The Washington Post’s sportswriters, columnists and editors reveal their favorite sports movies to watch as the real sports world is on pause.


“Bull Durham” (1988)

Available for streaming on Amazon

The go-to film for me. It has great lines like, “The rose goes in the front, big guy,” “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness,” and, especially, “Don’t think. It can only hurt the ballclub.” And if lines like that don’t do it, how about the ending? “Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in baseball. It’s our game. The American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.’ You could look it up.” — Cindy Boren

“The Natural” (1984)

Amazon, Netflix

Barry Levinson’s pure Hollywood take on Bernard Malamud’s dark 1952 novel of the same name is a perfect piece of celluloid escapism for these days of covid-19. Set in New York of the 1930s, Robert Redford plays the flawed hero Roy Hobbs, Glenn Close and Kim Basinger are his competing romantic interests, Robert Duvall the hard-boiled sports scribe and Barbara Hershey the woman from a dark chapter in his past, a past that Duvall’s Max Mercy digs up. And Wilford Brimley takes a wonderful turn as Hobbs’s manager for the New York Knights. There’s a bat named “Wonderboy,” a home run that takes out the stadium lights, and a baseball literally pulverized. What else do you need when you’re shut in without baseball? — Micah Pollack

“Little Big League” (1994)


An underrated sports movie about a 12-year-old who becomes the manager of the Minnesota Twins. First, it has great cameos from (then) current players: Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson. Second, it’s the rare sports movie that doesn’t fall into the trap of a traditional Hollywood ending. (This isn’t a spoiler!) Third, it’s a poignant story about growing up but also appreciating the childish joys of baseball. — Ben Strauss

“A League of Their Own” (1992)


I’ve watched “A League of Their Own” more than any other sports movie, and I appreciate it even more today. Penny Marshall’s masterpiece always leaves me laughing and crying, despite what Tom Hanks’s Jimmy Dugan character would have you believe about the absence of the latter in baseball. The acting, led by Geena Davis and Lori Petty, is superb, and it’s (loosely) based on the real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, so it doubles as an entertaining history lesson. — Scott Allen

“The Sandlot” (1993)


There is no better depiction of how baseball brings kids together, and who doesn’t want to be just like Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, who we know as “The Jet”? Growing up, my summer day camp showed this movie on a grainy projector whenever it rained. I must have seen it close to 100 times across 12 years, and it still never got old. — Jesse Dougherty

“The Bad News Bears” (1976)

Amazon, Hulu

The original “Bad News Bears” is the best baseball movie ever made, and I would stand on Kevin Costner’s coffee table in my old baseball cleats and say that. For those of us of a certain age, it was a beautifully accurate depiction of youth and youth sports. We all wanted to be Kelly Leak, but unfortunately I was somewhere between Ogilvie and Engelberg. — Dave Sheinin

“Major League” (1989)


Despite growing up in Massachusetts, my favorite athletes were a pair of Cleveland Indians: Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn and Willie Mays Hayes. Baseball can be slow and boring, but not with these guys involved — a fire-breathing pitcher who can’t see the plate until he gets glasses, and a cocky leadoff hitter who “may run like Mays, but [who hits] like s---,” as manager Lou Brown eloquently puts it. The VHS tape of “Major League” got plenty of playing time in my home, and the R-rated humor hit the spot for this kid. And ignore what the snobs on Rotten Tomatoes think; “Major League II,” featuring Vaughn (still played by Charlie Sheen) and Hayes (who transforms from Wesley Snipes to Omar Epps in the offseason) is another gem. — Mark Selig


“Jerry Maguire” (1996)

Amazon, Netflix

Is this strictly a sports movie? Sure, NFL agents deserve shine, too, but with DNA that’s a little rom-com, a little drama and a little sports movie, there’s something for everyone. This movie is endlessly quotable and impeccably written in a way that blockbusters aren’t anymore, and as a highlight it features one of the better scenes in recent history of a protagonist sprinting through the airport. (This is not an original opinion, but Tom Cruise is our best movie runner.) Cuba Gooding Jr. as aging wide receiver Rod Tidwell is just perfect. — Ava Wallace

