12 inspiring female-driven sports movies
Sports films of their own
We’ve rounded up a dozen great sports flicks that put female athletes front and center — half of which, by the way, were helmed by female directors. Who says boys get to have all the fun?
A League of Their Own (1992)
There's no crying in baseball — but there most certainly can be women in it. More than twenty-five years later, A League of Their Own is still the gold standard not just of female-centric sports movies but sports movies in general. Geena Davis stars as Dottie Hinson, the star catcher “who plays like Gehrig, and looks like Garbo,” and Lori Petty is her competitive little sister Kit, who can’t match Dottie’s talent or poise but makes up for it in drive. Backed by a supporting cast that includes Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Tom Hanks as their washed-up, alcoholic coach, Penny Marshall’s classic thrillingly dramatizes America’s pastime alongside the uniquely complicated friendships and rivalries that exist between women.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Filmmaker Gurinder Chadha’s beloved indie British comedy follows Jess, a young woman from a Punjabi Sikh family who wants nothing more than to play football (um, soccer, that is). Despite her parents’ disapproval, she joins a local women’s team, where she befriends Jules (a pre-Pirates Keira Knightley), falls for her dreamy Irish coach (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), and learns to bend both the ball and the rules.
Bring It On (2000)
Brrrr! Is it cold in here? Since Peyton Reed’s Bring It On hit theaters in 2000, the cheerleading saga of the Rancho Carne Toros, led by perky captain Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) and her decidedly edgier friend Missy (Eliza Dushku), has ascended to cult-classic status. When Torrance discovers that the Toros’ previous captain had ripped off all their routines from the nearby East Compton Clovers, she is determined for the squad to make a fresh start — without breaking their winning streak. Even now, over 15 years later, Bring It On sure is number one.
Whip It (2009)
Drew Barrymore made her directorial debut helming this adaptation of Shauna Cross’ coming-of-age sports novel Derby Girl, about a young woman named Bliss (Ellen Page) who doesn’t fit in in the small town where she lives and decides to join a roller derby team. The squad, the “Hurl Scouts,” is terrible, but that’s beside the point; armed with a new identity (“Babe Ruthless”) and a whole new clique, Bliss finds herself and learns to seize control both on and off the track.
Love & Basketball (2000)
Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps star in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s romantic sports drama as Monica and Quincy, childhood sweethearts who grow up together (and apart, and then together, and apart…) and both dream of becoming pro basketball players. Over the years, their twin narratives overlap as they both pursue the same goal but struggle with different obstacles. But in the end, the only thing either of them could ever love as much as basketball is the other. So…double or nothing?
Blue Crush (2002)
Surf’s up! John Stockwell’s girl-powered Blue Crush stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sanoe Lake as a trio of best friends who share a passion for catching waves. As Anne Marie (Bosworth), the star among them, tries to prepare for a major competition that she hopes will help her score a major sponsorship, she falls for a hunky NFL quarterback (Matthew Davis) visiting the island.
Girlfight marked the film debuts of two badass women behind it, kickstarting the careers of both its writer-director Karyn Kusama and its star Michelle Rodriguez. The indie drama follows Diana (Rodriguez), an unhappy teenager who begins training at a boxing gym as a release for her frustrations, only to discover she’s got a talent for the sport. Both Kusama and Rodriguez picked up Independent Spirit Award nominations for the film, which took home the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2000.
National Velvet (1944)
Elizabeth Taylor got her first lead role as a 12-year-old when she was cast as Velvet Brown, a little girl obsessed with horses, in director Clarence Brown’s National Velvet. With the help of a washed-up former jockey (Mickey Rooney), Velvet prepares her horse, which she calls “The Pie,” for the Grand National horse race in England — and decides, at the last minute, that she is the only jockey who believes in The Pie enough to ride him to victory. The film was nominated for five Oscars, and won two.
Stick It (2006)
A few years after writing the endlessly quotable screenplay for Bring It On, Jessica Bendinger made her directorial debut on another girl-powered sports movie, 2006’s Stick It. Missy Peregrym stars as Haley, a juvenile delinquent who is forced, after one too many clashes with the law, to return to the world she had left years before: competitive gymnastics. Getting back on the beam reminds Haley both why she left and why she loved the sport in the first place, and somehow, she learns to reconcile both the rebel and the gymnast, finding herself somewhere in between.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Million Dollar Baby took home four Oscars in 2005, including Best Director for Clint Eastwood and Best Actress for Hilary Swank. Eastwood stars as Frankie, a jaded old boxing trainer, and Swank plays Maggie, a woman determined to become great at the sport who wants Frankie to train her. Though he resists at first, she wears him down, and their partnership becomes one of the most meaningful friendships in either of their lives. Just don’t forget the tissues — this movie packs one hell of an emotional punch.
Personal Best (1982)
Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly star as track and field athletes who develop a romantic relationship with each other even as they compete to qualify for the Olympics. The fact that the Games they’re working toward happen to be the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which the U.S. eventually decided to boycott, injects the film with a bitter awareness of the futility of their discipline and the frustration that comes with having nothing but a “personal best,” and makes Robert Towne’s drama a very different kind of sports movie.
Inspired by the childhood of actress Elisabeth Shue, Gracie’s title character is a teenage girl whose older brother Johnny, a soccer star, encourages her to pursue her passion for the game. When Johnny dies in a car accident, Gracie copes with her grief playing soccer in her brother’s place on the school team, after petitioning the administration that tried to prevent her from playing with the boys.