Basketball has long been a beloved sport, captivating audiences with its fast-paced action, drama, and athleticism. It’s no surprise, then, that basketball has been a popular subject for filmmakers over the years, with a plethora of movies exploring the sport and its many facets.
Best Basketball Movies
From high school dramas to inspiring true stories, basketball movies have the power to inspire, entertain, and move audiences. These films offer a unique glimpse into the world of basketball, showcasing the dedication, hard work, and passion that drives players to greatness.
1. He Got Game (1998)
“He Got Game” is a 1998 American sports drama film directed by Spike Lee and starring Denzel Washington as Jake Shuttlesworth, a prison inmate who is granted temporary release to persuade his estranged son Jesus (played by NBA player Ray Allen) to play basketball for the governor’s alma mater in exchange for a shortened prison sentence.
The film explores themes such as family, redemption, and the corrupt nature of big-time college basketball recruiting.
The movie received positive reviews from critics, particularly for Washington’s performance, and was a commercial success, grossing over $21 million worldwide.
The film’s title is derived from a basketball phrase used to describe a player who has exceptional skill and talent on the court.
2. White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
“White Men Can’t Jump” is a 1992 American sports comedy film directed by Ron Shelton and starring Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, and Rosie Perez.
The film follows two street basketball hustlers, one black and one white, who team up to try and win a basketball tournament in Los Angeles.
The film explores themes of racial stereotypes, identity, and the pursuit of the American Dream. It received positive reviews upon its release and has since become a cult classic.
The title of the film comes from a commonly held stereotype that white men are not good at basketball, which the film subverts by having Harrelson’s character excel on the court despite his race.
Overall, “White Men Can’t Jump” is a funny, energetic and entertaining film that offers a unique perspective on race relations and sports culture.
3. Above the Rim (1994)
Above the Rim is a 1994 American sports drama film directed by Jeff Pollack and starring Duane Martin, Tupac Shakur, and Leon Robinson.
The movie is set in Harlem and focuses on the lives of two high school basketball players, Kyle Lee Watson (Duane Martin) and Birdie (Tupac Shakur).
Kyle is a talented player who dreams of playing college basketball, while Birdie is a drug dealer who uses his connections to help Kyle get a scholarship.
The movie explores the themes of friendship, loyalty, and the pressure of living up to expectations. It features a soundtrack filled with hip-hop and R&B songs, including the hit single “Regulate” by Warren G and Nate Dogg.
Above the Rim received mixed reviews from critics but was a box office success, grossing over $16 million against a budget of $6.5 million. The film has since gained a cult following and is considered a classic in the basketball film genre.
4. Blue Chips (1994)
“Blue Chips” is a sports drama film released in 1994, directed by William Friedkin and written by Ron Shelton. The film stars Nick Nolte, Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, and Matt Nover.
The story follows a college basketball coach named Pete Bell (played by Nick Nolte) who is under pressure to win games and keep his job. In an effort to recruit top players, he begins to violate NCAA rules and offer illegal incentives to the players.
One of the players he recruits is a talented but academically challenged center named Neon Boudeaux (played by Shaquille O’Neal). As the season progresses, the pressure mounts on Coach Bell to win at all costs, leading to a crisis of conscience.
“Blue Chips” explores the issue of corruption in college sports and the ethical dilemmas faced by coaches and players. The film received mixed reviews but is considered a cult classic by some sports fans.
5. Hoop Dreams (1994)
Hoop Dreams is a critically acclaimed documentary film released in 1994, directed by Steve James. The film follows the lives of two young African American high school students, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they pursue their dream of becoming professional basketball players.
The documentary chronicles their journey over a period of five years, showing the challenges and obstacles they face both on and off the court.
Hoop Dreams has been widely praised for its honest portrayal of the struggles of inner-city youth and the societal pressures they face, as well as its depiction of the role of basketball in the African American community.
It has been described as one of the greatest sports films ever made, and is often cited as a landmark achievement in documentary filmmaking.
The film was a critical and commercial success, and received numerous accolades, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing. It has since been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.
6. More Than a Game (2008)
“More Than a Game” is a documentary film released in 2008, directed by Kristopher Belman. The film follows the high school basketball careers of LeBron James and his four childhood friends from Akron, Ohio: Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton, and Willie McGee.
The film showcases the team’s journey from their humble beginnings as a group of young boys playing basketball in Akron to their national championship victory as seniors in high school.
Throughout the film, the boys’ personal lives and struggles are highlighted, including LeBron James’ difficult upbringing and the impact of his mother’s drug addiction.
The film also explores the strong bond between the boys and their coach, Dru Joyce II, who is the father of one of the team members.
“More Than a Game” received positive reviews and was praised for its emotional depth and inspiring message.