“Remember the Titans” (2000)

Amazon, Disney+

Besides the local appeal of the charming, barrier-breaking tale of the 1971 T.C. Williams High football team, this is a feel-good movie packed with a surprising number of superstar actors, from Denzel Washington to a young and goofy Ryan Gosling, and they keep the film from getting too cheesy. It wouldn’t rank as the best sports movie on my list — not with “Hoosiers” and “He Got Game” and “Jerry Maguire” elevating the genre — but it’s the most addictive. — Jerry Brewer

“Rudy” (1993)


This flick is so maudlin that it borders on cheesy, but no one can question how inspirational it is for all the little guys out there. “Rudy” should be used as a test for psychologists — if you’re not crying in the end, then you are a sociopath. — Candace Buckner

“Friday Night Lights” (2004; 2006-11)

Amazon, Hulu

The television series (2006-11) is a perfectly told story of what sports mean to a community. The characters are flawed and complex. Matt Saracen’s relationship with Coach Taylor resonates with anyone who has ever longed to please a coach or who has grappled with the absence of a parent. I think the television series is superior to the movie, but the movie (2004) has a significant element the comparable first season of the television series lacks: an imperfect end. I’ve re-watched episodes from the television series a number of times, and I’ve only seen the movie once or twice. But the movie’s scene of that final game, which features little dialogue and brilliant music, stuck with me. I think that’s powerful — the moment when the protagonist doesn’t win. — Emily Giambalvo

“Any Given Sunday” (1999)

Amazon, Netflix

Easily the most realistic NFL movie I’ve ever seen, from the front-office politics to the realities of life as a black quarterback. If you think the movie is over the top, I challenge you to name one thing that happens in the film that doesn’t have a real-life analogue. It just so happens that it all goes down on the same team, in the same season. — Robert Klemko

“Brian’s Song” (1971)


It’s a TV movie that could only have been made in the 1970s, but it’s still one of the best. James Caan and Billy Dee Williams? Come on. I read the book, “I Am Third,” before seeing the movie and I cried. I watched the movie and I bawled. If your heartstrings are untuggable, just watch the highlights of Gale Sayers, one of the greats whose knee injury today would not be a career-ender. — Tracee Hamilton


“Love & Basketball” (2000)


A coming-of-age story that features romance, a “big game,” family drama and a black female former tomboy protagonist? They designed this movie in a lab just for me! — Alexa Steele

“Space Jam” (1996)

Amazon, Netflix

As a basketball-crazed fourth grader, I thought “Space Jam” was the pinnacle of filmmaking. (I later found out it did not win a single Academy Award — a true travesty.) Teaming Michael Jordan with the stars from Saturday morning cartoons combined my two loves and led to me watching my VHS copy at least a hundred times. Years later, three things still hold up: Seal’s “Fly Like An Eagle” cover, the opening scene of prime Jordan highlights and, of course, Bill Murray. — Thomas Johnson

“He Got Game” (1998)

Amazon, Hulu

Denzel Washington in his prime schooling a young Ray Allen on basketball and life after being released from prison. The movie also features a classic scene for sneakerheads and introduces an iconic shoe nickname: the He Got Game Jordan 13. Strong performances from a young Milla Jovovich and Rosario Dawson and a who’s who of cameos from the sports world — Jim Brown, Shaquille O’Neal, Rick Fox, Charles Barkley, Dean Smith, John Thompson, Roy Williams, Nolan Richardson, Rick Pitino, Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan, Bill Walton and others. Oh, and did we mention it’s a Spike Lee Joint?! — Kareem Copeland

“Hoosiers” (1986)

Amazon, Hulu

The best works of fiction have a strong sense of time and place, and few sports movies capture those dynamics as well as this depiction of basketball’s hold on small-town Indiana. Just as meaningfully, the film gets at the essential question of sports: Why do they matter? For most of the movie, Barbara Hershey’s Myra Fleener character is dismissive and baffled by basketball’s significance in her fictional town of Hickory, even as her own mother is among the most fervent fans, and both Gene Hackman’s and Dennis Hopper’s characters illustrate how a game can both buoy and haunt the human spirit. Add in that it’s based on a true story — Bobby Plump’s buzzer-beater for tiny Milan High in the 1954 state championship — and subtle touches such as Hickory’s final opposing coach being portrayed by Ray Crowe — the real-life coach of Oscar Robertson’s Crispus Attucks team that Milan defeated in the final — and you have something that’s worth replaying annually this month. — Matt Rennie

