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Greatest All-Time Basketball Movies | The Weekend Warrior

You may be wondering what classifies as a “basketball” movie.  Well, I’m being pretty liberal here.  Let’s count anything that focuses on a basketball player, a team, or just has a lot of basketball in it.  It can be a comedy, drama, or documentary.  Pretty much, everything is fair game.  So without further adieu, let’s get to the list.

The Top Shelf Six Pack

  1. Hoosiers (1986) - Based on a true story – Plot: A small town team with just six or seven players battles for the Indiana state title (there’s only one division) - The gold standard for basketball movies.  It is also one of my Top 10 favorite movies of all-time in any category, maybe even Top 5.   Based on a true story in a basketball-mad state about maybe the greatest Cinderella/David beating Goliath team of all time.  Sure it is sappy, but it is also extremely uplifting.  The musical score is great and the acting is superb.   And Coach Normal Dale (Gene Hackman) is a Bobby Knight you can actually love.  Basketball scenes are well done.  Rewatchability: 10 – Seriously, if it is on, I’m watching it.  Or at least seeing where in the movie it is.
  2. Hoop Dreams (1994) – Documentary – Plot: A filmmaker follows around two high school basketball players, one of which is a phenom, for four years, detailing their lives, too – Believe me, this movie is close to #1.  The thing that drops it down is that because it is a documentary, it is slow at times and very long.  But the concept of following a high school phenom and a slightly above average player around for all four years of high school was brilliant.  This was reality long before Survivor and all the other reality TV shows came along.  The real life drama that these two kids, and their families, face in Chicago is spellbinding.  And there’s a stunning twist during their senior seasons.  Random drinking game: take a drink every time someone says “downstate”.  You won’t make it to the end of the movie if you do.  Real basketball footage.  Rewatchability: 6 – I have watched it twice since I saw it in the theater.  It is worth watching every four of five years and laughing at the clothes from the late 80s/early 90s and remembering the story.  But it is slow.
  3. He Got Game (1998) – Drama – A Spike Lee Joint (guys get that) – Plot: A high school phenom (Ray Allen) goes through the recruiting process with eveyone telling him where to go, including his dad (Denzel Washington) who was let out of jail just to lure him to go to a state official’s alma mater – I walked out of this movie thinking to myself, “Man, I wish I had practiced basketball every day so I could have gone on college recruiting trips.”  (I’m referring to the three-some scene)  The story is very good and draws you in.  Of course Denzel Washington’s acting is brilliant but Ray Allen puts forth an amazing performance, too.  The movie is a nice look at how everybody wants something from a talented star.  Not much in the way of actual “basketball” action, yet the whole movie is about life off the court.  Rewatchability: 8 – Like I said, the story really draws you in and makes you root for Jesus and his dad.
  4. White Men Can’t Jump (1992) – Comedy – Plot: Two basketball players (Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes) hustle games for money and drop a thousand one-liners – By far the funniest basketball movie of all time.  I still use quotes from this movie: “It’s too easy!”  Coincidentally, Woody is in the least funny bball movie, too, Semi-Pro.  This movie will have you laughing the entire time and the basketball scenes are decent.  Would be #3 but He Got Game has more plot and a greater message.  Rewatchability: 10 – I’ll watch it any time it is on.
  5. Above the Rim (1994) – Drama – Plot: A high school kid wants to overcome the streets and make it to play for Georgetown – I’m biased to this movie because I’m in the crowd in the final scene.  I think you can see my hat.  Anyway, this movie is a cross between He Got Game (even though it came first) and Hoop Dreams.  It is sombering watching Tupac, who actually does a good job in this movie.  Basketball scenes are average, but the story keeps you hooked.  Rewatchability: 5 – I haven’t seen it on TV too much lately.  I need to dial it up on Netflix.
  6. Finding Forrester (2000) – Drama – Plot: A really smart and really good high school basketball player befriends a reclusive writer as he adjusts to an uppity school – This is the least “basketball-ish” of these six movies.  But since it is based on a basketball player, I’m counting it.  Quality acting with Sean Connery and a good supporting cast.  And what’s funnier that hearing Connery, in an English accent, say, “You’re the man now, dog!”  Rewatchability: 4 – Haven’t watched it again since I first saw it.  Hmm… should I add it to Netflix?

Six Pack of One-Timers (see them once)

  • Blue Chips (1994) – Drama/Comedy – Plot: College coach becomes corrupt to win – How can a movie with Nick Nolte, Shaq, Larry Bird, Bobby Knight, Penny Hardaway, and Dick Vitale stink?  Not sure, but this movie found a way.  But watching Shaq play a college freshman is pretty entertaining, as is bribing a recruit with a tractor.  And the basketball scenes are great since they have a NBA all-star team on one college team.
  • Teen Wolf (1985) – Comedy – Plot: A high school kid adjusts to being part wolf – Classic “what were the writers smoking” 80s comedy.  A wolf playing high school basketball is more believable than Michael J. Fox as a basketball player, yet somehow this movie works.  Funny and entertaining.  You just have to put on your 80s glasses and remember: it doesn’t have to make sense. 
  • Rebound: The Legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault (1996) - Based on a true story – Plot: A high school can’t-miss prospect misses because of drug abuse – This is NOT the Martin Lawrence movie.  It is a very sad story, and because it is mostly true, really gives a good lesson.  But the acting is poor, budget is low, and basketball scenes aren’t very good.  Read up on The Goat.  The legends about him, if true, are incredible.
  • Through the Fire (2005) - Documentary – Plot: Sebastian Telfair, a high school point guard, has to figure out if he wants to go to college or the NBA – Read the book, The Jump, instead.  It is 100 times better.  This movie is a like a Subway sandwich: no meat.  But still worth trying to get through once.
  • Coach Carter (2005) – Based on a true story – Plot: A strict disciplinarian coach whips an urban LA team into shape – See my Glory Road comments below and wash, rinse, repeat.  At least this movie has Samuel L. Jackson and isn’t “hurrah for everything”.
  • Baseketball (1998) – Comedy – Plot: Two losers invent a sport to get chicks and not suck – I think it is pretty darn funny, especially the taunting.  But it isn’t really a baseketball movie, so it is down here.

