The 50 best sports movies of all time, according to critics

Photo courtesy of Kartemquin FilmsArthur Agee is one of the stars of ‘Hoop Dreams,’ the greatest sports movie of all time according to critics.

At the heart of great sports is usually great drama. So, it’s no surprise that Hollywood has frequently mined the arena of sports for storytelling inspiration.

Every sports fan has their favourite film depictions of athletic feats, but we decided to see what critics think are the best sports movies of all time.

The movies below are ranked according to their critic scores on Metacritic, however, in each slide, we also included the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score and Rotten Tomatoes consensus. In the cases where two or more films had the same Metacritic score, the movies were ranked in order of the number of reviews. Furthermore, four films were omitted from this list because they had less than ten reviews, which felt like too small of a sample size to give an accurate representation of critical opinions on the film.

Among the notable movies to miss the cut is “Rocky” (69 on Metacritic), “Field of Dreams” (57) and “Bull Durham” (73). Still, some all-timers of the genre like “Hoosiers” managed to make the list, as well as modern classics like “Creed” and unimpeachable masterpieces like “Raging Bull” and “Hoop Dreams.”


50 — The Heart of the Game

Metacritic Score: 74(26 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
87%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “This group of high school girls and their eccentric basketball coach easily win your heart with their unusual humanity and dynamism.”

Summary: A documentary following a girls High School basketball team.


49 — The Hurricane

Metacritic Score: 74 (30 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
83%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Thanks in large part to one of Denzel Washington’s most powerful on-screen performances, ‘The Hurricane’ is a moving, inspirational sports drama, even if it takes few risks in telling its story.”

Summary: A biopic of the boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, who was wrongfully imprisoned for murder.


48 — Invictus

Metacritic Score: 74 (34 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
7
6%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Delivered with typically stately precision from director Clint Eastwood, ‘Invictus’ may not be rousing enough for some viewers, but Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman inhabit their real-life characters with admirable conviction.”

Summary: A recently-elected Nelson Mandela asks the captain of the South African rugby team to win the World Cup to inspire and unite a country still reeling from apartheid.


47 — Ballplayer: Pelotoro

Metacritic Score: 75 (12 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
88%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Gripping and surprisingly nuanced, ‘Ballplayer: Pelotero’ is a frank exploration of the nature of corruption in baseball recruitment.”

Summary: A documentary following two young baseball players from the Dominican Republic as they attempt to navigate the complex, and corrupt, path to the Major Leagues.


46 — The Boxer (1997)

Metacritic Score: 75 (19 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
80%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘The Boxer’ is a standard drama that packs a true emotional wallop thanks to the highly tuned central performances.”

Summary: Daniel Day-Lewis portrays an Irish boxer recently released from prison, who gets caught up in a relationship with an old flame as well as complex IRA politics.


45 — The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

Metacritic Score: 75(24 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
97%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg’ is an affectionate, often very funny portrait of a baseball pioneer.”

Summary: A documentary about Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Greenberg, who was a trailblazer for Jewish athletes in professional sports.


44 — Rush

Metacritic Score:75 (43 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
88%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “A sleek, slick, well-oiled machine, ‘Rush’ is a finely crafted sports drama with exhilarating race sequences and strong performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl.”

Summary: Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl player rival Formula 1 race car drivers during the 19 70s.


43 — Bobby Fischer Against The World

Metacritic Score: 76(12 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
87%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: None

Summary: A documentary about the enigmatic chess phenomenon Bobby Fischer.


42 — Hoosiers

Metacritic Score: 76 (13 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
88%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “It may adhere to the sports underdog formula, but ‘Hoosiers’ has been made with such loving craft, and features such excellent performances, that it’s hard to resist.”

Summary: The quintessential sports underdog story, Gene Hackman plays a disgraced basketball coach who attempts to lead a small-town Indiana basketball team to the state title.


41 — Happy Valley

Metacritic Score: 76 (15 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
89%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Sober, even-handed, and quietly devastating, ‘Happy Valley’ illuminates the wreckage of a tragedy while leaving viewers room to draw their own conclusions.”

Summary: A documentary covering the infamous Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal at Penn State University, and its ensuing fallout.


