Basketball movies make up some of the most popular and respected sports movies of all time. From the imagery to the dialogue, directing, editing, writing, acting, production, cinematography, and music, basketball movies know how to capture the audience in a number of unique ways.
Some basketball movies give you an inside look at what it’s like to be a player, some give you an inside look at what it’s like being a coach, and some give you a look at other aspects of the game that most people don’t normally see – gambling, hardships, personal issues, and more.
What we love most about basketball movies is how versatile they are. They make you laugh, they build suspense, they get you in that basketball mood, and they even make you cry. Whether you’re crying tears of joy or tears of sadness, you can definitely expect some tears.
These Basketball Movies Might Bring Tears to Your Eyes
If we were to ask you to name three basketball movies that have made you cry, you likely wouldn’t have any issue thinking of some. With that said, would you be able to come up with 15? That’s upping the ante a little bit, but don’t worry, we’re prepared to take you on that journey.
Some of our picks will be obvious and will likely have you crying multiple times throughout the movie, but we’ll also throw in some basketball movies that might only make certain people cry. Either way, they’re all incredible movies and are worth the watch if you’re a basketball fan.
And if you’re looking for some other basketball movies that didn’t quite qualify for this list, head on down to the bottom of our list. We’ll discuss some of our favorite documentaries and comedies that give you an even better inside look at the ever-changing world of basketball.
15. Like Mike (2002)
Like Mike is a comedy film, but there are moments that might make you shed a tear. More specifically, I’m talking about the relationship between Calvin Cambridge (played by Bow Wow) and Tracy Reynolds (played by Morris Chestnut). By the end of the movie, it’s priceless.
Calvin is a 13-year old orphan that stumbles upon a lucky pair of shoes that catapult him into the NBA after winning a halftime contest. He later signs a contract with the Los Angeles Knights, where Tracy takes him under his wing. By the end Tracy adopts Calvin and his friend.
14. Air Bud (1997)
Air Bud is another comedy film that has its moments. It was directed by Charles Martin Smith in 1997 and stars Kevin Zegers as Josh Framm, a 12-year old boy who gains the trust of a runaway dog. The dog, who he names Air Bud, has an uncanny ability to play basketball.
There’s one scene, in particular, that’ll choke you up. Josh is forced to give Air Bud back to his original owner, but he later decides to rescue him. After the two get away, Josh gives Air Bud a pudding cup and sets him free in the wild. Don’t worry, Air Bud later returns to him – more tears!
13. The Basketball Diaries (1995)
The Basketball Diaries is a biographical sports drama that tells the story of a high school basketball prospect that becomes addicted to heroin. It’s based on an autobiographical book written by Jim Carroll, who is portrayed by a young Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1995 movie.
As a teenager, Carroll had two passions – writing and basketball. His basketball dreams were cut short due to his heroin addiction, which he developed as a result of his friend’s death. Despite getting in a lot of trouble in the following years, he eventually forges himself a new path.
12. The Way Back (2020)
The Way Back is a newer sports drama film that was released in 2020. It stars Ben Affleck as Jack Cunningham, an alcoholic construction worker that finds himself coaching his former high school’s basketball team. Cunningham was once the star of that same team in high school.
Despite a successful season, Cunningham’s own misfortunes and mishaps haunt him. He eventually returns to his drinking habits and is eventually fired after showing up to practice drunk. By the end of the movie, he receives help for his alcoholism and mends broken bridges.
11. Rebound: The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault (1996)
Rebound: The Legend of Earl ‘The Goat’ Manigault is a 1996 sports film that was released on HBO television. It follows the story of Earl Manigault and while some of the events are true, most of them are dramatized. Manigault was a legendary street player nicknamed ‘The Goat.’
Played by Don Cheadle, Earl Manigault is a recovered junkie fresh out of prison and ready to dedicate his life to helping the young Harlem kids. It was released on the 25th anniversary of a Harlem tournament named after him. It also features James Earl Jones and Forest Whitaker.
10. Finding Forrester (2000)
Finding Forrester is a 2000 sports drama that stars Sean Connery and even features hip hop artist Busta Rhymes in a supportive role. Although the film isn’t based on a true story, Connery’s character was inspired by J.D. Sallinger, a writer best known for writing The Catcher in the Rye.
