Australia’s Margot Robbie starred in I, Tonya.
Australia’s Margot Robbie starred in I, Tonya.

The 50 greatest sports movies of all time

They are the stories of triumph over adversity, of courage under fire, of bizarre characters battling the odds. And they provide the perfect entertainment the world needs right now as major sporting events are shut down.

As Australians search for entertainment at home, some of the greatest sporting tales of all time are even better than the real thing.

Sport is the ultimate human drama and from the recent hit Ford v Ferrari to The Champ, filmed during the Great Depression almost 90 years ago, sport has been a field of dreams for Oscar hopefuls. 

Academy award winner Hilary Swank became the Million Dollar Baby in 2004, but Jackie Cooper was the million-dollar infant, the biggest child star of the early 1930s, earning a best actor nomination aged nine.



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Robert de Niro won his only Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Raging Bull.
Robert de Niro won his only Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Raging Bull.



One of Jackie's early directors could make him cry on cue by threatening to shoot Jackie's dog.

It's still hard to keep a dry eye watching the finale of The Champ with Jackie and Wallace Beery as a broken-down boxer in his Oscar-winning role.

Jackie sobs his little heart out and somewhere off camera, you know there's a Jack Russell with a revolver pressed against its head.

Thomas Edison, the man who invented the light bulb, phonograph and movie camera, filmed the first ever sports movie when he captured world heavyweight boxing champ Gentleman Jim Corbett sparring in 1894 and the fight game, with all its passion and turmoil, its egos and sharks, has always punched above its weight on Oscar night.

Robert De Niro was magnificently repulsive as the Raging Bull and Sylvester Stallone endearing as Rocky, who has survived some pretty heavy hits to triumph for more than 40 years.



The inspirational Chariots of Fire.
The inspirational Chariots of Fire.


Horse racing on film goes back to the Lumiere company recording the fashions of the 1896 Melbourne Cup and the cinema has visited the track many times since with the Marx Brothers enjoying A Day At The Races, Bob Hope becoming Sorrowful Jones and the courageous Seabiscuit racing into the world's heart.

Rodney Dangerfield went to the trots in Easy Money only to see the crooked driver of his horse dig his heels so hard into the dirt to prevent it winning that Rodney, waiting expectantly at the finish line with his betting ticket, was shrouded in dust and defeat.

Dangerfield was also the wisecracking star of Caddyshack, a farce that survived the years much better than other golf flicks such as Follow The Sun, with dour Glenn Ford playing the feisty Ben Hogan, or Kevin Costner chasing the US Open and Rene Russo in Tin Cup.

Caddyshack also paved the way for Adam Sandler's Happy Gilmore, the golfer who attacked the ball like a hockey puck and launched Sandler into gridiron's The Waterboy.



Sylvester Stallone became synonymous with the Rocky movies. Picture: AP
Sylvester Stallone became synonymous with the Rocky movies. Picture: AP


Gridiron also gave us Ronald Reagan as the Gipper in the sentimental journey of Knute Rockne, Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans and the pint-sized hero Rudy, played by Sean Astin.

Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for The Blind Side and Queensland's Margot Robbie was nominated for one as the icy Tonya Harding.

De Niro was a dying baseballer in Bang The Drum Slowly and the killer of a baseballer in The Fan.

Billy Crudup resurrected distance runner Steve Prefontaine in Without Limits and Robby Benson was the Running Brave, winning the Olympic 10,000m in Tokyo. Burt Lancaster became Jim Thorpe - All American.



Australia’s Margot Robbie starred in I, Tonya. Picture: YouTube.
Australia’s Margot Robbie starred in I, Tonya. Picture: YouTube.

And a Scottish missionary and English Jew chasing Olympic gold made Chariots Of Fire an inspiring hit for Muslim producer Dodi Fayed, Princess Di's final fling.

In a game where everything starts at love, Kirsten Dunst found romance at Wimbledon 25 years after Ali MacGraw made a racket there alongside Dean Martin's son in Players, which featured John McEnroe and Guillermo Vilas in cameo roles.

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise revved up their passion in Days of Thunder but the romance eventually ran out of gas.

Keira Knightley bent the ball like Beckham and Pele put the boot into the Nazis in Escape to Victory.


Mickey Rourke launches from the turnbuckle in 'The Wrestler'.
Mickey Rourke launches from the turnbuckle in 'The Wrestler'.

Rugby league greats Wayne Pearce and Andrew Ettingshausen tackled The First Kangaroos and in the 1960s Munster rugby player Richard Harris switched to league for This Sporting Life.

But for inspired casting you can't go past portly American Forest Whitaker playing an English cricketer in love with a penis-wielding femme fatale in The Crying Game.

Naked flesh has not been so carefully scrutinised since an oiled up, preening Austrian narcissist with a Nazi father disrobed for Pumping Iron in 1977.

At the time critics were adamant that the big show-off named Arnold Schwarzenegger would quickly be forgotten.




1. RAGING BULL (1980)

Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and director Martin Scorsese formed an invincible triumvirate in the true story of tormented slugger Jake La Motta. De Niro collected his only Best Actor Oscar for a role that required him to be super-fit in the fight scenes and to be 25kg heavier to play La Motta in his decline.



