20 Of The Best Sports Movies Based On True Events
There’s never a dull moment in the sports realm. Hollywood knows this, and that’s why audiences are always gifted with spectacular sports films. Remember the Titans, Glory Road, and many more have touched the hearts of fans globally. Whether it’s the underlying message in the movie or the chills you receive from the captivating drama, this genre is sure to have you invested. Things are even better when they’re based on actual events. Which sports movie based on a true story is your favorite?
The Blind Side (2009)
Michael Oher was just 16 years old when his life changed forever. He went from living with a drug-addicted mother to becoming a professional football player in the span of a few years. Michael has one special family and a few others to thank for propelling him towards the life he lives today.
The 2009 movie The Blind Side starred Quinton Aaron as Michael “Big Mike” Oher, a high school student at Briarcrest Christian School who was rescued from poverty and taken in by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw). Big Mike became a highly sought-after prospect in college football and wound up playing for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
Ali is in the running for best sports biopic of all time. The film follows Muhammad Ali’s early days as Cassius Clay (beginning when he knocks out Sonny Liston.) It then navigates through his life and showcases his duties in politics as well as his rise in sports.
The movie touches on most of the critical aspects of Ali’s life such as his refusal to partake in the Vietnam War. Will Smith puts together a memorable performance for this role as he floats like a butterfly… and you know the rest.
A League Of Their Own (1992)
When the men went to war, in 1943, an All-American Girls Baseball League was created to fill the gap. Directed by Penny Marshall, A League of Their Own stars Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, and Rosie O’Donnell as they showcase the genuine camaraderie of women.
“Davis, who is terrific, subtly shows us the conflicting emotions of a Forties woman torn between ambition and duty,” wrote Peter Travers for Rolling Stone. The film has comedy in its purest form, but it’s also an inspiring and uplifting film that shows the importance of women.
We Are Marshall (2006)
A plane crash ends the lives of the Marshall University football players. An event that sends shock waves across the whole nation, but especially the state. The students are determined to get back on their feet, so they convince the school administration to let their new team get back on the gridiron.
New head coach (Matthew McConaughey) leads a team back to their successful days. Of course, speed bumps come with building a new team, but that didn’t stop them from overcoming adversity.
Cool Runnings (1993)
Cool Runnings is probably the most famous movie revolving around athletics from Jamaica. With no snow to be found in the country of Jamaica, a group of athletes is determined to compete at the Olympic level in bobsledding.
John Candy plays the coach in this movie that shows us anything is possible. If a group of determined athletes can make it to the Olympics in a sport that isn’t prevalent in their own land, then the sky is the limit.
Gary Ross, the writer/director of The Hunger Games, transformed a story about horse racing into a successful movie. Seabiscuit is set during the Great Depression and focuses on a horse’s ability to raise the spirit of a whole nation. Tobey Maguire stars in this feel-good story.
Maguire plays the underdog jockey, who rides the underdog horse. The film gets a little extra spice with Jeff Bridges playing a personable yet flawed businessman funding the efforts.
Coach Carter (2005)
Coach Carter is a story about discipline and the real matters for at-risk high school athletes. Samuel L. Jackson stars in this film as the hard nose coach who does the unthinkable to prove a point to his players. His high school basketball team is undefeated, but because of the players’ poor grades, he benches them.
The drama takes place in Richmond, California, which is an area known for it’s less-than-optimal environment. The school board confronts the coach for his actions, but he explains he’s merely trying to get the best from his athletes and help give them a life past basketball.
Many debate how much a true story Hoosiers is, but none can question the sheer greatness of the film. Gene Hackman blesses us in his role as the head coach who leads his high school basketball team at fictional Hickory High to the state championships.
Before the movie came out, you’d have to have been living in Indiana to know the David vs. Goliath story. Thanks to the film, we were gifted a slightly fictionalized version of the undersized, undermanned and nonathletic team. All it took was fundamentals and discipline.
A story about the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, Miracle depicts a group of underdogs that rise to the occasion. Their foe was the Soviet Union while all the international political tension was happening. Kurt Russell did a stellar job playing the coach of the Olympic team.
This film also did something that made it significantly better, and that was using real hockey players as actors. Los Angeles Times writer Kenneth Turan wrote, “Miracle treats old-fashioned, emotional material with an intelligence that respects both the story and the audience. This is a classically well-made studio entertainment.”
The Fighter (2010)
An Oscar-winning film, The Fighter starring Christian Bale as the older half-brother and trainer of Mark Wahlberg who is the boxer. The movie follows the rough path to the World Light Welterweight Championship taken by Irish Micky Ward.
