Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson in "Creed"

Best sports movies

Written by:
June 3, 2021
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Best sports movies

It's not hard to find the building blocks of narrative in sports competitions. With elements like personal sacrifice, exertion of physical limits, the glory of victory, and agony of defeat—not to mention nail-biting anticipation when the win is up for grabs—sports create some of the most emotional stories we see, whether we're watching them unfold from the grandstands or on a screen. But there have been plenty of great sports movies over the decades that go much deeper beyond wins, losses, and trophies, providing stories that explore poverty, mental health, and bucking generations of supposed norms.

Stacker compiled data on all feature-length sports movies to come up with a Stacker score—a weighted index split evenly between IMDb and Metacritic scores. To qualify, the film had to be listed as "sports" on IMDb, have a Metascore, and have at least 7,500 votes. Just like baseball, we have no ties here; ties were broken by Metascore and further ties were broken by IMDb votes.

Click through to find out why boxing movies are among the most dramatic in Hollywood, the small-time pool hustler who not once, but twice, became a hero of the blue-collar worker, and the Italian athlete who sacrificed it all for the sake of his family.

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1 / 25
Chartoff-Winkler Productions

#25. Rocky (1976)

- Director: John G. Avildsen
- Stacker score: 88.3
- Metascore: 70
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 120 minutes

The movie that made Sylvester Stallone a star, "Rocky" tells the story of Philadelphia boxer Rocky Balboa and his pursuit of the heavyweight championship. Rocky's rival in the film is Apollo Creed, but over the course of three sequels, the one-time enemies form a strong bond through mutual respect. In later movies, Rocky goes on to train Creed's son, played by Michael B. Jordan.

2 / 25
Cinema '84

#24. Hoosiers (1986)

- Director: David Anspaugh
- Stacker score: 88.3
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 114 minutes

In Indiana, basketball is life, and "Hoosiers" tells an underdog hoops story for the ages. Gene Hackman plays an embattled coach who lands in the small town of Hickory, and despite opposition from locals, goes on to lead the team toward the state title (the story was based on a team from Milan, Indiana). Along the way, the coach offers advice on familial relationships and helps local legend Jimmy Chitwood fall back in love with basketball.

3 / 25
Lionsgate

#23. Warrior (2011)

- Director: Gavin O'Connor
- Stacker score: 88.9
- Metascore: 71
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 140 minutes

Mixed martial arts became one of the most popular sports during the early 2000s, and "Warrior" is one of the first major Hollywood films about the combat sport. Tom Hardy appeared in great physical shape even before transforming into Bane for "The Dark Knight Rises," while co-star Nick Nolte earned an Oscar nomination for playing his father. The film was praised for its realistic fight scenes.

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4 / 25
Polygram Filmed Entertainment

#22. The Big Lebowski (1998)

- Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
- Stacker score: 88.9
- Metascore: 71
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 117 minutes

Dudes and bowling fans everywhere love "The Big Lebowski," a Coen brothers film chock full of crime, comedy, and strikes. Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, John Turturro, and Philip Seymour Hoffman are just a few of the stars of an ensemble cast, and the film was added to the National Film Registry in 2014 as a "highly quoted cult classic."

5 / 25
AI-Film

#21. I, Tonya (2017)

- Director: Craig Gillespie
- Stacker score: 88.9
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 119 minutes

Margot Robbie stars as Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in this biographical dark comedy-drama of one of the most villainized sports figures of the past century. The film recounts the lead up to the 1994 Winter Olympics and the attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan, but much of the story centers on Harding's rough upbringing and the domestic abuse she suffered from her longtime partner. Though hardly a sympathetic character, Allison Janney displays a sharp tongue and wit as Harding's mother, and won an Oscar for her performance.

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6 / 25
Exclusive Media Group

#20. Rush (2013)

- Director: Ron Howard
- Stacker score: 90.6
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 123 minutes

"Rush" retells the intense racing rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl star as the Formula One kingpins, who eventually develop a strong mutual admiration as they push each other to the limits. Some critics were more enthralled by the dialogue than the action-packed racing shots.