Disappointments

  • Basketball Diaries (1995) – Leonardo DiCaprio gives a great performance and I knew this movie wasn’t really about basketball, but it still stunk overall.  The one or two basketball scenes are awful and the rest of the movie is just about drunks and JO’ing.
  • Semi-Pro (2008) – Will Ferrell, but not funny.  He’s forcing things now.  He’s the new Adam Sandler.   Needs to go back to being a supporting star, not the main guy.
  • Glory Road (2006) – Based on a true story – Plot: Texas Western, with an all black starting lineup, beats an all white team – A poor man’s Remember the Titans without Denzel Washington.  Way too sappy.  A classic Disney puke fest.  Would be better as a documentary with interviews and old game footage. 

Haven’t Seen:

  • Love & Basketball (2000) – If it was “Basketball & Love”, I might watch it.  But it isn’t.
  • A Season on the Brink (2002)  – I refuse to ever watch this because ESPN made it, they showed 4,142,387 commercials about it leading up to it, and I hate Bobby Knight.  Plus, if I watch an ESPN movie, it is like saying it is OK for them to do stuff like this.  Next thing you know, they are like MTV (no music videos).

Summary – there really hasn’t been a good college basketball movie yet.  Shocking, especially considering how big the NCAA Tournament is.  Blue Chips was crap, as was Glory Road.  And A Season on the Brink is a better book than movie.  All the top movies are about high school kids or teams (five of my top six are high school based).  I smell an untapped market!

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  • http://www.techsideline.com/ Will Stewart

    Oh, fellas, you’re definitely missing one — “One on One,” from 1977, starring Robby Benson as hotshot freshman Henry Steele.

    Benson plays a highly-recruited player who enrolls at “Western State,” if I remember correctly. The movie is about his one-on-one battles with his jerk of a coach (who kisses his butt while recruiting him, but doesn’t recognize him when he shows up to campus — yeah, right) and his one-on-one love affair with his tutor, played by Annette O’Toole.

    The movie has, of course, a campy 70s feel, but Benson’s secret is that he can actually play. They won’t fool you into thinking it’s real college ball, but Benson can dribble, shoot, and hit a reverse layup in believable fashion.

    Look for two things: (1) the tag line “with a red-hot poker”, and (2) an early-career, cameo appearance by Melanie Griffith.

    Watchable. You’ll laugh at times, but you’ll also get caught up in it, and I don’t think you’ll be bored.

    Here’s IMDB’s entry on it:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076500/

  • Niemo

    I’ll have to add it to my Netflix queue, thanks for the tip.

  • daveywoods

    daveywoods says: glory road was decent, yer crazy. and i was going to tell you that you missed finding forrester, but then now i see you didn’t miss it. you’re still a chappie anyhow. i don’t know what that means.

  • carl braun

    Unfortunately there aren’t a ton of great basketball movies, although you are missing a great one (Fast Break) and a campy one (Fish That Saved Pittsburgh), but basketball has had some solid documentaries. Trying to latch on to baseball’s “When It Was A Game” success there are some good recent basketball works in that genre. If you haven’t seen “Black Magic” which was on a few months back, you missed a good one. But for movies you really need to see “Fast Break” which rates up there with “Slap Shot” for top sports comedies. I put it right behind Hoosiers as a movie that you can not walk away from. So from what you have I’d say:
    1. Hoosiers
    2. Fast Break
    3. Hoop Dreams
    Then a major fall where there should be more good movies but aren’t.
    4. White Men
    5. One on One
    6. Go Man Go (for historical HG’s)
    By the way my ten year old son likes:
    The Air Up There
    Celtic Pride
    The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh

  • Wael Glaid

    Well i had more of an inquiry than a comment:
    There was this hillarious movie about basketball that i think might top carl’s top 10 list. Well i can’t remember it’s name i saw it back in the early 90s but it was about this coach trying to make a new basketball team and he believed alot in astrology and figured out that players of a certain zodiac sign (i think it was sagittarius) can cowork so easily and can imagine each other’s moves. So he makes an announcement needing players who are sagittarius and he gets the weirdest group one girl, a priest and well i can’t remember all it was a whole team and he takes them to the NBA i think and they play real good but they’re somehow considered entertainers more than players like Harlem Globetrotters.

    Anyway if any of you remembered the name of this movie, please bring it on because i’m willing to have it all over again…
    Thank you…

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