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45 of the Best Training and Sports Movies…Ever

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The Essence of a Training and Sports Movie

I fussed with the title of this post over and over again. In the end I stuck with this because these films cover different aspects of what makes a story inspirational. With the best training movies, while the goal of skill is there, the underlining context is equally important. This is why I can put Flashdance on the same list as I do Rocky.

In order to have been selected for this list, there were requirements that adhered to a certain formula. The following are just some of the needed criteria in order to be considered an adequate training or sports movie. No, not all of these must exist in every film, but the ones containing the most of them are going to go down in history as the best of all time.

There are a few exceptions for movies in which the focus may not be specifically on training, but sports/skills are important and at least part of the story.

#1. The Mentor – You are not a true training hero without your mentor, regardless if they are alive, dead, or wearing a whistle. The mentor is crucial. Bonus points if there is rising above while being the coach or mentor.

#2. The Rise – You have to overcome and rise from adversity in some way. This can be in the form of poverty, inner struggle, or from starting as a chump and becoming a champ.

#3. Broke Ass – Most of the time our hero/heroine is a broke ass. You also get points for the obligatory money collection jar shot.

#4. The Chance To Be A Traitor – You are no one until you have to make an ethical choice to trade up for a higher level of help, usually while wearing an ugly coat.

#5. Someone Dies – It may even be you, but for some reason increasing in athletic ability comes best via the death of a loved one.

#6. Got To Get Some – The pride and devotion to your craft is hot. You get laid accordingly.

#7. Weird Training Methods – For some reason, training is especially inspiring when you do it with unconventional methods—a log or being shaken on a boat by a short Asian man. Why not a clown? Why is our hero/heroine never running down the street carrying a clown on their back?

#8. The Disappointed Family Member – Maybe you prove them wrong in the end or maybe they are just a lazy b**ch who is never thankful even though you bought them a house and took their ass off welfare.

Bonus if they are proud in the end and show it by clapping or showing up to the big game.

#9. The Frienemy – They hated you. They beat you up, made fun of you, but dammit they lead that clap in the end and might just become your best friend.

#10. The Slow Clap – Gets me every time.

#11. The Move -You have to have a move or a moment in which you pull off something that makes no sense at all and/or is absolutely spectacular.

The List*

*In no particular order, kind of.

(Feel free to list additional movies in the comments, but if I get one, “OMG WTF? Why didn’t you list this movie?! How could you list that one??” I am going to ban you for a year from my blog.)

1. Rocky (All of them)-It’s f**king Rocky. They literally have all 11 principles of the training movie formula.

2. The Karate Kid (1-4) – You can’t tell me not to include the “Next Karate Kid.” It is as much Karate Kid as the others. There is even a gimpy hawk, come on.

3. Million Dollar Baby – Probably one of the most dramatic and depressing training movies of them all. While I loved it on my first watch, the next time I might hang myself with a catheter tube.

4. Rudy – If this movie doesn’t touch you then you are dead inside.

5. Hoosiers – It almost sounds like hooters.

6. Lucas – The be-all end-all of slow clap movies.

7. Peaceful Warrior – Nick Nolte’s beard alone should inspire you to greatness. 

8. Enter the Dragon – “Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

9. Remembering the Titans –Frienemies, the union of separate races, and trying to not let the man take you down. What more do you want out of a football movie?

10. The Wrestler – When Bruce Springsteen does the theme song, you know it is going to be good.

11. Breaking Away – It’s the Outsiders, if they would have fought via bike race and Johnny wouldn’t have died.

12. American Anthem – This movie makes no sense. There is no real sequential order. However, there are flashbacks, tortured training moments, and so many list making moments that I would be punished to an eternity of mediocrity if I didn’t list this movie.

13. The Natural – There is a bat cut from a tree struck by lightening. Yeah, like you’re going to pass that up.

14. The Mighty Ducks – Quack, quack, quack, quack…

15. Pumping Iron – Granted this is a documentary and doesn’t technically fit a lot of the criteria, if any, but I had to give something to the bodybuilding world. 

