As the NBA season reaches its crescendo and fans eagerly speculate on the NBA Championship odds, there’s another way to get your basketball fix without fraying your nerves and biting down on your nails – through the magic of the silver screen.
Basketball, with its engaging narrative and fast-paced on-court action has long been a favourite genre of movie directors looking to tell the stories of inspiring underdogs, fearless leaders and comedy characters.
Ranking the best basketball movies of all-time is clearly a subjective decision, which is why we have deferred to the collective wisdom of Rotten Tomatoes users. Below is the definitive list of the top 10 basketball movies ever made according to the internet’s most-respected movie aggregator:
10. White Men Can’t Jump (1992) Ron Shelton
This 1992 comedy classic, directed by Ron Shelton and starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson plays on the old stereotype that white people just aren’t as good as basketball as their African-American counterparts.
In this film, Harrelson’s character Billy is a talented street baller and plays on his skin colour to hustle players who underestimate him. Not only is it a well shot and interesting movie, but it’s also outrageously funny at times too.
A remake, directed by Charles Kidd II is due to hit cinema screens in the middle of May, whether it will live up to the original remains to be seen…
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(The remake will have to be very, very good if it’s going to live up to this one.)
9. He Got Game (1998) Spike Lee
Spike Lee is one of the most respected and revered directors in Hollywood, famed for his exploration of race relations and poverty in modern America. In essence the film follows a Father as he attempts to convince his son to sign for a particular college basketball program, but it is so much more than that.
It’s a story of the difficulties between Father’s and their sons, a story of incarceration and rehabilitation and a story of overcoming adversity.
8. The Way Back (2020) Gavin O’Connor
Not a lot of good things came out of 2020 but this film, Starring Ben Affleck as the lead character was a rare bright spot. The film follows Affleck’s character Jack Cunningham, an alcoholic ironworker who during his high school days was a talented player.
Following the sudden death of the high school coach, Jack is invited back to his old school to take over coaching the team. The film not only follows Jack’s journey to take his team from also-rans to genuine contenders, it also follows the many highs and lows on his battle against alcoholism.
7. Love & Basketball (2000) Gina Prince-Blythewood
When we think of basketball and the big screen we usually envisage three-pointer buzzer beaters to win big championships. What we don’t expect to see is love and romance, which is perhaps why this film proved to be such a hit with audiences.
(Not your typical basketball film but a classic all the same.)
6. The Heart of The Game (2005) Ward Serrill
Director Ward Serrill spent six seasons following the Roosevelt Roughriders girls’ basketball team and this film is the story of that time. In watching it we not only witness the changing dynamics but we revel in the highs and wallow in the lows of the team.
5. High Flying Bird (2019) Steven Soderbergh
Shot entirely on an iPhone 8, High Flying Bird tells the story of Ray Burke a sports agent who pitches a controversial plan to his client to help bring a lockout to an end. In terms of plot and storyline it is one of the most original in the basketball genre and as a result, is thoroughly engaging.
4. Hoosiers (1986) David Anspaugh
In his feature directorial debut, David Anspaugh brought us the story of Norman Dale, a basketball coach with a chequered history. Inspired partly by the Milan High School team that won the 1954 State Championship, Hoosiers is an epic of the basketball genre.
3. Air (2023) Ben Affleck
Not content with starring in one of the best basketball films ever made, Ben Affleck decided that he needed to direct a cult classic basketball film as well. Air tells the story of one Nike employee’s attempts to strike up a business deal with a rookie player by the name of Michael Jordan…
(A refreshing and interesting take on basketball’s greatest ever player
2. Hustle (2022) Jeremiah Zagar
When trailers for this film came out in 2022 there were a lot of upturned noses from basketball fans, but a week after its release those doubters were forced to eat humble pie. Starring Adam Sandler as an NBA scout, Hustle follows his attempts to prepare a raw but talented Spanish player for the NBA draft.
- Hoop Dreams (1994) Steve James
The best basketball film of all-time according to Rotten Tomatoes users with an overall rating of 98% is the amazing documentary Hoop Dreams. Originally intended to be a 30 minute TV production, this film follows the fates of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two aspiring basketball professionals from Chicago.