There are few movie genres that have quite as much staying power of the feel-good sports movie. This is, in many ways, a quintessentially American genre, since it brings out so much of what America believes to be true to itself, especially the widespread belief that, with enough grit and determination, one can accomplish almost anything.
There have been many of these movies produced during the history of Hollywood, but only a very select few can be really said to be considered the best that the genre has been able to produce.
10 Angels In The Outfield (1994)
Angels in the Outfield is a movie that could only come out of the 1990s, focusing as it does on a boy’s prayers that his team, the California Angels, would win. Unsurprisingly, the angels of the title come to the rescue, and the movie ends happily. It’s a feel-good sports movie that tugs at the heart-strings. It is certainly helped by its very strong cast, which includes not only Joseph Gordon-Levitt but also Christopher Llloyd and Tony Danza. It’s a movie that is both of its time and also timeless.
9 We Are Marshall (2006)
The plane crash that took the lives of the Marshall University football team is one of the most shocking incidents in sports history, and We are Marshall chronicles the university’s attempts to rebuild its team in the aftermath. It’s a movie that focuses on a community’s and a school’s collective ability to endure an almost unthinkable tragedy. What’s more, it also features a powerful performance from Matthew McConaughey in one of his best roles, who plays the coach brought in to rebuild the team and ultimately leads them to victory.
8 Remember The Titans (2000)
One of the marks of a feel-good sports movie is that it allows the viewer to believe that no problem, whether with a team or with society at large, can’t ultimately be resolved. That is certainly the motivating spirit behind Remember the Titans, which also happens to be based on the true story of a football coach–played by Denzel Washington, in one of his best roles –and his efforts to integrate his team.
It’s a powerful drama that, while at times predictable, nevertheless has an important and uplifting message.
7 Chariots Of Fire (1981)
There are few sports movies quite as highly-regarded as Chariots of Fire. Even now, nearly forty years after it was in theaters, its messages continue to resonate. Focusing as it does on two Olympic runners–one Christian and one Jewish, each pursuing their dreams for a different reason–it is a movie that still feels quite relevant. The movie excels at braiding together its political and social commentary with the two men’s efforts to win so that, by the time that the British team returns victorious, it truly feels like a monumental achievement.
6 Field Of Dreams (1989)
Field of Dreams is arguably one of the best movies of the 1980s, in addition to being one of the best movies about baseball. It features a powerful performance from Kevin Costner, who stars as Ray Kinsella, who builds a baseball stadium in his cornfield and, in the process, manages to heal the broken relationship with his late father. A less well-done movie would buckle under its sentimentality, but this movie succeeds and leaves the audience with the feeling that baseball, and sports more generally, can heal the soul and the family.
5 Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Even though many of the best feel-good sports movies are American, there are a few, such as Bend It Like Beckham, that have come out of the UK. Focusing as it does on the daughter of British Sikhs, its story revolves around her efforts to play soccer, even as she has to overcome her parents’ resistance and the racism of British culture more generally. While it makes generous use of social commentary, the movie never loses sight of the fact that it is also a commentary, and so it’s just the type of movie designed to make the viewer feel good after watching it.
4 The Pride Of The Yankees (1942)
There are few sports figures more iconic than Lou Gehrig, who died very young of the disease that was named after him. Even though this is a sports movie, it pays much more attention to Gehrig’s personal life than it does to the mechanics of baseball. Nevertheless, the movie is grounded by a powerful and moving performance from the Hollywood legend Gary Cooper, who endows the character with the homespun gravitas and charisma that was the actor’s trademark during the height of his career.
3 Friday Night Lights (2004)
As with so many of the other feel-good sports movies that have been made, Friday Night Lights succeeds because it manages to thread the needle between the minutiae of its chosen sport–football–and the lives and personal dramas of its central characters. As a result, it allows the viewer to become quite involved with both, to a degree that the fortunes of the football team come to mirror those of the larger town in which the story takes place.
These are, ultimately, people that it is easy to care about and whose lives become endowed with significant meaning.
2 Rocky (1976)
Rocky is inarguably one of the best boxing movies ever made, in large part because Sylvester Stallone is such a compelling screen presence as the title character. However, its success comes about because Rocky is the sort of character that audiences can cheer for, someone whose rags-to-riches story is quintessentially American. What also truly sets it apart is that it ends not with his victory but with his defeat, and it is precisely this surprising ending that gives the movie its enduring emotional power.
1 The Blind Side (2009)
Sandra Bullock has been in many noted movies, but her role as Leigh Ann Tuohy is arguably one of her best. As powerful as her performance is, however, the true power of this movie stems from its story of Michael Oher, who becomes a famous player for the NFL despite humble origins. It is, in that sense, a very typical American story, but there’s a magic to the movie that is hard to deny. Though it has relatively few surprises in terms of its story, that’s precisely what allows it to be such a feel-good movie.
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