Ranking The Best & Worst Sports Films Of All Time

Even people with only a passing and casual interest in sports have probably seen a sports film. That’s because many films have crossover appeal. They might include sub-themes of drama, romance, comedy, or even mystery. In other words, a good film is a good film—even when audiences don’t understand what jump shots or Hail Mary passes are. 

At the moment, many producers are choosing to depict their sports projects through documentary work. The interest in real sports stories is piggybacking on the roll-out of sports betting in the US. Back in 2018, a federal ban on betting was lifted, which means that casual fans have been able to explore the world of wagering.

Fans can peruse sites like OddsChecker to find a deal and oddsmaker that works for them. For those who uncover a new sporting interest, watching a documentary or a film on the topic is one of the first things they’ll do—along with catching a live game. 

But, unsurprisingly, not all projects have the same reach and success. Others, even if they flop during their release, might later become cult classics. Keep reading for some of the best and worst sports film projects from the last decades.

1. Best: White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

Thirty years after the original release, this film holds up to the test of time. The project explored the real world of street basketball. Though the film is fictional, the setting of Venice Beach street courts, where men hustle to win games for money, isn’t entirely unfamiliar for many basketball players who get their start playing street ball.

The film also does a great job of exploring social themes without losing its comedic twist. However, it’s the physicality, energy, and magic between leads Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson that makes the film so memorable. Given the pair were friends in real life, their on-screen chemistry helps take every element of this film to the next level. According to inside sources, a reboot is currently in the works.

2. Worst: Summer Catch (2001)

Unsurprisingly, some of the worst sports films of all time have tried and failed to take on romantic subthemes. But few projects fell flatter than Summer Catch. The film explores the life of an up-and-coming NCAA baseball player whose laser focus on achieving his sporting dreams quickly falls by the wayside when he meets an off-limits love interest one summer.

There are dozens of notable failures in the film, ranging from the love interest’s name (which is Tenley) to the trials designed to separate the love interests (rich families, pinky promises, an uncertain future). The film fails to convey the sport of baseball, even in its amateur context, along with romance, making it a strikeout for all intents and purposes.

3. Best: When We Were Kings (1996)

When We Were Kings

Image source: immediate.co.uk

Though sports documentaries are now one of the most popular genres of sports films, the idea of capturing the intrigue and stakes of athletic competition isn’t new. In fact, one of the best sports films of all time is a documentary that got its start in the 1970s. This 1996 release covers the infamous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, a heavyweight fight between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman. 

The documentary includes tons of archival footage of the event, including celebrity sightings, the accompanying music festival, and interviews with some of the biggest entertainers of the 1990s, including Spike Lee. But what makes the film so magical is its extent.

Filmmaker Leon Gast struggled for two decades to pull the funds together to finish the documentary. During that time, Gast’s opinion and hindsight developed, adding new texture and depth to the final product—which took home the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature after its release. Even for those who don’t have an interest in boxing, or history, this documentary is worth a watch.

4. Worst: Juwanna Mann (2002)

The early 2000s were a bad era for sports films. Straight off the heels of Fever Pitch came Juwanna Mann. In addition to mixing themes of romance and comedy, the filmmakers also decided to explore themes of drama. The result is a tale of a rising basketball star who gets suspended from his league, then decides to restart his career impersonating a woman.

What could go wrong? According to critics, the film’s comedic takes were misguided, its plot never advanced, and, according to Variety, it all added up to an unimpressive ‘yokfest’.

5. Most Underrated: Ford v Ferrari (2019)

This no-frills sports drama does one thing beautifully: summarizes the intrigue of auto sports through the lens of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Despite the fact that filmmakers chose not to craft this true story in a documentary format, they manage to highlight all the grit and drama behind the real story. 

And that real story is highly riveting. It covers the partnership between automotive designers, who are funded by some of the biggest auto tycoons in the US and UK and tasked with beating the Italians in the 1966 Le Mans. Throw in award-winning performances from Christian Bale and Matt Damon and it’s clear why this sports drama took home so much praise after its release. Still, it has flown under the radar for many, making it one of the most underrated sports releases in the last decade.

6. Most Overrated: Space Jam (1996)

Many sports fans, especially those who grew up in the 1990s, would probably disagree about the success of Space Jam. Rather than consider it overrated, they’d likely consider it underrated. To be fair, the film did nail some of its comedic takes and also did a crack job of combining live-action with animation. Few would argue that Space Jam 2 also hit on these same notes. 

Unfortunately, the best Space Jam can attain is a cult status—and much of that can be chalked up to 1990s nostalgia. The film itself has a wandering plot that defies logic from the jump, and the only engaging and believable characters involved are the Looney Tunes. Sure, that goes a long way—but is it enough to categorize the 1996 release as anything more than a fun 90s romp?

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