clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
André Holland as Ray Burke in High Flying Bird. Photo: Peter Andrews/Netflix

Filed under:

The best sports movies to watch right now

Underdog stories, lighthearted comedies, powerful documentaries, and more

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

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.

That’s why we’re here — to separate the wheat from the chaff and hone in on the sports movies that are actually good.

Here are some sports movies we quite like, and we hope you do as well. They are organized by sport. Our latest update added Bull Durham, Challengers, Ferrari, The French, O.J.: Made in America, Rocky, and Throw Down.

Best baseball movies

Bull Durham

Where to watch: Prime Video

Susan Sarandon sits with Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins in Bull Durham Image: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The sport: Baseball

The movie: A longtime minor league baseball player (Kevin Costner) who has never been able to make the big leagues is tasked with mentoring a young hotshot rookie (Tim Robbins). Meanwhile, a woman (Susan Sarandon) who loves baseball and picks a different player each year to romance has her eye on both men.

Why you should watch: In many ways, Bull Durham was Challengers before Challengers: a steamy sports movie with a central love triangle (but still committed to accuracy on the sports side of things, written and directed by former minor league baseball player Ron Shelton) and strong performances. —Pete Volk


Where to watch: Netflix

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 former Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who plays the team’s owner. —Oli Welsh

Best basketball movies

High Flying Bird

Where to watch: Netflix

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

Hoop Dreams

Where to watch: Max, Criterion Channel, Paramount Plus; free with ads on Pluto TV, Plex, Crackle

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

Uncut Gems

Where to watch: Free with a library card on Hoopla, or for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu

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

Best boxing movies

Raging Bull

Where to watch: MGM Plus, free with a library card on Hoopla, free with ads on Pluto TV, Tubi, Roku Channel

Robert DeNiro faces off against an opponent in the boxing ring 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: AMC Plus, or for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu

(L-R) Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) standing opposite of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in Rocky Image: MGM Home Entertainment

The sport: Boxing

The movie: One of the all-time great underdog stories and iconic movie characters. Sylvester Stallone stars as a small-time fighter who gets a surprising shot at glory when he secures a fight against the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

Why you should watch: It’s Rocky! No list of sports movies would be complete without it — it’s one of the main reasons underdog stories are so popular in the genre. Yes, it’s schmaltzy, but that’s the charm of the movie. Sylvester Stallone is among the most earnest pop artists of the 20th century, and nowhere is that clearer than in Rocky. —PV

Best football movies

The Freshman

Where to watch: Max, Criterion Channel; for free with ads on Tubi, Plex

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

O.J.: Made in America

Where to watch: Netflix

O.J.: Made in America key art, with O.J. Simpson against a black background Image: Disney

The sport: Football stardom

The movie: A nearly eight-hour documentary about the life of the late O.J. Simpson, with a focus on his relationship to race and stardom, and how these and other factors coalesced into the sensational coverage of his murder trial.

Why you should watch: OK, you got me. This one isn’t exactly a football movie. But football is completely and necessarily intertwined in this sprawling, detailed documentary about one of the biggest news events of the 20th century. —PV

Best racing and motorsports movies


Where to watch: Hulu

Two men in sunglasses stare moodily in the distance Image: Neon/Everett Collection

The sport: Motorsport

The movie: Michael Mann takes on the legacy of Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver), the founder of the luxury car brand and racing team and more than a bit of an asshole. The movie charts his later years as he deals with his struggling race team, hiding his secret second family from his wife, and public scrutiny.

Why you should watch: An exemplary anti-great man biopic, Ferrari was one of my favorite movies of 2023. It’s a terrific character study led by incredible leading performances by Driver and Penélope Cruz (the biggest Oscar snub of the year, in my humble opinion). Also, it’s a Michael Mann movie, so you know the action sequences are excellent (in this case, the racing sequences).—PV


Where to watch: Netflix; available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu

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

Speed Racer

Where to watch: For digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu

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

Best UFC and MMA movies

Born a Champion

Where to watch: Hulu

Sean Patrick Flannery looks intensely at the camera in 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. —PV

Sanshiro Sugata

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

The master and his student kneel together in Sanshiro Sugata. Image: Toho Company

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

Throw Down

Where to watch: Criterion Channel

Aaron Kwok stands across a very large man who is prepared for a judo bout outside a club in Throw Down Image: China Star Entertainment Group/Everett Collection

The sport: Judo

The movie: Three people in the Hong Kong nightlife — a singer (Cherrie Ying), a former judo champion who runs a bar (Louis Koo), and an aspiring judoka who wants to take on anyone he can (Aaron Kwok) — intertwine in a powerful and touching movie about friendship and the search for the self.

Why you should watch: It only makes sense to follow up Sanshiro Sugata with Throw Down — Johnnie To dedicated the movie to Kurosawa, and while it’s not a remake, there are many similarities between the two. It’s a gorgeous, sentimental martial arts movie directed by one of the very best in the business. —PV


Where to watch: Peacock, for free with ads on Plex

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

Best other sports movies


Where to watch: For digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu

Zendaya walks away from the camera on a tennis court in Challengers Image: MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

The sport: Tennis

The movie: Three youth tennis stars (Josh O’Connor, Mike Faist, and Zendaya) find themselves in a love triangle that mixes personal feelings and competitive spirit. After an injury sidelines the most promising of the three, it seems the relationship drama sorts itself out. But when the trio run into each other on the competitive circuit years later, it seems old rivalries and passions are still just as hot as ever.

Why you should watch: Sports, at their very best, are really just a vehicle for drama, and Challengers understands that perfectly. The movie is framed around one central tennis match, the championship at a tiny, meaningless tournament, which we cut back and forth to between intersections of tense romantic drama. The tennis in this movie is shot the way other movies might approach a fistfight: It’s violent, kinetic, and personal, and every single hit has an emotional winner. All this makes both the tennis and the romance hit harder each time they come back up, leading to an inevitable conclusion that feels absolutely perfect. —Austen Goslin

The French

Where to watch: Metrograph at Home

Yannick Noah serves on a clay court in The French Image: Metrograph

The sport: Tennis

The movie: William Klein’s cinéma vérité documentary about the 1981 French Open had unprecedented access from the French Tennis Federation, allowing Klein to get behind the scenes with one of the most fascinating periods in tennis history. It’s a favorite of Wes Anderson’s, who presented the movie at the Metrograph.

Why you should watch: The movie is filled with intimate looks at the fascinating stars of that era — Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Yannick Noah, Chris Evert — and is a completely immersive portrait of a grand sporting event. Klein spends as much time embedding you in the sights and sounds of the crowd as he does in the tennis matches themselves, and the result is one of the greatest sports documentaries ever made. —PV


Where to watch: Prime Video, on Hoopla with a library card, or for free with ads on Crackle, Pluto TV, Tubi, and Plex

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

I, Tonya

Where to watch: Max

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: Nowhere at the moment, unfortunately

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

Minding the Gap

Where to watch: Hulu

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

Shaolin Soccer

Where to watch: Free with a library card on Hoopla, free with ads on Pluto TV

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.

Strictly Ballroom

Where to watch: Free with a library card on Hoopla, or for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu

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

The Wrestler

Where to watch: Hulu

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

What to Watch

The best movies new to Netflix, Max, and more this June

What to Watch

The 31 best movies on Netflix right now

What to Watch

The 5 best Korean dramas to watch on Netflix this summer

View all stories in What to Watch