The sports genre has been around for a long time, and while it has never been as popular as, say, drama or comedy, it remains a fan favorite. Sports movies often reflect on the strength of human nature, using sports as a framing device to explore themes of resilience, will, and perseverance.
The new millennium has produced some incredible sports movies. Whether comedies or dramas, these films have used humor, tragedy, and even romance to tell their stories and inspire audiences, even if they sometimes end in misery. And while some are less straightforward than others, they are all achievements in the genre.
10 ‘Remember the Titans’ (2000)
Denzel Washington stars in Boaz Yakin‘s family sports drama Remember the Titans. Based on the real-life story of coach Herman Boone, Remember the Titans chronicles his attempts to integrate an all-black school with the all-white T. C. Williams High School in 1971’s Virginia.
Although Remember the Titans isn’t historically accurate or narratively challenging, the film excels as a crowd-pleaser. Washington’s always-reliable talent more than makes up for the film’s healthy dose of in-your-nose social commentary, making Remember the Titans a satisfying and often inspirational sports drama for all the family.
9 ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ (2002)
Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers star in the sports-comedy Bend It Like Beckham. The film centers on Jess, a British-Indian teenager who begins playing for a semi-professional football team against her strict parents’ wishes.
Bend It Like Beckham is the best kind of teen movie, blending humor and emotional stakes with clever dialog elevated by a pair of charming leads. The film is also remarkable for shining a much-needed light on South Asian culture at a time when such practices were uncommon in mainstream cinema. Ultimately, Bend It Like Beckham is an uplifting, inspiring story and a new classic of the sports genre.
8 ‘Fighting with My Family’ (2019)
Florence Pugh received her breakthrough role in Stephen Merchant‘s biographical sports drama Fighting with My Family. The film chronicles the blossoming career of Saraya Jade Bevis, who rises to prominence in the world of professional wrestling under the stage name Paige. Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn, and Dwayne Johnson also star.
Benefitting from an assured, star-making performance from Pugh, Fighting with My Family is a witty and heartfelt celebration of the WWE. However, the film is at its best when focusing on Bevis’ relationship with her family, crafting a delightful and heartwarming portrayal of the support system every sports professional needs to succeed.
7 ‘Rush’ (2013)
The world of sports racing comes to thrilling life in Ron Howard‘s 2013 biographical sports drama Rush. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl star as iconic Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, with the film chronicling their now-infamous rivalry during the 1976 season.
Featuring electrifying race sequences supporting a classic story of rivalry and ambition, Rush is everything a great sports film should be. Further complemented by Brühl’s stellar turn, Rush is an exciting and insightful look into the world of professional driving in service of a timeless story grounded in genuine emotional stakes.
6 ‘Bring It On’ (2000)
The world of high school cheerleading has never seemed more cutthroat than in the 2000s teen sports comedy Bring It On. Kirsten Dunst stars as Torrance Shipman, the new captain of a celebrated high school cheerleading team who discovers all their cheers are stolen from an underrated all-black team.
Bring It On might as well be called, “Cultural Appropriation: The Movie,” in the best way possible. Featuring a remarkably ahead-of-its-time plot, Bring It On is a biting takedown of privilege and a surprisingly nuanced exploration of race dynamics disguised as a harmless and fun teen movie. With a spunky leading turn from Dunst and humor to spare, Bring It On is among the new teen classics and an all-time great sports movie.
5 ‘Ford v. Ferrari’ (2019)
Oscar-winners Christian Bale and Matt Damon star in James Mangold‘s 2019 sports biopic Ford v. Ferrari. The story follows British driver Ken Miles and US automotive designer Carroll Shelby as they build a revolutionary vehicle for the Ford Company to race against Enzo Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
Elegant, poignant, and emotionally engaging, Ford v. Ferrari is among the new millennium’s most assured sports dramas. Bale and Damon shine in their roles, but it’s Mangold who is Ford v. Ferrari‘s ultimate victor, delivering a confident and gripping drama worthy of standing alongside the all-time best sports films.
4 ‘Moneyball’ (2011)
Moneyball stars Brad Pitt as manager Billy Beane. Based on the eponymous 2003 non-fiction book, the plot concerns Beane’s efforts to assemble a competitive team by adopting a sabermetric approach to scouting, betting on underrated players the scouts previously discarded, and changing the face of baseball for good.
Although an unlikely story for a biopic, Moneyball excels on the strength of Aaron Sorkin‘s screenplay, Bennett Miller‘s direction, and Pitt and co-star Jonah Hill‘s performances. Intelligent, funny, and warm, Moneyball is a love letter to the sport and the men who make it possible and an instant classic of the sports genre.
3 ‘I, Tonya’ (2017)
Margot Robbie delivers the best performance of her career — so far, anyway — in Craig Gillespie‘s black mockumentary I, Tonya. Co-starring Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan, I, Tonya follows Tonya Hardin’s skating career and the events that lead to Nancy Kerrigan’s infamous 1994 attack.
Funny, poignant, and boasting two stellar performances from Robbie and Janney, I, Tonya is a dark satire of American values, fame, and perceptions. Gillespie and Robbie craft a sharp film that might sacrifice some truths to make Harding more likable but remains an intelligent, emotionally gripping, and ultimately insightful look into one of the most controversial and elusive figures of 20th-century sports.
2 ‘Million Dollar Baby’ (2004)
Clint Eastwood directs himself opposite Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman in the gut-wrenching sports drama Million Dollar Baby. The film follows an aging boxing trainer who agrees to train an inexperienced but promising woman with dreams of becoming a professional.
A deeply affecting tragedy that successfully avoids tired clichés, Million Dollar Baby is a bleak depiction of the American Dream. Swank and Freeman shine in their Oscar-winning roles, while Eastwood’s direction helps the film find its heart amidst all the melodrama. And while the ending might leave an overly bittersweet aftertaste, Million Dollar Baby‘s richly emotional and layered characters make this a worthy and unforgettable watch.
1 ‘The Wrestler’ (2008)
Darren Aronofsky‘s filmography is traumatizing, intense, and immensely rewarding, but The Wrestler might be his richest and most affecting film. Mickey Rourke delivers a stunning performance as Randy “the Ram” Robinson, an aging wrestler trying to recover his former fame while attempting a reconciliation with his estranged daughter and entering a relationship with a single mother.
Unrelenting and emotionally devastating, The Wrestler is an operatic masterpiece further elevated by a bravura performance from Rourke. Aronofsky creates a compelling, devastating portrayal of showmanship and the inescapable highs and lows of living in the spotlight. Heart-wrenching but undeniably rewarding, The Wrestler is an intense depiction of the pain and sacrifice of those who live to entertain.
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