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20 championship-worthy sports movies you can watch at home

Let’s face it: A lot of sports movies, especially the most famous ones, are pretty bad. Often corny, schlocky, and with only a mediocre understanding of the sports they depict at best, sports-loving movie audiences have long been disappointed by adaptations of the games they love on the big screen.

With many of us enjoying Nintendo Switch Sports and sports seasons around the world either gearing up or fully in playoffs mode, what better time to talk about some of our favorite sports movies you can watch at home? That last part is key — there are quite a few great sports movies that won’t be included here because of their lack of availability on streaming platforms. But there’s plenty of good ones to enjoy across a variety of sports, including auto racing, basketball, and combat sports.

Here are 20 sports movies we quite like, and we hope you do as well.


Born a Champion

Image: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The sport: Brazilian jiu-jitsu

The movie: A former marine who was once a rising star at the beginning of the MMA boom gets the opportunity of a lifetime for a rematch to reclaim lost glory.

Why you should watch: Star and writer Sean Patrick Flanery is a jiu-jitsu black belt in real life, and his passion and respect for the martial art comes through in both the script and his performance. It’s not perfect, but Born a Champion is a quality low budget underdog story. —Pete Volk

Where to watch: Available to stream on Hulu

The Freshman

Harold Lloyd in The Freshman, sprawled out on the floor with his football helmet in his lap.

Image: Criterion Channel

The sport: Football

The movie: Harold Lloyd’s classic 1925 comedy follows his fresh-faced new student Harold Lamb, who wants nothing more than to be cool. How do you be cool? A great question that has baffled scientists for millennia. For Harold, however, the answer was joining the football team.

Why you should watch: A hilarious movie filled with some gags that don’t translate to the modern day and some that truly do (there’s a whistle-based gag in the football game that could still very much happen in real life), The Freshman is an early example of a sports movie and a standout movie from one of silent cinema’s great comedians. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on HBO Max and the Criterion Channel

Goon

Liev Schreiber and Seann William Scott square up in Goon.

Image: Alliance Films

The sport: Ice hockey

The movie: Many sports have specialized roles, but hockey is unique — many teams have enforcers, aka “goons,” who are basically there to strategically get into fights with opposing players. Goon tells the story of one such enforcer, Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a very sweet but not very bright young man who gets signed by a team after attending a game as a fan and winning a fight against a homophobic player who climbed into the stands. The movie is based on the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey, written by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith (who the Glatt character is based on).

Why you should watch: Scott’s affecting performance brings a lot of heart to what could have otherwise been a pretty flat character, and Goon hits a great balance of sports comedy and sports drama. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream with ads on Vudu, Pluto TV, Plex, and Tubi; available to stream on Kanopy or Hoopla with a library card

High Flying Bird

Melvin Gregg and Zazie Beets in High Flying Bird.

Image: Netflix

The sport: Basketball

The movie: Steven Soderbergh’s second movie shot on an iPhone (after Unsane), High Flying Bird follows sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland), who looks to fight back against some of the power imbalances in sport by finding an opportunity for a rookie client (Melvin Gregg) during a labor dispute.

Why you should watch: High Flying Bird digs into some of the complicated dynamics on the business side of sports, and Soderbergh’s iPhone direction is paired well with a sharp script from Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight) and a magnetic lead performance by Holland. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix

Hoop Dreams

The basketball players in Hoop Dreams think and listen to their coach in between plays.

Image: Fine Line Features

The sport: Basketball

The movie: Steve James’ legendary 1994 documentary is one of the finest pieces of American nonfiction cinema, a detailed portrayal of two Black high school students in Chicago who aspire to make it to the NBA.

Why you should watch: Hoop Dreams is truly a classic in the history of American documentary filmmaking, using a nearly impossible dream of success to shine a light on the inequalities inherent to our culture and society. If you only make time for one movie on this list, make it this one. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on HBO Max, Showtime, Criterion Channel, and for free with ads on Plex

Margot Robbie is simultaneously pained and elated in I, Tonya.

Image: Neon

The sport: Figure skating

The movie: 2017’s I, Tonya tells the true — and at the time, notorious — story of Tonya Harding, an ice skating prodigy from the wrong side of the tracks who became a tabloid sensation when she was implicated in a physical assault on her rival Nancy Kerrigan in the lead-up to the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Why you should watch: Director Craig Gillespie walks a tonal tightrope in I, Tonya, blending biopic, mockumentary, tabloid sauce, broad comedy, and Fargo-esque crime satire and threading it through with clearly unreliable narration from Harding (a fantastic Margot Robbie). It’s a fun, wild ride, but it’s secretly dead serious and compassionate about the fact that white trash like Harding, surrounded by idiots and snobs and bullied by her single mom (Allison Janney, also great), never had a chance in the first place. —Oli Welsh

Where to watch: Available to stream on Hulu, or for free with a library card on Kanopy

Lagaan

Aamir Khan holds a cricket bat in Lagaan.

