Sports movies are often overlooked, especially basketball movies. This is due largely in part to the formulaic nature that most sport films fall victim to. There have, however, still been some great basketball films that either avoid the standard formula, or play around with it well enough that the resulting product is worth watching. Here are the five greatest movies of the b-ball sub-genre of all time.
5. Space Jam – Though undoubtedly one of the corniest examples of basketball cinema, “Space Jam” related to a generation of children in a way few other movies at the time did. By combining the well-known Looney Toon franchise characters with pro ball players of the day, (especially) like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, it raised interest in the sport for children who otherwise weren’t into basketball. Plus it poked fun at Jordan’s baseball career and featured Bill Murray as a star-struck fan. Can’t beat that.
4. Coach Carter – Basing basketball movies on real-life stories is one way to keep the genre more relevant to viewers. It explored the importance of academics within sports programs, an issue still important today. Some players who excel athletically are allowed to coast in academics, something the titular coach feels deprives the students the true value of an education. While not Oscar-bait material, “Coach Carter” was a substantial vehicle for Samuel L. Jackson to display a convincing emotional response.
3. White Men Can’t Jump – Based around “street ball,” this early ’90s buddy film starred Woody Harrleson and Wesley Snipes as two ball players who, realizing the stigma that many street ballers had against white guys (and their ability to jump), decide to use it to swindle in money matches. The film itself is fairly corny, and at times borders on bro-mance, but at the same time oddly inspiring. It questioned a racial stereotype, and the chemistry between Harrelson and Snipes made it seem real, despite the sometimes flat one-liners.
2. Hoosiers – No basketball movie list would be complete without this 1986 Gene Hackman classic, based on the true story of the 1954 high school basketball team, the Hoosiers. The film covers the story of the inspiring high school underdogs going all the way to the Indiana state championships. The film promotes the importance of hard work and dedication, as well as the player’s mastery of “the fundamentals.” “Hoosiers” is especially significant as it established a format that many basketball films would go on to emulate.
1. Glory Road – The most modern title on this list, “Glory Road” is basketball filmmaking at its finest. Featuring similar underdog heroism as “Hoosiers,” “Glory” was of course privy to much higher production values than its 20-year-old counterpart, and so is a better fit for the modern audience. Aside from having some of the best choreographed and directed shots of the sport itself, the film also presents a succinct narrative on racial divisions within the time period. Definitely the opposite of the “White Men Can’t Jump” race issue, the film is based on the real-life prejudice that was the predominantly white NCAA of the 1960s. Basically it’s the basketball equivalent of “Remember the Titans” (also a Disney feature) but has a greater focus on realism, and isn’t as preachy.