40 — Dogtown and Z-Boys

Metacritic Score: 76(27 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
92%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘Dogtown and Z-Boys’ is a colourful, exhilarating look at the skateboarding subculture.”

Summary: A documentary about a group of skateboarders in Southern California in the 1970s who would go on to have an enormous influence on skateboarding and skateboarding culture.


39 — China Heavyweight

Metacritic Score: 77 (11 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
82%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: No consensus

Summary: Peasant teenagers from central China train in an effort to become professional boxers.


38 — Meru

Metacritic Score: 77 (16 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
90%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Gripping visually as well as narratively, ‘Meru’ is the rare documentary that proves thought-provoking while offering thrilling wide-screen vistas.”

Summary: A documentary following three lifelong friends as they attempt one of the most daunting mountain climbs in the world, the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru.


37 — The Colour of Money

Metacritic Score:77 (17 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
89%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “That it’s inferior to the original* goes without saying, but Paul Newman and Tom Cruise are a joy to watch, and Martin Scorsese’s direction is typically superb.”

Summary: Paul Newman reprises his iconic role as pool hustler “Fast Eddie” Felson, this time taking a young pool player portrayed by Tom Cruise under his wing to teach the art of pool hustling.

*Editor’s note: the original this was referring to is the Paul Newman film,”The Hustler,” which does not have a Metacritic entry, but does have a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%.


36 — Jerry Maguire

Metacritic Score: 77 (28 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
83%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Anchored by dazzling performances from Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Renée Zellweger, as well as Cameron Crowe’s tender direction, ‘Jerry Maguire’ meshes romance and sports with panache.”

Summary: Tom Cruise plays a big-time sports agent attempting to manage his star client’s (Cuba Gooding Jr.) career as well as a budding relationship with Renee Zellweger’s character.


35 — I, Tonya

Metacritic Score: 77 (46 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
90%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Led by strong work from Margot Robbie and Alison Janney, ‘I, Tonya’ finds the humour in its real-life story without losing sight of its more tragic — and emotionally resonant — elements.”

Summary: This biopic tells the life story of Tonya Harding, the Olympic figure skater perhaps best known for being accused of her involvement in a brutal attack on skating rival Nancy Kerrigan.


34 — Racing Dreams

Metacritic Score: 78 (10 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
100%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: None

Summary: A documentary about three children who aspire to be race-car drivers.


33 — Chariots of Fire

Metacritic Score: 78 (19 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
83%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Decidedly slower and less limber than the Olympic runners at the center of its story, the film nevertheless manages to make effectively stirring use of its spiritual and patriotic themes.”

Summary: The story of two British track athletes from different faiths competing at the 1924 Olympics.


32 — The Crash Reel

Metacritic Score: 79 (15 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
96%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Smart, compassionate, and moving, ‘The Crash Reel’ uses the familiar sport-doc formula to subvert expectations and ask challenging questions about ambition and achievement.”

Summary: A documentary about Kevin Pearce, a one-time rising star in snowboarding, until he suffers a brutal crash which leaves him with traumatic brain injury and forces him to confront the reality of never riding again.


31 — Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

Metacritic Score: 79(17 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
92%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: None

Summary: A documentary about the 1968 football game between Harvard and Yale in which Harvard came from behind to tie with a heavily favoured Yale team at the last minute.


30 — Senna

Metacritic Score: 79 (30 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
92%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Even for filmgoers who aren’t racing fans, ‘Senna’ offers heart-pounding thrills — and heartbreaking emotion.”

Summary: A documentary about the life of Ayrton Senna, a three-time Formula One world champion who later died tragically in a crash during a race.


29 — The Fighter

Metacritic Score: 79 (41 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
90%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Led by a trio of captivating performances from Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams, ‘The Fighter’ is a solidly entertaining, albeit predictable, entry in the boxing drama genre.”

Summary: Mark Wahlberg plays real-life Boston boxer Mickey Ward, while Christian Bale portrays Ward’s older half-brother and trainer Di cky Ecklund, a crack cocaine addict and former boxer himself.


