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I mean, if you can’t find a game on, a solid basketball flick is the next best thing, right? Or sometimes even if there is a game on and it’s just not that good. Or, you know, when the movie is really great.
I’ve watched most of them: the greats, the not so greats and the really really bads. I’m going to break down the cream of the crop right here so that you don’t have to waste your time on anything at the bottom of the pile.
But first, If you’d rather focus on a specific streaming service, I’ve also put together these lists of what’s currently available on Netflix and Disney Plus in terms of basketball entertainment. Might save you some time…
But without further ado, let’s dig into the absolute all-time best basketball movies ever produced. Every one of these is worth a watch whether you love the game, you love movies or you can just appreciate good entertainment in any form. I’ve linked each title to the easiest way to watch it if you’re in a hurry.
My personal favorite. Because Denzel, Spike, little Ray Allen, compelling drama, and on and on. This is just a well crafted basketball film, and one of the best on the subject of basketball. And it is why I refuse to leave the court without hitting a couple from that right corner.
This is the story of a top basketball prospect trying to make it to the NBA. Wait, never mind, I don’t wanna ruin this with any kind of synopsis. Just go watch it.
Spike and Denzel are both at their best…
You get a little of that classic Spike theatricality, but it’s toned down ever so slightly and shifted into something more cinematic. Not to say that I don’t love the Spike Lee style, but it’s tough to argue it hasn’t touched at times on contrivance. Not here though.
And Denzel… This man can do no wrong in my eyes. But this is when he was really hitting his stride. Like that part of Pacino’s career where he could still kinda get away with not playing Pacino. Released in 1998, this isn’t too long before Training Day (2001), so he can be a little more dynamic, even if the basic mannerisms are already ther.
This classic basketball movie also stars Milla Jovovich, Rosario Dawson, and Jim Brown. He Got Game was met with positive reviews, with an 80% and an 83% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. This is one of many basketball movies currently available on Hulu.
Hoosiers is a classic sports drama about a small-town Indiana high school basketball team and their hard ass of a new coach. Coach Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman, finds himself with a shot at redemption in a small town. He grapples with a troubled player, a citizenry that are set in their ways, and his own turbulent temper but he makes the best of it all on the way to the state championships.
Hoosiers came out in 1986. the film and was nominated for two Academy Awards, so certainly well-received by critics. And it maintains a solid 88% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a good one. Many would say the best on the list. I know for a fact that this iconic basketball movie has spoken to a wide range of aspiring hoopers in the years since its release.
This one is also available on Hulu.
White Men Can’t Jump follows two street-ball hustlers, played by Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, as they team up to compete in a high-stakes basketball tournament. And, of course, as they hustle each other, they quickly discover that they are only hustling themselves.
The film was a box-office success upon its release in 1992. It’s often overlooked, but the legacy thrives. It’s essentially a buddy flick, but breaks with formula enough to provide a few unexpected turns. It is quite well written and portrayed. Plus, the basketball is engaging. The anxiety of the free throw showdown resides rent-free in my mind to present day.
Apparently, all the good basketball movies are on Hulu right now.
Adam Sandler plays Stanley Sugerman, a scout for the 76ers who happens upon what he thinks may well be the discovery of his career.
Bo Cruz, played by real-life NBA star Huancho Hernangomez, is a gifted young street ball hustler in Madrid. Sugerman commits to preparing this kid for the NBA draft, putting his own family and career through the ringer on the way.
Solid performances all around and some entertaining and believable hoops choreography make this a must-watch and one of my personal favorites. The cameos alone here are worth the proverbial cost of admission. Production value is high and the NBA cameos are virtually unmatched. Catch it on Netflix.
Based on a true story about a high school basketball coach (Samuel L. Jackson) in Richmond, CA. Coach Carter returns to the High School where he played in his youth. His unspoken goal here is to provide a generation of basketball players with the guidance his generation never had.
Through discipline and commitment, he coaches his team towards an undefeated season. But when his players fail to meet academic standards, he withdraws them from competition until they can bring up their grades, causing a statewide uproar.
