Our favorite movies about baseball, basketball, football, and more.
Last week, mixed martial arts got the Hollywood treatment with the release of Gavin O'Connor's Warrior (starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton). Herein, we crown the all-time champs in other cinematic sporting events.
The all-time best movie about boxing is… Rocky (1976)
The simple primal drama of two men strategically beating the crap out of each other has inspired classics from Raging Bull to When We Were Kings. But Sly Stallone's endlessly quotable tale about a palooka's shot at the big time was a much-needed boost for an on-the-ropes nation. Thirty-five years and five sequels later, Rocky remains guaranteed to leave you in a good mood.
Runners-up: Raging Bull, When We Were Kings, The Fighter, The Champ
The all-time best movie about baseball is… Bull Durham (1988)
America's pastime is second only to boxing in terms of generating a deep bench of beloved films, from The Pride of the Yankees to A League of Their Own. And while baseball fans can argue over any aspect of their sport, including favorite movies, Ron Shelton's love triangle about an aging catcher, an eccentric fan, and the egocentric young pitcher they mentor is an undeniable classic.
Runners-up: The Bad News Bears, A League of Their Own, Field of Dreams
The all-time best movie about basketball is… Hoop Dreams (1994)
Some may prefer the wholesome corn of Hoosiers, but this gritty chronicle of the divergent paths of two inner-city teens is the better film. Not only does Steve James' non-fiction masterpiece provide an affecting study of aspiration, but its failure to score a Best Documentary nomination stirred a controversy that eventually transformed the Oscars.
Runners-up: Hoosiers, White Men Can't Jump, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh
The all-time best movie about football is… Rudy (1993)
Varsity Blues features a whipped-cream bikini and James Van Der Beek's questionable Texas accent. And Brian's Song makes grown men cry just thinking about it. But I'd probably get tackled by legions of passionate Rudy fans if I didn't choose this story of a big-hearted hobbit (Sean Astin) determined to play for the Notre Dame varsity. (Plus, the movie earns bonus points for bringing Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn together for the first time.)
Runners-up: Brian's Song, Jerry Maguire, The Longest Yard, Lucas
The all-time best movie about soccer is… Gregory's Girl (1981)
Americans care about soccer movies about as much as they care about soccer. In other words, not so much. So the winner in this category is a shaggy-dog import from across the pond — Scotland, to be specific — about a teenage girl who wins a spot on her school's "football" team (along with the heart of a sweet-natured teammate).
Runners-up: Bend It Like Beckham, Victory, The Damned United, Once in a Lifetime
The all-time best movie about hockey is… Slap Shot (1977)
Believe it or not, a few decent hockey films actually do exist. But Slap Shot is clearly a high stick above the rest. The Paul Newman vehicle gets the rowdy, brawling spirit of the sport exactly right.
Runners-up: Miracle, The Rocket, and, okay, fine, The Mighty Ducks
The all-time best movie about golf is… Caddyshack (1980)
The individual parts may be greater than the whole of this raucous ensemble comedy, but any one of those bits — the gopher dance, Bill Murray's summit meeting with Chevy Chase, every Rodney Dangerfield one-liner, even the Baby Ruth in the swimming pool — is still way better than The Legend of Bagger Vance.
Runners-up: Happy Gilmore, The Caddy, Pat and Mike, Animal House
The all-time best movie about skiing is… For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Most ski movies are terrible. Downhill Racer is one exception to the rule, but Robert Redford in the snow is too white for most people to see with the naked eye. And even as a teenager I knew Hot Dog and Better Off Dead were sophomoric, which basically leaves a zillion Warren Miller ski-porn movies with dirty-sounding titles like Steeper & Deeper. Weirdly, only James Bond films have consistently done the sport proud, and For Your Eyes Only arguably has the finest black-diamond stunts of them all. 007 is chased by motorcycles down a bobsled track… on skis!
Runners-up: Downhill Racer, Hot Dog, The Spy Who Loved Me, Better Off Dead
The all-time best movie about track is… Personal Best (1982)
Chariots of Fire had the great Vangelis soundtrack (and the even greater SCTV parody, Chariots of Eggs). But Robert Towne's low-key story about athletes preparing for the (ultimately U.S. boycotted) 1980 Olympics scores for its naturalistic depiction of the personalities and politics of modern-day competitors. (And, sure, okay: the lesbian sex scene between lovers and teammates played by Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly is a definite plus.)
Runners-up: Chariots of Fire, The Jesse Owens Story, Prefontaine
The all-time best movie about martial arts is… Enter the Dragon (1973)
There are so many martial-arts movies — heck, there are so many Karate Kid movies — that picking a winner in this category was especially difficult. But it's hard to ignore the fists of fury that started it all. Bruce Lee kicked off the kung-fu craze in the U.S., and Enter the Dragon (released days after the star's death) is his most iconic film. Not only was the production selected for the National Film Registry, but the story features the classic mirror-room battle and other great island-of-evil combat sequences (including stunt work by Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan).
Runners-up: The Karate Kid, Shaolin Soccer, Mortal Kombat
The all-time best movie about cheerleading is… Bring It On (2000)
If you went to Peyton Reed's comedy just to see Kirsten Dunst in a cheerleader outfit, you may have been pleasantly surprised by the clever script and its portrayal of cheerleaders as dedicated, hard-working athletes. Sure, the franchise eventually went into sequel overkill, but the original did the spirit stick proud.
Runners-up: There aren't very many good cheerleading movies.
The all-time best movie about skateboarding is… The Lords of Dogtown (2005)
Before Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke directed this birth-of-skateboarding biopic (which shares more than a little DNA with the 1986 cult classic Thrashin' and the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys). Not only does the film capture the Zen bliss of rolling around empty swimming pools with your brahs, and the difficult intersection between lifestyle and career, but it also features one of Heath Ledger's finest performances as the gruff board designer Skip Engblom.
Runners-up: Thrashin', Dogtown and Z-Boys, Jackass
The all-time best movie about bobsledding is… Cool Runnings (1993)
This charming sleeper hit features all the traditional sports movie clichés — underdog misfits learning the value of teamwork, a cranky has-been coach searching for redemption — and makes them as fresh as the Wailing Souls cover of "Wild Wild Life" on the reggae-themed soundtrack. Credit the true-ish tale of Jamaica's unlikely pursuit of gold in the 1988 Winter Olympics and John Candy's last great onscreen role for a sports film as refreshing as a cool Alberta breeze.
Runners-up: I'm pretty sure Cool Runnings is the only movie about bobsledding. But I like it.
The all-time best movie about competitive gaming is… The King of Kong (2007)
There's usually nothing less interesting than watching other people play video games, but this documentary by director Seth Gordon gets you rooting for unemployed family man Steve Wiebe, a likeable sad sack seeking a tiny measure of personal fulfillment (and Guiness Book immortality) by racking up history's highest score on the world's hardest video game: Donkey Kong.
Runners-up: The Last Starfighter, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World