Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world. But for many of those who play, have played, or just enjoy watching the games, it’s more than just a sport; it’s a culture. The drama of the competition both on and off the court is what makes basketball the ideal candidate for great sports movies.
Which is why there are an overwhelming amount of basketball films out there. Whether it’s in between games or during the off season, you can always find a movie that will feed your love of the game. So if you’re looking for suggestions on which films to watch while March Madness rages on, this list of the best basketball movies of all time can send you in the right direction.
The Best Basketball Movies
13. Semi-Pro (2008)
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video (Rent)
While there are quite a few basketball comedies out there, Semi-Pro is likely one of the most ridiculous. The story is primarily centered around Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) who is both the owner and a player for the Flint Tropics. Set in 1976, the Flint Tropics have to do everything they can to turn their rag-tag team into winners as the American Basketball League is set to merge with the NBA. It’s a hilarious Will Ferrell movie that makes fun of both Will Ferrell and the game of basketball. If you’re looking for a good sports comedy, this movie is definitely worth your time.
Read our review of Semi-Pro.
12. Like Mike (2002)
Another sports comedy, Like Mike is essentially the answer to the question: What if a 13-year-old orphan found a pair of magical sneakers and joined the NBA? Starring Lil’ Bow Wow as Calvin Coolidge, Like Mike is essentially the basketball version of Annie and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Finding Michael Jordan’s magical shoes and joining the Los Angeles Knights is a rags to riches story that is enjoyable no matter how many times you see it. Plus you get to see a tiny kid schooling and dunking over real NBA players. Like Mike is a great Basketball film for the whole family to enjoy.
11. Air Bud (1997)
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video (Rent)
If you have never seen Air Bud, are you even a fan of Basketball movies? This classic Disney movie combines dogs and basketball into a ridiculous but heartwarming story. Following the death of his father, Josh Framm and the rest of his family move to a new place to start fresh. As he’s practicing basketball after school, Josh meets a runaway Golden Retriever who is escaping his abusive owner. Naturally, this Golden Retriever turns out to be really good at basketball for some reason and becomes a part of Joh’s family. If you like dogs and cheesy family movies, then this is surely the type of basketball cinema you need in your life.
Read more about Air Bud.
10. Love and Basketball (2000)
Although a lot of the basketball movies on this list feature romantic relationships, Love and Basketball is likely the only one that could be considered a romance movie. The film follows Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (Omar Epps), two rising stars who share a deep love for basketball. It’s a love story about two extremely talented basketball players who face very different societal pressures. Quincy is deemed a rising star while Monica is forced to struggle against preconceived notions about women in sports. The story unfolds over years, detailing their romantic relationship as they both make their way toward the same professional dream.
Read more about Love and Basketball.
9. Blue Chips (1994)
Blue Chips is more than a basketball movie with Shaq in it, it’s a deep dive into the corruption within college sports. The story centers around Pete Bell (Nick Nolte), a college basketball coach for the Western University Dolphins. Pete is under a lot of pressure to win more games and attract better players, but many of the talented prospects are secretly being paid by other colleges to be coaxed into joining their teams. Because of this, Pete decides to do the same and partners with a shady school booster to pay multiple highly talented kids to join his team. This descent into the underbelly of college sports ultimately drives a wedge into his life as his drive to win makes him lose sight of the reasons he became a coach in the first place.
8. Hustle (2022)
Where to Watch: Netflix
Hustle is the newest movie on this list, arriving on Netflix just last year. Starring Adam Sandler, this sports comedy-drama is a heartwarming tale about an NBA scout (Sandler) and a Spanish prodigy. Aided by a star-studded cast, Hustle dives into the life of an aging scout who finally achieves his dream of becoming an assistant coach only to have it suddenly ripped away from him. He is forced to go overseas in search of talent, only to find it in a Spanish construction worker. It’s a basketball movie that follows the usual underdog storyline, but great acting and heartfelt moments easily elevate it to the status of one of the best new basketball movies.
Read our review of Hustle.