The film provides a unique look at LeBron James’ early career and the challenges he faced both on and off the court. It also offers a touching portrayal of the power of friendship, teamwork, and perseverance.
7. The Sixth Man (1997)
“The Sixth Man” is a 1997 sports comedy-drama film directed by Randall Miller. The movie stars Marlon Wayans and Kadeem Hardison as Antoine and Kenny Tyler, two brothers who play basketball for the University of Washington.
When Antoine dies during a game, Kenny is left to cope with his grief and carry on the team’s season without him. However, Antoine’s ghost returns to help Kenny and the team win games.
The movie received mixed reviews from critics but was a moderate success at the box office. The Sixth Man is a unique basketball movie that blends elements of comedy, drama, and supernatural themes.
The film explores the themes of brotherhood, love, and loss in a lighthearted manner. The performances by Wayans and Hardison are entertaining and engaging, and the basketball scenes are well-executed.
Overall, “The Sixth Man” is an enjoyable film that offers a fresh take on the basketball movie genre.
8. Space Jam (1996)
“Space Jam” is a 1996 American live-action/animated sports comedy film directed by Joe Pytka and starring basketball legend Michael Jordan. The film also features the Looney Tunes cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Tweety Bird, among others.
The plot revolves around an alien amusement park owner who seeks to kidnap the Looney Tunes and make them part of his park’s attractions.
To defend themselves, the Looney Tunes challenge the aliens to a basketball game, but realizing their lack of basketball skills, they enlist the help of Michael Jordan, who has recently retired from basketball and started playing baseball.
The film was a commercial success, grossing over $230 million worldwide, and became a pop culture phenomenon, with its soundtrack album becoming a best-seller.
While the film received mixed reviews from critics, it has since become a nostalgic favorite for many who grew up watching it. A sequel, titled “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” was released in 2021, starring basketball star LeBron James.
9. Love & Basketball (2000)
“Love & Basketball” is a 2000 American romantic drama film written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
The film follows the lives of two basketball players, Monica Wright (played by Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (played by Omar Epps), who grew up together and fall in love while pursuing their dreams of playing professional basketball.
The film explores themes of love, passion, dedication, and sacrifice, as Monica and Quincy navigate their personal and professional lives.
It is notable for its portrayal of a female athlete as the lead character and for its nuanced depiction of relationships and the struggles that come with chasing a dream.
“Love & Basketball” was praised for its strong performances, realistic portrayal of basketball, and its emphasis on character development over sports action. The film was a critical and commercial success, earning over $27 million at the box office and becoming a beloved classic in the sports movie genre.
10. Semi-Pro (2008)
Semi-Pro is a 2008 American sports comedy film directed by Kent Alterman and starring Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, and André Benjamin.
The film is set in the 1970s and follows the fictional Flint Tropics, a struggling American Basketball Association (ABA) team that is owned by Ferrell’s character, Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder who became wealthy from his hit song “Love Me Sexy.”
In order to boost the team’s attendance and secure a spot in the NBA, Jackie must convince former NBA player Monix (Harrelson) to join the team and lead them to victory. Along the way, the team faces various challenges, including a rival team and Jackie’s financial troubles.
Semi-Pro received mixed reviews from critics but was a moderate success at the box office, grossing over $43 million worldwide.
The film has since gained a cult following and is known for its comedic performances and 1970s setting. It also features a soundtrack filled with classic funk and soul songs from the era.
11. Eddie (1996)
“Eddie” is a sports comedy film released in 1996, directed by Steve Rash and written by David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein. The film stars Whoopi Goldberg in the titular role, along with Frank Langella, Dennis Farina, and Richard Jenkins.
The story revolves around Eddie (played by Goldberg), a die-hard New York Knicks fan who is chosen to be the team’s new head coach after winning a halftime contest at a game. Despite having no coaching experience, Eddie takes on the challenge and tries to lead the underperforming team to victory.
As Eddie navigates the world of professional basketball, she faces numerous obstacles, including the team’s uncooperative star player (played by Malik Sealy), a scheming team owner (played by Frank Langella), and a media circus that surrounds her every move.
“Eddie” explores themes of gender roles in sports and the power of the media in shaping public perception. The film received mixed reviews but was praised for Goldberg’s performance and its lighthearted humor.
12. Celtic Pride (1996)
Celtic Pride is a sports comedy film released in 1996, directed by Tom DeCerchio and starring Dan Aykroyd, Daniel Stern, and Damon Wayans.
The film follows two overzealous Boston Celtics fans, Mike and Jimmy, who kidnap the star player of the opposing team, the Utah Jazz, in an attempt to help the Celtics win the NBA Championship.
Despite its star-studded cast, Celtic Pride received mixed reviews from critics and was a box office disappointment. Many critics felt that the film relied too heavily on crude humor and failed to deliver on its potential as a sports comedy.
