Best Basketball Movies of All Time
Few film genres are more difficult to pull off than the sports movie, and within that genre, movies about basketball have been especially tough to crack.
The result is often a facepalm of cliches, bad acting and, in most cases, unrealistic basketball scenes that result in some pretty memorable cinematic airballs. But sometimes, just sometimes, Hollywood gets it right.
These are the best basketball movies of all time, excluding documentaries.
Warning: This article contains movie spoilers.
30. Wolves (2016)
Michael Shannon has carved out a career as one of the most talented actors of his generation, and that's on full display in the little-seen basketball drama "Wolves" from 2016.
Shannon, a two-time Academy Award nominee, plays the gambling-addicted father of a high school basketball star and gets a big lift from his supporting cast, including Carla Gugino, Chris Bauer, Taylor John Smith and Zazie Beetz.
29. Maurie (1973)
Jack Twyman was one of the greatest small forwards in NBA history, and alongside Wilt Chamberlain, they became the first two NBA players to average over 30.0 points per game in the 1959-60 season.
But Twyman's true legacy is as the greatest teammate in NBA history. He was the legal guardian for teammate Maurice Stokes, from 1958 until Stokes' death in 1970, after Stokes was paralyzed from an in-game fall. Their story was turned into the film "Maurie" in 1973.
This is the "Brian's Song" of basketball movies.
28. Fast Break (1979)
This is a deep-cut basketball film. We don't expect many people were even aware of its existence at this point, but it features Gabe Kaplan in the lead role as a former junior high school basketball coach who realizes his dream of coaching college basketball at fictional Cadwaller University in Nevada.
This movie is essentially "Bad News Bears" but for adults, with college basketball instead of Little League baseball.
In an interesting twist, it was a box-office hit upon its release thanks in part to a marketing campaign that included sending out press releases stating Cadwaller was an actual university with an address and phone number for the school.
27. The Basketball Diaries (1995)
One of Leonardo DiCaprio's last roles before "Titanic" shot him to A-list status was "The Basketball Diaries" in 1995, based on the famed autobiography written by poet Jim Carroll.
Carroll, played by DiCaprio, was a high school basketball player in New York City in the 1960s who became addicted to heroin and saw his entire life go off the rails.
This emotional powerhouse also stars young versions of Mark Wahlberg, Michael Imperioli, Juliette Lewis and the late Bruno Kirby as Carroll's lecherous high school basketball coach.
26. The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979)
If you ever wanted to understand basketball in the late 1970s and the disco era all at once, we present "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh." It is the way to understand both simultaneously.
In the most 1970s plot ever, a lowly pro basketball team, the Pittsburgh Pythons, led by petulant star Moses Guthrie (played by Julius Erving), changes its name to the Pittsburgh Pisces thanks to an idea from Academy Award nominee Stockard Channing, who plays an astrologist.
This is the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" of basketball movies.
25. Heaven Is a Playground (1991)
Based on the novel by Sports Illustrated scribe Rick Telander, "Heaven Is a Playground" was a little-seen film that unfortunately has very little to do with the book Telander wrote.
Featuring D.B. Sweeney in a leading role, the basketball part of this movie is probably most notable for featuring NBA player and Loyola Marymount star Bo Kimble in a supporting role.
24. Glory Road (2006)
"Glory Road" took a beating from critics for playing it loose and fast with the facts surrounding the 1966 Texas Western (now UTEP) national championship team, but audiences did not seem to mind.
Josh Lucas is campy but passable as legendary coach Don Haskins, and there are a couple of great supporting turns from criminally underused actors Derek Luke ("Friday Night Lights") and Mehcad Brooks ("Mortal Kombat").
23. O (2001)
"O" was a pretty ambitious project from director Tim Blake Nelson that became sidelined by real-life events.
The retelling/reimagining of Shakespeare's "Othello" was set at a South Carolina boarding school with the main character a high school basketball phenom.
The film was shelved for over two years following the Columbine High School massacre in the spring of 1999.
22. Like Mike (2002)
Say what you will about Bow Wow now — he's a lot to deal with — but he was one of the great child stars of all time between his rap career and movie roles.
His most notable big-screen appearance was in "Like Mike" in 2002. He played an orphan who attains magical basketball powers after finding an old pair of shoes that once belonged to Michael Jordan.
We dare you to try and find any basketball fan under the age of 30 who didn't grow up with this movie. It's a perfect family comedy mixed with a sports movie, although we could have done without the sequels.
21. The Great Santini (1979)
Robert Duvall crafted one of the most memorable characters of his legendary career in "The Great Santini" when he played military aviator Bull Meechum.
The basketball scene between Duvall and Michael O'Keefe ("Caddyshack"), who plays his son in the movie, became one of the most parodied scenes of all time, most notably for when Duvall continually bounces the ball off of O'Keefe's head and asks, "You gonna cry?" over and over.
