This is a list about the best basketball movies. No wait, let me rephrase that. This is a list about my favorite basketball movies. It’s not a scientific work based on proof, facts or even logic. It is merely a collection of my favorite movies which happen to have basketball in them, so please don’t go crazy because it’s incomplete.
I know that I probably left some movies off the list you may like better than the ones I picked. But that’s tough luck for you. If your favorite basketball movie does not appear here, chances are I have not seen it or it plain out sucks. In any case, for every movie I wrote a short premise on what it’s about (as far as I could remember) and my own personal comment on what I liked or disliked about it.
Honorable mention: Hoop Dreams, Once Brothers & about all other 30for30 or NBA documentaries were left out on purpose. I will make a special “favorite basketball documentaries” list some other time.
So without further ado:
Year released: 2008
Premise: Jackie Moon’s (Will Ferrell) ABA team – the “Tropics” – is in last place, with few fans in the seats. Jackie dreams of a merger with the NBA. A tough-minded point guard named Monix (Woodie Harrelson) is at the end of his career. Clarence “Coffee” Brown (André 3000) dreams of stardom but doesn’t value teamwork. When the trio learns that a merger is in the works that won’t include the Tropics, they pull the team together to try to achieve the impossible.
Comment: I have never been the biggest Will Ferrell fan, but I guess I can make an exception for a basketball movie. This one has some absurd and therefore hilarious scenes. The fact that the whole thing plays in the 70s with the hair and the drugs and the funny logos makes this even better. (Disclaimer: Don’t do drugs)
Year released: 1996
Premise: Eddie (Whoopie Goldberg) is a New York limo driver and fanatical follower of the New York Knicks. One day she drives the new Knicks owner “Wild Bill” and Eddie can’t keep her mouth shut about how the team sucks and what she would do differently. The owner likes her immediately and makes her ‘honorary coach’ as a public gimmick trying to put more people in the seats. The fans love Eddie so much that Wild Bill eventually fires the coach and hires her. With a unique approach Eddie forms a bunch of overpaid prima donnas into a team.
Comment: The plot is completely off the charts stupid, but hey, who of us has never dreamed of coaching our favorite team? The reason why this movie is funny to me is because I can see myself doing a better job than the current coach of the Lakers in a heartbeat. I could be Eddie. Also the cameos of different NBA players are hilarious.
8. Coach Carter
Year released: 2005
Premise: New basketball coach (Samuel L. Jackson) takes over a high school team that has some potential but can’t figure out how to play together and stay out of trouble. Offcourt problems arise and Coach Carter molds boys into men, teaching them about integrity and discipline, changing their lives for the better in the process and making sure they don’t end up dead or in prison. They become a much better basketball team, too.
Comment: It’s an okay movie, which features a lot of basketball but lacks real drama. After all how dramatic can a movie be if you figured out the plot line within the first 5 minutes? The offcourt problems seem generic and full of clichés. Sam Jackson yelling at kids somehow makes it all worth it though. The basketball scenes are decent.
7. Space Jam
Year released: 1996
Premise: I don’t know how I can talk about the premise of this film while keeping a straight face, but here goes… Alien slavers aka the Monstars steal the talents of several NBA basketball players so that they can play in a game of basketball against the Looney Tunes. Michael Jordan helps Bugs Bunny and friends for a chance at winning their freedom and takes on the Monstars in an out-of-this-world basketball game. I can’t believe I just typed that.
Comment: It’s silly, okay? There, I said it. Yes, it has Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing in it, but they’re playing against frickin’ cartoons! Still it’s a pretty entertaining movie and “I believe I can fly” will stay in your head for many weeks after. Also, MJ is wearing the Air Jordan 11s, which in my opinion are the most beautiful basketball shoes of all time.
Year released: 1986
Premise: Gene Hackman plays Norman Dale, the new basketball coach at Hickory High, a small school deep in the heart of Indiana where hooping has always been more religion than sport (it still is by the way). Dale learns the hard way that it’s hard to coach when the whole town is looking over your shoulder. This is basically Friday Night Lights with basketball instead of football.
