13 Must-Watch Sports Films

Gursimran Hans
10 min readJul 14, 2020

Billions of people around the world love watching films of all kinds of genres. Films about sports or sportsmen and women are often hailed as classics. In this article, I look at 13 sport-related films which you should watch if you get the chance. This article does not include documentaries but does include docudramas.

Rocky (1976)

A working-class boxer who is a debt collector in Philadelphia, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), suddenly gets a chance to take on world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) after his opponent injures his hand and all potential replacements are unavailable.

The film was a sleeper hit as it documents the David v Goliath title fight between Balboa and Creed as the former trains hard to take on the champion. The film was something of a breakout hit for Stallone, who was even inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011 alongside Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez.

The film has spawned seven sequels, with Stallone returning in all of them.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Chariots of Fire is based on the true story of two athletes, Eric Lidell (Ian Charleson, pictured above in real life) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

Liddell pulls out of the 100m due to his religious beliefs, as it takes place on a Sunday, the son of Scottish missionaries in China, he runs inspired by his religious beliefs. Abrahams, who is Jewish, runs to overcome prejudice, having received anti-semitic abuse during his time at the University of Cambridge.

The film takes some historical license with real-life events, but the simplicity of the story of two athletes competing for their country at the Olympics, full of hope and desire whilst pushed on by a now-famous electronic theme song makes this a gripping and awe-inspiring tale.

The Karate Kid (1984)

There is a difference between sport karate and self-defence karate but The Karate Kid features the All-Valley Karate Championship. Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his mother Lucille (Randee Heller) move from Newark to Los Angeles. There, Daniel meets Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue), but is picked on by her ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), in one attempt at her savage beating, Daniel is saved by Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita, pictured above), who declines to teach him karate, but takes him to a dojo, where John Kreese (Martin Kove) advises him to compete in the championship.

The story of Daniel training hard to beat Jonny is unpredictable and the on-screen chemistry between Daniel and Mr Miyagi pushes on the film.

It is a film that is both exciting and genuinely heartwarming.

Eight Men Out (1988)

Eight Men Out is a fictional retelling of the Chicago Black Sox scandal to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

The historic rationale presented for the players agreeing to the fix is that team owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James) was underpaying them. Some baseball historians have questioned whether the players were paid less than those in other teams, but pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn) was on a salary of $6,000 with a bonus of $10,000 if he won 30 games in the regular season, Cicotte was rested for the final two weeks, legend has it Comiskey ordered manager Kid Gleeson (John Mahoney) to do so to prevent paying the bonus under the guise it would keep the 35-year-old fit for the series.

The film deals with complex issues as eight players in the squad, which is divided under cliquey lines conspire with moss boss Arnold Rothstein (played by Michael Lerner and the inspiration for Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby), Bill Burns (Christopher Lloyd) and Billy Maharg (Richard Edson) to throw the game. Shortstop Swede Risberg (Don Harvey) is the muscle of the players in the scandal, led by Chick Gandil (Michael Rooker). Over the years, controversy has emerged over the roles of two players, Buck Weaver (John Cusak) and Shoeless Joe Jackson (DB Sweeney), whose stats suggest they were not trying to throw the series, some sources believe in real-life Jackson, who was teased by members of the squared for his inability to read, tried to tell Comiskey about the fix, but the owner would not meet him. This film gives a sympathetic view of both men. It is perhaps one of the greatest sports films of all time as it attempts to deal with complex issues, which over a century on baseball fans still debate.

The Waterboy (1998)

Bobby Boucher Junior (Adam Sandler) is the titular socially inept waterboy of the University of Louisiana's American Football team. The players constantly bully him resulted in being sacked by coach Red Beaulieu (Jerry Reed) for being disruptive after 18 years.

He approaches Coach Klein (Henry Winkler) of the South Central Louisiana State University Mud Dogs and is given a job as their waterboy. The team has lost their last 40 games, their cheerleaders are alcoholics and the team has a very small budget.

Klein encourages Bobby to stand up for himself and it transpires he could actually do a job as a quarterback, but first, they must convince his mother (Kathy Bates), while Bobby also rekindles his romance with childhood sweetheart Vicki Vallencourt (Fairuza Balk), as the Mud Dogs attempt to stop their losing streak and Bobby attempts to recover his self-belief and convince his mother to let him play for the Mud Dogs.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) competes as an avid bowler, however, a case of mistaken identity sees Lebowski tasked with securing the release of a millionaire's wife, whilst his friend Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), attempts to steal the ransom money.

The film had mixed reviews when it first hit the screen but has since become somewhat of a cult classic, with sharp dialogue and great performances from Bridges and Goodman. The film is beautifully absurd.

Jeffrey’s nickname is The Dude and his philosophy and lifestyle have led to the concoction of Dudeism, inspired by the protagonist.

Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Sing (Stephen Chow, pictured) is a Shaolin monk, who reunites with his brothers to use their kung fu strength to play football and bring shaolin kung fu back to the masses.

Chow also directs the film, which is quite frankly absurd. Sing using his kung fu training powered legs to fire hard shots is rather surreal, but that just adds to the beauty of the film.

The team enter a cup competition in Hong Kong, where the favourites are Team Evil, who have also been given superhuman powers through being injected by a drug.

The brothers use their superhuman kung fu abilities throughout the tournament, while Sing also has a love interest, Mui (Zhao Wei), she uses tai chi to bake steamed buns, but disappears after revealing her feelings only to be told Sing just wants to be friends.

It’s a rather absurd film, but one which is downright hilarious and enjoyable to watch.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Jesminder Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) is an 18-year-old British Sikh living in Hounslow, she’s talented at football and David Beckham is her favourite footballer, despite some misogynistic comments from males like “can you chest it like him?” and opposition from her socially conservative family to her playing at all.

Jules Paxton (Kiera Knightley), who is of the same age but from a white English family discovers her undoubted skills in the park and encourages her to try out for the Hounslow Harriers, and Jess, as she is referred to, eventually develops an attraction to her coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) but she tells him her family is happy for her to play.

The film is a genuine feel-good movie that provides a comprehensive commentary of various social issues in the time allowed. It is downright hilarious with humour which is easy to understand.

Miracle (2004)

The 1980 Winter Olympics clash between the USSR and the USA has been dubbed the Miracle on Ice.

In the medal round game, the USSR went into the game in Lake Placid having won the gold medal in the last four Olympics and in five of the last six. The US team had the youngest squad in the competition, with no NHL players, most of the players were still playing at college level, with only four having any professional experience.

Miracle tells the story of the events with Kurt Russell producing a steller performance as coach Herb Brooks, and whilst the fight between defenceman Jack O’Callahan (Michael Matanuto) and forward Rob McClanahan (Nathan West) has been dismissed by the former as fictional, O’ Callahan praised the overall accuracy of the film, a brilliantly moving motion picture.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)

Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) owns Average Joe’s Gymnasium, which defaults on mortgage payments and is bought by White Goodman (Ben Stiller) who owns the much larger Globo Gym and gives Peter thirty days to get $50,000 else he will demolish Average Joe’s and build parking space.

A group of gym users then enter a Las Vegas dodgeball tournament in an attempt to beat the ‘evil empire’ and save the gym.

It is a great film, rather satirical in the testosterone-fuelled hatred White shows to Peter, which makes it an entertaining watch as Peter tries to save his gym.

Goal II: Living the Dream (2007)

After leading Newcastle United to the Champions League in the original film, Mexican footballer Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) signs for Real Madrid, one of the biggest clubs in world footballer, lining alongside some legendary world-class players.

His girlfriend Roz Harrison (Anna Frei) stays behind to complete her nurse training and Santi struggles a bit to respond to the higher pressure of playing at the Bernabeu and the added attention that brings.

The film is quite fantastic with a gripping take on the challenges of playing football for such a huge club, pushed forward with brilliant football scenes and a great soundtrack.

Invictus (2009)

In the 1995 World Cup, South Africa had only just returned to the international sport following the dismantling of apartheid but hosting the tournament, they were given automatic entry.

In a friendly game, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) notes some black South Africans are routing for England, as the rugby team still represents prejudice to many. Though integrated, there are doubts rugby can help unite the country but Mandela and captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) stand firmly in a belief the sport and a successful tournament can help unite the country.

Brilliantly directed by Clint Eastwood, Invictus shows is an emotional tale pushed forward by sensational acting from Freeman and Damon. The best thing about this film is that it is based on a true-life story.

I, Tonya (2017)

I, Tonya is a black comedy on the life of figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) and her connection to the 1994 attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), who was bludgeoned in her lower right thigh at Detroit’s Cobo Arena. Harding has denied knowledge of the attack but her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and his friend Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser) who hired Shane Start (Ricky Russert) to carry out the attack dispute his.

Journalists who covered the event criticised the film for not being entirely truthful and too sympathetic to Harding. Kerrigan has since said in an interview, however, her only role in the scandal was recovering from her injuries and she wasn’t bothered by Hollywood’s portrayal of Harding as it wasn’t her business. At the beginning of the film, it is acknowledged it is based on “contradictory” and “true” interviews from Harding and Gillooly, and the film follows a mockumentary style throughout.

Despite the questions over accuracy, it is a good film, which finds humour in the incident but acknowledges the tragic nature of the attack on Kerrigan. The story is fuelled by emotion and jealously. Some critics have accused the film of being disrespectful to Harding’s working-class background, but Alison Janny’s portrayal as Harding’s mother is exemplary. LaVona messes with her daughter’s mind intent on making her a champion, the film looks at several different strands which made the overall story.