There is a reason that The Fighter was nominated for seven Oscars, and not’s because of it’s stacked cast. Many consider this one of the best boxing movies ever to hit the big screen. From being a stepping stone for other fighters to beat to becoming champion, The Fighter is a must watch.
42 brings to life the story of baseball legend, Jackie Robinson. He’s the man that famously broke the color barriers in a baseball league that didn’t allow African Americans to compete in. The film showcases the hardships Robinson, and his lady had to experience just for him to play baseball professionally.
Kirki Mango of the Chicago Now elaborated on an important message for the film when he wrote, “There is a young boy in the film that looks up to Jackie Robinson and what he is accomplishing. He sees him as a ‘role model,’ from this young man’s eyes, Jackie Robinson is his hero.”
The general manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane transcended scouting in baseball when he adopted sabermetrics. This analyzes advanced statistics to see a player’s potential and value. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill star in this Oscar-nominated film.
Moneyball is less about the game being played, but more so about what goes on behind the scenes. A single player doesn’t get followed for the film, but instead, this movie is unraveling of a crazy true story.
Rudy is a truly inspirational film that follows Rudy Ruettiger’s (Sean Astin) goal of playing football for his dream college, Notre Dame. The filmmaker of Hoosiers, David Anspaugh was tapped to tell this heartwarming movie.
Rudy ventures from junior college to Notre Dame in what is a self-improvement story. For a little comic relief, Vince Vaughn is tossed into the mix as well. If you’re a young athlete in the same shoes as Rudy, this is the film for you.
Remember the Titans (2000)
Disney sheds light on an important issue that still plagues America today with Remember the Titans. Segregation was a thorn in U.S. society, and this film tackles it hard. When a white school and African American school are forced to merge, Coach Boone (Denzel Washington) handles it masterfully.
Of course, there are sports cliches throughout the film, but which movie about sports doesn’t have them? In this case, there is no better actor to give a motivational speech than Washington.
The Rookie (2002)
The Rookie follows a man who had a life-long dream of playing in the MLB. Jim Morris was happily married and coached his high school team. He gave up his goal, but after a slew of surgeries, he discovered he could throw 98-mph fastballs.
After the discovery, he figured out how to use it to inspire his players. Coach Morris promises that if his team wins the championship, then he will audition for a major league baseball team. In The Rookie, dreams are never deferred.
The NFL has seen it’s fair share of issues over the past several years. One of the most significant problems that don’t involve players kneeling is CTE. These strong men hit each other with full force and later develop brain problems that potentially lead to suicide.
In the 2015 film starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, Smith’s character tries to prove this science to the NFL, but they don’t want to hear it. His wife and his life are threatened over him keeping silent, but he presses forward for the safety of NFL players everywhere.
Cinderella Man (2005)
Russell Crowe stars in 2005’s Cinderella Man. Directed by Ron Howard, Cinderella Man follows the true story of a Depression-era boxer by the name of James J. Braddock. The boxer was on his way to win a title but broke his hand in 1929 right as the Great Depression hit.
This forced Braddock to work as a longshoreman just so he could support his family. He made an unbelievable comeback years later as he went on to inspire a whole country still struggling.
Glory Road (2006)
We couldn’t go this whole list without adding in one of the classic sports films ever. Glory Road brings us on a journey of the Texas Western basketball team. It incorporates social issues and sports in this basketball story. Head coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) notoriously started five African Americans for the first time in NCAA basketball history.
“Glory Road is a rousing and worthy tribute to one of the most important college basketball teams and one of the most important championship games of all time,” Richard Roeper wrote.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
Friday Night Lights is another classic that would make us unreliable not to include. Since the film’s release, it became overshadowed by the TV adaptation of it, but that doesn’t make it any less incredible. This is a story of the 1988 Permian Panthers high school football team.
Without spoiling the ending, we’ll just say that the film embellishes some scenes for dramatic effect, but it’s still an accurate depiction of a Texas’ town unhealthy obsession with a high school team.
Eight Men Out (1988)
Eight Men Out was released to critical praise in 1988 and chronicles the downfall of the 1919 World Series Chicago White Sox. The team had eight players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, banned from MLB for life for throwing the outcome of the series.
Most controversially, many people believe Jackson was unfairly banned because statistically he played the best baseball of his career. Critics called the film one for true baseball fans fascinated with the details of one of the biggest controversies in MLB history.
Radio starring Cuba Gooding Jr. is a film about a mentally challenged man who loves music and has a vintage radio collection. He minds his own business until one day Coach Harold Jones (Ed Harris) befriends him.
