The new film 42 tells the life story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player to play in Major League Baseball, and how his incredible athleticism, consummate professionalism, and character helped change perceptions of race in America, and contributed to the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.
So far, reviews for the film are good, praising Chadwick Boseman’s performance as the iconic Robinson and Harrison Ford’s supporting role as Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager Branch Rickey. (Check out Screen Rant’s review of 42.)
In honor of the release of 42, Screen Rant decided to highlight 10 other inspirational sports movies. Check them out and see if you agree with our list.
Rudy, starring Sean Astin, tells the story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, an average kid who dreams of playing football for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame University. Based on true events, the film is an amazing underdog story that never fails to bring a tear to my eye.
Despite all of the obstacles in his way – no money, bad grades, limited athleticism – Rudy never gives up on his dream and works his butt off to make it on the team. By the end of the movie, when the players are hoisting Rudy on their shoulders and the crowd is chanting his name, you can’t help but smile (even if the real Rudy story was far less dramatic.)
While the Ultimate Fighting Championship has been around for 20 years, mixed martial arts is still a comparatively new sport. But that doesn’t mean that MMA doesn’t boast its own inspirational movie.
Warrior, starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as estranged brothers who compete against each other in a major MMA tournament, was a huge hit with critics in 2011. The film combined believable and sympathetic characters, terrific fight sequences, and top-notch acting to tell an inspiring story of redemption and the bonds of family. Plus, it taught millions of people the strategic value of a rear naked choke.
Disney’s Remember The Titans is another “based on a true story” film, which tells the story of one coach’s struggle to integrate a high school football team in the early 1970s.
Many critics felt that the film had a simplistic take on resolving racial tensions, and the movie trumps-up what actually happened for maximum dramatic effect, but mainstream audiences loved Remember The Titans and it’s considered a modern sports classic. Plus, it’s got Denzel Washington, and who doesn’t like Denzel?
Since it’s release in 1984, The Karate Kid has become an integral part of pop culture. (Who among us hasn’t stood on top of a post and tried to do a crane kick?) But what’s really great about The Karate Kid is that it’s actually a really, really good movie.
For those unlucky few who haven’t seen The Karate Kid, the movie tells the story of Daniel LaRusso, a teenager who is uprooted from his home in New Jersey and moved across the country to Los Angeles. Once there, he becomes the victim of a gang of bullies, who are experts in karate. Fortunately, Daniel becomes friends with his apartment complex’s handyman, Mr. Miyagi, who teaches him not only how to defend himself, but also how to live honorably.
It’s an inspiring film that checks off more than a few sports movie cliches, but doesn’t suffer because of it thanks to strong acting, interesting characters, and great writing. While the remake was a success in its own right – there’s just nothing quite like the original. Crane-kick FTW!
The only documentary film on our list, Hoop Dreams tells the story of two African-American teenagers – William Gates and Arthur Agee – who leave their rough Chicago neighborhoods to play basketball at a suburban prep school, with the hope of someday becoming NBA stars.
One of the reasons that Hoop Dreams is routinely hailed as one of the greatest documentaries of all time, and one of the best sports movies ever, is because the filmmakers did such such an amazing job of capturing these boys’ lives. Over the movie’s three-hour run time, you get to know Gates and Agee on an almost personal level.
When they’re treated unfairly by their school’s financial aid department, you want to stand up and shout. When Agee’s addict father steps off the basketball court to buy drugs in plain view of his son, you want to cry. Hoop Dreams doesn’t offer a happy Hollywood ending, but it’s real and challenging, and that’s what why it’s on our list.
The Pride of the Yankees is the inspiring story of legendary New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, whose career was tragically cut short when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a disease so uncommon that it would go on to be known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Gehrig, played in the film by Gary Cooper, died just a year before the release of the movie, so he was still very much in the public consciousness. When the movie came out, it’s hard to imagine there was a dry eye in the house when Cooper uttered Gehrig’s famous farewell speech at Yankees Stadium.
Come to think of it, it’s a little hard not to choke up just thinking about Gehrig’s speech. Any man that can face what Gehrig was facing and earnestly tell the world, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth,” deserves a spot on our inspirational movies list.
Miracle tells the inspirational story of the U.S. Men’s Hockey team’s underdog victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics. The movie, starring Kurt Russel as USA head coach Herb Brooks, is notable because it captures one of the most famous events in sports history from the perspective of the men who lived it.
Like Remember the Titans, Miracle treads on very cliched territory, but manages to elevate itself through strong performances and restrained directing from Gavin O’Connor (who also directed another movie on our list, Warrior).
If you talk to people who were alive during the 1980 Olympics, you will hear how big of a deal this game was. The fact that Miracle captures the drama of that time so well definitely earns it a spot on the list.
The Natural tells the fictional story of Roy Hobbs, a great “natural” baseball player whose career is limited by a series of setbacks and mistakes. As Hobbs, Robert Redford gives an outstanding performance, showing that, while life is often unfair, we have the power within us to shape our own destiny.
If anything, The Natural makes the list simply because of its very last scene. You know the one: when Hobbs knocks a game-winning home run into the stadium lights and rounds the bases while sparks rain down on him. It’s one of the most famous scenes in movie history, and it’s also one of the most inspiring sports movie moments ever.
Hoosiers, which is loosely based on a true story, tells the inspirational story of how a small-town Indiana high school basketball team was able to overcome the odds and defeat a much better big city team for the state championship.
As Coach Norman Dale, Gene Hackman gives a terrific performance and his motivational speech before the regional finals is fondly remembered as one of the most inspirational moments in sports movie history. It’s simple, honest, and delivered with passion, mirroring the things that make the movie so great.
“If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners!” Who can’t get behind that?
Last, but certainly not least, we have Rocky. Perhaps the greatest sports movie of all time, Rocky is the Academy Award-winning underdog story of Rocky Balboa, a wannabe prizefighter who gets a one-in-a-million shot to compete for the heavyweight title and goes toe-to-toe with the champ.
While many would argue that Rocky should never have won Best Picture over Taxi Driver, there’s no denying how much of an impact that Rocky has had on our culture. Even the making of the movie is inspirational. Sylvester Stallone regularly rejected huge offers for this script just so that he could star in the movie. The film went on to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards and was the highest-grossing movie of 1976. A true-life underdog story about an underdog movie? It doesn’t get much more inspirational than that.
Those are our 10 choices for the most inspirational sports movies of all time, but I’m sure that you’ve got some great picks too.
Let us know which movies you think should have made the list in the comments. (Special note to all you Field of Dreams fans: this was the most inspirational sports movies, not the best sports movies. Please don’t yell at me too much.)
42 is now in theaters. Be sure to Read our Review.