This one came out in 2005. It was a box-office success, earning over $67 million. It can feel formulaic at times, though it is quite faithful to the true story. Overall though, the movie has been mostly well-received, with a 85% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Love & Basketball is the story of childhood friends (played by Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps) who are both driven hoopers. Their relationship evolves over the years from friendship to romance and back again.
The film was released in 2000 and was something of a dud at the box office, earning over $27 million on a $15 million budget. But it has only grown in popularity over the years, developing a legitimate cult following.
Love & Basketball has been generally well-received by critics and it maintains an impressive 95% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. All around, a great movie with a lovely and consistent aesthetic that’s left a lasting impression on a generation of fans.
Glory Road is based on a true story about the first all-black college basketball team, led by head coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas). The team overcomes multiple obstacles to win the 1966 NCAA championship.
The film was released in 2006. It brought home over $42 million on a $30 million budget. The people do like it, with an 81% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I tend to side with the critics though at 55%. The topic is good. The delivery is a little boring.
Glory road is a Disney flick, and thus can reliably be found on Disney Plus.
Above the Rim follows the story of a high school basketball player (Duane Martin) as he is caught between two rival street gangs. The film was released in 1994 and also stars Tupac Shakur, Leon, and Marlon Wayans.
Leon Robinson plays Thomas “Shep” Sheppard, a former High School star who returns to his childhood gym as a security guard. He still hoops in his off hours, but refuses to use a ball. I don’t quite understand why, but this seems to be linked to an early dream sequence where Shep’s friend crashes a rebound out a warehouse window durring a one-on-one game?
The screenplay by Barry Michael Cooper is described as the conclusion to Cooper’s “Harlem Trilogy”. This would make Above the Rim a follow on to 1991’s New Jack City and 1994’s Sugar Hill. Tupac mostly steals the show here. But you can’t overlook an early supporting role from Bernie Mac who absolutely kills it.
And the Death Row produced soundtrack is ridiculous! Endless bangers from iconic artists in an epic era of Hip Hop. This one is a time capsule.
The ridiculousness goes a little too far at points. There are plot elements here that are just plain confusing. Still, that doesn’t keep this movie from being remarkably watchable, even difficult to turn away from. The Streetball scenes are decent. The spectacle of this thing will keep you engaged, especially if you have any interest in 90’s hip-hop.
It is a classic, and one of the most popular basketball movies with players. It was a box office success and was well-received by critics, with a 60% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But it’s most worth watching for the nostalgia and an honestly fantastic performance from Tupac.
A New York sports agent has a plan to rescue his division from the brink during the 2011 NBA lockout. While there’s virtually no actual basketball being played here, the film is fascinating for its insight into the business of the NBA. However you stretch it, this film will find something to tell you about the game that you don’t know as it explores power dynamics in the massive machine that is professional basketball.
High Flying Bird addresses the hidden inequities in a world where great sacrifices are made just to participate. The underlying theme here is the use of athletics as leverage in creating social change.
The interviews with the players are particularly interesting. The film cuts in on-on-one discussions with some of the NBA’s younger talent about succeeding in the league beyond draft day. This one is a Netflix exclusive.
Another story of a coaches shot at redemption. Starring Nick Nolte and of course Shaquille O’Neal, in his film debut, Blue Chips tells the story of Pete Bell, a college basketball coach struggling to stay competitive in the NCAA.
Pete must choose between his principles and winning games. He eventually gives in to the pressures of the boosters. The film was released in 1994 to mixed reviews, but was praised for its realistic portrayal of college basketball.
I just like it for baby-faced Shaq and a somewhat less baby-faced but still young Nolte. This one is available on Showtime, or you can do the ole Amazon rent or buy.
The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh follows a struggling basketball team that is saved by a group of astrologers who use the stars to select the team’s players. The film was released in 1979 and features the Dr. himself, Julius Erving.
This one is a little old and obscure. And the critics don’t love it. But you can find it on Amazon to rent or buy.
Starring Sean Connery and Rob Brown, Finding Forrester tells the story of Jamal Wallace, a gifted basketball player and writer who befriends a reclusive author and receives guidance in his newfound passion.