“Coach Carter” (2005)


Because my favorite teams rarely won when I was a child, my love of sports was never tied to the joyous feelings that accompany a team finishing the year as the last team standing. Instead, it was rooted in the emotional highs and lows that ultimately determined their fate. While most sports films gloss over the tough moments as they depict the tale of another happy-go-lucky, storybook ending, “Coach Carter” encapsulates what it feels like to watch your team reach the end of the rainbow, only to discover that a leprechaun has booby-trapped the pot of gold. — Tramel Raggs

“Glory Road” (2006)

Amazon, Disney+

When the DVD came in the mail, I didn’t know anything about Don Haskins or Texas Western. But then, one family movie night, I learned the extraordinary story of the 1966 NCAA men’s basketball national champions, the first all-black starting lineup in NCAA history. For a mid-90s kid born and raised in a small, rural community in New Hampshire, the movie was a portal to a time and place. I only realized its true power years later when, on a cross-country road trip, I stopped in El Paso, walked to the Don Haskins Center and realized the people I remembered as characters were very human forces of change. — Sam Fortier


“Slap Shot” (1977)

Amazon, Hulu

An immortal classic and quite possibly the best sports movie ever made, it spawned a hundred quotable lines you carry around with you forever. “Old time hockey.” Great sports stories aren’t sentimental; they have an edgy core of truth and comedy like this one. It was written by a woman, Nancy Dowd, who proved to me (a teenager at the time) that the female viewpoint could be sharply observant, hilarious and unapologetic — and truer. And that a really great writer can change gears dramatically. Though it was regarded as merely a cultish comedy when it came out, there’s nothing but major talent scattered all over “Slap Shot,” starring Paul Newman, directed by George Roy Hill (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Sting”), and featuring the fabulous Swoosie Kurtz and Lindsay Crouse as brutally bored hockey wives — “I only drink in the afternoon. Or before a game. Or when Johnny’s away.” But some of the best bits are cameos by unknowns, especially those guys who played the Hanson brothers. — Sally Jenkins

“Miracle” (2004)

Amazon, Disney+, Netflix

I’m sure many sports fans, and particularly hockey fans, put this movie high on their lists, but no matter how many times I watch “Miracle,” I come away with a sense of joy and hope. From the iconic “Who do you play for?” scene to the very end, it’s a classic inspirational and moving film capturing the U.S. men’s hockey team’s upset of the Soviets at the 1980 Winter Olympics. It reiterates life lessons in the best way possible. It’s the classic underdog story — and, hey, it’s about hockey. — Samantha Pell


“Tin Cup” (1996)


I first watched it with my dad, in high school, when sports, and especially golf, were helping us bond. For the next few years we played every muni, we rooted shamelessly for Tiger Woods, and we watched “Tin Cup,” endlessly quoting the philosophy of Kevin Costner’s hopelessly flawed West Texas looper: on life, on love, on the art of wind-ducking knockdowns and letting the big dog eat. I haven’t golfed much lately; my dad, now in his 70s, took it up recently after a long hiatus, only to be forced back inside the house. But one day soon, I bet, we’ll talk, and I’ll pepper in a “Cup” quote, to fill some silence with some laughter. — Joe Tone

“Happy Gilmore” (1996)

Amazon, Hulu

Why? Because the real winner today is the city of Portland. Every time I come here, it gets harder to leave. I bet you put something in the water. The film turns a hockey goon into an everyman golf superstar, turns a top golfer into an insecure villain of the highest order and manages to be touching among all the teenage-boy humor and slapstick gags. It’s among either the smartest dumb movies or dumbest smart movies ever made. — Adam Kilgore

“Caddyshack” (1980)