Nevertheless, Celtic Pride has since gained a cult following among fans of basketball and sports comedies, and is remembered for its entertaining performances by Aykroyd, Stern, and Wayans.
13. The Air Up There (1994)
“The Air Up There” is a sports comedy film released in 1994, directed by Paul Michael Glaser.
The film stars Kevin Bacon as Jimmy Dolan, a college basketball coach who travels to a remote African village in order to recruit a talented young basketball player named Saleh, played by Charles Gitonga Maina.
When Jimmy arrives in the village, he finds that Saleh is not interested in leaving his home and joining a college basketball team in the United States. In order to persuade Saleh, Jimmy must first gain the respect of the village and prove himself worthy of Saleh’s trust.
Throughout the film, Jimmy learns about the culture and customs of the African village and develops a close relationship with Saleh and the other members of the community.
Together, they work towards a common goal of winning the regional basketball championship, which will allow Saleh to attend college in the United States and pursue his dream of becoming a professional basketball player.
“The Air Up There” received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising the film’s lighthearted humor and inspiring message, while others criticized it for perpetuating stereotypes about Africa and its people.
Nevertheless, the film remains a popular sports comedy and is often cited as a classic example of the “fish out of water” genre.
14. Rebound: The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault (1996 TV Movie)
“Rebound: The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault” is a 1996 TV movie directed by Eriq La Salle. The film tells the story of Earl Manigault, a basketball legend from Harlem who was known for his incredible skills on the court.
Don Cheadle plays the role of Earl, while James Earl Jones and Forest Whitaker also star in the film.
The movie follows Earl’s rise as a basketball star and his eventual downfall due to drug addiction. It explores themes of redemption and the power of second chances, as Earl tries to turn his life around and make amends for his mistakes.
“Rebound: The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault” is a powerful and emotional film that offers a poignant portrayal of a basketball icon’s life.
Don Cheadle delivers a standout performance as Earl, capturing the character’s charisma, talent, and struggles with equal skill.
The film also features excellent supporting performances from James Earl Jones and Forest Whitaker. The basketball scenes in the movie are exciting and well-done, adding to the overall impact of the film. Overall, “Rebound” is a compelling basketball movie that is worth watching.
15. The Basketball Diaries (1995)
“The Basketball Diaries” is a 1995 American biographical crime drama film directed by Scott Kalvert and based on the memoir of the same name by Jim Carroll.
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jim Carroll, a high school basketball player who becomes addicted to heroin and descends into a life of crime and prostitution.
The movie follows Jim’s journey from a talented basketball player with dreams of playing for the NCAA to a drug addict who turns to petty crime to support his habit.
The film deals with themes such as addiction, poverty, and youth delinquency.
While the movie received mixed reviews from critics, DiCaprio’s performance was widely praised. The film has since gained a cult following and is considered a classic of its genre. It also features notable performances from Mark Wahlberg, Juliette Lewis, and Lorraine Bracco.
16. Passing Glory (1999 TV Movie)
“Passing Glory” is a 1999 made-for-television sports drama film directed by Steve James and starring Andre Braugher and Rip Torn.
The film is based on the true story of the 1965 high school basketball game between predominantly African American schools, St. Augustine High School and Jesuit High School, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The film explores themes of racial discrimination, segregation, and social justice as the two teams fight to play against each other, despite facing opposition from school administrators, parents, and the community.
The film also touches on the importance of basketball as a unifying force in the face of deep-seated racial tensions.
“Passing Glory” received positive reviews for its powerful performances and its depiction of a significant moment in civil rights history. It was praised for its handling of sensitive racial issues and its ability to convey the passion and dedication of the players and their coaches.
The film has since become a cult classic and is widely regarded as one of the best sports movies ever made.
17. Finding Forrester (2000)
Finding Forrester is a 2000 American drama film directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham, and Anna Paquin.
The film tells the story of Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), a 16-year-old African American basketball player from the Bronx who befriends William Forrester (Sean Connery), a reclusive writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for his first and only novel.
As Jamal and Forrester develop an unlikely friendship, Forrester becomes a mentor to Jamal, teaching him about literature, writing, and life.
Meanwhile, Jamal’s talent on the basketball court catches the attention of a prestigious prep school, and he must navigate the challenges of fitting in with his new classmates while staying true to himself and his roots.
Finding Forrester received positive reviews from critics, who praised the performances of Connery and Brown, as well as the film’s themes of race, class, and the power of education.
It was a modest box office success, grossing over $80 million worldwide against a budget of $43 million. The film has since become a cult classic and is considered one of Van Sant’s best works.
18. Coach Carter (2005)
“Coach Carter” is a sports drama film released in 2005, directed by Thomas Carter and written by Mark Schwahn and John Gatins. The film stars Samuel L. Jackson in the titular role, along with Rob Brown, Rick Gonzalez, and Channing Tatum.
