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The 10 Best Sports Movies From This Century

From Moneyball to Shaolin Soccer, how many of these classic sports movies have you seen?

The 10 Best Sports Movies From This Century

It can be tempting to think that the best sports movies ever made are behind us. Slap Shot, Major League, Hoosiers, Bull Durham, Top Gun … many of your dad’s favorite sports movies are half a century old at this point. If you’re looking for some new sports movies to ignite a fire in your chest and make you feel like anything is possible, why not check out some new offerings from the current millennium.

Sports movies are kind of a crowded field, but these movies have climaxes and against-all-odds victories that stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the all-time greats. Nothing prepares you for Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), a washed-up catcher-turned-first-baseman for the Oakland Athletics, hitting a walk-off home run to secure the As’ 20th consecutive victory in the climax of Moneyball. Or, in Free Solo, when you actually see Alex Honnold make his attempt up the side of El Capitan in Yosemite, knowing that you could just as easily be witnessing a tragedy unfolding in front of you as assuredly as something historic.

Most but not all of these movies are “about sports,” rather than being strictly “sports movies.” But they’re all excellent and worth a watch. This is partially a consequence of timing, since modern sports have been around long enough where there’s more than enough true and almost unbelievable things happening across baseball, hockey, F1 racing, and more to justify a little adapting. And besides, you can’t watch Field of Dreams and The Sandlot forever, right?

#1: Moneyball (2011)

Love him or hate him for it, you kind of can’t deny that general manager Billy Beane changed the game of baseball with his unorthodox math-based strategy for squeezing every cent out of the Oakland Athletics’ fairly small coffers. Based on the 2003 Michael Lewis book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, the Bennett Miller–directed biographical film follows Beane (Brad Pitt) as he attempts to assemble a competitive team for the 2002 season, with the ultimate goal of winning the World Series.

Jonah Hill co-stars as Peter Brand (a composite character partially based on Peter DePodesta), with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, and Chris Pratt supporting.

#2: Creed II (2018)

Rocky Balboa’s journey has ended, but for a new generation of boxing fans, there’s the Creed trilogy. Michael B. Jordan reprises his role as Adonis “Donnie” Creed, who trains with Balboa in order to beat Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) to defend his World Heavyweight Championship belt.

Although all three of the Creed movies are excellent, I have a special fondness for Creed II because of its parallels to Rocky IV, and even goes as far as to bring back Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago, the villain’s father who killed Creed’s father Apollo (Carl Weathers) in the 1985 film. It’s got great stakes, great fights, and great performances with Tessa Thompson and Sylvester Stallone supporting.

#3: Shaolin Soccer (2001)

A bit of an oddball pick for a soccer movie, but it’s written by legendary Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow (Kung-Fu Hustle) which more than justifies its inclusion.

Chow directs and stars in the film as Sing, a Shaolin kung fu master who agrees to a harebrained proposal by a disgraced former soccer star Fung (Ng Man-tat) to compete in a soccer tournament with his five brothers (also Shaolin kung fu masters) in order to popularize the health benefits of the martial art. Although they quickly achieve a stream of blowout victories thanks to their kung-fu enhanced playing, Sing and his brothers find stiff resistance in the form of a team run by Fung’s former teammate Hung (Patrick Tse), who has been doping his players with an experimental American drug.

#4: Ford v. Ferrari (2019)

I will admit, this one is kind of a sleeper pick, especially given that there was a Michael Mann–directed Ferrari biopic starring Adam Driver that just came out last year. But what James Mangold’s film lacks in Italian accents, it more than makes up for in action.

Matt Damon stars as Carroll Shelby, an automotive engineer and former racecar driver tasked by Ford Motor Company to design a car capable of beating Scuderia Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966. Shelby taps his close friend, British race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). The film’s structure around one race in particular (as opposed to the Mann Ferrari biopic’s more sprawling, biographical nature) gives it a nice punchiness, and the film’s supporting cast (which includes Jon Bernthal and Tracy Letts) elevates it as well.

#5: Free Solo (2018)

The first documentary on this list, the National Geographic–produced film by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin chronicles climber Alex Honnold’s journey towards training and completing a free solo climb up El Capitan, a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park that soars 3,000 feet into the air at its highest point.

As much a psychological portrait of the climber as it is a documentary of the superhuman feat he’s attempting, the stakes on the climb could not be higher as Honnold attempts to scale almost a mile of rock without any safety equipment, armed only with the bare essentials he needs to make the journey.

#6: Ip Man (2008)

Marital Arts flick mainstay Donnie Yen (Blade II, Star Wars: Rogue One, John Wick: Chapter 4) stars as Ip Man, a master martial artist who brought the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun to Hong Kong following the Second Sino-Japanese War in the 1930s and 1940s.

Although Ip Man is more of a historical drama, much of the action takes place in sparring matches between Yen and other martial arts masters, eventually culminating in a brutal 10-on-one match in which Yen dispatches 10 practitioners of karate at once.

#7: Wimbledon (2004)

Twenty years before Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers debuted to rave reviews, Paul Bettany (Master and Commander, The Da Vinci Code, Avengers) starred in Wimbledon, a romantic comedy about the game of tennis.

Bettany plays Peter Colt, a tennis pro slipping in the rankings in his 30s, who nearly convinces himself to give up on the sport all together until a chance encounter with up-and-coming tennis star Lizzy Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) gives him the determination he needs to win again. Sam Neill, Jon Favreau, James McAvoy, and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau support in this film, which is great for watching with significant others or a potential new tennis partner.

#8: The Iron Claw (2023)

A very Adam, Prince of Eternia–looking Zac Efron stars as the wrestler Kevin von Erich in this A24-distributed wrestling biopic, which details the lives of the von Erich brothers, the sons of NWA star and owner of WCCW Fritz von Erich.

Jeremy Allen White and Harris Dickenson play Kerry and David von Erich, respectively, and the film depicts the brothers’ successes and failures as wrestlers, and the complications of mixing work and family. Non-wrestling fans may not get as much out of this one, but fans of the sport are certain to recognize a lot of the winks and nods to the sport’s history, including a cameo by Chavo Guerrero Jr.

#9: Miracle (2004)

Not content with our real-life ideological victory over the Soviet Union following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Miracle follows the story of the 1980 U.S. men’s ice hockey team in their upset victory at the Olympics against the overwhelming favorite Soviet team.

Kurt Russell stars as the team’s coach Herb Brooks, with Noah Emmerich (FBI Agent Stan Beeman in The Americans) as assistant coach Craig Patrick, who are tasked with whipping an amateur team of hockey players to compete in the Olympics against a stacked opposition of teams from Norway and Czechoslovakia to, penultimately, the professional team from Russia. Humorously enough, the film kind of yada-yadas over the team America actually beats to win the gold (Finland), but then again, it’s not really about the medal.

OJ: Made in America
#10: O.J.: Made in America (2016)

Produced by ESPN for its 30 for 30 series, Ezra Edelman’s sprawling documentary uses O.J. Simpson as a lens to analyze America’s uniquely bizarre culture of celebrity worship. The doc catalogs O.J.’s meteoric rise and precipitous fall through exhaustive use of interviews and archival news footage.

At almost eight hours long, it’s certainly a time investment (and it doesn’t feature David Schwimmer’s frankly nightmarish turn as Robert Kardashian from The People v. O.J. Simpson), but it’s gripping and methodical and unearths a lot of uniquely American sins in the course of laying out what happened to the Juice.