28 — North Dallas Forty

Metacritic Score: 80 (10 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
87%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Muddled overall, but perceptive and brutally realistic, ‘North Dallas Forty’ also benefits from strong performances by Nick Nolte and Charles Durning. Football fans will likely find it fascinating.”

Summary:A satirical look at the world of professional football.

27 — On The Ropes

Metacritic Score: 80 (13 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
93%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: None

Summary: A documentary following three aspiring boxers who train at the same Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn gym where Mike Tyson once trained.


26 — Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

Metacritic Score: 80(20 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
96%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘Bigger, Stronger, Faster*’ is a fascinating, informative, entertaining and especially introspective account of the American ‘enhancement’ culture.”

Summary: A documentary about anabolic steroid use in America.


25 — Deep Water

Metacritic Score: 80 (24 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
96%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Equal parts mystery and biography, ‘Deep Water’ is both an engrossing documentary and an affecting treatise on human folly and obsession.”

Summary: A documentary about Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor who disappeared while participating in an around-the-world yacht race.


24 — Riding Giants

Metacritic Score: 80 (28 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
93%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “A great addition to the existing surfing documentaries.”

Summary: A documentary about surfing from Stacy Peralta, who also directed “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”


23 — The Damned United

Metacritic Score:81 (27 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
92%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Better than your average football pic, ‘Damned United’ is carried by another star turn from Michael Sheen as Brian Clough.”

Summary: The story of Brain Clough ‘s 44-day tenure as the manager of Leeds United, the reigning champions of England.


22 — The Wrestler

Metacritic Score:81 (36 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
98%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Mickey Rourke gives a performance for the ages in ‘The Wrestler,’ a richly affecting, heart-wrenching yet ultimately rewarding drama.”

Summary: Mickey Rourke plays a washed-up former wrestling star desperate to relive his former glory.


21 — Foxcatcher

Metacritic Score: 81 (49 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
88%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “A chilling true crime drama, ‘Foxcatcher’ offers Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum a chance to shine — and all three of them rise to the challenge.”

Summary: Steve Carrell plays a billionaire who decides to sponsor a pair of Olympic wrestlers in their training – to tragic results.


20 — One Day in September

Metacritic Score: 82 (20 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
97%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: None

Summary: A documentary about the kidnapping of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.


19 — Sugar

Metacritic Score: 82 (26 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
92%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘Sugar’ is an exceptionally-crafted film — part sports flick, part immigrant tale — with touching and poignant drama highlighted by splendid performances.”

Summary: A drama about a young baseball pitcher from the Dominican Republic trying to make it to the Major Leagues.


18 — Touching the Void

Metacritic Score:82 (34 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
94%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Gripping even though the outcome is known.”

Summary: A docu-drama based on a dramatic real life climb, combining filmed re-enactments of the climb with interviews of the climbers (per Outside Magazine).


17 — Creed

Warner Bros.

Metacritic Score: 82 (42 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
95%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘Creed’ brings the Rocky franchise off the mat for a surprisingly effective seventh round that extends the boxer’s saga in interesting new directions while staying true to its classic predecessors’ roots.”

Summary: Apollo Creed’s son embarks upon a professional boxing career, and recruits Rocky Balboa to train him.


16 — The Bad News Bears

Metacritic Score: 83 (10 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
96%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘The Bad News Bears’ is rude, profane, and cynical, but shot through with honest, unforced humour, and held together by a deft, understated performance from Walter Matthau.”

Summary: A washed up, alcoholic former baseball player becomes the coach of a Little League baseball team with the worst players in the league.


15 — The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

Metacritic Score: 83(17 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
100%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki’ sidesteps sports biopic clichés with a beautifully filmed, well-acted look at the balance between career fulfillment and personal happiness.”

Summary: Based on the real life story of Finnish boxer Olli Mäki, this drama tells the story of Mäki training for a shot at the World Featherweight Title, while also dealing with the distractions of newfound love.


14 — When We Were Kings

Metacritic Score: 83 (21 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
98%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “An engrossing documentary that’s as much about a time and a place as it is about a fight.”

Summary: A documentary about the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammed Ali and George Forman.


