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10 Best Basketball Movies

Publish Date: 05.06.2024
Fact checked by: Jackson T. Pierce

Everyone loves a good sports movie, especially ones centered around basketball. The sport comes with natural drama, and such aspects play well on the big screen. Due to its societal importance, it lends itself to genres like coming-of-age and comedy as well.

That inherent versatility is why there are so many popular basketball movies, and why such films keep getting made. Though the genre goes through different cycles, there have been dozens and dozens of such movies made over the years.

Looking at that entire catalog, it’s not easy to pick just one or two as the best basketball movies ever made. However, there are a few that, due to their strong writing, direction, and unique method of storytelling, stand out from the pack.

Basketball

1. Hoosiers (1986)

When it comes to basketball movies, it’s hard to find one more iconic or more classic than Hoosiers. The film, which focuses on a small-town Indiana team’s run to the state championship, is about hope, persistence, and the importance of the game itself.

It’s a basketball movie for both serious and casual fans alike. The story has great characters, and they all come together around the sport. Where some basketball movies use the sport as a backdrop, Hoosiers completely leans into its subject matter.

The movie also has a nostalgic, almost small-town feel and shows how big of a role a sport can play in a young person’s life. It’s just as much a look at how basketball influences Americana as it is a story about hope and perseverance in the face of adversity.

2. Space Jam (1996)

Though Hoosiers is undoubtedly more iconic in the basketball world, no basketball movie is more famous than Space Jam. The quirky comedy mixed live actors and animation to create one of the weirdest, and more memorable, basketball movies of all time.

The cast (which is primarily made up of Looney Tunes characters) pulls Michael Jordan into their world in order to help them win an all-important game of basketball against the Monstars.

It’s not a serious movie, as it’s aimed at a younger audience, but it still has heart and is undoubtedly focused around the game of basketball. It propelled the already Michael Jordan to a new level of fame, and showed his more relaxed side off the court. That’s why it’s still a classic.

3. He Got Game (1998)

One of the most serious basketball movies ever made, He Got Game is a true classic due to the mature subject matter and blending of high talents. Spike Lee directed the film, and it stars Denzel Washington as a convict trying to get his son on the right path.

On top of that, the movie also features real-like NBA star Ray Allen. It was the athlete’s only true foray into acting, but he does a great job in the movie and brings the character of Jesus Shuttleworth to life.

Though much heavier than a lot of other popular basketball movies, the tight script and strong acting help create a world that feels serious. It’s not a pure basketball script, but it’s one that uses basketball to weave a much larger narrative.

4. Love & Basketball (2000)

Love & Basketball is another more serious good basketball movie that uses the sport as a backdrop to the main story. As the title suggests, it’s largely a romance film that references basketball more than directly engaging with it.

What makes this entry so interesting is that it follows a male and female professional athletes. That, combined with the love story against its sports backdrop, gives it a unique perspective that truly makes it feel different from other popular basketball movies.

It also is written in such a way where the love story itself is quite compelling, as is the basketball part of the movie. That then satisfies two different camps and helps it stand on its own without needing to use its theme as a crutch.

5. Hustle (2022)

Many basketball movies tend to focus on teams or team-like environments. Adam Sandler’s 2022 movie Hustle breaks from that trend by focusing on a down-on-his-luck basketball scout and a special talent he finds in Spain.

This story, which also features quite a few real life players, fully indulges in the game of, and the people around, basketball. It’s a love letter to the sport in quite a few ways and shows how it can be used to change or greatly impact people’s lives.

While some of the movies on this list are other types of movies that have or incorporate basketball in them, Hustle is a movie for pure fans. It’s an inspiring story that ends with a strong message about overcoming obstacles.

6. Glory Road (2006)

Glory Road is one of the most serious basketball movies ever made, highlighting a difficult time in history and exploring it by following the first all-black starting lineup in the NCAA.

By covering the team, as well as the numerous setbacks and obstacles they faced while on the court, it does a great job of using basketball to explore much larger themes like racism, bigotry, and perseverance.

Glory Road is not as lighthearted as other good basketball movies, but it still is one of the best ever made due to how well it handles its subject matter.

7. The Heart of the Game (2005)

A pure documentary, The Heart of the Game is a compelling movie that follows a high school girls’ basketball team in Washington state over a seven year period. In that time, it looks at the team’s internal struggles, as well as their successes and failures both on and off the court.

By looking at individual players, the movie also covers many societal issues like racism and adolescence without ever being too preachy. It’s a strong story in its own right, made even more unique by the documentary storytelling and powerful message.

8. Hoop Dreams (1994)

The only other documentary to make this list of the best basketball movies, Hoop Dreams is a thrilling account of two boys (William Gates and Arthur Agee) who travel from their homes in inner-city Chicago to a predominately white suburban school in order to play basketball.

The movie, shot over a five year period, follows the kids and their dreams to one play in the NBA. By doing so, it tackles many important themes like race, hope, family, and societal structures, while also being a good basketball movie at the same time.

9. White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

Another older basketball movie, White Men Can’t Jump is considered a classic due to the fact that it’s another example of a movie that is both about and not-about basketball at the same time.

On one hand it’s a con movie where Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes team up to scam people on basketball courts around Los Angeles, and on the other it’s more of a comedy that has a few larger things to say about the sport as well.

That blend is something that sets it apart from many other good basketball movies, and one of the reasons it still holds up to this day.

10. The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979)

The oldest entry onto this list, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh is one of the most classic popular basketball movies ever made due to its ingenuity and wacky, out-there story.

Where many of the best sports movies are quite serious, there are plenty of well known comedies too. The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh falls into that category, blending a mix of humor, drama, and a unique narrative to create what is now a true cult classic.

As with He Got Game it also features an NBA star in Julius Erving, but it breaks from more traditional sports films by leaning into its absurd subject matter and never looking back.

Conclusion

The above movies are all wildly different. Some are for kids, some cover serious issues, some are genre movies that feature basketball, while others are pure documentaries. Even so, they all encapsulate and cover the sport in one way or another.

Such movies helped put basketball into the public eye and are a big reason the NBA is where it is today. Sports have always been popular, but mixing basketball with popular media led to many more people engaging with it.

While such films are not as popular today as they have been, such shifts are quite common. There’s no telling what the next big basketball movie will be, but with so many foreign players taking over the NBA it will likely center around one of their journeys to the league.

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