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There Are Only 4 Near-Perfect Sports Movies, According To Metacritic

Sports movies tend to inspire, what with their clearly defined conditions for victory and their promises that people will come if you build things. But what plucks at the heartstrings of viewers doesn't necessarily strike a chord with critics. For proof, we point you to "Cool Runnings," an objectively perfect film with a 60 on Metacritic. That's right — there are professional film critics who watched Jamaica's first bobsled team carry their wrecked vehicle across the finish line and didn't weep at man's ability to overcome any obstacle. Art is subjective, and, more importantly, some people just don't know how to love.

Still, there are a few sports features that have come close to winning over every reviewer they've come across, with Metacritic listing a total of four films in the genre within spitting distance of a 100 score. We've compiled those pictures into a list for your convenience. Covering subjects ranging from fictional pool sharks to real aspiring basketball stars, here are the only sports movies with near-perfect critical scores.

The Hustler

In the early '60s, if you wanted to be cool, your two best bets were to be Paul Newman or to learn how to shoot pool. Both of those standards were set by "The Hustler."

With a pair of Oscars, a handful of BAFTAs, and a place on the National Film Registry, "The Hustler" is a bonafide classic. It stars Newman as Fast Eddie Felson, a hustler with a knack for pool and an inclination to beat big-time player Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) to the tune of $10,000. The game itself is symbolic, which tends to happen in these stories. In truth, it's a parable about pragmatism versus fantasy, directed by a man (Robert Rossen) who named names during the McCarthy era. There's a lot of subtext.

"The Hustler" holds a score of 90 on Metacritic, making it one of just a handful of sports flicks to get close to critical perfection. Also, keep your eyes peeled — it features Jake LaMotta, the real-life inspiration for the movie "Raging Bull," playing a bartender. Does that technically make this a boxing movie, too? Who are we to say?

No, it doesn't. It's still great, though.

Over the Limit

At this point, we're all pretty well aware that becoming an Olympic-level gymnast means years of physical and emotional trauma. There's a difference between knowing and witnessing, though, and "Over the Limit" will do to your appreciation for athletic exceptionalism what visiting a Nike factory does to your love of comfortable footwear.

One of those rare documentaries devoid of talking-head segments or narration, the film follows Margarita Mamun, a Russian rhythmic gymnast on her way to the 2016 Olympic Games. She's 20 years old, or roughly 73 in gymnastics years, and aware that this will be her final shot at taking home a gold medal. Her trainers are also aware, and their approach to mentorship is ... rough.

It's not an easy watch. In their review of the documentary, Variety stated that calling "Over the Limit" the "'Black Swan' of sports documentaries only partly conveys the intensity," which is about as harrowing a sentence as a film critic has ever put to paper. End result: a Metacritic score of 91, and a widespread sneaking suspicion that maybe, just maybe, there's something sketchy going on in the world of professional gymnastics.

Breaking Away

Director Peter Yates was responsible for some truly remarkable cinema, helming the Steve McQueen action classic "Bullitt," the blockbuster hit "The Deep," the Academy Award-nominated drama "The Dresser," and, um, "Krull." We try not to talk about "Krull" too much.

And then there was "Breaking Away," an unarguable career highlight for everyone involved. The coming-of-age dramedy featured Dennis Quaid in one of his first major roles, playing one of a group of recent high school graduates on the path to adulthood. All of the classic tropes are there — the blue-collar dad who doesn't understand his son's ambitions, the star-crossed romance, the doe-eyed optimism that comes part and parcel with believing that you can make it in a competitive field. The thing is, they're all tropes for a reason, and the story uses all of them effectively.

"Breaking Away" was nominated for five Oscars, winning one for Best Original Screenplay, and remains a constant presence on Top 10 lists more than 40 years after its premiere. The film's 91 rating on Metacritic stands as a testament to its breakaway success.

Hoop Dreams

The way Metacritic reckons it, there's really only one sports movie that gets close enough to perfection to see its tiny, unclogged pores: 1994's "Hoop Dreams."

"Hoop Dreams" remains the crown jewel in the crown of director Steve James, who also brought us the 2014 Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself." Here, James explores the lives of Chicago teens and their lives as aspiring basketball players. Simple enough, right? But what started as a PBS short film evolved into something extraordinary, eventually becoming a five-year-long project with a nearly three-hour runtime.

The film's near-universal acclaim wound up leading to one of the more fascinating scandals in Academy Award history. When "Hoop Dreams" was mysteriously omitted from the list of nominees for Best Documentary, critics were livid, and Roger Ebert would go on to write about an inner-Academy hustle that saw the film relegated to the "no" pile. The affair would lead to a change in the organization's voting procedures, and the Academy would never do anything scandalous ever again.

Long story short: "Hoop Dreams" holds a near-unheard of 98 on Metacritic. See it, get wrapped up in the story, and consider checking out the unofficial follow-up, "Hoop Reality," to find out what happened next.