7 / 25
BRON Studios

#19. Waves (2019)

- Director: Trey Edward Shults
- Stacker score: 91.2
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 135 minutes

Without any knowledge of the film, the title may make you believe it's about surfing or water sports. But "Waves" is actually a gripping tale about an amateur wrestler who becomes engulfed by personal drama, drug use, and crime. The individual performances of breakout stars like Kelvin Harrison Jr. were particularly lauded by critics.

8 / 25
Columbia Pictures

#18. The Damned United (2009)

- Director: Tom Hooper
- Stacker score: 91.2
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 98 minutes

This soccer film recounts the turbulent 1970s of Leeds United, an English Premier League club with one of the most dedicated fan bases in Europe. The movie centers on manager Brian Clough, as he takes over a team he despised. As the club falls on hard times, both manager and team suffer in unforeseen ways.

9 / 25
Closest to the Hole Productions

#17. The Fighter (2010)

- Director: David O. Russell
- Stacker score: 91.8
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 116 minutes

Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is revered as one of the toughest brawlers in boxing history. Although "The Fighter" doesn't chronicle his knock-down, drag-out fights with Arturo Gatti, the film does capture his hard upbringing near Boston, particularly relating to his constant quarrels with his family. Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Amy Adams pack a punch as the supporting cast.

10 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#16. The Bad News Bears (1976)

- Director: Michael Ritchie
- Stacker score: 91.8
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 102 minutes

The Bad News Bears are your classic rag-tag team, who are able to find chemistry and push for a championship. But this baseball movie also provides a unique look at adult/mentee relationships, and how outcasts can form bonds together and reach success. A remake and two sequels couldn't match the feel of the original, which made stars of Jackie Earle Haley and Tatum O'Neal.

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11 / 25
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#15. Creed (2015)

- Director: Ryan Coogler
- Stacker score: 92.4
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 133 minutes

Almost 40 years since Rocky Balboa first appeared on movie screens, Sylvester Stallone reprised his role as the Philly fighter in "Creed," as a trainer to the son of Apollo Creed. Michael B. Jordan shined in the role as the younger Creed, even earning props from actor Carl Weathers, who played Apollo in previous "Rocky" installments.  

12 / 25
Omni Zoetrope

#14. The Black Stallion (1979)

- Director: Carroll Ballard
- Stacker score: 92.4
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 118 minutes

Based on the beloved children's book, "The Black Stallion" crafts a story around a shipwrecked boy, Alec Ramsey, who trains a stallion on a deserted island. Once back on the mainland, the horse enters races with Ramsey as its jockey. The film spurred the creation of sequels and several TV spin-offs.

13 / 25
Jafar Panahi Film Productions

#13. Offside (2006)

- Director: Jafar Panahi
- Stacker score: 92.4
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 93 minutes

"Offside" tells the story of a group of women who want to watch a soccer match, but are prevented entry to the stadium due to Iranian laws banning women in stadiums. Upon its release, the film was revered around the globe, but banned in Iran. Thirteen years after the film's release, women were finally allowed to attend soccer games in Iran.

14 / 25
Wild Bunch

#12. The Wrestler (2008)

- Director: Darren Aronofsky
- Stacker score: 93
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 109 minutes

Mickey Rourke laced up his boots as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in this touching film about professional wrestling. Robinson is a former star who's fallen on hard times—a path many real-life wrestlers could relate to. The film launched a comeback for Rourke, and he even appeared at Wrestlemania. He was originally planned to wrestle, but settled for a cameo run-in, punching out the villainous Chris Jericho.

15 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#11. Horse Feathers (1932)

- Director: Norman Z. McLeod
- Stacker score: 93
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 68 minutes

The Marx brothers try their hand at college football in this black and white comedy, replete with leather helmets and long-sleeve uniforms. A crucial moment in the season depends on the Marx brothers pulling off a hidden-ball trick play, whereby victory—and hilarity—ensues.

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16 / 25
Columbia Pictures

#10. Fat City (1972)

- Director: John Huston
- Stacker score: 94.2
- Metascore: 88
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 96 minutes

Legendary director John Huston tried his hand at a boxing film, and scored a knockout with this tale of an aging former champion developing a rivalry with an up-and-comer. Jeff Bridges had a breakout role and the film is still praised for its realistic and bleak look at prizefighting.

