16 Best Sports Biopics of All Time, Ranked

August 28, 2023 - Movies

Just as there have been movies about musicians and, similarly, movies about real-life writers, there have also been movies about athletes, whether fictional or based on true events. The biographical sports film — or sports biopic — has been a staple genre in the film industry.

Whether they’re movies about the Olympics, in which stories of struggle, determination, and triumph pull at the heartstrings, or movies about an athlete’s journey towards a certain type of victory, what’s fundamentally appealing about sports biopics is the underlying theme of hope, hard work, and perseverance. There are countless films that anyone would consider a classic of sports biopics. We put together a list of the very best of the subgenre for you to get inspired.

Updated on August 26th, 2023 by Federico Furzan: To keep this article fresh and relevant, we’ve added more information, entries, and additional content.

16 Ali (2001)

Ali will smith 2001
Sony Pictures Releasing / Initial Entertainment Group

Will Smith delivers his best rendition of “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” in Michael Mann’s 2001 biopic about the self-proclaimed Louisville Lip, Ali. A name that transcended boxing, Muhammad Ali was a man of the people, and during his pomp, he was never too far away from controversy or the media spotlight.

Ali presents the tale of arguably the greatest boxer that ever lived, from the day of his maiden heavyweight title challenge against Sonny Liston, through to his refusal to be conscripted into the US Army for the Vietnam War. Not only was he a Sports Illustrated superstar, but his activism in the civil rights movement was incredibly influential.

15 Chariots of Fire (1981)

Chariots of Fire 1981
20th Century Fox

Chariots of Fire is a classic of the sports biopic genre and for a good reason. Two British runners competing in the 1924 Olympics are at the heart of this film, one who races for the glory of God as a devout Christian, and one who is a Jewish man, running to overcome prejudice. Eric Lidell, the Christian runner, faces judgment from his own family, who thinks he should be focusing more on his religion.

Meanwhile, Harold Abrahams faces prejudice from the staff at his university, but still, he goes on to become an excellent runner. When the two compete in the Olympics, they face a rocky start. Despite being clear underdogs in the competition, the two go on to win gold medals and bring glory to the British team. All things considered, this film is a must-watch for any sports biopic fans.

14 Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari (2019)
20th Century Fox

Ford v Ferrari is about the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour race and a team who wanted to outdo the Italian Scuderia Ferrari. American and British engineers race to build the Ford GT40, now one of the greats of rally sports, after facing insults from the Scuderia Ferrari team.

They go on to end the winning streak of the Italian team and make the Ford name go down in racing history. As one of the most tense Le Mans races of all time, this film is a fantastic representation of that. It captures the tension of the 1960s motor sports scene and shows the making of a legend, as well as the success of an underdog.

13 The Blind Side (2009)

Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side
Warner Bros. Pictures

Based on the 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, The Blind Side tells the story of Michael Oliver, an NFL star who had to battle an impoverished background to achieve his dreams. His foster parents help him get to college, ultimately leading to him being drafted. They see Michael’s success as a huge family success, and eventually, he comes around to their way of thinking.

With a star-studded cast and a heart-warming story of how a loving home can help someone achieve anything they wish, The Blind Side is one of the greatest sports biopics of all time. However, there’s been a bit of controversy in recent days regarding the film as the real-life Michael publicly declared it’s not as close to the truth as we thought.

12 Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Eddie the Eagle cast
Lionsgate / 20th Century Fox

Eddie the Eagle is a film that tells the story of Great British Olympic ski jump competitor, Michael David Edwards (better known as Eddie the Eagle). The film showcases the massive hurdles Eddie had to overcome to become an Olympic star.

Eddie the Eagle is an inspiring watch for anyone, and is motivational to the extreme: Eddie self-trained to compete in the 1988 Olympics. Despite his parents not supporting his dream, he goes on to do it anyway and achieves success in his own right. While not a typical success story, this is one for the downtrodden.

Related: Best Biopics About Black Music Icons, Ranked

11 The Fighter (2010)

The Fighter Bale and Wahlberg
Paramount Pictures

Filmmaker David O. Russell is probably frantically searching for his former cinematic glory following the flop that was Amsterdam. He needn’t look any further than 2010’s The Fighter, a gritty, enigmatic, and powerful biopic about steady-eddy boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg).

With his career stalling after a series of defeats, Ward enlists the help of his smack-head half-brother, and retired professional boxer, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), as Ward attempts to get his career back on track. This is a grittier, tougher, more credible picture than the likes of the Rocky franchise, and is equally inspiring.

10 Cinderella Man (2005)

Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man
Universal Pictures / Buena Vista International

Ron Howard pulls the directorial strings for this moving, feel-good flick about boxer James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe). As the Great Depression took its toll, former prizefighter Braddock went from labor job to labor job.

He tries and fails to make ends meet, leaving his young family in a perpetual state of poverty. Against his wife’s pleas, the ex-heavyweight journeyman takes up the only job he knows will pay: boxing. And so, Cinderella Man chronicles his ascent to boxing acclaim and financial security.

