By Rodrigo Verney, January 20 2021—
Michael Jordan soaring through the air to dunk from the free throw line. Cristiano Ronaldo sustained greatness for seventeen years with supreme athleticism. Muhammad Ali knocking down Sonny Liston as an underdog. Wayne Gretzky the eight time MVP. Tom Brady throwing for six Super Bowl rings. There is only one narrative consistent throughout every sport, the search for the G.O.A.T. — the Greatest of All Time.
This debate isn’t exclusive to the world of sport. Our passion is not only for the game itself, but for the narratives they provide. The underdog stories, the super teams, the last minute turnarounds, if there is one thing we love, it’s stories. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise how easily our love of sport churns out great movie storylines.
In the spirit of debate, I’ve set out to find the greatest movies of all time in the three of my favourite sports, basketball, hockey and boxing. I’ve selected two of the best movies in each category according to IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and of course, my opinion.
I’ll assess them using a variety of methods including how well the film portrayed the sport, how well it works as a movie and of course, how enjoyable it was to watch.
The three contestants in this category are the heavy weights of the boxing movies world. Truly, these greats stood the test of time. No underdog wins today, as the three finalists are the ones that you already hope to see here — Rocky, Rocky III, Creed, The Fighter and Southpaw.
Rocky and Rocky III: It’s no surprise that we would find Rocky in this list. What other fictional character has a statue in their honor? Here, however, I selected only two of series. The first movie continues to leave its stamp on pop culture as it has been ever since it came out. The amazing score resonates with us to this day, making it impossible not to recognize after the first five seconds. The beautiful cinematography works in perfect harmony with the portrayal of the beloved characters, making us believe and cheer for our poor Italian Stallion against all odds. Really, they’re cultural classics.
The problem with Rocky is that its a story we’ve already heard a million times. This, mixed with the cheesiness of the fights, truly test your suspension of disbelief, especially if you’re a boxing fan.
The Fighter: No list would be accurate without taking into account this movie. A beautiful story, The Fighter delves into the mind of the main character, Micky Ward, and shows how we’re all humans above anything else. Having to deal with the weight of the world on his shoulders, Mark Wahlberg gives a brilliant performance, shining alongside Christian Bale and Amy Adams.
This movie has great cinematography that gives you the atmosphere of watching a real fight on the television, with all the nuances you would find up against the ropes. This movie will have you cheering all the way through. With punches that make you go, “Did that really connect?” I proudly announce this movie to be the G.O.A.T.
It’s easy to overlook the value in a sports movie — the overwhelming majority are quick summer upbeat cash-grab stories made for the whole family to forget in a few weeks. So to be given the gems that hockey movies have granted us is a breath of fresh air, even with a few rotten eggs amidst them.
Goon: A character study in its soul, Goon is one of the most well-known hockey movies out there. Played by none other than Stifler himself, Doug Glatt is a good-hearted bar bouncer that can take a punch. He quickly joins the local team in need of an enforcer to protect their prodigy player. Every time I watch it, I get chills. Glatt’s naïve way of being puts you on his side in almost no time. You’ll actively cheer for his success.
Unfortunately, he is running against pretty tough competition that he can’t beat down as easily. By itself, this is a pretty timeless movie. It goes through so many important bits in the development of the chemistry between the coach, the team and Glatt and gives you a good perspective of his antics. However, the way that the sport is portrayed clearly shows a more aggressive side — not a good light for such a skill-based sport.
Miracle: Need I say more? One of the greatest sports movies of all time. Miracle has brilliant characters and incredible writing. It is impossible not to get chills from start to finish. An unbelievable performance by Kurt Russell, who impersonates Herb Brook, the Team USA coach who was tasked with the chore of beating the Soviet Union’s hockey team. He strengthened the bonds between team USA players by turning them against a common enemy: himself. An amazing score and beautiful cinematography make this film the full package, deserving of G.O.A.T. status.
Steph Curry isn’t the only unanimous MVP anymore. The reason is simple. You can ask basketball players, fans and the general audiences. One movie will stand out in their minds when it comes to basketball.
But first, some honourable mentions — I couldn’t just stick to one runner up here.
Coach Carter and Dear Basketball: Coach Carter is a timeless story that has to be watched. The way that Carter takes on the role as a coach and a father figure for young athletes is inspirational. There is no better time to see Dear Basketball, a short story by Kobe Bryant. With the passing of one of basketball’s greatest players, this short is an invitation to the mind of the Black Mamba himself, exposing the love that he had for the game that defined his career. Just brilliant.
Without further ado, the greatest basketball movie though, is…
Space Jam: Space Jam is a thrill from beginning to end, with the main character portraying himself, Michael Jordan forms an unlikely alliance with the Looney Tunes to defeat an alien threat that wants to attract visitors to their outer world amusement park. It is as crazy as it sounds!
A great Looney Tunes story with an iconic soundtrack, this flick stars basketball’s most famous players in a family-friendly film for the ages. Jordan is a charismatic main character and the Monstars will forever be a stamp on pop culture. The jokes have a real “Bugs Bunny and friends” charm to them, making it timeless even if the CGI ages. In short, it’s the G.O.A.T.
I have my eyes peeled to see how LeBron will top that, as he stars in the sequel Space Jam 2. But until then, this movie reserves his spot as, not only the greatest basketball movie, but one of the greatest sports movies ever.