17 / 25
Chernin Entertainment

#9. Ford v Ferrari (2019)

- Director: James Mangold
- Stacker score: 94.7
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 152 minutes

For decades, Italian cars dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans—"Ford v Ferrari" dramatizes how American auto-builders sought to end the reign leading up to the 1966 race. Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in realistic race scenes, and the film won several accolades for sound and sound editing, including the Academy Award.

18 / 25
Columbia Pictures

#8. Moneyball (2011)

- Director: Bennett Miller
- Stacker score: 95.3
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 133 minutes

Based on a book by Michael Lewis, "Moneyball" went through several delays before hitting theaters with Brad Pitt in the starring role, and Jonah Hill delivering a home run performance as his front office sidekick. The film is based on the Oakland A's and their troubles competing with free-spending teams in the early 2000s. General manager Billy Beane (Pitt) utilized analytics to build a team focused on getting on-base and scoring runs, and not consumed with batting average and stealing bases. One added benefit that greatly helped the A's (but was not featured in the movie) was the pitching performance by a talented young staff, led by Barry Zito.

19 / 25
Mirage Enterprises

#7. Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

- Director: Steven Zaillian
- Stacker score: 95.3
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 109 minutes

Prodigy chess player Joshua Waitzkin is the centerpiece of this film that starred Laurence Fishburne and Joe Mantegna (Max Pomeranc plays the young chess star). Waltzkin learns the game from chess players in New York City's Washington Square Park, and rises as a budding talent on the national scene. The movie's title refers to Bobby Fischer, the American grandmaster who took the chess world by storm at age 13.

20 / 25
Aamir Khan Productions

#6. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

- Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
- Stacker score: 96.5
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 224 minutes

The future of a small Indian village hinges on the outcome of a cricket match in this high-stakes film. Director Ashutosh Gowariker was a popular Indian actor during the 1980s and '90s, but through much of the early 2000s, he devoted his time to being behind the camera. Gowariker directed other hits in India like "Jodhaa Akbar" and "Swades," and "Lagaan" was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.

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21 / 25
Titanus

#5. Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

- Director: Luchino Visconti
- Stacker score: 97.7
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 179 minutes

An Italian migrant begrudgingly continues a boxing career to provide for his family in this Italian classic. The film has often been compared to "The Grapes of Wrath" for its portrayal of a hard-luck family trying to scrape by.

22 / 25
Warner Bros.

#4. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

- Director: Clint Eastwood
- Stacker score: 97.7
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 132 minutes

Boxing movies often equate to box office gold, but few films before "Million Dollar Baby" centered its focus on a female pugilist. Hilary Swank plays a prodigal fighter who catches the eye of an aged trainer, and they reach the top ranks of the women's boxing world. However, an in-ring injury causes a tragic turn, and the relationship between Swank and her biological and boxing families becomes the main event.

23 / 25
Twentieth Century Fox

#3. Breaking Away (1979)

- Director: Peter Yates
- Stacker score: 98.2
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 101 minutes

There are countless American films about coming of age in the years between high school and college, but "Breaking Away" added a unique twist, centering on a teen obsessed with cycling. A group of friends get to show their mettle against a pro racing team from Italy, and a love story between the protagonist (played by Dennis Christopher) and a local college student adds more intrigue.

24 / 25
Rossen Films

#2. The Hustler (1961)

- Director: Robert Rossen
- Stacker score: 99.4
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 134 minutes

Paul Newman stars as "Fast" Eddie Felson opposite Jackie Gleason in this tale of a small-time pool player looking to make it big. Twenty-five years later, Newman reprised his role in "The Color of Money," this time starring alongside Tom Cruise. Both films have been credited with increasing the popularity of pool.

25 / 25
Chartoff-Winkler Productions

#1. Raging Bull (1980)

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Stacker score: 100
- Metascore: 89
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 129 minutes

"Raging Bull" is based on the memoir of champion Jake LaMotta, who had over 100 professional fights. Robert De Niro stars as LaMotta, who fights opponents in the ring and personal demons outside of the ropes. De Niro's performance earned him an Academy Award, and the film continually earns top spots on film lists, including the #1 spot on AFI's top sports movies of all time.

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