Top 24 inspirational sports movies of all Time

Movies aren’t just made for entertainment purposes, as a matter of fact, some of the best movies I have watched were more inspirational than entertaining and this article will look at some of the best inspirational movies. However, our focus will be solely on inspirational sports movies.

The good thing about these movies is that most are adaptations from real live events. Additionally, you don’t need to be a sports person to pick the lessons from these cinematic works of art.

In this article, we will look at the best of them that have been made including movies like Rocky, whose franchise has spanned over 50.

The movies were made from different stories of sportsmen and women from numerous sporting events like cycling, football, basketball, boxing, athletics and so much more.

Rocky’ (1976)

The Rocky franchise has spawned several movies — some good, some bad. However, the original is still the best and most realistic. It’s easy to like the underdog, undereducated Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Stellar supporting work from Burgess Meredith, Carl Weathers, and Burt Young, plus that memorable soundtrack and training montage, still lists Rocky among the greatest movies of all time.

‘Breaking Away’ (1979)

There’s some endearing comedy in this fantastic Peter Yates coming-of-age film with Indiana University’s popular “Little 500” bicycle race as a partial backdrop. Four townies, led by cycling junkie Dave Stohler (Dennis Christopher), try to figure out what to do with their lives after high school graduation and prove their worth to snobby college kids. Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley, Daniel Stern, and the sensational Paul Dooley all shine in supporting roles.

‘Chariots of Fire’ (1981)

It’s the Academy Award-winning, fact-based inspiring story of two Olympic runners from Great Britain — Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams — who balance their running talents with their beliefs. The film is probably best known for its famed running-on-the-beach scene and notable theme song (“Vangelis”), which helped the film take the Oscar for Best Original Score. 

‘The Natural’ (1984)

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The movie is based on the 1950s novel by the same name and centers around baseball phenom Roy Hobbs, who is not real but is one of the great sports film characters of all time. His story is compelling, as he mysteriously grew up loving the game, made his own bat (Wonderboy) from a tree, survived being shot, and delivered that memorable light-standard-smashing home run. 

‘The Karate Kid’ (1984)

Another stellar work of sports fiction that gives outcasts hope that they can make it. The Karate Kid is a film that stands the test of time, especially today, with bullying and social anxiety in the spotlight. Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) used karate as a tool for acceptance and, more importantly, self-confidence. Macchio and the franchise are still thriving.

‘Hoosiers’ (1986)

This is the first of two times we will showcase the work of screenwriter Angelo Pizzo, who was raised in Bloomington, Indiana. Inspired by and loosely based on the 1954 Indiana state basketball champions from tiny Milan High School, Hoosiers is often regarded as the greatest basketball movie ever. The David vs. Goliath tale is Hollywood at its best and truly encapsulates what prep sports can mean to a small town. Now, who’s ready to go out back and run the picket fence?

‘Field of Dreams’ (1989)

Who says sports fantasy can’t be inspiring? This classic Kevin Costner baseball vehicle is one of the most beloved movies ever, allowing viewers to remember that second chances are possible. And it’s important to make the most of our time with our loved ones — though they might not appreciate blowing your savings on building a baseball field in the backyard. The lasting effects of the movie are still being felt through “MLB at Field of Dreams.”

‘A League of their Own’ (1992)

The late Penny Marshall does a fine job showcasing the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with a fictional story about sisters experiencing life outside their Oregon farm. The great Tom Hanks is fantastic as Jimmy Dugan, a washed-up slugger-turned drunk-turned manager of a girls’ team. Always remember: “There’s no crying in baseball.”

‘Rudy’ (1993)

There might not be a bigger individual sports underdog than Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger — in real life or on film. It’s Sean Astin’s career-defining role (in another memorable film written by Angelo Pizzo) as the undersized, under-talented wannabe Notre Dame football player. Of course, he defied the odds and the naysayers to fulfill his dream of attending the prestigious university and playing for the Fighting Irish.

‘Remember the Titans’ (2000)

While football is the obvious backdrop of this classic, the true inspiration is coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and his ability to integrate a team and turn the players into winners. Will Patton also shines as assistant coach Bill Yoast, who swallows his pride and shuns his prejudice for the greater good of the team, school, and community — much like most players — to come together for a common purpose. 

‘Ali’ (2001)

It’s not easy to capture the aura and larger-than-life personality of the great Muhammad Ali. Will Smith, though, did a pretty good job and earned his first Oscar nomination. The picture did not do all that well at the box office, but it’s still worth a look to check out all that Ali was about.

