Sean Astin dreams of Notre Dame football in the ultimate underdog story. Grown men will cry.
Remember the Titans (2000)
Denzel Washington leads a desegregated football team into the post-Civil Rights ’70s. A moving weepie with a tough heart.
The Blind Side (2009)
A wrong-side-of-the-tracks football prodigy meets the tough, blonde, no-bull mentor of our dreams. Of course Bullock won the Oscar.
We Are Marshall (2006)
An extreme vision of the healing power of sports. After a devastating plane crash, a new coach leads a grieving community to victory.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
A dreamy, panoramic examination of a year in the life of small-town football. The TV show’s pretty good, too.
The baseball movie for the Nerd Age, with Brad Pitt using advanced math to transform underdogs into a powerhouse team.
A League of Their Own (1992)
The great American sports movie about everyone who isn’t a man, with an all-star team (Madonna! Rosie!) and a tense sibling-rivalry showdown.
The Rookie (2002)
A never-better Dennis Quaid plays an Everyguy high school teacher taking a last shot at the pros.
In the first Jackie Robinson biopic, the athlete played himself. Six decades later, Chadwick Boseman brings the boundary-breaking ballplayer back to life.
Glory Road (2006)
When Texas Western College integrates its basketball team, the toughest battles happen off the court. An inspiring look at how athletics became Civil Rights’ front lines.
Coach Carter (2005)
A high school sports movie about the importance of good grades. Samuel L. Jackson is the coach with more on his mind than the game.
The Fighter (2010)
The title should be plural, since everyone onscreen is locked in combat. Brother vs. brother, mover vs. son, family vs. family, and family vs. everyone else.
Less a biopic than an expansive look at how a wild period in history made a brilliant man – and how that brilliant man made history.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
You can smell the sweat and tears in Clint Eastwood’s pugilist melodrama.
Cinderella Man (2005)
It’s the Great Depression, and America needs a comeback. Thank goodness for Russell Crowe, a little guy climbing to boxing’s big leagues.
Bend It Like Beckham (2003)
Feminism? The immigrant experience? Heavy stuff. But this Big Idea, high-energy British film is light on its feet.
When Nelson Mandela asks a sports superstar to save the country by winning a championship, it’s cosmic stakes.
The Damned United (2009)
As played by Michael Sheen, almost-legendary British football manager Brian Clough is a brilliant, spiteful, self-defeating egomaniac: British football’s Walter White.
Tin Cup (1996)
Kevin Costner’s made plenty of baseball movies, but he’s at his most charming as the slacker golf guru in this low-key romcom.
The Wrestler (2008)
In which Mickey Rourke plays Mickey Rourke, more or less: a god in ruins brought down to devastating human size.
What out, commies! The Cold War freezes over at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Kurt Russell is the tough coach leading his boys to victory.
Cool Runnings (1993)
Jamaican Bobsled Team: That phrase alone is a triumph of the human spirit.
Lords of Dogtown (2005)
A bunch of hippie surfers reinvent skateboarding. It’s like watching the 1970s invent the 1990s one trick at a time.
Small, wobbly-kneed, unimpressive until he starts impressing: The titular horse is a palpable metaphor for everyone struggling against their own limitations.
And now for something completely different: A hilarious satire of sports-movie cliché that’s also a thrilling team-of-misfits triumph in its own right.
Want more? EW has detailed the best in movies, TV, music, and books for 25 years with the Must List, and in celebration, The Must List: Ranking the Best in 25 Years of Pop Culture is out now. This gallery is an excerpt from the book. The Must List: Ranking the Best in 25 Years of Pop Culture is in stores now, or available for order online.