Image: SET Pictures

The sport: Cricket

The movie: In 1893, a small Indian village is being exploited and mistreated by a British army captain, who raises taxes on them in the midst of a drought. When the villagers organize a protest, the captain challenges them to a game of high-stakes cricket to solve the dispute.

Why you should watch: Within its 224 minute running time, Lagaan contains pretty much everything you could want from a movie: a stirring underdog story, passionate romance, exciting dance and action sequences, and so much more. Plus, it never hurts for a sports story to have a villain to root against, and there are few more wicked than Paul Blackthorne’s sadistic Captain Russell. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix

Minding the Gap

a young black man smiles while his friend holds a skateboard in the background in minding the gap

Image: Hulu

The sport: Skateboarding

The movie: Bing Liu’s 2018 documentary follows him and his two best friends as they grow up in Rockford, Illinois, and share a bond through their love of skateboarding.

Why you should watch: A moving portrait of adolescence and a poignant depiction of toxic masculinity in American culture, this is one of the strongest directorial debuts in recent memory and on our list of the best movies on Hulu. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on Hulu

Moneyball

Jonah Hall gesticulates while on the phone in Moneyball

Image: Sony Pictures Releasing

The sport: Baseball, or rather, baseball statistics

The movie: Adapted from a nonfiction book, this low-key but compelling real-life baseball drama from 2011 tells the story of manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his attempt to turn around the struggling Oakland Athletics team. Beane goes against the headwinds of the sport (as you must do in all sports movies) by disregarding the received wisdom of scouting and assembling a team of overlooked players based on statistical analysis compiled by the nerdy Peter Brand (Jonah Hill).

Why you should watch: This is perhaps the only sports drama where the bean-counter is the hero, which gives it novelty value. The topic sounds dry, and it kind of is, but master screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin know just how to spell it out and sell it, the filmmaking craft is impeccable, and you get treated to a supporting turn from the legendary Philip Seymour Hoffman. Bizarrely, there’s also a cameo from Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who plays the team’s owner. —OW

Where to watch: Available to stream on Hulu, or for free with ads on The Roku Channel

Raging Bull

Robert DeNiro faces off against an opponent in Raging Bull.

Image: United Artists

The sport: Boxing

The movie: A 1980 biography of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a champion middleweight boxer of the 1940s and ’50s. Adapted from LaMotta’s own memoir, Raging Bull takes the viewer on a brutalizing tour through his sporting and private life. It spares us neither the savagery of the ring nor the dysfunction and violence at home, and shows LaMotta both in his prime and in a sad, post-boxing life.

Why you should watch: Because, according to the American Film Institute, it’s the fourth-greatest American film of all time. Because it’s one of De Niro’s greatest performances, with a terrifying physicality. Because it’s a searing, tragic deconstruction of toxic masculinity. And because Scorsese’s filmmaking, powered by Michael Chapman’s black-and-white photography and Thelma Schoonmaker’s impressionistic editing, reaches a delirious intensity that will take your breath away, especially in the dumbfounding boxing scenes. —OW

Where to watch: Available to stream on Prime Video

Rush

Chris Hemsworth and Olivia Wilde get married in Rush.

Image: Universal Pictures

The sport: Formula One

The movie: Ron Howard’s Rush brings to life one of the great rivalries in Formula One history, showing the battle between playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and disciplined racing mastermind Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) for the 1976 World Championship.

Why you should watch: Hemsworth and Brühl are pitch perfect in their respective roles, and the racing scenes are terrific. Few movies better get across the kind of distinct personalities that exist within the sporting world, and what happens when they clash. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix

Sanshiro Sugata

The master and his student kneel together in Sanshiro Sugata.

Image: Toho Company Ltd.

The sport: Judo and jiu-jitsu

The movie: The legendary Akira Kurosawa’s directorial debut follows a stubborn and confident young man, Sanshiro, who learns judo and faces a challenger from a rival school.

Why you should watch: The earliest display of some of the directorial techniques that would carry Kurosawa’s name into history, Sanshiro Sugata is also an excellent sports drama that captures the tension and risk that come with combat sports. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on Criterion Channel and for free with ads on Plex

Shaolin Soccer

A goalie in Shaolin Soccer appears to disintegrate while stopping a shot.

Image: Universe Entertainment Ltd.