Bill Murray should have been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of greenskeeper Carl Spackler, a groundbreaking performance on so many levels. Virtually every guy from a certain generation can quote most of the movie, if not the entire thing. Plus, golf is the sport most likely to be played during the coronavirus outbreak. Plenty of space for social distancing on the course. Forgot to mention my favorite movie quote of all-time comes from Caddyshack, courtesy of Al Czervik, played so eloquently by Rodney Dangerfield: “I think this place is restricted, Wang, so don’t tell ’em you’re Jewish, okay? Fine.” — Gene Wang


“When We Were Kings” (1996)

Hulu, HBO

Winner of the 1996 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, it’s a trip back to the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight of Oct. 30, 1974, in Zaire (now Congo). It’s also a study of how sports serve as the world’s foremost glue across the six inhabited continents. It’s also a reminder of sports’ capacity to turn up at sprawling cultural junctures, managing to present in one setting Africa, North America, an African-American fighter from Louisville, an African-American fighter from Houston, a military dictator and, of course, Don King. It’s also one of those cases where sports prove a peerless usher into the realm of geopolitics. It’s also a masterpiece. — Chuck Culpepper

“The Wrestler” (2008)


Watching a 50-something Mickey Rourke as a tortured, washed-up, roided-out former pro wrestling star is always incredibly powerful, and it has an all-time ending. Also: Anyone who doesn’t think pro wrestlers are athletes should watch this movie. — Roman Stubbs


“A River Runs Through It” (1992)


The movie, based on the autobiographical novel by Norman Maclean, tells the story of two very different brothers — one played by a young Brad Pitt — and how they compete to impress their father during fly-fishing trips in mid-1900s Montana. The fishing scenes are gorgeously constructed and exciting as they battle the fish in the rushing waters. After one such battle, Pitt poses triumphantly with a large fish on the bank of a river, the sun glowing on him as Tom Skerritt takes his photograph with such care and reverence that you would think he was capturing the Mona Lisa. The older brother, watching his father and younger brother, smiles. — Mark Bradley

“Free Solo” (2018)

Amazon, Disney+, Hulu

Alex Honnold isn’t exactly a household name, but he may have completed the most daring athletic achievement in history in June 2017, when he became the first climber to scale El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without ropes or protective equipment. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s Oscar-winning documentary superbly captures the details of the climb — including how Honnold mapped out every crack and crevice of his route to the top — while reveling in the feat’s grandeur with soaring cinematography. The documentary taps into Honnold’s idiosyncratic humor and humanity, reminding us that the sports world can serve up better characters than many of Hollywood’s best scribes. — Thomas Floyd

“The Cutting Edge” (1992)

Amazon, Hulu

Growing up, I was a figure skater, at lessons before and after school, so my love for this film should come as no surprise. If you haven’t seen it, it’s essentially a sports rom-com (who doesn’t like those?) about a stuck-up figure skater and a washed-up hockey player trying to win Olympic gold. It’s great. — Brianna Schroer

“Senna” (2010)

Amazon, Hulu

A riveting documentary that reveals the deep faith, complex psychology and competitive genius of three-time Formula One champion Ayrton Senna of Brazil. Without narration, director Asif Kapadia weaves the film from archival racing footage, home movies and interviews Senna gave during his rise to national hero and global icon. He was among the few racers to speak about the prospect of death and lobby for stricter safety standards. And his death, in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at 34, came far too soon. — Liz Clarke

“The Hustler” (1961)


This is my favorite sports movie, and by a margin. Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) and Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) have been shooting high-stakes straight pool all night, into the next day. Felson is far ($11,000) ahead, and Fats and his manager/financial backer Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) have to decide whether to keep playing. Felson, who drinks a whole bottle of bourbon during the 25-hour match, says to Fats: “I’m the best you ever seen, Fats. I’m the best there is. Even if you beat me, I’m still the best.” Gordon’s eyes flick as he says to Fats: “Stay with this kid. He’s a loser.” “What did he say?” Felson says to his manager. The rest of the movie is about what he said, what it means, and how big a price in pain Felson must pay — in lost love, in responsibility for a suicide, in self-destructive acts — to figure it out. — Thomas Boswell