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16 Best Sports Movies On HBO Max [December 2021]

There are a handful of distinct film genres, each with their own tropes and storytelling techniques, such as drama, comedy, romance, and science fiction. Sports movies — while they can be dramatic, funny, lovelorn, and imaginative, overlapping with other types of film — are pretty much their own thing because they operate on their own level. The reasons why sports movies are so captivating to audiences is the same reason why sports themselves are so beloved. They've got a natural story arc, feature triumphant winners and vanquished losers, and involve a group of people coming together to achieve and celebrate a particular goal. There's a lot to cheer for in sports — and in good sports movies too.

HBO Max happens to be the streaming home to a number of landmark sports films from the past few decades. Here are the very best cinematic tales of champions and heroes of the diamond, gridiron, track, and more, currently available on HBO Max.

Updated on November 30, 2021: HBO Max frequently changes its online catalog of films available to stream, so we'll keep this list regularly updated to reflect those changes. Check back next month for more of the best ever sports movies on HBO Max.

42

In one of his first major roles before securing his cinematic legacy as Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chadwick Boseman portrayed a major historical figure who left a tremendous legacy on American sports and helped give rise to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's longstanding, if unofficial, mandate to hire only white players. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey plucked Robinson, a standout of the Negro Leagues, to become the first Black player in Major League Baseball, and "42" depicts the monumental importance of that, as well as the daily, personal struggles faced by Robinson, the man who wore that titular jersey number. "42" explores the personal aspect of a watershed moment.

Blue Crush

Packed with gorgeous water sequences seemingly shot with cameras mounted to surfboards as they float on and under the beautiful ocean, "Blue Crush" is a visceral, deeply engrossing you-are-there movie about surfing, one that simply by existing demonstrates the appeal and pleasures of the sport. The non-surf sequences also earnestly speak to the joys of the lifestyle, depicting the story of Anne Marie and her three roommates who live in a beachside shack and want little more out of life than to get up every day and surf. Complications arise as a major surf competition looms near and as Anne Marie alternately butts heads and falls in love with a cocky pro football player turned surfer.

Chasing Mavericks

A sleepy, low-key surf drama, "Chasing Mavericks" will so totally immerse audiences that they'll feel like they're on a beach early in the morning, wet and sandy. Based on the true, early years of teenage surf phenom Jay Moriarty, Jonny Weston plays the young California seaside resident and wave-catching enthusiast who discovers that one of the biggest, most intoxicatingly surfable waves on the planet, the Mavericks, breaks not far from where he lives. He sets out to train himself to be a good enough to tackle it, and he gets a reluctant area surf legend Frosty Hesson to help him out. They both planned on taking their love of surfing to the next level (and the scenes of the sport in "Chasing Mavericks" are magnificent), but they didn't expect to forge the father-son relationship desperately missing from their lives.

  • Starring: Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Elisabeth Shue
  • Director: Curtis Hanson
  • Year: 2012
  • Runtime: 116 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 33%

Days of Thunder

Not too far removed from playing a hotshot daredevil of a Navy pilot in "Top Gun," Tom Cruise got back into the seat of a fast, sophisticated, and expensive vehicle, playing cocky NASCAR rookie Cole Trickle in the soapy, speedy, and delightfully loud auto-racing thriller "Days of Thunder." Cole isn't the only arrogant racer on the circuit, and he gets himself on the bad side of the legendary Rowdy Burns — until they bond while recovering from crashes that nearly kill them. Cole so earns Rowdy's trust that he gets to drive the latter's trademark car in the biggest race of them all, the Daytona 500, up against racers gunning for his position, all while his neurosurgeon turned love interest cheers him on.

  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Michael Rooker, Nicole Kidman
  • Director: Tony Scott
  • Year: 1990
  • Runtime: 107 minutes
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 38%

Eight Men Out

Baseball was still in its relative infancy in 1910s, with the annual World Series pitting the best in the National League and American League against each other. However, the 1919 contest between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox would mar the integrity of the game — and eight men who played it — when it was revealed that a group of White Sox players agreed to throw it all at the behest of a gambling ring. "Eight Men Out," in full period detail and emphasizing the tragic nature of this true story, adds depth to this historical footnote, showing that the banned eight players did what they did because they were underpaid, while one of them, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, may not have done anything wrong at all.

