10 Sports Flicks That Transcended The Game

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In the grand scheme of things, sports aren't very important. Sometimes it's difficult not to feel stupid being so emotionally invested in an activity involving grown men wearing tights and chasing after a ball. But, more than just an escape from reality, sports can be a conduit for conveying life's struggles — along with the more meaningful stuff. The following sports flicks contain themes and lessons to which everyone can relate, making them classics regardless of their genre.

  1. Brian's Song (1971)

    Films such as Brian's Song and Remember the Titans are effective at demonstrating the unifying qualities of sports amid barriers such as race. The story depicts the developing close friendship between Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan) — the Bears' first-ever interracial roommates — during the mid-'60s, when America was experiencing social upheaval. Sayers is the far superior athlete and Piccolo is lucky to be on the team, but when Sayers goes down with injury, Piccolo works just as hard to ensure his friend returns to the gridiron at full strength. Not long after, Piccolo is diagnosed with cancer, and Sayers returns the favor by sticking by his side until the very end. A true tearjerker, this film induced emotion from hardened men and those who couldn't care less about sports.

  2. Rocky (1976)

    Everyone is familiar with the underdog story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). It's cheesy and cliché, but it's also incredibly human. Rocky is poor, earning money as an enforcer for a small-scale organized crime operation. He could've been a great boxer, but he messed around too much, and now he just works out in Mickey's Gym. When he's challenged to a fight by heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he becomes driven to fulfill his untapped potential. It becomes his mission to beat the odds, leave his stale life behind, and finally become a winner. Few movies have seemed so real and imaginary at the same time.

  3. Raging Bull (1980)

    Regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, Martin Scorsese's biographical tale of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is quite a departure from Rocky, the era's other popular boxing film. Overly violent and extraordinarily flawed, LaMotta tastes boxing success, but allows it to slip from his grasp as darkness pervades all corners of his life. Only when he reaches his lowest point — when it's too late and he's lost everything including his career and family — does he realize that "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody," a reference to Marlon Brando's speech in On the Waterfront. To an extent, men can relate, whether it's through personal experience or people they know, to his internal battles and disheartening inability to cope with life in general.

  4. Chariots of Fire (1981)

    Boasting four Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture, Chariots of Fire is a true story about two runners, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), competing in the 1924 Olympics. Abrahams, a Jew, aspires to prove to the world that his people deserve respect and recognition, placing immense pressure on himself to perform. Liddell, a Christian Scotsman, desires to win just as much, but, naturally, lives a very different life. The importance of religion, the true meaning of victory, and issues such as anti-Semitism are addressed, adding to the overall depth of the film.

  5. Rudy (1993)

    The value of hard work is emphasized, as Rudy (Sean Astin), a scrawny junior college student, relentlessly pursues admission into Notre Dame and a spot on Ara Paresghian's roster. Along the way, his modest dream of merely playing football for the school — as opposed to becoming their star player, or winning a heavyweight championship — is magnified by his struggles in high school, a stint working at a steel mill, and the overall unlikelihood that he could do it. When new coach Dan Devine takes over the team, he rewards Rudy by inserting him into a game for two plays, one of which he tallied a tackle, the film's memorable apex.

  6. Hoop Dreams (1994)

    Steve James struck gold when he filmed Hoop Dreams during a five-year period in which he followed two aspiring basketball stars, Williams Gates and Arthur Agee, who were being recruited to play basketball at Chicago's St. Joseph High School. Poor and African-American, the two boys battle through the consequences of living in broken homes, drug abuse and violence, while attempting to keep pace in a highly competitive basketball environment. Both strive to secure college scholarships so they can punch their tickets out of the ghetto. Triumph and failure abound, this spellbinding documentary earned the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.

  7. Remember the Titans (2000)

    Sports can be an amazing teaching tool, as evidenced by the story of the newly integrated T.C. Williams High School football team in 1971. Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) is asked to be its coach and thus becomes the school's first African-American faculty member, a formidable task to undertake in such an uncomfortable, sometimes abrasive environment. An inspiring success story, he levels the playing field for the Titans, molding them into a championship squad. Sports cliché and predictability aside, it's a pleasant depiction of events during a tense era in American history.

  8. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

    Another memorable boxing movie, another miserable protagonist. Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby follows a down and out old boxer, Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), who has little show for his career in the sport — until Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) requests his tutelage. At first, he's put off by her lack of skill and physical stature, but comes to admire her determination as he guides her up the boxing ranks. Eventually, during a $1 million match against the women's welterweight champion, she suffers a debilitating injury, and Frankie is faced with an intense moral dilemma. Both jolting and depressing, the film certainly left its mark on critics, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.

  9. The Blind Side (2009)

    By now, NFL fans are familiar with Michael Oher, the former Ole Miss standout who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2009. His ascension from having nothing to having everything — including his own family — is depicted in this semi-biographical film. Sandra Bullock, who played Michael's legal guardian and primary proponent Leigh Anne Tuohy, won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. Much like Remember the Titans, The Blind Side is mocked for being too sappy and shallow, but it ultimately succeeds in winning over its viewers.

  10. The Fighter (2010)

    Bostonians appreciate the grittiness demonstrated by Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) in The Fighter. Hard on his luck, his trials and tribulations — which feature his brother Dickey (Christian Bale), a former boxer whose life is ruined by drugs and crime — are followed as he overcomes the odds (yes, like Rocky) to capture the WBU Intercontinental Lightweight title and the WBU Light Welterweight title. Even though it's yet another "predictable" boxing and underdog flick, it has been critically acclaimed as one of the best sports movies of the decade.

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