For their efforts — and largely because of their one-on-one hoops scene — both Duvall and O'Keefe walked away with Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. The film was based on the novel by Pat Conroy.
20. Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975)
"Cornbread, Earl and Me" is probably most notable for featuring a 12-year-old Laurence Fishburne in a starring role. Within three years, he was on the set of "Apocalypse Now" taking direction from Francis Ford Coppola.
The 1970s were an interesting era for NBA stars making their way into films. Los Angeles Lakers forward Jamaal Wilkes stars as Cornbread here, and Dr. J ended up in "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" in 1979.
19. Uncle Drew (2018)
Please don't ask us to explain our love for this sweet, charming basketball movie that was a spin-off of a Pepsi commercial starring NBA superstar Kyrie Irving, wearing prosthetics to appear as an elderly man, dicing up younger players in pickup games.
Just know our love is true and kind and will remain unrequited until "Uncle Drew 2" comes out.
18. Half Nelson (2006)
Ryan Gosling earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his role in "Half Nelson" as a drug-addicted junior high school history teacher and basketball coach. At 26 years old, Gosling was one of the youngest nominees for best actor of all time.
Gosling benefits from a stellar supporting cast in a film that only cost $700,000 to make, including pre-Marvel Anthony Mackie and Shareeka Epps as his student/player.
17. Teen Wolf (1985)
Let's get this out of the way off the top. In no universe had Michael J. Fox ever picked up a basketball before "Teen Wolf" began filming.
That didn't stop Fox from taking on the role of an incredibly average high school basketball player who turns into a werewolf and the best high school basketball player in the state.
The basketball scenes in "Teen Wolf" are part of its charm. They are laugh-out-loud funny, and nothing is funnier than the final game. Extra special props to Jay Tarses as Coach Finstock.
16. Rebound: The Legend of Earl 'The Goat' Manigault (1996)
Don Cheadle started accumulating minor roles in films and in television in the mid-1980s, but his career didn't really pick up until a pair of roles in the mid-1990s shot him to stardom — as Denzel Washington's psychotic sidekick in "Devil In A Blue Dress" and as legendary playground basketball star Earl "The Goat" Manigault in a made-for-TV HBO movie.
Manigault is one of the more legendary figures in basketball history. He never reached his potential due to a crippling drug addiction. When NBA career-leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired and was asked who the greatest player he ever played with or against was, he said Manigault.
15. One on One (1977)
Star Robby Benson also wrote "One on One." It's a nice romantic comedy set against a college basketball backdrop that got pretty good reviews when it was released in 1977.
Benson got a big lift from his supporting cast, with Annette O'Toole playing his tutor/girlfriend and G.D. Spradlin as his coach. The scenes between Benson and Spradlin are especially well done.
This is a movie longtime basketball fans (i.e., anyone over 40) probably knows well.
14. Semi-Pro (2008)
Sports movies are hard to pull off — comedy or otherwise — and while "Semi-Pro" was a flop at the box office when it came out, it's proven rewatchable over the years.
"Semi-Pro" nailed the casting, and the cool thing for real sports movie aficionados is seeing Woody Harrelson in a follow-up basketball role to "White Men Can't Jump."
It's too bad this ended star Will Ferrell's streak of hit sports spoofs following "Talladega Nights" and "Blades of Glory," because it's definitely better than the latter.
13. Uncut Gems (2019)
We still can't believe Adam Sandler didn't land an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his role in "Uncut Gems." But we have an even hotter take for this movie. Former NBA superstar and Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett should have gotten some buzz for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Garnett, in a role the Safdie brothers originally wrote for Joel Embiid, doesn't do the typical athlete-in-a-movie thing here. Set in 2012 with Garnett still playing for the Boston Celtics, the Hall of Famer helps keep the plot going at breakneck speed as much as anyone else in the cast.
12. Forget Paris (1995)
Billy Crystal wrote and directed this charming romantic comedy. He plays an NBA referee who falls in love with Debra Winger's character in France while traveling there to spread his father's ashes on the beach where he fought in World War II.
Crystal was at the top of the A-list when "Forget Paris" came out and was able to reel in one of the more impressive lists of NBA cameos we can remember, including Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Reggie Miller and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
11. The Way Back (2020)
"The Way Back" might fall into the category of movies you need to watch at least once. Then probably never again.
Ben Affleck's performance as a former basketball star turned high school basketball coach is one of the most powerful of his career and should have garnered him an Academy Award nomination.
As far as directors and sports movies are concerned, Ron Shelton ("White Men Can't Jump") is generally unmatched, but "The Way Back" director Gavin O'Connor is now three for three following "Warrior" and "Miracle" in previous outings.