13 — The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Metacritic Score: 83(23 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
97%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘The King of Kong’ is funny and compelling with more than a few poignant insights into human behaviour. Director Seth Gordon presents the dueling King Kong players in all their obsessive complexity and with perfectly al dente observations.”

Summary: A middle school science teacher attempts to break the world record high score in the arcade game Donkey Kong.


12 — Paranoid Park

Metacritic Score: 83 (27 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
76%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Director Gus Van Sant once again superbly captures the ins and outs of teenage life in ‘Paranoid Park,’ a quietly devastating portrait of a young man living with guilt and anxiety.”

Summary: A drama about a young skateboarder who is drawn into the investigation of a murder at a Portland skatepark.


11 — Tyson

Metacritic Score:83 (28 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
85%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “A fascinating, emotional, and frank confessional from Iron Mike that sheds a sympathetic light on one of boxing’s most controversial icons.”

Summary: A documentary about Mike Tyson, one of the most complicated figures in sports.


10 — Red Army

Metacritic Score: 83 (33 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
95%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Fun and fascinating, ‘Red Army’ delivers absorbing documentary drama for hockey fans and sports novices alike.”

Summary: A documentary about the Soviet Union hockey team, and in particular its captain Slava Fetisov.


9 — The Black Stallion

Metacritic Score: 84 (10 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
89%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: None

Summary: A young boy strikes up a friendship with a majestic Arabian stallion after the two are shipwrecked together on a desert island, and after being rescued, the boy enters the horse in a major race.


8 — Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India

Metacritic Score: 84(21 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
95%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “‘Lagaan’ is lavish, rousing entertainment in the old-fashioned tradition of Hollywood musicals.”

Summary: A drama set during Britain’s colonization of India, in which a small Indian village is forced to learn how to play cricket in order to compete in a match with their colonial officers.


7 — Offside

Metacritic Score: 85 (25 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
94%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “A spirited film that explores gender politics with comedy, intelligence, and a variety of interesting characters.”

Summary: In Iran, where women are officially banned from attending sporting events, yet a group of women attempt to sneak into an official World Cup Qualifying match anyway.


6 — Million Dollar Baby

Metacritic Score: 86 (39 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
90%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Clint Eastwood’s assured direction – combined with knockout performances from Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman – help ‘Million Dollar Baby’ to transcend its clichés, and the result is deeply heartfelt and moving.”

Summary: Clint Eastwood portrays an old boxing gym owner who, initially begrudgingly, takes on a new trainee played by Hillary Swank.


5 — Murderball

Metacritic Score: 87 (33 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
98%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “An entertaining and gripping documentary that shows being confined to a wheelchair doesn’t mean the fun has to end.”

Summary: The story of the 2004 U.S. and Canadian Paralympics Wheelchair Rugby teams.


4 — Downhill Racer

Metacritic Score: 90 (10 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
81%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: None

Summary: Robert Redford portrays an ambitious American downhill skiier vying for international glory, while Gene Hackman plays his coach.


3 — Breaking Away

Metacritic Score: 91 (11 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
94%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “At once a touching, funny coming-of-age story and a compelling sports film, ‘Breaking Away’ is a delightful treat.”

Summary: A drama centering around four friends in the summer after high school graduation, as they prepare for the town’s annual bike race – and the rest of their lives.


2 — Raging Bull

Metacritic Score: 92 (14 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
95%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “Arguably Martin Scorsese’s and Robert De Niro’s finest film, ‘Raging Bull’ is often painful to watch, but it’s a searing, powerful work about an unsympathetic hero.”

Summary: This riveting Martin Scorsese drama follows boxer Jake LaMotta as he takes his fair share of hits – in and out of the ring.


1 — Hoop Dreams

Metacritic Score: 98 (18 reviews)

Rotten Tomatoes Score:
98%

Rotten Tomatoes Consensus: “One of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of all time, ‘Hoop Dreams’ is a rich, complex, heartbreaking, and ultimately deeply rewarding film that uses high school hoops as a jumping-off point to explore issues of race, class, and education in modern America.”

Summary: Two young basketball stars from the inner city of Chicago attempt to navigate through the trappings of poverty to basketball glory.


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