The whole city is confused by the friendship since they only know coach to care about the football team. He soon invites Radio over to help with the football activities, and others aren’t as accepting of Radio as Coach Jones is. Conflicts ensue and the viewer overtaken by empathy.
Battle Of The Sexes (2017)
In 1973, the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs became the most watched sports event of all-time. In 2017, it was dramatized by Hollywood in the film Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell as the tennis foes.
When it was released, the film earned critical praise and both actors were nominated for Golden Globes for their roles. Unfortunately, Battle of the Sexes was criminally under seen, only making $18 million on a $25 million budget.
The Express (2008)
The Express, released in 2008, tells the story of Ernie Davis, the first black athlete to win the Heisman Trophy. Played by Rob Brown, the film follows Davis as he struggles to to get into Syracuse University’s football program. While there, he blossomed into one of the greatest college athletes of all-time and was nicknamed “The Express,”
The film, while liked by critics, was flop theatrically, earning $10 million on a $40 million budget. Since then, it has found a home on television, where it has been recognized as a minor sports classic.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Invincible tell the incredible story of Vince Papale, a lifelong Eagles fab who tries out for, and makes the team, in his thirties. The unbelievable true story takes place in the ’70s, when new Eagles’ head coach Dick Vermeil decided to hold open tryouts for the team.
Papale was the only person from the tryouts to make the team and ended up with a three year NFL career. The film was a hit when it came out, earning $57 million with a $40 million budget.
Race, released in 2016, follows Jesse Owens during his journey to become a track and field star in the 1930s. Known as the fastest man in the world, Owens was chosen to represent the United States at the Olympics, which were being hosted by Nazi Germany.
Owens won four gold medals, proving to the world that Hitler’s theories on race were wrong. Critics enjoyed the film as a by the numbers biopic with a stunning performance by star Stephan James.
I, Tonya (2017)
I, Tonya was hailed as one of the best films of 2017. Starring Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, it tells a sensationalized version of the sabotage of fellow ice skater Nancy Kerrigan. Robbie was nominated for an Oscar for her performances, and the film was nominated for best picture.
Despite the near universal praise and high profile awards, there were some who felt the movie portrayed Harding as a victim, even though she admitted to having knowledge of the horrific attack to Kerrigan.
Foxcatcher is not the easiest film on this list to watch, but it is one of the best. Based the story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, it follows the wrestler as his coach becomes obsessed with him, leading down a dark and tragic path.
Steve Carell was nominated for an Oscar for his take on Schultz coach. Bennett Miller got a nomination for directing Foxcatcher as well. Just be warned, this is not a good Friday night date movie inless your into things like Making a Murderer.
The Pride Of The Yankees (1942)
We’re going deep into the past with The Pride of the Yankees. Released to universal praise in 1942, the film helped launch Gary Cooper into a superstar. In the Oscar nominated film, he portrayed Lou Gehrig as he become a baseball icon and then passed away from complications with ALS.
For the climax of the film, Gehrig’s famous “luckiest man” line was moved to the end of his speech. In reality, he said these iconic words in the first sentence he uttered.
Double Teamed (2002)
This Disney Channel original movie only makes this list based on pure nostalgia. Released in 2002, the fact-based film follows twins Heather and Heidi Burges unusual path to the Los Angeles Sparks and the Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA. The most family friendly film on this list, it first aired in January, 2002 and has been loved ever since.
Double Teamed was noted at the time as a paint by the number true story. But then again, it was never really aimed at the adults reviewing it.
Chariots Of Fire (1981)
One of the greatest sports movies ever made Chariots of Fire won best picture at the Oscars when it was released in 1981. Telling story of the two runner training for the 1924 Paris Olympics, the film was directed by Hugh Hudson and earned $59 million against a $5 million budget.
Rotten Tomatoes’ collected reviews of Chariots of Fire call it, “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.”
The Hurricane (1999)
Telling the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, The Hurricane was one of the biggest theatrical releases of 1999. Denzel Washington took the lead role and won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor. The biopic was also nominated for best picture.
One of the most memorable aspects of the film was the title song, performed by Bob Dylan. The powerful tune didn’t win any awards, but definitely stands out to us as a highlight of this great sports movie.
The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)
The World’s Fastest Indian is one of our favorite movies on this list. It follows Burt Munro, a New Zelander with dream to break the landspeed record. He rides an Indian motorcycle and takes his adventure to Utah’s salt flats. While there, he does the impossible. His record, set in 1967, has not been beaten since.
When it was released, the film failed to make an impact theatrically, only earning $18.3 million. It did win the New Zealand Film Award for Best Screenplay, and we know it deserves a bigger audience than what it got in the states.
