There is a wannabe athlete living inside all of us. Beyond the valour of the battlefield, success in the athletic arena is often the most lauded facet of human accomplishment. While many have experienced some form of junior varsity victory, most of us will never know the thrill of winning on the global stage.
Thanks to film, however, we can get a taste of the spotlight. For those moments when you want to see the underdog win, we here at Screen Rant have taken it upon ourselves to present you with The 10 Best Sports Movies on Netflix:
10 The Hustler (1961)
This isn’t just one of the best films on Netflix. It’s one of the best films of all time. Starring the holy triumvirate of Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott, The Hustler plumbs the depths of humanity in dingy, smoke-filled pool halls. Made in 1961, director Robert Rossen’s film is a relentless and brooding look inside the heart of man.
It is one of the most honest and serious films of its time, as Eddie Felson (Newman) looks for redemption on billiards tables, but finds himself stuck on the bottle and beholden to his own arrogance. Its portrayal of cue ball competition is intense, but it’s the drama between Eddie and Sarah (Piper Laurie) that carries the heart of the film.
When you watch The Hustler, you’re signing up for an emotional journey that offers bounteous rewards, but only after you take several punches to the gut.
9 Rocky (1976)
When discussing the best boxing film of all time, it’s a toss-up between Raging Bull and Rocky. Yet only one of them tells a tale of triumph.
Made on a shoestring budget of $1 million and shot in a speedy 28 days, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky rattled Hollywood with its uplifting story of an unassuming man’s meteoric rise to victory. The movie’s hallmark moments of athletic accomplishment are the stuff of lore, with Rocky Balboa’s training scene becoming one of the most imitated montages in the business.
What is left to say about Rocky, the film that spawned a handful of sequels and the recent Creed spinoff, which has breathed new life into the franchise? Simply put, we love watching people go the distance, and whenever you watch Rocky, you feel like a million bucks. It’s probably the best money United Artists ever spent.
8 Days of Thunder (1990)
There’s no denying that director Tony Scott established Tom Cruise as an action hero. Top Gun made him a master of the skies and a household name. So when producers Mega-machismo producer Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer pulled together the same team for Days of Thunder, the NASCAR-set racing film, and gave Cruise another opportunity to cement his daredevil status. To be clear, this is not a Kubrick-classic, or a venerable drama of any kind. It’s a smash mouth male fantasy of unbridled ego that makes Top Gun's Maverick look meek.
As Cole Trickle, Tom Cruise redefines “cocksure,” walking and driving with a swagger that embodies the zeitgeist of the late '80s and early '90s. If you’re feeling the need for speed, check out Days of Thunder.
7 Goon (2011)
Ice hockey is violent, and Goon takes full advantage of the gladiators on skates while imbuing some comedy and heart in the process. Written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, Goon has gone from relatively obscure Canadian gem to cult classic in a few short years, thanks to quotes like: “Two rules, man: Stay away from my f*****n’ percocets and do you have any f****n’ percocets, man?”
With an all-star comedy cast that’s one part American Pie (Seann William Scott, Eugene Levy) and another Broadway (Liev Schreiber, Alison Pill), the balance of laughs, heart and violence in the film makes for a compelling combination. Watching Stifler’s face become a human hockey net may be brutal, but it’s undeniably memorable. Be sure to check it out on Netflix before Goon: Last of the Enforcers hits theatres.
6 Brian’s Song (1971)
It’s not often that made-for-TV movies get promoted to the big leagues. Going from the smalltime gridiron to full-on cinema distribution, Brian’s Song is the exception. It’s that good. At a brisk 74 minutes, the movie’s brevity mirrors the true-life story of its star, Bears running back Brian Piccolo (James Caan).
Told from the perspective of his best friend and Chicago teammate, Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), Brian’s Song is a story about friendship and courage in the face of cancer. The Sayers/Piccolo bromance started on the field of play with a healthy mixture of competition and respect. When Piccolo is diagnosed with the debilitating disease, his bond with Sayers grows stronger.
Brian’s Song shows the capacity for sports as a unifier between people of all races and creeds. It’s a memorable, man-cry kind of film that will take a piece out of you.
5 Take Me Out To The Ballgame (1949)
In the mood for Frank Sinatra, baseball and a mafia movie? Look no further than the vintage classic Take Me Out To The Ballgame. Set in 1908, the year the anthemic “crackerjack “song was released, the Busby Berkeley-directed film tells the story of legendary (and fictional) baseball team the Wolves. Its two star players, Eddie O’Brien (Gene Kelly) and Dennis Ryan (Frank Sinatra) are more than your usual Louisville slugger. They’re covert vaudevillians who fill their artistic void off the field with song and dance.
All is well for the Wolves until new management arrives in the form of a lady, Katherine Catherine Higgins (played by Esther Williams). This presents a problem for the men who, despite their protestations, become increasingly attracted to their new boss. As Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra duke it out for their ladylove, passions flare on and off the field. Add this to your Netflix queue for a vintage Thursday throwback.
4 A League of Their Own (1992)
Penny Marshall’s baseball comedy inverts the genre by focusing on an all-female team. With Tom Hanks as the boozing and boorish manager, Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own packs in a lot of laughs. The action on the field is exciting, but it's Dugan’s relationship with Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) that leaves the strongest impression. They’re competitive with each other, but also respectful (at least, after Dugan sobers up).
Most enjoyable of all is Tom Hanks’ attempt at translating his frustration with his players’ underperformance. He quickly learns that managing requires more sensitivity than he remembered during his days playing for the Chicago Cubs. His scenes with Kit Keller (Lori Petty) are particularly funny. If you haven’t already seen it, A League of their Own is a comedy of errors worth watching.
3 Major League (1989)
“Every time we win, we peel a section.” This is the motivation for the Cleveland Indians’ winning streak: steadily removing stickers to reveal a pinup girl’s full glory. When it comes to baseball movies like Moneyball or Bull Durham, it can be hard to capture the balance between the drama, comedy and the sports sequences. This is where Major League excels.
With its consistently comical cast of Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes and James Gammon, there’s no shortage of laughs. The characters are all fully imagined and well executed by the cast. In addition to the comedy, the film exceeds expectations with its camerawork on the field, offering a series of thrilling sequences that makes the most out of baseball drama.
Netflix is lucky to have Major League in its bullpen.
2 Ping Pong Playa (2007)
What happens when you take a star Asian-American basketball player and give him a table tennis paddle? Absolute street-ball, smack-talking ping pong. Written and directed by Jessica Yu, Ping Pong Playa centers on Christopher “C-dub” Wang, who has adopted a persona that expands far beyond his family’s cultural tendencies.
He may be Asian American, but he’s as faux-gangsta as they come. Think Ken Jeong in The Hangover, but of the Jeremy Lin order. While he’s after superstardom in the NBA, C-dub can’t quite make the cut. After a freak family accident that puts the family ping-pong business in jeopardy, C-dub picks up the paddle with an eye on winning the National Golden Cock Tournament. If you liked Dodgeball, give Ping Pong Playa a go. It’s a ridiculous, but entertaining flick.
1 Varsity Blues (1999)
High school football is a key ingredient in the Texas educational experience. Quarterbacks are demigods and Friday nights are the highlight of the week. Indeed, Friday Night Lights is a mainstay of Netflix TV shows, but if you don’t have time to cycle through all those episodes with Coach Taylor, Varsity Blues should do the trick.
With James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight and Paul Walker in tow, this football flick gets a lot of things right. Sure, the film relies on the cliché of a second-string quarterback replacing the first, but the performances have a lot of sincerity and help to carry the film. Jon Voight makes for a turgid head coach, and Van Der Beek’s enthusiasm provides the proper foil. There’s only so many '90s teen flicks to go around, and with Varsity Blues, you get all of the high school drama plus some gridiron madness. Check it out.
There you have it! Have a favorite sports movie on Netflix? Let us know in the comments below!