The soundtrack alone will make you feel like an Olympic champion. But the storyline about the English missionary and athletics great, Eric Liddell, who put God before Olympic gold will make you soar.


3. ROCKY (1976)

The first sports movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture, it was loosely based on the struggles of Chuck Wepner, a big New Jersey bruiser who lost to Muhammad Ali and Brisbane's very own Joe Bugner. Before all the sequels diluted the punch of the original, Rocky was the ultimate story of a loveable underdog with a big heart.



Kevin Costner starred in Field of Dreams.
Kevin Costner starred in Field of Dreams.

4. FORD v FERRARI (2019)

A high speed thrill ride and an emotional rollercoaster set at the pulsating 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance car race in France. It won two Oscars and a stack of other accolades.



Nominated for three Oscars, this combination of baseball, fantasy and magic gave us the line ``If you build it, he will come.''


6. THE HUSTLER (1961)

Nominated for nine Academy Awards, Paul Newman plays pool-playing shark "Fast Eddie" Felson, trying to rack up some wins in the big time when opposed to Jackie Gleason's "Minnesota Fats".



A tribute to the legendary New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, who died only a year earlier, it garnered 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Actor for taciturn Gary Cooper. Babe Ruth co-stars.



Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Ford v Ferrari


8. THE BLIND SIDE (2009)

Sandra Bullock collected an Oscar in this story of Michael Oher, who rose from impoverished beginnings to become a first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens.



9. THE CHAMP (1931) 

Try not to cry as little Jackie Cooper pleads with his father to stay alive after the battling pug, played by Oscar-winner Wallace Beery, suffers a brutal knockout in the boxing ring.


10. I, TONYA (2017)

Dalby's own Margot Robbie earned an Oscar nomination for this biopic about the disgraced and deeply troubled figure skater Tonya Harding.


11. THE WRESTLER (2008)

Mickey Rourke is brilliant as a washed up wrestler whose downward spiral and shot at redemption mirrored that of the actor's career.



Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. Picture:AP
Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. Picture:AP



The story of the Rumble in the Jungle, the 1974 fight in Zaire that saw Muhammad Ali's career resurrection against George Foreman. It featured a heavyweight cast all the way through, including literary giants Norman Mailer, Thomas Hauser and George Plimpton.


13. SEABISCUIT (2003)

It lost out to Lord of the Rings as Best Picture at the Oscars but this was a winner from the start in the story of the little champion taking on the great thoroughbred War Admiral in 1938.



Tom Hanks, Madonna, Geena Davis and director Penny Marshall team up for an ode to women's baseball during World War II.


15. THE FIGHTER (2010)

Mark Wahlberg trained with the great Manny Pacquiao to play boxer Micky Ward. Christian Bale played his drug addict half-brother Dicky Eklund in the story of a budding champion trying to rise from mean streets and a dysfunctional family.



Brazilian football legend Pele starred in Escape to Victory.
Brazilian football legend Pele starred in Escape to Victory.



16. BULL DURHAM (1988)

Kevin Costner is a veteran catcher hired to tutor a hothead pitcher played by Tim Robbins, with Susan Sarandon loving both of them.


17. SLAP SHOT (1977)

Paul Newman is a tough old ice hockey player down on his luck who knows that crowds in his hard scrabble factory town love lashings of violence.



It won Academy Awards for Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. It might have been a far-fetched take on women's boxing but it was great entertainment.



Directed by John Huston, it features A-list actors Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone and Max von Sydow but the real stars are Pele, Bobby Moore and a host of other football greats in this tale of a soccer game in a Nazi prison camp during World War II.


20. RUSH (2013)

Bitter rivals and vastly different characters James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) are locked in combat on the racetrack.




21. CINDERELLA MAN - Russell Crowe

22. MONEYBALL - Brad Pitt

23. JERRY MAGUIRE - Tom Cruise

24. ALI - Will Smith

25. REMEMBER THE TITANS - Denzel Washington

26. HOOSIERS - Gene Hackman

27. THIS SPORTING LIFE - Richard Harris

28. THE NATURAL - Robert Redford

29. A DAY AT THE RACES - Marx Brothers

30. THE HARDER THEY FALL - Humphrey Bogart

31. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS- Billy Bob Thornton

32. WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP - Woody Harrelson

33. MURDERBALL - American and Canadian wheelchair rugby players

34. BODY AND SOUL - John Garfield

35. TIN CUP - Kevin Costner


37. BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY - Robert De Niro


39 WITHOUT LIMITS - Billy Crudup

40 THE LONGEST YARD - Burt Reynolds

41 FAT CITY - Stacy Keach

42 BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM - Keira Knightley

43 THE BOXER - Daniel Day-Lewis

44. MAJOR LEAGUE - Charlie Sheen

45. THE COLOR OF MONEY - Tom Cruise

46. THE BAD NEWS BEARS - Walter Matthau

47 CHAMPION - Kirk Douglas

48. CADDYSHACK - Rodney Dangerfield


50. ANY GIVEN SUNDAY - Al Pacino




Originally published as The 50 greatest sports movies of all time

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