Comment: This is an old school movie set in the 1950s, so expect a lot of non-athletic white people who don’t dunk and play a very non-fancy brand of basketball. Basketballwise this may not be the most spectacular movie on the list. Why I like it? It’s based on a true story and I’m a sucker for those. Also it emphasizes team sport and proves great things can often be more than just the sum of their parts. By the way, the Indiana Pacers will wear the Hickory High uniforms ten times this season to honor Indiana’s rich basketball history and the state’s residents in general, which are nicknamed ‘Hoosiers’.
Personal Grade: B
5. Above the Rim
Year released: 1994
Premise: Star high school player Kyle Watson surrounds himself with the wrong crowd, i.e. a drug dealer named Birdie (Tupac Shakur) and gets seduced by money, clothes and girls. Meanwhile Birdie’s brother is a former basketball star who has gone down the wrong path and ended up as a security guard who now offers to mentor Kyle, putting the two brothers on a collision course.
Comment: What’s not to like? Tupac Shakur is playing a thug (probably didn’t need a whole lot of acting lessons for that) and the soundtrack is killer. Hey, it’s got Regulate. Every movie is great when it’s got Regulate! Also the basketball action is pretty crisp both on the hardwood and on the blacktop.
Personal Grade: B+
4. Blue Chips
Year released: 1994
Premise: Pete Bell (Nick Nolte), a college basketball coach is forced to break NCAA rules in order to recruit the players he needs to stay competitive. With Neon (Shaquille O’Neal) and Butch McRae (Penny Hardaway) receiving gifts from school boosters Coach Bell is walking a thin line between professional success and what’s right.
Comment: This is probably the best (only) movie showing what highly sought after high school players are going through when they are being recruited by big colleges. With Shaq and Penny playing together, the basketball content in this movie is legit and the drama is real. Stellar performance by Nolte. The first 5 minutes (see video below) show the most epic meltdown of a coach in movie history.
Personal Grade: B+
3. Glory Road
Year released: 2006
Premise: The true story of how Texas Western University had the first all-black starting lineup in college basketball history and reached the national championship game during the 1965-66 season. For those of you who don’t know, that was a time when in certain parts of the country people thought less of you, when you had a black friend. This school broke all the “rules”.
Comment: What Remember the Titans is for football, Glory Road is for basketball. Inspiring, uplifting and historically significant. This movie shows you that sports can bring out the worst and very best in people. Plus it has a killer soundtrack.
Personal Grade: A-
2. White Men Can’t Jump
Year released: 1992
Premise: Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) and Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) are basketball hustlers making good money. The former rivals decide to join forces to double their chances, which ultimately leads to betrayal and heartbreak. When two streetball legends decide to make a comeback at a local tournament Sid and Dean put aside their differences and try to make their own mark in basketball history.
Comment: Gotta admit it was a toss-up between He Got Game and White Men Can’t Jump. Let’s just say WMCJ is the best streetball movie ever made. Hustling, playing in the sun, pick-up-games, trash talking… everything you know to be true about blacktop basketball it’s all right here. Also, Snipes and Harrelson are probably the best basketball players among hollywood actors and it shows. The basketball action is breathtaking and to this day still holds up.
Personal Grade: A
1. He Got Game
Year released: 1998
Premise: Jake Shuttlesworth sits in prison. His only chance of getting a shorter sentence is convincing his son Jesus (Ray Allen), a promising young high school star, to play at the governor’s alma mater of “Big State”. Jake is temporarily released but his son is refusing to talk to him, blaming him for the death of his mother. Drama ensues as father and son clash in an epic face-off.
Comment: In a recent interview Spike Lee admitted that Ray Allen only got the role because both Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant declined. But Ray shows some acting chops here and Denzel Washington is at his absolute best. The best basketball movie, because the action is authentic, the drama is real and because Denzel is the man.
Personal Grade: A+