9 I, Tonya (2017)

I Tonya margot robbie
Neon / 30West

I, Tonya is based on the career of figure-skater Tonya Harding, with a specific focus on her involvement in an attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. As a dark comedy, the film is a refreshing outlier in this list, while also being similarly captivating. Viewers must decide for themselves if what Tonya is telling them is true or not.

The comedic style mixed with the unreliable narrators that are telling the story is not the usual way for a biopic to be presented, but I, Tonya is anything but conventional. Making use of the mockumentary style, this film is a hilarious watch, features an incredible Margot Robbie performance, and is one of the most interesting biopics of any kind.

8 King Richard (2021)

King Richard will smith
Warner Bros. Pictures

The film was made more famous by Will Smith throwing hands at the 2022 Academy Awards where he won Best Actor for his display as Richard Williams, the domineering father of the tennis queens Venus and Serena. King Richard depicts the monumental origin story of a father living vicariously through his daughters as he attempts to coach them to tennis stardom.

His strict, uncompromising, disciplinarian approach, invariably molded his two daughters into the sporting greats they became. The biopic examines their upbringing where the emphasis was placed on academia and sporting excellence, as Richard Williams and his wife, Oracene navigated their young family through the troubled streets of Compton.

7 Rush (2013)

rush hemsworth brühl
Universal Pictures / StudioCanal / Universum Film

Before we had Netflix’s documentary series, Drive to Survive, there was Rush. Formula 1 is one of the world’s great motorsports, and in 2013, fans got closer to one of the greatest feuds in the sport’s history. Rush tells the story of Niki Lauda and James Hunt, two drivers with extremely different styles, both on and off the racetrack.

With tensions rising throughout the movie, it is perhaps no surprise when the tragic ending occurs, but despite this, it is still a fantastic watch. This epic sports biopic captures both the glamour and high stakes of Formula 1 in the 1970s and is a must-watch for any sports fan.

Related: These Are the Best Women’s Sports Movies

6 Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull
United Artists

Adapted from the memoir Raging Bull: My Story, Raging Bull is about the career of Jake LaMotta and the people around him. Often considered one of the greatest American films ever, the film shows LaMotta’s eventual downfall. Through a fight with his brother, he loses his wife and brother all at once, despite both of them trying to support him in his career.

He even ends up in jail. However, all is not lost: Jake goes on to make something of himself despite the adversity he faces and learns to cut himself some slack. This is not a traditional success story, but that’s what makes this film so great — the idea that, even if you lose, you can still come out on top.

5 Moneyball (2011)

moneyball pitt hill
Sony Pictures Releasing 

Moneyball tells the true story of General Manager Billy Beane trying to make the Oakland Athletics a respectable team in 2002. With his partner, Beane twists around the traditional scouting methods and uses statistics to build a league-winning team.

No one expected the film to be as emotional as it was, given that so much of the subject material is based on numbers and statistics. However, stand-out performances by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill made it a noteworthy pick in the sports biopics catalog.

4 Rudy (1993)

Sean Astin in Rudy
TriStar Pictures

We all remember 1993’s Rudy. Jerry Goldsmith’s score, Sean Astin’s Performance, and the fact that it was shot on location in the historic campus of Notre Dame University, something that hadn’t happened in half a century.

This is the very inspiring story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, a kid coming from a working-class family whose only dream in life was to play college football for the University of Notre Dame. Considering his height and other obstacles, it wasn’t an easy feat, but as the film’s final scene shows, if you fight hard enough, you will accomplish your dreams.

3 Foxcatcher (2014)

steve carell foxcatcher
Sony Pictures Classics / Annapurna International

More thriller drama than biopic, Foxcatcher tells a tragic story that stained wrestling during the ’80s. The film is about John du Pont’s excessive enthusiasm for the sport, and his endeavor to form an Olympic team.

Unfortunately, du Pont’s obsession would take a dark turn when he killed David Schultz years after. Led by three stellar performances by Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher is an underrated sports drama that you should not miss.

2 Miracle (2004)

miracle 2004 kurt russell
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

The very inspiring film Miracle told the story of possibly the greatest hockey match ever played. The 1980 Winter Olympics took place during the Cold War, with two hockey teams in the middle of it all.

The US hockey team faced the Soviet team in what some refer to as the Miracle on Ice after the US ultimately won against the other heavily favored team. It starts with Kurt Russell as Coach Brooks, the man who led the team to victory.

1 Remember the Titans

Remember the Titans washington panettiere
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution 

Remember the Titans tells the incredible true story of Coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington). He was assigned to coach the football team of a high school where there was too much racial tension.

Determined to integrate the team, Coach Boone uses a disciplinary attitude to get everyone in line and ultimately make them a team. This film features Ryan Gosling in one of his first performances in Hollywood.

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