There are few things that’ll get you from zero to ready-to-bust-down-a-wall in 30 seconds. The sports-movie training montage is one of them. Rocky, Remember the Titans, The Karate Kid—all home to hill sprints/ab crunching/bench-pressin’ that will, through the power of a good ’80s synth bop or Meek Mill verse, send you straight back into... renewing your gym membership.
You know what else is awesome? Sports movies, like in general. So we took it upon ourselves to list our favorite—and what we deem the most triumphant—sports movies of all time. Oh, and it’s not on this list, but we have to quote Dodgeball here: “It’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for him!” (Only Esquire is him, if you got that.)
What happens: Coach Samuel L. Jackson is tired of this shit, but he’s gonna coach the hell out of these kids anyway.
Moment of triumph: If we’re being honest, it’s the soundtrack—there’s never a moment where Faith Evans and Twista’s “Hope” won’t fill you with, uhm, hope.
Why Bronze: This was still Channing Tatum’s awkward phase, tbh.
What happens: Jamaicans bobsled.
Moment of triumph: The Jamaicans' bobsled breaks down just yards from the finish line, and the guys carry it the rest of the way, heads held high.
Why Bronze: It has all the earmarks of a heartwarming sports movie, but it gave us that Jimmy Cliff cover of "I Can See Clearly Now" that made the whole world a dentist's waiting room for a few months in 1993.
What happens: 1980 U.S. Men's Hockey Team faces Soviets.
Moment of triumph: 1980 Men's Hockey Team defeats Soviets.
Why Bronze: It is beautiful and stirring, but the 2001 made-for-TV documentary Do You Believe In Miracles got there first, with commentary from the actual guys and narration by Liev Schreiber.
What happens: Good-looking guy sprints, grows mustache, dies.
Moment of triumph: Some truly glorious late 1960s hair bounces majestically as a ribbon is run through.
Why Bronze: Two of these movies is one too many. The "Prefontaine Pair," as nobody called it back then, came out around the time of Deep Impact / Armageddon and Volcano / Dante's Peak, when America was gripped with redundant movie fever. We give the edge to Without Limits, because we're up to here with Method Actor Jared Leto right now.
What happens: Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis, grows up to be a boxer just like dad. And you guessed it, another stroke of fate: He crosses paths with the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa.
Moment of triumph: Adonis sprints through Philly’s streets to a total rager of a Rocky-soundtracked remix of Meek Mill’s “Lord Knows.”
Why Silver: It’s too soon to put this one alongside the OG. Check back with us in 20 years when we get a franchise revival featuring Adonis’s son.
What happens: Baseball legend Jackie Robinson—who almost single-handedly broke the league’s racial barrier—gets the biopic treatment.
Moment of triumph: Jackie gives the business to the infamously racist former Phillies manager, Ben Chapman.
Why Silver: Robinson’s story doesn’t exactly translate as well as it could with Warner Bros.’s Disney-esque, storybook retelling of his life.
What happens: Jacked brothers do mixed martial arts.
Moment of triumph: A long-simmering brotherly feud is resolved in the octagon, you immediately do your maximum amount of crunches.
Why Silver: It feels like it was made in a laboratory with the single purpose of making grown men cry.
What Happens: Mariel Hemingway and real-life track and field athlete Patrice Donnelly play lesbian lovers!
Moment of triumph: There actually isn't a whole lot of triumph here, as it's about their training for the 1980 Summer Olympics, on which the US ends up bailing. But it is pretty hot.
Why Silver: The Carter presidency did not give us much in the way of triumph all the way around.
The Mighty Ducks
What happens: Ragtag kids' hockey team slowly gets it together, with the help of gruff but lovable coach.
Moment of triumph: The Ducks win the Pee Wee Championship!
Why Silver: Two sequels, plus an animated spinoff series with actual hockey-playing ducks in outer space.
What happens: Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane is the first jock to figure out that math nerds aren’t all that bad—which changes baseball forever.
Moment of triumph: Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt? Brad Pitt.
Why Gold: Just like the Michael Lewis book Moneyball is based on, the film does the impossible, making cubicle chatter just as exciting as a grand slam.
Remember the Titans
What happens: Coach Herman Boone takes over as the head coach of a college (the college has a racist culture, too) football team with about 27 difficult personalities. Training montages, The Temptations, victory.
Moment of triumph: The entire team—youngin Ryan Gosling and all—crumples up an old newspaper and uses it as a mic for a locker-room performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Why Gold: Denzel Washington’s turn as real-life coach Boone is easily a top-10 sports-movie performance.
What happens: Skater goes blind in freak accident, keeps skating.
Moment of triumph: She nails her routine, trips on roses thrown by the crowd, is led off the ice by Robby Benson.
Why Gold: Take it from someone who was alive when this movie was released: there was a moment when a nation of pre-teen girls kind of wished they were blind. Such was the raw power of a 1978 Robby Benson.
The Bad News Bears
What happens: Ragtag kids' baseball team slowly gets it together, with the help of gruff but lovable coach.
Moment of triumph: The Bears lose just barely, are allowed to drink beer anyway.
Why Gold: Because we kind of miss the days when alcoholism was written like a harmless, fun little quirk.
Chariots of Fire
What happens: British guys run on the beach in slo-mo, a million parodies are born.
Moment of triumph: Both the leads win gold!
Why Gold: On Oscar Night in 1982, I asked my parents if I could make and throw confetti if it won Best Picture (over On Golden Pond and Raiders of the Lost Ark). They said I could. It won. I did. Eleven years later I came out of the closet to them, and they had the nerve to be surprised.
What happens: Little guy works his way onto Notre Dame football team, with help from maximum-density Jon Favreau.
Moment of triumph: Rudy gets in the game, sacks the quarterback, gets carried off the field, after which we must imagine he says to himself, "Well, shit. What now?"
Why Gold: If it doesn't give you chills, you died four months ago and nobody told you.
A League of Their Own
What happens: A women's baseball league comes together as World War II rages.
Moment of triumph: Perpetually overshadowed Lori Petty scores the winning run! Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell meet in real life! What do they even talk about?
Why Gold: Because if it's on television, you cancel your next two hours of plans every single time.
What happens: Sylvester Stallone slurs, punches meat, romances shy woman, gets beat the hell up.
Moment of triumph: Rocky goes the distance! Shy woman overcomes discomfort with crowds!
Why Gold: A Sylvester Stallone movie beat Taxi Driver, Network, and All The President's Men for Best Picture at the 1976 Oscars, and the entire world was like, "Yeah, this feels right."
What happens: Rag-tag small-town Indiana high-school basketball team slowly gets it together.
Moment of triumph: Shooter stays sober some of the time! Hickory wins state! You cry!
Why Gold: Because it is completely without flaws.
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