Soul Surfer (2011)
Soul Surfer tells the incredible true story of Bethany Hamilton. When she was 16-years-old, she was attacked by a shark while surfing and lost her arm. Motivated by the encouragement of her friends and family, she recovered and and got back on her board to conquer the water again.
The movie was based on Hamilton’s book about her experience. It was a minor hit when it was released, earning $47 million dollars and earning strong reviews from critics.
McFarland, USA (2015)
Released in 2015 to light critical praise, McFarland, USA tackles the true story of Jim White, a white track coach hired by a predominantly Latino school in California’s Central Valley. As he learns about the struggles his team goes through, he turns them from fledgling athletes into champions.
Made for $25 million, McFarland, USA made 47 million when it was released theatrically. Critics enjoyed the film too, which Rotten Tomatoes giving it a combined critics score of 80 percent.
The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)
The Greatest Game Ever Played is one of the rare sports movies made about golf. It based on the life of Francis Oimet and stars Shia LeBeouf in the title role. Made for $25 million, the film was a theatrical flop, only earning $15 million.
Audiences might not have loved this one, but critics definitely did. Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars and called it gripping. He praised the work of director Bill Paxton, “Paxton and his technicians have used every trick in the book to dramatize the flight and destination of the golf balls.”
Raging Bull (1980)
Raging Bull is an American biographical sports drama adapted from Jake LaMotta’s memoir Raging Bull: My Story. The black-and-white film was directed by Martin Scorsese and tells the story of LaMotta, and Italian American middleweight boxer whose self-destructive behavior destroyed his life.
LaMotta is a true fighter, in the ring and out, and the film has a slew of harsh scenes in which he beats his wife, brother, and anyone else who sets of his violent temper. Robert De Niro takes on the lead role and gives a standout performance. Yardbarker puts it best when they say Raging Bull will make you feel like you’ve “gone a full fifteen rounds with its pugilist protagonist, Jake LaMotta.”
Brian’s Song (1971)
Brian’s Song is often overlooked because it was never in theaters and instead released as an ABC Movie of the Week. But the film, which recounts he details of the life of Brian Piccolo, is a true tear jerker not to be missed.
Piccolo was a Wake Forest University football player who was diagnosed with terminal cancer after he turned pro. The moviedetails his life as he fights his biggest battle and forms an unlikely bond with Gayle Sears — even though the two were competing for the same running back position on the Chicago Bears. If you don’t have plans this weekend, carve out a few hours to watch this goodie. Don’t forget the tissues.
Fear Strikes Out (1957)
Fear Strikes Out tells the story of American baseball player Jimmy Piersall. The drama, which is based on the 1955 memoir Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Story, stars Anthony Perkins as Piersall and Karl Malden as his dad.
The movie recounts Piersall’s rise from the lows of the sandlots in his Connecticut hometown to his career as a professional baseball player for the Boston Red Sox. Eventually, Piersall suffers a severe breakdown and is admitted into a mental institution. The film shows the danger of pursuing something to please others rather than yourself.
Baseball classic *61 tells the story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle as the men race to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. While Mantle is a Yankee favorite, the soft-spoken Maris doesn’t add up to everything a baseball legend is supposed to be. As the summer unfolds, it turns into a truly memorable season they won’t forget.
Billy Crystal stars in this surprisingly dramatic film that is one you don’t want to miss.
Invictus is based on the John Carlon book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation. The adaptation details the events in South Africa that occurred before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Although the Springboks rugby team were underdogs, they earned an automatic entry into the event because their country was hosting. The inspiring story ultimately shows how Nelson Mandela and the rugby team join forces to unite the country.
Secretariat, a Thoroughbred, won the coveted Triple Crown in 1973. Nicknamed “Big Red,” he was one of the greatest racehorses to live. In 2010 Walt Disney Pictures released a movie about his life, aptly called Secretariat. John Malkovich played his trainer (Lucien Laurin), Diane Lane played owner Penny Chenery, and real-life jockey Otto Thorwarth played the rider.
During his stellar racing career, Secretariat won five Eclipse Awards. He’s second on the list of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century, right after Man O’War (who was also called Big Red).
3: The Dale Earnhardt Story (2004)
Dale Earnhardt is one of the most legendary NASCAR drivers in history. The world was stunned when he died in a fiery crash in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
In 2004, ESPN produced a made-for-television movie called 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story. The film follows Earnhardt’s life from his childhood to his tragic death. Actor Barry Pepper played Earnhardt and the role earned him a nomination for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie.