My Top-10 Favorite Sports Movies: A Cure for the Sports Shutdown

Jake Curtis

We’ve given you our top 10 books in previous installments, but now the real debate begins – best sports movies.

(Click here for Jeff's top-10 sports movies.)

Four such movies stand out for me, with the rest lagging well behind. With that in mind I present the 10 best sports movies I have seen, and Jeff will present his top 10 later.

1. RAGING BULL (1980)

raging bull

Thoughts: The opening scene of Robert De Niro shadow boxing in slow motion amid a foggy backdrop is worth the price of admission. The demise of a fighter who could not be knocked down is told brilliantly by director Martin Scorsese and actors De Niro and Joe Pesci. It was nominated for Best Picture and De Niro won for Best Actor.

More thoughts on Raging Bull:

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2. MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004)

million dollar baby

Thoughts: Until this movie was released I was convinced that any film not based on a real-life athlete was doomed to mediocrity. This movie changed my opinion. Having Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank tell the story certainly helped. The hospital scenes and the issues raised there were powerful stuff. It won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actress (Swank), Best Director (Eastwood) and Best Supporting Actor (Freeman).

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3. CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)

chariots of fire

 Thoughts: Sometimes I wonder whether this movie would have been as successful if had been American-made. Somehow the British touch makes it more powerful. And the music? It runs you off your feet. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

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4. HOOSIERS (1986)

Hoosiers

Thoughts: Three things made this movie great: 1. The underdog story that references the real-life success of tiny Milan High School; 2. the performances of Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, and 3. the music. Tell me you can’t hear that tune in your head right now. The fact that the basketball scenes were filmed in the actual site of Milan’s championship game (Hinkle Fieldhouse) gives it bonus points to sports buffs.

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5. HOOP DREAMS (1994)

Hoop dreams

Thoughts: There is a huge gap between my top four choices and the remaining six, and this movie heads the list of the also-rans. It is the only documentary on my list, but the story it tells of the hopes and dreams that basketball provides to city kids is a sobering tale.

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6. THE FIGHTER (2010) 

the fighter

Thouhts: This movie is more about family than sports, and the influence – good and bad – that Mickey Walker’s family and loved ones had on him provides an intriguing story. It works because Christian Bale plays his half-brother and mentor. The movie’s plot ends before Walker’s fights with Arturo Gatti, but if you want to be impressed by a boxer’s fortitude watch the ninth round of their first fight.

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7. ROCKY (1976)

Rocky

Thoughts: Sure it schmaltzy, but it works pretty well for a fictional sports story. In my mind the worst scene is the one people seem to like most – the fight scene at the end. To me the classic scene is the one at the ice rink, where Adrienne (Talia Shire) is shuffling along on skates in silence, pushing up her glasses periodically, as Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) walks alongside muttering his witticisms. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The ensuing Rocky sequels were all lousy.

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8. THE WRESTLER (2008)

the wrestler

Thoughts: This film about the devastating impact of aging on an athlete and his relationship with family members is powerful because it is eloquently sparse. Mickey Rourke, an aging actor, was perfect for the part and demonstrated that he is a better actor than people realized.

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9. BULL DURHAM (1988)

bull durham

Thoughts: Some of the script of writer-director Ron Shelton is overdone, but it’s still a good time at the cinema. Having Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon in the cast certainly helps pull off some of the over-the-top scenes, and you have to love the baseball philosophies espoused by Annie Savoy (Sarandon). Well, most of them anyway.

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10. THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS (1952)

pride of st. louis

Thoughts: I debated with myself as to whether this film or one of five others – Eight Men Out, Cinderella Man, Pride of the Yankees, Brian’s Song, White Men Can’t Jump – should occupy the final spot on my list. But this profile of Dizzy Dean won out because of Dan Dailey’s outstanding portrayal of the wacky, folksy pitcher. Just hearing Dean (Dailey) as a broadcaster spit out his comical and grammar-challenged descriptions of action on the field is a riot. You won’t find this film on many top-10 lists, but I don’t care.

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