Connery plays a reclusive writer named William Forrester, who befriends a young black teenager (Jamal Wallace, played by Rob Brown) that loves to write and play basketball. Forrester helps Jamal find himself as the two share plenty of touching moments together.
9. Above the Rim (1994)
Above the Rim is a 1994 sports drama film that tells the story of a young basketball player named Kyle Watson. With a local tournament coming up, he joins a team coached by Thomas Sheppard – a former high school standout – despite being recruited by a local thug, Birdie.
Kyle and Shep’s team is matched up against Birdie’s team in the finals. Birdie’s team plays a violent brand of basketball and Birdie even goes as far as threatening Kyle to throw the game. When Kyle’s team wins, Birdie sends someone to kill Kyle, but ends up shooting Shep instead.
8. He Got Game (1998)
He Got Game is a 1998 sports drama film that features one of the greatest shooters in NBA history Ray Allen. He plays Jesus Shuttleworth, a top high school basketball recruit being pursued by many of the country’s biggest schools. He is faced with a tough decision.
His father, who is in prison for accidentally killing Jesus’ mother, is given an opportunity at an early release if he can persuade Jesus to attend Big State – the warden’s alma mater. Although Jesus eventually joins the school’s team, the warden doesn’t grant his father an early release.
7. Blue Chips (1994)
Blue Chips is a 1994 sports drama film that stars Nick Nolte as a college basketball head coach and Shaquille O’Neal as a top recruit. It’s not necessarily based on true events or people, but the story is relevant in real life. It gives you an inside look at the pressure of being a college coach.
The movie tells the story of a college basketball coach that bribes top recruits to join his team. Despite a successful season, the coach feels guilty and eventually admits his wrongdoings during a press conference following a big win. Coaches bribing players wasn’t out of the norm.
6. Cornbread, Earl, and Me
Cornbread, Earl, and Me is a 1975 coming-of-age sports drama film that stars Laurence Fishburne (making his film debut), Tierre Turner, and NBA player Jamaal Wilkes. Loosely based on a Ronald Fair novel, it tells the story of a young basketball player shot and killed by police.
After playing a pickup game with his friends, Keith Wilkes is challenged to see how fast he can run home in the rain. Unbeknownst to him, police were in the area searching for a suspect that looked like Wilkes. When police see him running, they mistake him for the suspect and kill him.
5. Love & Basketball (2000)
Love & Basketball is a 2000 sports romantic drama film produced by Spike Lee and starring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. It follows the story of two neighbors – Quincy McCall, played by Epps, and Monica Wright, played by Lathan – with dreams of playing professional basketball.
The two childhood friends eventually become childhood sweethearts and must learn to manage their dreams while also managing their feelings for each other. Quincy’s talent on the court is recognized early on, but Monica must work a little harder to be acknowledged on the court.
4. Hoop Dreams (1994)
Hoop Dreams is a 1994 sports documentary that follows the lives of two high school basketball players, William Gates and Arthur Agee. They have dreams of one day playing professional basketball, but encounter a flurry of challenges and obstacles along their basketball journey.
Although the film was originally supposed to be a 30-minute film, the directors ended up filming over 250 hours of footage over a five-year period. If you want an inside look at what it was like for young black basketball players trying to make it 20 years ago, this documentary is for you.
3. Glory Road (2006)
Glory Road is a 2006 sports drama that’s based on a true story. It follows the story of Texas Western College’s all-black starting lineup in 1966. As the first all-black starting lineup, they upset top-ranked Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA University Division Basketball Championship.
Josh Lucas stars as the head coach, Don Haskins. The movie also features Derek Luke and Jon Voight. It explores a wide range of issues that black athletes faced in the mid-1960s, including racism, discrimination, and much more. It’ll definitely have you crying a few times.
2. Hoosiers (1986)
Hoosiers is a 1986 sports drama film that’s loosely based on the Milan High School basketball team that won the Indiana High School Boys Basketball Tournament championship in 1954. It’s directed by David Anspaugh and head coach Norman Dale is played by Gene Hackman.