The sport: Soccer and Shaolin kung fu

The movie: Stephen Chow directs and stars in his 2001 Hong Kong sports comedy as a itinerant shaolin kung fu student who, after crossing paths with a disgraced ex-soccer player (Ng Man-tat), reconciles with his former fellow students to compete in a soccer tournament and spread the good word of Shaolin kung fu. The team eventually face off with Team Evil, a rival soccer team with their own formidable abilities, in an explosive, climactic match for the championship. —Toussaint Egan

Why you should watch: Chow is a master of over-the-top theatrics, slapstick physical humor, and fist-pumping action. It’s nearly impossible to go five minutes throughout its one-and-a-half-hour run time without being struck by a moment of ingenious non-sequitur comedy, be it impromptu Shaolin-themed karaoke cabaret, hilarious sight gags, or exhilarating action scenes. Shaolin Soccer marries the thrill of watching an underdog sports drama with the unrestrained frivolity and anything-goes chaos of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

Where to watch: Available to stream on Showtime

Strictly Ballroom

Competitive ballroom dancing in Strictly Ballroom, shining outfits and all.

Image: Ronin Films

The sport: Ballroom dancing

The movie: Scott (Paul Mercurio) is the son of a ballroom dancing family and has been training for glory on the Australian scene since he was 6, but his flashy improvisations get the better of him, and he loses his partner. Shy Fran (Tara Morice) offers to replace her, and together they find something special — but the despotic conservatism of local ballroom impresario Barry Fife (Bill Hunter) stands in the way of their self-expression.

Why you should watch: Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 debut film is a dazzling, full-hearted crowd-pleaser, somehow blending the grotesque countercultural stylings of John Waters with classical upbeat sports drama and sequined pop spectacle. Luhrmann’s fairy dust turns caricatures into real people and finds the glamour in the disreputable, poor, and weird fringes of Australian society — and, of course, the dancing rules. —OW

Where to watch: Available to stream on Fubo TV, or for digital rental

Speed Racer

speed racer: crash on the blue and green loop-the-loop

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

The sport: Auto racing (extremely fictional variety)

The movie: The Wachowskis’ 2008 adaptation of the manga and anime series stars Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Matthew Fox.

Why you should watch: This extremely colorful movie really captures the artistic spirit of anime, with thrilling visuals and high-octane racing sequences. The sports drama element of it is also stellar, focusing on a family-owned racing team squaring off against big business interests. It also imagines a better world, and who couldn’t use that from time to time? —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on Kanopy with a library card

Twilight

Robert Pattinson’s Twilight character Edward plays baseball

Image: Summit Entertainment

The sport: Baseball

The movie: Twilight is a teen vampire movie with a love triangle involving a (frequently shirtless) werewolf. But it’s also a great American baseball movie.

Why you should watch: Fight me if you must, but the film’s entire plot hinges on one very intense game of good ol’ American baseball! Vampires are so buff they can only play during thunderstorms, evidently due to the volatile crack of the bat. And during one fateful game — Bella mostly stands there in a cute ball cap, but the vampires run so fast they have motion blur — a rival vampire gets a whiff of Bella’s human scent and proceeds to hunt her for the rest of the film. Avenging this vampire’s death then becomes the plot of the next few films. The power of baseball! Good movie. —Nicole Clark

Where to watch: Available to watch on Peacock or for free with ads on Tubi

Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler is stopped by security guards when trying to meet up with Kevin Garnett in Uncut Gems.

Image: A24

The sport: Being a basketball fan

The movie: The Safdie brothers’ 2019 masterpiece follows Howard Ratner, a jeweler and gambling addict who has one hell of a day.

Why you should watch: No movie has better captured the anxiety of watching a high-pressure sports event that you have a personal stake in. For most people, that stake is fandom. For Howard, it’s his life. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix

Warrior

Frank Grillo encourages Joel Edgerton in between rounds in Warrior.

Image: Lionsgate

The sport: MMA

The movie: Two estranged brothers (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) fight in the same massive MMA tournament, each with something to prove.

Why you should watch: Hardy and Edgerton are terrific as the leads (as are Frank Grillo, Jennifer Morrison, and Nick Nolte in supporting roles), and the action scenes are electrifying. Tournament dramas are a typically stellar sports subgenre, and this is one of the better examples Hollywood has produced in years. —PV

Where to watch: Available to stream on Netflix

The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The sport: Professional wrestling

The movie: A bittersweet 2008 tale of washed-up wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), who’s well past his hair-metal 1980s heyday but still wrestling in small promotions on the weekends while he scrabbles out a lonely trailer-park life. He courts a stripper called Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), seeks reconnection with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), and contemplates one last big match-up with his old nemesis, The Ayatollah, before his body fails him completely.

Why you should watch: The Wrestler is a shabby, tender, and uncharacteristically naturalistic film from director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Mother!). The reason to watch it is Mickey Rourke, himself an ’80s heartthrob who went off the rails, who’s poignantly cast as the “broken-down piece of meat” Randy. It’s a moving performance that takes the film to places you both do and don’t expect, right up to its moving yet ambivalent final frames. —OW

Where to watch: Available to stream on HBO Max

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