  • Starring: John Cusack, D.B. Sweeney, Charlie Sheen
  • Director: John Sayles
  • Year: 1988
  • Runtime: 119 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

He Got Game

In "He Got Game," American master of film Spike Lee turns his attention to the deeply flawed prison system — and also basketball. The former topic is bleak and sad. The latter is clearly a subject Lee loves. 

Jake Shuttlesworth has been in prison for six years for his role in the death of his wife, the mother of his son, Jesus. Jake's kid has grown very distant from his father, eking out a life for himself while also being scouted for his amazing basketball talents. When his prison warden gives Jake a week of parole in which to convince Jesus to attend the warden's old school, our protagonist takes the chance. Jake and Jesus reconnect and work out their differences on playground basketball courts, and "He Got Game" has got game itself in that its sports sequences are excitingly and beautifully shot and also more than believable because Jesus Shuttlesworth is portrayed by NBA star (and exceptionally talented actor) Ray Allen.

Hoop Dreams

In 1994, which saw the release of classics like "Pulp Fiction," "The Shawshank Redemption," and "Forrest Gump," top-level film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert said their favorite film of the year was "Hoop Dreams," a documentary about two high school basketball phenoms working hard and grinding it out to escape their challenging lives and make it in the competitive world of sports. Filmmakers follow both William Gates and Arthur Agee, both residents of Chicago's inner-city housing projects and both extremely talented basketball players, as they struggle against other players (and the odds and crushing systems) to get noticed and break free of the poverty and crime that surround them. "Hoop Dreams" is all at once agonizing, harrowing, inspirational, beautiful, and empathetic — a terrific documentary, in other words.

Like Mike

While Michael Jordan never starred in a sequel to "Space Jam," "Like Mike" could be considered the film's spiritual successor. Like "Space Jam," "Like Mike" is a cartoonish movie about basketball in which Jordan is depicted as a man blessed with supernatural sports abilities. Shad Moss, at the time known by his pop-rap stage name Lil' Bow Wow, plays Calvin, a teenage basketball player who dreams wildly of going pro one day, even though he's likely far too short to ever make it in the sport of giants ... and not all that great at basketball. But the answer may come in the form of a magical talisman. Calvin finds a pair of old shoes emblazoned with the initials "MJ," and when he puts them on, he plays as astoundingly as Jordan did, and in the NBA too, somehow, someway.

  • Starring: Lil' Bow Wow, Jonathan Lipnicki, Morris Chestnut
  • Director: John Schultz
  • Year: 2002
  • Runtime: 99 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57%

Love and Basketball

What could be more cinematic than the intersection of two of the most fun things to watch unfold on-screen — romance and high-level basketball? 

Monica and Quincy have known each other their whole lives, bonding as kids and becoming friends because of basketball. As they grew up, they both pursued the sport professionally. Their steely, single-minded focus on making it to the WNBA and NBA, respectively, has made their relationship platonic in nature, encouraging and forcing one another to raise their level of competition. Those clear plans get a little foggy, and secondary, when Monica and Quincy's lifelong affection and respect turns into romance — making for some very sultry driveway basketball one-on-one matches.

  • Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps, Alfre Woodard
  • Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
  • Year: 2000
  • Runtime: 124 minutes
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%

Rocky

"Rocky" is definitely the greatest boxing movie ever made, if not the most famous and most satisfying sports movie of all time. The story behind the Oscar-winning film runs parallel to the on-screen action, with struggling actor Sylvester Stallone writing himself a movie so he'd have some work. That film concerns Rocky Balboa, a no-name Philadelphia boxer selected to step in for an injured, better-known fighter for a bout with Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion of the world. 

"Rocky" then settles into executing the formula by which hundreds of other sports movies followed — the underdog trains with his prickly coach, Mickey, while he's humanized by a slow-building and tender relationship with the shy Adrian. "Rocky" is the story of an overlooked man finally coming into his own, and viewers will thrust up their arms at the end like Rocky does in the film's famous training montage filmed around Philadelphia.