The story is based on the true story of Ken Carter, a high school basketball coach who takes over a struggling team in an impoverished neighborhood.
Carter imposes strict rules on his players, including maintaining good grades and attending daily study hall, which leads to conflict with some of the players and their families.
As the team begins to improve on the court, Carter faces a new challenge when he learns that several of his players are not meeting the academic standards he has set. In response, he benches the entire team and locks the gym, refusing to let them play until they improve their grades.
“Coach Carter” explores themes of discipline, education, and social responsibility. The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike for its powerful message and strong performances, particularly by Samuel L. Jackson in the lead role.
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19. Glory Road (2006)
Glory Road is a sports drama film released in 2006, directed by James Gartner and starring Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, and Jon Voight.
The film is based on the true story of the 1966 Texas Western College basketball team, which became the first team in NCAA history to win the national championship with an all-black starting lineup.
The film explores the challenges and obstacles faced by the team’s coach, Don Haskins, as he recruits and trains a team of talented but overlooked black players.
Along the way, the team must confront racism and discrimination both on and off the court, and ultimately triumphs over adversity to make history and inspire a generation.
Glory Road was generally well-received by critics, who praised its inspiring story and strong performances by the cast.
The film was also a commercial success, grossing over $42 million worldwide. It has since become a beloved sports movie and an important part of basketball history, highlighting the role of sports in breaking down barriers and promoting racial equality.
20. Sunset Park (1996)
“Sunset Park” is a sports drama film released in 1996, directed by Steve Gomer. The film stars Rhea Perlman as Phyllis Saroka, a white high school teacher from Brooklyn who becomes the coach of the school’s struggling boys’ basketball team.
The team is made up of a diverse group of students from different backgrounds, including African American, Hispanic, and Asian players.
Phyllis takes on the challenge of coaching the team with enthusiasm and determination, despite facing opposition from the school’s administration and some of the players. She works hard to earn the trust and respect of the team, and together they begin to improve their skills and teamwork.
As the team begins to win games, they face new challenges both on and off the court. The film explores issues such as racism, classism, and the importance of education.
“Sunset Park” received mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising the film’s positive message and themes of teamwork and perseverance, while others criticized it for its predictable plot and clichéd characters.
However, the film remains a popular sports drama and is often cited as a classic example of a feel-good underdog story.
3 Characteristics of Basketball Movies
Inspiration and Motivation: Basketball movies often feature inspiring and motivational storylines that depict the journey of the protagonist towards achieving their goals, overcoming obstacles and adversity, and succeeding against all odds.
These films often show how hard work, dedication, teamwork, and perseverance can help players reach their full potential on and off the court.
Realistic Basketball Scenes: Basketball movies are known for their realistic and exciting basketball scenes.
These scenes are often well choreographed and executed, giving viewers a taste of the intensity and athleticism required to play the game at a high level. Whether it’s a high school game or a professional match, basketball movies aim to capture the energy and excitement of the sport in their depictions.
Personal and Emotional Connections: Basketball movies often create personal and emotional connections with the audience by exploring relatable themes such as love, loss, redemption, and friendship.
These movies go beyond the basketball court to offer a glimpse into the characters’ personal lives, struggles, and motivations. As a result, viewers can relate to the characters and their stories, becoming invested in their journey and rooting for their success.
3 Reasons To Watch Basketball Movies
Inspirational stories: Many basketball movies feature inspiring stories of overcoming adversity, teamwork, and perseverance.
These stories can be motivating and uplifting, showing us the power of hard work and dedication, both on and off the court.
Exciting sports action: Basketball is an incredibly dynamic and fast-paced sport, making it exciting to watch on the big screen.
Many basketball movies feature thrilling game sequences and impressive athletic feats, which can be a lot of fun to watch, even for those who aren’t die-hard basketball fans.
Cultural impact: Basketball has had a significant impact on American culture, and many basketball movies reflect this influence.
From the fashion and music of the 90s in “Space Jam” to the social issues addressed in “He Got Game,” basketball movies often provide a lens into the larger cultural context of their time.
Watching these movies can be a fun way to explore the history and evolution of the sport and its impact on popular culture.
Best Basketball Movies – Wrap Up
In conclusion, there have been many great basketball movies over the years, each with their unique stories and themes. Some of the best include:
“He Got Game” (1998)
“Space Jam” (1996)
“Love & Basketball” (2000)
“White Men Can’t Jump” (1992)
“Coach Carter” (2005)
“Blue Chips” (1994)
“Glory Road” (2006)
“Passing Glory” (1999)
“Above the Rim” (1994)
These films explore a wide range of topics, including race relations, social justice, teamwork, passion, dedication, and the power of basketball to bring people together. They have all made a lasting impact on the sports movie genre and continue to be beloved by audiences today.