League of Their Own'
A movie about an all-female baseball league formed during WWII isn't exactly the norm for sports flicks -- but that's what we dig about it. With stellar turns from Madonna and Geena Davis and one of the longest on-screen urination scenes in history (courtesy of Tom Hanks), this film is rousing, charming and funny.
The U.S. hockey team's unlikely triumph over the Ruskies in the 1980 Olympics is one of the greatest sports stories of our time, and this Disney-on-ice version (don't worry, there's no singing) would move the biggest, baddest penalty-minute leader to tears. (FYI, that's a five-minute major for crying like a baby.)
22. 'Bang the Drum Slowly'
Known for its ability to induce the "man-cry" (grown men trying desperately to fight off tears -- and failing), this baseball flick about a pitcher (Michael Moriarty) who befriends a terminally ill catcher (Robert De Niro) illuminates the true meaning of the term "teammates."
21. 'Chariots of Fire'
Yeah, so it beat out 'Reds' for the Oscar; but there's more to this film than its underdog status. In portraying the rivalry between two wildly different British runners -- one an upper-class Jew, the other a Scottish missionary -- the film captures the passion to compete that goes beyond money, class or fame. And don't forget that theme song.
20. 'The Bad News Bears'
There's not an ounce of sentimentality in this comedy about a team of foul-mouthed misfits and their alcoholic manager, and that's what makes it great. One by one, 'Bears' takes aim at three sacred institutions -- sob-story sports flicks, treacly kids' movies and the hell of Little League -- and the result is a down-and-dirty delight.
19. 'Breaking Away'
Though ostensibly about aspiring bike racers, this affecting drama is really concerned with how racing is seen as a way to escape the confines of a small town -- in this case, Bloomington, Ind., where the four heroes are derisively called "Cutters" by the college kids there. And so it's a universal theme, played out on two wheels.
18. 'The Set-Up'
One of the first truly great sports movies, Robert Wise's 1949 film noir about an over-the-hill boxer (Robert Ryan) who refuses to take a dive despite dire consequences is one of those classic pictures that surprises us with its intensity and timelessness. We'd say it knocks us out, but we'd never go down so easily.
17. 'When We Were Kings'
The documentary covering 1974's "Rumble in the Jungle" -- a championship match set up by Don King between Muhammad Ali and then-champ George Foreman -- fulfills the promise of its subject. Ali (stripped of his title for conscientiously objecting to the Vietnam War) is in his way as important as MLK. A king? Certainly.
16. 'Brian's Song'
Two movies are guaranteed to make men sob: 'Old Yeller' and this made-for-TV biopic about Brian Piccolo, a football player with cancer (James Caan), and his roommate, Hall of Famer Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams). It's not just about sports, it's about an extraordinary friendship -- and you'll need a whole box of Kleenex for the end.
15. 'Jerry Maguire'
Forget the overused catchphrases, or the unfortunate places its stars would later land ('Boat Trip,' Oprah's couch). There's too much to love about this impossibly feel-good flick: Jerry's ideology, Rod's buoyancy, that adorable kid, Zellweger ... The sports movie and romantic comedy have never blended so well.
It's the ultimate underdog tale: A hobbit-sized goonie boy ( Sean Astin) dreams of playing for Notre Dame. What do size, skill and smarts matter when you've got heart? When Rudy finally takes the field, not only does it instantly choke the throat, it makes the small, unskilled and dim-witted among us feel we've got a fighting chance.
13. 'Pride of the Yankees'
"Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." It's one of the greatest movie quotes of all time, made all the more poignant because the man who said it, Lou Gehrig, had died only the year before. This biopic about the Iron Man, who died at 36 of ALS, is both modest and powerful -- just like Gehrig himself.
12. 'White Men Can't Jump'
Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson show off their very real basketball -- and comedic -- skills in this film that taught us that "sometimes when you win, you lose," there are eight foods that begin with "Q" and there's a difference between listening to Jimi Hendrix and hearing Jimi Hendrix.
11. 'Slap Shot'
There's a lot of comedy in hockey: scraggly mullets, toothless grins, Canadian accents. So it's no wonder this 1977 classic scores so many laughs with its ahead-of-its-time raunchiness and blistering vulgarity, mostly courtesy of that sailor mouth Paul Newman. If you don't like it, the Hanson Brothers will make you see otherwise.
10. 'The Hustler'
Jackie Gleason -- playing against sitcom type -- brought depth and darkness to his role as a champion pool player, staring down his own mortality in the pretty-boy face of his upstart challenger, Paul Newman. It's one of few sports movies that isn't about winning the "big game" ... It's about the decision to surrender to the game.
9. 'Remember the Titans'
"Inspirational sports movies" arrive in theaters on what seems like a monthly basis now, and the triumph that was 'Titans' is a big reason for that. It may be conventional, but this genuinely touching tale of ebony and ivory relations on and off Virginia football fields is the best in its class.
8. 'Hoop Dreams'
This vivid documentary follows two inner-city basketball prodigies down different paths as they face poverty, crime and injuries in their attempts to become the next Michael Jordan. You're not just watching characters on the screen -- you're rooting like hell for real kids, fighting tremendous odds to make their dreams come true.
7. 'Field of Dreams'
Here's something you don't see every day: An average guy ( Kevin Costner), after spying Shoeless Joe Jackson in his cornfield, builds a baseball field where dead ballplayers come back to life. From that bizarre premise springs a moving, warmly funny film about faith, family and baseball that's so perfect, we could've sworn it was heaven.
With hilarious turns from Bill Murray as a deranged gopher-hunting, Bob-Marley-blunt-smoking groundskeeper and Chevy Chase as a birdie-and-tequila-shooting womanizer, this might just be one of the most flawless comedies in history -- so it's got that going for it, which is nice.
5. 'The Natural'
Was there ever an athlete more iconic than Roy Hobbs? Hasn't every kid named his first bat Wonderboy? Robert Redford shines as the farm boy whose big league dreams are delayed by 16 years. Steeped in nostalgia, beautifully acted and filmed, it's a movie so in love with baseball that it glows. And so do we, just thinking about it.
This David-and-Goliath tale of a volatile basketball coach (Gene Hackman) who leads a small Indiana high school team to the state finals has all the makings of a classic: chills-inducing score, superb game sequences, moving pep talk and, of course, the most badass line in sports movie history: "I'll make it."
3. 'Bull Durham'
It's not just that it's hilarious, or smart, or that it's got the greatest female character in sports movie history (Annie Savoy, we're not worthy). This movie gets everything right, from clubhouse camaraderie to sexual politics to the joy and pain of playing in the minors. For all who worship at the Church of Baseball, this is our Holy Grail.
2. 'Raging Bull'
Robert De Niro's scorching portrayal of boxer Jake LaMotta as angry young man and still angry (and going to pot) middle-aged man, plus Martin Scorsese's fine eye for the violence men do, are a one-two punch that made this black-and-white drama an instant classic ... and its Best Picture loss one of the biggest Oscar shocks ever.
The fist-pumping score, the charismatic turn by Sly Stallone, the glorious training montage, the pitch-perfect ending in which Rocky shows the champ what "showtime at the Apollo" really means ... All these make it the gold standard by which all sports flicks are measured. Yo, if there's a more deserving No. 1 movie, punch us in the face.
CATEGORIES Top 25