Semi-Tough

More than just a sports movie, "Semi-Tough" is a glimpse of professional American football during a very specific time period — the cocky, go-go 1970s when its players lived and were treated like movie stars. In a perfect bit of casting, the charming, macho, box office king of the era, Burt Reynolds, plays Miami football star Billy Clyde Puckett, who lives a lavish lifestyle and rooms with teammate Shake Tiller and Barbara Bookman, daughter of his team's owner. In addition to all of the vintage '70s football action and culture, "Semi-Tough" also explores and teases the self-actualization craze of the time when Shake and Barbara join a sketchy, cult-like organization.

  • Starring: Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh
  • Director: Michael Ritchie
  • Year: 1977
  • Runtime: 107 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%

Space Jam

Now, "Space Jam" is ostensibly a film about basketball, and its star is almost universally regarded as the greatest to ever play the game. But the way the action leads up to the epic, physics-and-logic-defying climactic basketball is imaginative and bonkers. 

At first, "Space Jam" is a movie about NBA legend Michael Jordan (portraying himself) at a real-life crossroads — he's retired from the game, attempting to play professional baseball but not doing great at it. But while out on the golf course with Larry Bird and Bill Murray, he's sucked into a hole by the fully animated classic Looney Tunes characters. They've kidnapped Jordan to be on their basketball team, having challenged a group of invading aliens (who've stolen and absorbed the powers of other NBA stars) to a game. If the Looney Tunes win, they're free. If they lose, they'll work forever at a run-down outer space theme park. And that all leads up to the jam in space that ends "Space Jam."

Speed Racer

While not a traditional demonstration of feats of strength like basketball or soccer, auto racing is certainly a sport — and a thrilling one at that, what with its fast cars and drivers cheating death over and over. Motorsports are extremely cinematic, in other words, and they inspired the classic 1960s animated series "Speed Racer," which in turn became the basis for the 2008 live-action adaptation from the Wachowskis, the creators of "The Matrix." 

The film is both a loving homage to the clunky old cartoon and a surreal, overwhelming, senses-assaulting revamp. This "Speed Racer" finds the titular hotshot driver entering a cross-country road race, the same one that claimed the life of his race car-driving brother, and now he's up against the mysterious, reckless, seemingly unbeatable "Racer X." While critics weren't kind to it at the time, "Speed Racer" has since been reevaluated, largely thanks to its insane visual style.

  • Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman
  • Director: Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
  • Year: 2008
  • Runtime: 134 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 41%

Varsity Blues

There's a big "Friday Night Lights" vibe that runs through "Varsity Blues," a movie about high school pigskin set in a small Texas town where life revolves around football, and the children who play it are pressured to win at any costs. "Varsity Blues" doesn't celebrate high school football as much as it does critique it, with main character Mox (James Van Der Beek, at the height of his "Dawson's Creek" teen idol-hood) stepping into the starting quarterback position to replace an injured predecessor, submitting to the will of his demanding coach, family, and town. But Mox doesn't love football as much as his rowdy, broadly characterized teammates, and he ultimately wants no part of the whole carnival.

  • Starring: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker
  • Director: Brian Robbins
  • Year: 1999
  • Runtime: 104 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 43%

We Are Marshall

"We Are Marshall," via the inspiring sports movie treatment, tells the true but little-known story of the 1971 Marshall University football team. In 1970, 75 of the West Virginia college's football players, staffers, and boosters were killed in a plane crash, sending a campus and the close-knit community around Marshall into a state of profound grief. They'd lost a lot, including football, but a kind-hearted coach, Jack Lengyel, rolled into town in the spring of 1971 and used football as a way to bring everyone together again in the wake of the horrific tragedy. The games played by the Marshall Thundering Herd took on profound significance and are the basis of a movie about the universality and healing powers of sports.

Tokyo Olympiad

As the template for sports documentaries and for how the Olympics are shot, presented, and produced, "Tokyo Olympiad" is a landmark in filmmaking. The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were especially historic, as the Games served as Japan's reintroduction to the global community following a post-World War II rebuild. And the "Tokyo Olympiad" captures the importance and grandeur of the two-week quadrennial event. Filmmaker Kon Ichikawa lingers on Olympians (and spectators) for as long as he needs to, capturing indelible moments of the greatest athletes in the world as they achieve their dreams to the delight of thousands, allowing for simple, subtle tricks like slow motion and the soundtrack to enhance the experience. "Tokyo Olympiad" captures the majesty of sports, as well as the superhuman abilities of athletes in a stirring and surprisingly intimate package.