The Definitive Top Basketball Movies of All-Time
Basketball is a game of passion. Of creativity. Of art. There are heroes and villains in basketball, incredible triumph and shattering defeat. Basketball is full of laughter, sweat, and tears. Jesus Shuttlesworth said it best:
“Basketball is like poetry in motion, cross the guy to the left, take him back to the right, he's fallin' back, then just J right in his face. Then you look at him and say, ‘What?’”
For all of those reasons, the sport of basketball lends itself to great storytelling. The game oozes drama and humanity. This is, in part, why the NBA is so popular.
It’s also why there are so many wonderful films about basketball, which begs the question: What are the top basketball movies of all time?
There are plenty of iconic basketball movies, and we all have our favorites; trying to select the best would be next to impossible, if not naive. Fortunately, Off the Glass has a dedicated staff and plenty of friends of the site. To select the top basketball film of all time, we got democratic.
The methods were simple: participants ranked popular basketball movies on a scale of 1-10. Any film that had at least ten rankings would qualify, and from there it was easy to sort the highest rated films. This does mean a few classic movies were left off of the list, but let’s hone in on our current top five.
(We also had a thorough list of superlatives; we’ll get to that momentarily.)
OTG’s top ranked basketball films of all time:
I’ll assume most of us know a thing or two about this movie, and I don’t want to waste time with providing my own plot summaries or editorialize the results. But some of the behind the scenes data is a bit interesting.
He Got Game was the resounding victor. It received consistently high rankings, earning scores of 8.0 or higher across the board. White Men Can’t Jump and Space Jam also saw pretty even numbers, as well. Their scores were just a little bit lower than He Got Game.
Coach Carter, however, was much more controversial. It landed perfect 10s from some rankers, but suffered from scores in the 7s. Hoosiers saw even more disparity. I think it’s probably telling that the top ranked movies, most consistently praised films are funny ones and not hyper serious.
I took to Twitter to further crowd-source this information. Interestingly enough, it sort of confirmed the above. The four top basketball movies are all within shouting distance of one another.
Our rankers were also asked to respond to a few superlatives about the best basketball films of all time. These answers, it’s worth noting, were given before the final numbers were revealed. Here are some of the results:
Glory Road, Coach Carter, and Above the Rim all received a few votes for “Most Underrated”. The middle of the pack for this list is clearly the most contentious, as Hoosiers was the top pick for Most Overrated.
Love & Basketball was the most popular pick as the biggest tear-jerker, while Semi-Pro (and Celtic Pride) earned the title of funniest basketball movie.
The choice of Best Character was all over the map. I’m going to say my friend Maicen was right by selecting Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Along Came Polly. Charles Barkley in Space Jam, meanwhile, earned a plurality of votes for Best Pro Player Cameo.
Celtic Pride was the top selection for Should Remake. Any opportunity to put Bill Walton on screen is fine by me.
I think probably the biggest takeaway here is that there aren’t that many truly excellent basketball films. More to the point, we haven’t had a good hoops flick in a while; the most recent one on our list is Semi-Pro, and that came out in 2008.
There are plenty of great basketball documentaries available. Hoop Dreams earned considerable praise during this exercise, but trying to rank the best b-ball documentaries is its own exhausting endeavor. Still, in terms of traditional movies, basketball film-making has been lacking.
Space Jam 2 could change all of that, although truth be told, we’re not even sure if it’s such a good idea.