16. Necessary Roughness – Slow motion jumping up and down has never been done better.

17. A League of Their Own – They timed his peeing.

18. Flashdance – You may be thinking that Flashdance doesn’t belong. I suggest you refer to the list of criteria and take stock of the difficulty of a jump spin and call me in the morning. I won’t pick up though.

19. Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken- She jumps a horse blind off of a tower into a small “bucket” of water. Blind.

20. Miracle – 1. It’s Disney and let’s be honest, they are the best at this. 2. It’s a true story. 3. Hockey movies bring it almost as much as football movies. Almost.

21. 61 – Billy Crystal can do more than just act and say “moo.”

22. Remo Williams, The Adventure Begins – The king of weird training.

23. Mystery, Alaska – Nothing better than the underdog nobodies playing the big bad professionals.

24. Bend It Like Beckham – “No one can bend it like Beckham” sounds wrong to me.

25. Little Giants – There are few moments more precious than the allergy ridden snot bubble kid standing up with passion and proclaiming, “Don’t you be talkin’ bout my mama!”

26. Only The Strong – “You don’t fool a man who was born in the worst LAMBARIOS of Rio de Janeiro…We’ll see who the real maestre is in this neighborhood.” Ba-na-na-way-ba-na-na-way-bah-na-na.

27. Goal – GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLL!

28. Invincible – Just when you think you aren’t going to be anybody in this world, you realize you are Mark Wahlberg.

29. Tin Cup – Do over!

30. Over the Top – Oh man, seriously. One of the finest pieces of cinematic history ever. If Kenny Loggins is singing your movie theme song, you are a stud.

31. White Palms – A little weird. No, a lot weird. Still it qualifies.

32. Girlfight – Gotta respect a woman who will deck you and then tell you she loves you.

33. Cool Runnings – Jamaica bobsledding. Only a guy smoking a blunt and listening to Bob Marley thought that was a good idea. How about that for a cultural stereotype?

34. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – While not the cliché that most of the others are, it is just so damn good.


35. Cinderella Man – Nothing gets to me more than a broken down and out boxer.

36. The Bad News Bears – Walter Matthau is one of the best characters of all time.

37. Seabiscuit – The trailer will make you cry. What does that say about the movie? 

38. Major League – You can’t watch this movie without quoting every single line. P.S. Don’t ever watch it edited for television.

39. The Cutting Edge – The Pamchenko.

40. Never Back Down – Wow.

41. Sideout – Volleyball has never been this intense. No really, because it’s volleyball.

42. The Rocket – At first, the name made me think of the Def Leppard song on Hysteria. Curse of being a child of the 80’s.

43. You Got Served – Rich boy says, “Y’all just mad. Because today, you suckers got served. Served. Served. Served! Served!”

44. No Retreat, No Surrender – Van Damme. With a name like that he was destined for this role.

45. Youngblood – “To the game and getting out of this hick town! Thank God there is a sport for middle-sized white boys.”

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44 comments

  1. Frankie
    July 6, 2009 at 5:02 am

    great list! only other one that springs to mind is We are Marshall. More of a tearjerker than anything else but it gets me every time!

  2. Terry
    July 6, 2009 at 6:20 am

    hahaha great list. I am going to have a movie fest now.

  3. Sally
    July 6, 2009 at 7:00 am

    Fantastic choices…..perhaps you might want to add The Legend of Bagger Vance and Field of Dreams.

  4. Sinead
    July 6, 2009 at 7:19 am

    yay! Great list of movies! There were some that I haven’t seen, but others I’ve seen and loved.

    What about that one with the male gymnast who goes off and trains in the woods–what was that one? Iron something?

  5. Kevin Larrabee
    July 6, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Leigh. I used to like you. But after leaving out “Airborne,” all that is left is disappointment. There was hockey, and high speed rollerblading down hills and over moving vehicles. It even had Jack Black and Seth Green in 1993. COME ON! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106233/

  6. Jeff
    July 6, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Wow, you listed Remo Williams. That is AWESOME.

    The Replacements Leigh, WTF?

  7. Steve Clipp
    July 6, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Hmm, if a clown ever ran down the street with my heroin, I’d have to chase him, it would be in my  Keith Richards Signature Model syringe, and that shit ain’t cheap, yo.
    I don’t see ‘Master Killer/36 Chambers’ here, the movie that inspired a generation of young martial artists to train. The wrong way. I did get good at standing on a wine bottle in my room, however.
    Re Enter the Dragon, I still crack up when Lee has to try to say ‘Mr Braithwaite, ‘ which he couldn’t on account of a lisp, but the director hated his guts and wouldn’t make it ‘Mr Smith’ or something.
    ‘Major League’ = continuation of my Margaret Whitton crush. I would eat that woman with a spoooooon.
    Ditto Moira Kelley in ‘Cutting Edge.’ I need to pitch a tent (har) on those plump cheeks, camp out for a week. Notice how they always have the girl doing concentration curls, never power curls or something. It never fails.
    I also nominate ‘Personal Best,’ with Scott Glenn as the uber-bastard coach. Sand dune scene. Beating the dude in the 400 scene.
     
     
     

     
     

  8. John
    July 6, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Love this list…just Netflixed a bunch!

    Ruuu-deee, Ruuu-deee! (First movie I cried at..)

    Where’s “The Program”?

  9. krispy1138
    July 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    What about Ice Castles? And Dodgeball?

  10. Steve Clipp
    July 6, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    I just noticed the inclusion of ‘Over the Top.’ Please feel free to include details of your watching, including those who forced you to do so, and the weapons they held. Ricky Schroeder had a face only a mother couldn’t punch.

    I believe the movie Sinead references is ‘Gymkata,’ with budding Star Kurt Thomas, fresh from touring with the Royal Shakespeare and ready for more challenge.

  11. jeanne
    July 6, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    AWWW I loved Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken!

  12. Rob
    July 6, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Youngblood at # 45?  How can this be – Keanu Reaves first movie?  It met all your criteria and it had Keanu!

    🙂

  13. James
    July 6, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    “Hooisers – It almost sounds like hooters.” made me spit my coffee.

  14. Katie
    July 6, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Kevin- I am now officially in love with you for adding Airborne. I have seen that movie way too many times.
    Leigh I can’t believe you didn’t add Stick-it! But the list is pretty perfect, there are a few I haven’t seen.

  15. Mike Howard
    July 6, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Movie review! Leigh is officially the “total package”.

    Couple of thoughts;

    1. Kudos to Hillary Swank – #2 and #3 on the list!
    2. Come on, LP – you can’t list all the Rockies and all the Karate Kids – Rocky (the last one) was absolute dog crap and Karate Kid 3 was junk. (happy 63rd today, Stallone)
    3. Kudos to YOU for including several hockey movies – showing some love for us “canucks”. Although Slap Shots should have made the cut.
    4. The criteria is absolutely awesome – “gets laid accordingly” brilliant!
    5. Breaking away – Dennis Quaid is absolutely yoked in that movie – he still keeps in pretty good shape.
    6. The one’s I might add… bang the drum slowly, diggstown, pre, white men can’t jump, the program, the longest yard, bull durham and the aforementioned “slap shots”
    7. Major leaugue… “I say “forget you” Jobu, I do this myself”… you’re right – don’t watch it edited!

    That’s all I can think of right now… nicely done!

  16. Stephanie
    July 6, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I absolutely love this list and have seen so many of these.  I just saw a new one last week called “Forever Strong” which is based on the sport of Rugby with a coach who believes in turning out “champion boys” not just  “champion” teams.  I believe it was based on a true story.  Great movie.

  17. Chris
    July 6, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Am I alone in anticipation and subsequent disappointment of  ‘Best of the Best’ being left off the list?  If  Rocky and the Karate Kid had five children in Connecticut but only really cared about two, this would have been the story of thier lives.  Eye patches, motorcycle rides, and Mufasa himself.  There’s gotta be room for this in the top twenty.

  18. Chrissy
    July 6, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Haha this was the greatest list ever! I can’t believe you put the Cutting Edge in, Leigh you’re da bomb!
    Oh and Rob she said no particular order, kind of.

  19. Katie
    July 6, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Mike the bonsai tree alone was enough reason for adding karate kid 3.

  20. shari
    July 6, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Katie- no no no……” wax on wax off” is reason enough….LOL

  21. Sinead
    July 6, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    no, I don’t think it was Gymkata. I’ll have to do some googling…

  22. Mike Howard
    July 6, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    @Katie

    Right – the bonsai tree… my bad – KK3 is aight.

    Another couple of quick hits…

    1. Congrats to Renee Russo who also got on that list twice (although I have to question the inclusion of “tin cup” as making the list. Trivia: Which other movie is she in?
    2. Further Kudos to LP for not only what was on the list, but what was excluded. Namely: Ali and “Any given sunday”

  23. Anna
    July 6, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    I noticed Charlie Sheen made the list a few times, which is awesome. Lots of winners on the list–now I’m inspired to rewatch Flashdance.
    The analysis of the “slow clap” was priceless, by the way.

  24. Leigh Peele
    July 6, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    1. Note that I stated  “In no paticular order, kind of.”

    2. Renee Russo is teh hot and was also Jake’s ex in Major League.

    3. I suck for missing Best of the Best and Airborne. Perhaps I will update the list…

    4. Tin Cup qualifies on the basis of the final shot(s) alone.

    5.  RE: Over the top – That kid wasn’t Rick Schroder (but did look exacty like him). That brings up another point of the movie “Across the Tracks.”  Nothing like cocaine and 400 yd dash.

    6.  Let’s not forget that in Karate Kid three Daniel also had the chance to be a traitor and learned a severe and harsh lesson about life via bloody knuckles.

    7. 

  25. Steve Clipp
    July 6, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    True, it was not Ricky Schroeder, it was (I think) Jim Olsen, but going back to that piece of fuckety fuck to check details would’ve been like sticking my hand back in a pot of boiling oil to see if that was really spare change I felt on the bottom.
    Best of the Best was indeed badass. I don’t care what the masses say, I’m an Eric Roberts fan.

    I wonder if the original ‘Femme Nikita’ would qualify? She certainly had to get her head straight and come correct in her chosen….sport.
    “You’ve made progress, especially in dance. In art, too. But in all the other subjects…nix, zilch, zero….They’ve given us two weeks, I can’t do any more after. Not a thing…”
     
     

  26. John
    July 6, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Fine list, but … if you haven’t seen “Personal Best” with Mariel Hemmingway and Patrice Donnelly, you should check it out.  Another underappreciated film about training is “Stay Hungry” (a title with which you can currently identify) with Arnold, himself, and Sally Field.
    The original version of “The Longest Yard” is also outstanding.
     

  27. Megan
    July 6, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    I love Wild Hearts (#19)  !
    Glad to see someone else has seen it.  I am a total fan of all those training movies.

  28. Mike H.
    July 6, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Leigh,

    Re: Renne Russo – nice one! (and agree that she is pretty teh hot)
    Re: Karate Kid III – alright – you and Nemergut have brow beaten me into believing in this one. I concede.

    Another little tidbit… although Van Damme is a seriously kick-ass name (for a dude that kicks ass), his birth name is Jean-Claude Camille François Van Vaerenbergh. Somehow, having “Camille” in your name takes the “badass factor” down a notch… just sayin’.

  29. anna y.
    July 6, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    wow…  side out, huh?…  i think, unfortunatetly, i blocked that one out (for having seen it way too many times) thanks for the memories leigh.
    i’ll nominate wildcats.

  30. Chris
    July 6, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Great list Leigh, too bad you forgot one of the best- Vision Quest
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090270/

  31. Katie
    July 6, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Haha Shari good call!
    Mike you can’t not have the love for kk3 if I have anything to do with it.
    Anna y.- So right! Wildcats should have made the list.

  32. Kevin
    July 7, 2009 at 9:26 am

    2nding a few that have been mentioned and adding a few that have not:

    The (original) Longest Yard
    Slapshot (“Putting on the foil coach”)
    Bull Durham
    We Are Marshall
    The Octagon
    300
    Conan The Barbarian (training on the “Wheel of Pain”)
    Rollerball (1975 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollerball_%281975_film%29)
    Caddyshack – funniest golfing movie ever
    Raging Bull
    Brian’s Song (original with Billy Dee Williams and James Caan)

    As an Indiana-born Hoosier, thanks for including Hoosiers and Breaking Away.

  33. etana finkler
    July 7, 2009 at 11:31 am

    .. so that’s why my body resists losing fat: I haven’t studied enough … having seen only 2-4 of these movies (the ones with the girrrls in them)…

    … guess I need some subliminal training and the pounds will transform into muscle…

    etana

  34. Sinead
    July 7, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Duh–the movie I was thinking of was American Anthem. lol

    How about National Velvet?

  35. Vicki
    July 7, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    How about Bring It On? Cheerleaders need to train too. Good movie too.

    and Billy Elliot. You have to include that if you’re putting in Flashdance, even though he didn’t get laid (did the Karate Kid score?)

  36. stingo
    July 7, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    A few others come to mind… An Officer and a Gentleman, Slapshot, Shaolin Soccer, Victory, The Longest Yard

  37. Alison
    July 7, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    ‘The gymnest” and “Stick It” should be in there, both are watchable and include almost all the criteria.

  38. Ilyse
    July 8, 2009 at 10:57 am

    1. Stick It-hilarious gymnastics training movie from the producer of Bring It On (another training movie) The scenes of the female gymnasts training hard inspire me to kick my weight training up a notch with the goal that mastering full range of motion pull ups will be the closest I can come to learning the uneven bars!
    2. Longest Yard, Chris Rock + Adam Sandler = surprisingly great football training movie
    3. Strictly Ballroom-quirky ballroom dance training movie from Baz Lahrman
    5. Dirty Dancing and Footloose-don’t let the fancy feet fool you, these ARE training movies

  39. The Real Fitness Nerd
    July 8, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Hmmm. Good list, but you appear to have forgotten the existance of surfing, skiing, skateboarding, snowboarding and the 1981 Leif Garrett foosball movie Longshot.

  40. Torrey
    July 9, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Pretty decent list.  Brought back some good memories!  Nice shout out to “Little Giants.” Just a few names that come to mind though that were left off….Hoop Dreams, Raging Bull, Glory Road,  The Air Up There, and Coach Carter (which was surprisingly good for being a MTV produced movie).  And someone here mentioned Dodgeball…that too!  Classic comedy gold!

  41. Steph
    July 11, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Nice list!
    Adding one of my personal fav’s:   Iron & Silk.
    Why?
    Because it’s literally beautiful both visually and emotionally.
    Because it’s a true story.
    Because the two main characters play their own role in the film!!! (Master Qingfu Pan and Mark Salzman) 
    Check on imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099857/

  42. Daniel
    June 19, 2010 at 1:34 am

    the sandlot
    cmon, THE BEAST

  43. Koen
    November 2, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    omg why dont i see happy gillmore

  44. Jean
    March 28, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    A suggestion on the RESULTS of training movie: Haywire.
    The female lead there is an MMA contender, a serious fighter.
    She STILL has to go all-out (Even allowing for it being a movie) against a male co-star. Both play secret agents; he is supposed to kill her. Very nearly does, too.

    Reason to include?
    1. Size difference for a man vs. woman fight.
    2. Training effects to offset size differences. IE, her strength gets her through it, even if there’s some luck involved. Meaning, it should motivate the ladies to work on strength training for themselves, just to build their abilities – with a “just in case” thrown in there for good measure.
    That last is important to my view, given a teenage girl in the house who thinks she can beat a man with bad intentions. I had to disabuse her of that the hard way, to get through the social conditioning of “you go grrl!” that made her think a 99 pound teenage girl could beat an out-of-shape 40-year-old man with no real training.

    She thought it would be “girlfight” if anyone picked on her.
    I demonstrated it would be over before she knew she’d been engaged….

    She’s doing well now, and knows to keep to public places with unknown people. 🙂

    Ugly but successful. Better than learning the hard way for real…

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