10. Space Jam (1996)
There has never been a more popular athlete on the face of Earth than Michael Jordan, the legendary NBA superstar who won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls.
One example of exactly how popular Jordan was at the height of his fame was "Space Jam." The film raked in just over $250 million at the box office against an $80 million budget when it came out in 1996, which is the equivalent of making around $450 million at the box office in 2022.
There's something really comforting about Jordan as the leading man in the only feature film he ever made.
9. Coach Carter (2005)
Samuel L. Jackson's career wasn't going to be complete until he got to sink his teeth into the role of a constantly on-the-edge coach. It didn't matter what sport. And he got exactly what he needed with "Coach Carter," based on the true story of Richmond (California) High coach Ken Carter.
While Jackson is the engine that drives the film, it benefits from a great supporting cast that includes Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and Channing Tatum before their careers shot into the stratosphere.
8. Blue Chips (1994)
"Blue Chips" serves as a great time capsule for anyone who wants to know what the perception of big-time college basketball was in the 1990s before the high school-to-NBA pipeline began. It was an era when big-time high school recruits essentially needed a huge bag of cash on their doorstep before they made their college choice.
This movie hits on many different levels thanks to its basketball scenes, with up-and-coming stars and NBA teammates Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway leading the basketball portion of the cast and Nick Nolte as their coach.
7. Finding Forrester (2000)
There's an epic quality to director Gus Van Sant's film about a high school hoops phenom in New York City who also happens to be a genius and ends up at a prep school on the Upper West Side fighting for his future.
Sean Connery bases his portrayal of reclusive author William Forrester on J.D. Salinger and is electric in scenes with newcomer Rob Brown. The two bond, and Forrester becomes a reluctant mentor. This all leads to a rim-rocking scene in the school library with Connery and costar F. Murray Abraham going head-to-head. It's delightful.
How this film wasn't nominated for multiple Academy Awards is beyond us.
6. High Flying Bird (2019)
Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderberg shot this sports film about a basketball agent trying to make sure his career doesn't come apart entirely on the iPhone 6. It was his second film shot entirely on an iPhone following "Unsane" in 2018.
We can't help but notice how Soderbergh, ostensibly a basketball outsider, is so deft at portraying the world of high-stakes professional basketball for what it is — bloodthirsty. Star Andre Holland also is at the heart of the movie, which was released on Netflix.
Here's to hoping this isn't the last sports movie Soderbergh makes.
5. Above the Rim (1994)
One of the great needle drops in sports movies, ever, comes in the opening scene: "I couldn't help but notice your pain … it runs deep … share it with me!"
Featuring Tupac Shakur as the movie's sadistic, crazed antagonist Birdie, the tale of high school hoops phenom Kyle Lee Watson is easy to pick apart — how are his only potential scholarship offers from Georgetown and fictional City College?
The film also features probably the best role in the career of model/actor Leon, who plays Watson's reluctant mentor and disgraced basketball star Tom "Shep" Shepard.
4. Love & Basketball (2000)
If you had to do a double take on the release date for "Love & Basketball," you're not alone. We can't believe it's been 22 years since it came out, either. As far as romantic dramas go, it's almost perfect. As far as sports movies go, it's almost perfect.
In a criminal misuse of talent, director Gina Prince-Blythewood wouldn't get to direct another feature film until "The Secret Life of Bees" in 2008, but she followed that with the brilliant "Beyond the Lights" in 2014 and Netflix hit "The Old Guard" in 2020.
3. White Men Can't Jump (1992)
Director Ron Shelton is the king of sports movies. His resume includes "Bull Durham" and "Tin Cup," and "White Men Can't Jump" showed it didn't matter what sport he directed a movie about. It was going to have a shot at greatness.
The real legacy of this movie is not just how rewatchable it is but how it made huge movie stars out of leads Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes and also shot Rosie Perez to stardom.
The more incredible part of moviemaking magic? Snipes couldn't actually play basketball.
2. Hoosiers (1986)
Like tiny Hickory High's basketball team, "Hoosiers" was an underdog from the start. One of the more notorious stories from filming the movie was Academy Award winner Gene Hackman walking around the set saying the movie was going to tank the careers of everyone involved.
Hackman, who doesn't seem like the funnest guy to hang out with, was wrong. Hoosiers became one of the most beloved movies of all time and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Dennis Hopper.
1. He Got Game (1998)
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee originally wanted Kobe Bryant to play high school basketball phenom Jesus Shuttlesworth — "Jesus of Coney Island" — in his basketball epic. But Bryant declined, and Lee brought in another young NBA star, Ray Allen.
While Allen holds up well, it's Denzel Washington as Jesus' father, imprisoned for a shocking crime and given a temporary furlough to influence his son's college choice, who is at the heart of Lee's film.
The movie is infinitely rewatchable, with an ending that uplifts and rips your heart out all at once.