In this classic, a small-town Indiana basketball team wins the state championship under the guidance of new coach Norman Dale, who has a somewhat checkered past. Though the team and the community originally clash with Dale’s tough coaching style, viewers eventually see the team’s transformation as players buy into Dale’s system of discipline and teamwork. “Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team — no one more important that the other,” Dale, played by Gene Hackman, says at one point. With a celebrated film score and beautiful, shadowed shots dedicated to gyms and the aesthetics of basketball, you’d be hard pressed not to want to perfect your craft after watching this film, which Robert Ebert called “all heart.”
Capitalizing on the rags-to-riches sentiment of the American Dream, this boxing film is centered around Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone. When Balboa gets the rare opportunity to face off against Apollo Creed, the heavy-weight champion, viewers are taken along for the ride as Balboa trains furiously — practicing his punches on the carcasses hanging in meat freezers and running up the Philadelphia Art Museum’s flight of stairs. Balboa later shows himself to be a mighty foe for Creed in the ring; proving that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. Impressively, the film was shot in just 28 days, and later won three Oscars.
What’s more inspiring than real life? This sports “docudrama” tells the true story of Herb Brooks who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to victory over the domineering Russian team in the gold medal game. Though Brooks starts the movie out as a new coach, and though the team is initially unfocused, sloppy, and undisciplined, the team begins to see results as they give in to Brooks’ coaching and playing style. In a rousing speech before the championship game, Brooks speaks to making the most of opportunities: “Great moments … are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here tonight, boys.”
Remember the Titans (2000)
Based on actual events from 1971, this drama unfolds through the eyes of Coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington. When two racially segregated high schools are integrated into one, the football team essentially becomes a unifying force in the community as the players learn to trust and play with each other. Though it certainly could go into cliché territory, the movie feels genuine throughout and has no shortage of inspiring moments.
Based on another true account, this 1993 film tells the story of Rudy Ruettiger who dreamt of playing football at the University of Notre Dame despite his small size, dyslexia, grades, and money. Viewers are taken through Rudy’s up-and-down journey to play for the team, all while seeing the power of belief and not quitting. To this day, Ruettiger remains a real life motivational speaker.
The Rookie (2002)
Based on the true story of Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Jim Morris, this 2002 drama begins when Morris, a high school chemistry teacher and baseball coach, agrees to try out for the professional leagues if his team makes the playoffs. When his team holds up their end of the bargain, Morris goes to tryout camp at age 39 and is signed to a minor league contract. With “It’s never too late to believe in your dreams” as one of its taglines, the film shows that age really is nothing but a number.
Glory Road (2006)
Athletic history was made in 1966 when Texas Western coach Don Haskins led the first all-black starting line-up for a college basketball team to the NCAA national championship — and this film tells that story. “You quit now, you quit everyday the rest of your lives,” says Haskins to his players; who are feeling the mounting pressures of hard work, racial tensions, and discipline.
A League of Their Own (1992)
This fictionalized account of the real life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is packed with humor, competition, and family — all with a growing rivalry between two sisters in the struggling league as the backbone of the comedy-drama hybrid. The film doesn’t shy away from tackling issues of sexism and oppression in sport — one of its taglines is even “A woman’s place is on home, first, second, and third” — and it comes through as a strong reminder of remaining differences between men’s and women’s leagues.
Cinderella Man (2005)
Based on the true story of James J. Braddock who was once considered a boxer out of his prime but later came back to become world heavyweight champion in 1935, this 2005 film is an inspiring tale of love, determination and honor. Braddock, who was nicknamed “Cinderella Man” because of his “seemingly fairytale like rise from a poor local fighter to the heavyweight boxing champion of the world,” became an inspiration to the masses in the 1930s and a symbol of triumph during the Great Depression.