The film was released in 2000 to positive reviews. It’s been praised for strong performances and an inspiring story. It maintains a commendable 74% on the tomatometer with a 79% audience score.
You can find this one on Hulu at the moment.
A former NBA player (Will Ferrell) attempts to lead an ABA team to victory. The film also stars Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, and Maura Tierney.
It was released in 2008 to mixed reviews (to put it politely). Still, critical turbulence is somewhat to be expected among the lesser Will Ferrel slapstick vehicles.
Make no mistake, this movie is what you sign up for. Imagine Taladega Nights on a basketball court, minus some of the larger laughs. But even at a 38% audience rating and a 22% on the tomato-meter, I’ll take the basketball court over driving in circles any day.
You can find this one on HBOMax for the time being.
In an attempt to help their team win the championship, two die-hard Boston fans, played by Dan Aykroyd and Daniel Stern (double Dans) kidnap their basketball idol, played by Damon Wayans.
You’re forgiven if you skip this one only because you can’t stand the Celtics. If you go by Rotten Tomatoes, you’re not missing much. Still, it has evolved into something of a cult classic in certain circles.
You’ll have to go the rent or buy route on Celtic Pride at the moment.
This is an interesting one. Uncle Drew, the character, was actually created by Kyrie Irving for a series of Pepsi commercials in 2012.
The concept is interesting. Kyrie suits up as an old dude, alla Jackass, and hustles basketball. And it’s entertaining enough to watch the man fooling with his handles. The movie is not exactly well-loved though. But for basketball fans, and Kyrie fans (if there are any left at this point) it works.
This film also features appearances from Shaq and Nick Kroll. And that’s cool I guess.
This romantic comedy follows Mickey (Billy Crystal) and Ellen (Debra Winger), a couple who meet in Paris and fall in love. Mickey is an NBA referee, and Ellen is a business executive, and the film centers around their relationship and the struggles of balancing work and romance.
Forget Paris was released in 1995. It’s fine. As much as I love Billy Crystal, I wouldn’t go too far out of my way for this one.
Kids Basketball Movies
That kid in the intro has some decent form, even if his release is a little low.
This one came out in 1996 and stars Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight, Bill Murray and Bugs Bunny. A straight classic from my generation. And I’ll give it its due, but truth be told, I don’t love it.
Space Jam follows the great and powerful Air Jordan as he teams up with the Looney Tunes to play a game of basketball against a group of aliens. It was a box office hit, but with a 63% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 43% on the tomato-meter, it seems I’m not alone in suggesting that this film survives mostly on a steady diet of nostalgia.
You can catch it the film on HBOMax.
Overall a very watchable kids movie. This is your requisite rags-to-riches young phenom story with a little magic tossed in as Disney does. Lil Bow Wow (AKA Bow Wow) (AKA Calvin Cambridge) plays an orphan who stumbles upon a pair of Michael Jordan’s shoes that still have a little magic left in them.
The under-appreciated draw of this movie is the cast. Catch an early performance by Jesse Plemons, a late performance by Jonathan Lipnicki, a deep cameo from Fred Armisen and plenty of ‘as himself’ appearances from NBA stars. Not to mention the always prime Eugene Levy.
The basketball element holds through the film, and includes some entertaining moves.
Starring Kevin Bacon, The Air up There follows Jimmy Dolan, a college basketball coach sent to Kenya to recruit a talented young player to play for his university. Along the way, Jimmy learns valuable lessons about himself and the power of basketball. It’s that kinda flick.
The Air up There was released in 1994 to positive reviews, and was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance. I liked this movie as a kid and I appreciate it to this day, even if the concept is a little trope-ish.
It pops up on streaming services occasionally, but you can find it reliably on Amazon.
Air Bud (1994)
Even if you have not yet sat through this movie, you get the gist. Dog runs away from alcoholic clown. Dog demonstrates basketball proficiency. Dog joins youth basketball league.
If you can get beyond the fact that Bud may well have taken away a deserved opportunity from a real-live fictional human teenager, you can probably enjoy the movie to some extent. We won’t even mention the rotten tomatoes review on this bad Larry.
And yet, somehow it became a franchise.