Dale is an old-school coach that employs a defensive approach to winning games, but his temper often gets in the way of his coaching. He has a hard time winning the townspeople over, but is given a second chance and eventually helps lead the team to a state championship.
1. Coach Carter (2005)
Coach Carter is a 2005 sports drama film that’s based on the true story of Ken Carter, the head coach of Richmond High School’s basketball team in the late-1990s. He made headlines when he suspended the entirety of his team, who were undefeated at the time, due to bad grades.
Carter struggles to gain the respect of his players, but stays true to his coaching and leadership style. He dedicates himself to helping the players succeed in school, that way they can excel on the court. Though they fail to win a state championship, they’re proud of their achievements.
Other Basketball Movies You Should Consider Watching
Like we promised above, we have several other basketball movies that might not make you cry, but are simply too good not to list. For example, it’d be wrong to talk about basketball movies and not mention Space Jam (1996), featuring one of the greatest basketball players of all-time.
It’d also be wrong to not talk about White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Semi-Pro (2008), Fast Break (1979), Uncut Gems (2019), Teen Wolf (1985), High Flying Bird (2019), Baseketball (1998), Sunset Park (1996), and More Than a Game (2008), which follows LeBron James’ story.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Biggest NBA Trades During the 2021-22 Season
Speaking of LeBron James, let’s not forget that he starred in Space Jam 2: A New Legacy, which was released in mid-July 2021. It wasn’t as good as the first one, but let’s be honest, nothing will ever compare to the first one. It’s a classic and one of our favorite movies ever.
30 of the Best Sports Documentaries You Have to Watch
On August 16th, Netflix will be kicking off a two-part documentary – The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist – and from what we’re hearing, it could be one of the best sports documentaries in recent history. It tells the story of Manti Te’o, who was the victim of a catfishing prank by three people.
Te’o was a senior linebacker at the University of Notre Dame in 2012. At the start of the season, he announced both his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, and grandmother had died within hours of each other. Their deaths played a role in the team’s journey to the National Championship.
It wasn’t until January of 2013 that Deadspin published an investigation that concluded Kekua, Te’o’s supposed girlfriend, didn’t exist and the photos of her were actually of another person. “My whole world changed. And I’m questioning everything,” said Te’o in the documentary trailer.
What Are the Best Sports Documentaries to Watch?
Netflix has been on a tear lately, releasing some of the best sports documentaries we’ve seen in a while – and The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist may very well land on that list. It’s going to be part of their UNTOLD sports documentary series, which has already produced some masterpieces.
When you think about all the greatest moments in sports history, along with all the lesser-known or least-talked about moments (and moments that will happen in the future), it’s reasonable to consider that many of the best sports documentaries haven’t been made yet – but they will.
The story of Manti Te’o and his fake girlfriend was one of the biggest headlines in recent college football history and we’re about to hear pieces of the story we’ve never heard before. While we await the August 16th release, let’s look at 30 of the best sports documentaries of all-time.
30. Tokyo Olympiad (1965)
Tokyo Olympiad is a Japanese sports documentary directed by Kon Ichikawa and released in 1965. It follows the events of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan – showing athletes in a number of different events. Unlike most other Olympic documentaries, this one shows the human side of the athletes.
29. No No: A Dockumentary (2014)
No No: A Dockumentary is an American sports documentary directed by Jeff Radice and released in 2014. It tells the story of Dock Ellis, a professional baseball player who once threw a no-hitter while on LSD. It talks about his baseball career, addiction to drugs, and eventual death.
28. Man In the Arena: Tom Brady (2021)
Man In the Arena: Tom Brady is a newer sports documentary miniseries – directed by Gotham Chopra and Erik LeDrew, and produced by ESPN Films, Religion of Sports, and 199 Productions. It’s 10 episodes long and tells the story of Tom Brady and his 10 Super Bowl appearances.
27. Diego Maradona (2019)
Diego Maradona is a British sports documentary directed by Asif Kapadia and released in 2019. It follows the story and career of Diego Maradona, one of the greatest soccer players to ever live. It mostly focuses on his success with FC Barcelona and the Italian men’s national team.