‘The Rookie’ (2002)

We hear from Dennis Quaid again, this time as high school teacher-turned-major league pitcher Jim Morris. It’s another case of defying the odds and following a dream one thought was long dead. A young Angus T. Jones is stellar as Morris’ son, Hunter. It’s a feel-good movie that inspires many to believe, once again through baseball, that anything is possible.

‘Bend it Like Beckham’ (2002)

It’s girl power at its finest, with some English football and the Spice Girls. One of the surprise hits of the early 2000s, Bend it Like Beckham officially introduced the cinema world to Keira Knightley. Her character, Jules, and pal Jess (Parminder Nagra) showed that girls could shun stereotypes and use sports as an empowering vehicle toward a well-rounded life, no matter where they come from and what they believe.

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‘Seabiscuit’ (2003)

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We’ve touched on a few underdogs thus far, but what about a horse in that role? The characters in this fact-based film about one of the greatest racehorses of all time are what truly make the film. Tobey Maguire (jockey Red Pollard), Jeff Bridges (owner Charles Howard), and Chris Cooper (trainer Tom Smith) are a brilliant trio, and their relationship with the famed volatile horse inspires them to find meaning in their own fragile lives.

‘Miracle’ (2004)

This wasn’t the first movie about what’s arguably the greatest sports moment in United States history. However, Disney’s take on the Miracle on Ice does a solid job of getting to know main characters like fiery coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) and goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill). Those who lived through the real-life event probably got chills once again when the U.S. stunned the Russians in this movie version.

‘Coach Carter’ (2005)

Based on the real-life story of California prep basketball coach Ken Carter, Samuel L. Jackson is sound as expected in the starring role. Though the true-life tale of putting academics and discipline before sports is fit for Hollywood, there is plenty of inspiration to draw from this movie — via Carter and his players — and the concept, real or fiction, is timeless. 

‘Cinderella Man’ (2005)

Ron Howard delved into the sports world with the rags-to-riches story of boxer James Braddock. Russell Crowe in the starring role and Renee Zellweger, as his wife, Mae, are excellent, as is Paul Giamatti in a supporting role. Howard, who sensationalizes Braddock’s story, the fight scenes, and the hype for effect, does a quality job with his take of this everyman fighter bucking the odds to be a champion.

‘Glory Road’ (2006)

Another true-life sports tale that was begging to be put on the silver screen, this story of Don Haskins and his groundbreaking Texas Western team remains one of the most inspirational and important stories in sports. 

‘Invincible’ (2006)

Another Disney foray into sports. The story of Philadelphia everyman Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) takes its fair share of creative liberties, but it’s harmless and shows that even when times are tough, good things can happen with hard work — or with being good at football for a bad team, in this case.

‘Facing the Giants’ (2006)

Done on a budget of $100,000, this film made more than $10 million at the box office. This Christian-based tale is about a struggling high school football coach (versatile director, writer, and actor Alex Kendrick) and his team who turn around their fortunes on and off the field with the help of the Lord. It often pops up on basic cable, and despite being schmaltzy, it is family-friendly and wholesome. Plus, the cameo by former Georgia and Miami, Florida, football coach Mark Richt is a nice touch.

‘We Are Marshall’ (2006)

Another film that took a great deal of creative license with a true story. Yet, We Are Marshall does a respectful job of bringing out the collective emotion in the aftermath of the tragic 1970 plane crash involving the Marshall University football team, coaches, staff, and other dignitaries. Matthew McConaughey is jolly as coach Jack Lengyel. The story is inspiring enough while paying homage to those lost and those who rallied to revive the program and university morale.

‘The Blind Side’ (2009)

The movie that won Sandra Bullock an Oscar as the outspoken, feisty Leigh Anne Tuohy has blossomed into one of the all-time feel-good sports movies. The story of Michael Oher’s rise from his impoverished Memphis dwellings to the NFL was pretty much made for the big screen and scored a touchdown with audiences. 

‘Invictus’ (2009)

With Clint Eastwood directing and Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in the starring roles, Invictus was a heavyweight production. Freeman as South African president Nelson Mandela and Damon as Francois Pienaar, captain of the nation’s rugby team, are pretty special. The true inspiration of the movie is Mandela and his ability to get his national rugby team to help unite a fragile country in a post-apartheid world.

‘Soul Surfer’ (2011)

AnnaSophia Robb is good at portraying Bethany Hamilton, the promising teenage surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack. Not to be held back by her new disability, Hamilton gets back on the board. But she also gains more self-confidence and purpose as a person following her accident than she ever could have imagined. It’s another sports flick featuring Dennis Quaid.

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