7. Finding Forrester (2000)
Finding Forrester isn’t primarily about basketball, though it’s a film that couldn’t happen without it. The story follows 16-year-old Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), who is an incredibly gifted student living in the Bronx. He downplays his academic potential to focus on playing basketball games with his neighborhood friends, which are frequently watched from the window of an old man (Sean Connery) who never leaves his home. Dared by his friends to sneak into the old man’s apartment, Jamal is caught and asked to write a 5,000 word essay on why he should stay out — which he does. Jamal is later offered an opportunity to join a prestigious private school thanks to his talent as a basketball player.
He later finds out that the old man is actually a famous author named William Forrester that ends up taking him under his wing after recognizing his talent and internal struggle within him.
Read our review of Finding Forester.
6. Glory Road (2006)
Another college sports drama, Glory Road is based on a true story about the events leading up to the 1966 NCAA championship. Don Haskins was the men’s basketball coach at Texas Western at the time, and with limited funding, he makes a push to recruit the very best players regardless of race. This results in a team with primarily black athletes, which was unheard of at the time. Don and his team take victory after victory, but are faced with the rising hatred of racist fans, players, and parents. Glory Road is a story of overcoming immense societal hurdles with a passion for the game that will leave you feeling emotional in more ways than one.
Read our review of Glory Road.
5. He Got Game (1998)
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video (Rent)
He Got Game is a Spike Lee film that is real enough to feel like a basketball documentary at times. It’s a heartbreaking story about a father and son and how capitalism has wriggled its way into the heart of basketball as a sport. Jake Shuttleworth (Denzel Washington) is a prison inmate who was locked up for accidentally killing his wife, leaving his young son behind. 6 years later, he is offered temporary parole and a potentially shorter sentence if he is able to convince his son Jesus (Ray Allen) to play at the warden’s college. This R-rated film dives into the dark side of money and sports while shining a light on the troubled relationship of a father who just wants his son to survive the system and become more than he ever was.
Read more about He Got Game.
4. Space Jam (1996)
Not to be confused with the most recent iteration of the film, Space Jam: A New Legacy, the original Space Jam is one of the best basketball movies for all ages. Featuring Michael Jordan in his prime, the story starts off shortly after he decided to retire from the game and become a baseball player. Space Jam does a great job of blending animation with live-action and tells a tale of Looney Tunes characters recruiting Michael to help them defeat alien monsters who have stolen the powers of other NBA stars. Outside of all the Looney Tunes characters, the film also features performances from both Wayne Knight and Bill Murray. Basketball legends like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Muggsy Bogues also make an appearance.
Read more about Space Jam.
3. Coach Carter (2005)
Before Samuel L. Jackson was putting together the Avengers as Nick Fury, he was putting together one of the finest high school basketball teams as Coach Carter. Based on a true story, the film is centered around Ken Carter, the head basketball coach at Richmond High. While the film is mostly about basketball, the heart of the movie is coach Carter’s commitment to improving the lives of these young athletes. He even goes as far as to suspend his team due to poor academic performance, despite championship prospects and protests from faculty, students, and parents. It’s a deeply moving drama that showcases how a good coach can make a difference when they focus on building up people rather than just wins.
Read our review of Coach Carter.
2. White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Unlike most of the movies on this list, White Men Can’t Jump is more about the hustle than the game itself. Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) is a former college basketball player with a gambling problem that has landed him in trouble with the mob. He tries to make a living by hustling fellow streetballers that assume he can’t play because he looks like a goofy white dude. This lifestyle leads him to lose money to another hustler named Sidney (Wesley Snipes) and they end up teaming up to win even more money. Although the film is largely about a talented basketball player who can’t stop gambling, it’s also a story about friendship and overcoming racial stereotypes.
Read more about White Men Can’t Jump.
1. Hoosiers (1986)
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Hoosiers tells the story of a basketball team in the small town of Hickory, Indiana in the 1950s. Loosely based on a true story, It’s one of the original underdog sports tales that does just about everything right. The film centers around a coach (Gene Hackman) with a bit of a spotty past that gets a second shot after being hired to oversee a high school team. In the face of resistance from both his team and the town, the coach inspires his players and leads them to the state championship against all odds. Dennis Hopper even received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role as the recovering alcoholic assistant coach.
With some of the best sports movie moments and memorable lines, Hoosiers is arguably the best basketball movie of all time. It set the foundation for future films like Coach Carter and Glory Road, solidifying it’s position as an iconic underdog sports story.