26. Last Chance U (2016)
Last Chance U is an American sports documentary miniseries directed by Greg Whiteley, Adam Ridley, and Luke Lorentzen. It was produced by Netflix and released in 2016 – there are 5 seasons and 38 episodes. Each season follows several low-level college football players that are trying to prove themselves.
25. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2005)
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson is a sports documentary based on a book by Geoffrey C. Ward of the same name. It was released in 2005 and tells the story of Jack Johnson – the first African American to be named Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World
24. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is an American sports documentary directed by Seth Gordon and released in 2007. It tells the story of Steve Wiebe, who was on a mission to beat the high score of Donkey Kong, a 1981 arcade game. If you’re a gamer, this is the documentary for you!
23. Senna (2010)
Senna is a sports documentary directed by Asif Kapadia – the same director who gave us Diego Maradona – and released in 2010. It tells the story of Ayrton Senna, a Brazilian motor-racing champion. He made his professional debut in 1984, but tragically died in an accident 10 years later.
22. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
Dogtown and Z-Boys is an American sports documentary directed by Stacy Peralta and produced by Agi Orsi. It tells the story of the Zephyr Competition Team – a group of American skateboarders in the 1970’s. The documentary is narrated by Sean Penn and is a classic for all the skaters out there!
21. The Endless Summer (1966)
The Endless Summer is an American sports documentary that was directed by Bruce Brown and released in 1966. If you’re into surfing, then prepare to be glued to your television for 95 minutes. It follows two surfers – Mike Hynson and Robert August – on a surfing trip around the world.
20. LFG (2021)
LFG is an American sports documentary directed by Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine. It was released in 2021 and follows members of the United States women’s national team – including Megan Rapinoe, Jessica McDonald, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, Sam Mewis and Julie Foudy – as they fight for equal pay and equal opportunity.
19. Hillsborough (2014)
Hillsborough is a sports documentary directed by Daniel Gordon and released in 2014. It tells the story of the tragic Hillsborough disaster in 2012, where an overcrowded stadium led to 97 deaths and 766 injuries during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
18. Pumping Iron (1977)
Pumping Iron is an American sports documentary directed by George Butler and Robert Fiore. It was released in 1977 and gives viewers an inside look at the world of professional bodybuilding. If you like to lift weights, you’ll love the competitive edges to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, and others.
17. Undefeated (2011)
Undefeated is a sports documentary directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin. Released in 2011, it follows the struggles and eventual successes of the Manassas Tigers of Memphis – a high school football team. You’re going to love how head coach Bill Courtney turns the team around.
16. Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S Women’s Soccer Team (2005)
Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S Women’s Soccer Team is an American sports documentary written by Ouisie Shapiro and released in 2005. It mostly follows the impact Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, and Joy Fawcett had on US women’s soccer.
15. Murderball (2005)
Murderball is an American sports documentary directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro. Released in 2005, the film mostly follows the rivalry between Team Canada and Team United States wheelchair rugby teams at the 2004 Paralympic Games – you’ll love their story!
14. Beyond the Mat (1999)
Beyond the Mat is an American sports documentary directed by Barry W. Blaustein and released in 1999. It gives viewers an insight into the world of professional wrestling – primarily the lives of Mick Foley, Terry Funk, and Jake Roberts – though you’ll also see a young Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
13. Baseball (1994)
Baseball is an American sports documentary miniseries brought to you by Ken Burns. It was originally broadcast on PBS in 1994 and is nine episodes long. It tells you everything you need to know about the game of baseball – from before the 20th century all the way up to the 1990s.
12. Formula 1: Drive to Survive
Formula 1: Drive to Survive is a sports documentary series brought to by Netflix and Formula One. There are currently four seasons and 40 episodes, but there’s a fifth season on the way in 2023. If you aren’t into Formula One racing, then you will be by the end of the first season.
11. One Day In September (1999)
One Day In September is a sports documentary directed by Kevin Macdonald and released in 1999. It’s narrated by Michael Douglas and tells the story of 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. The research in this film is incredible.
10. The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)
The Battered Bastards of Baseball is an American sports documentary directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way. Released in 2014, the film tells the story of the Portland Mavericks, who played in the Class A-Short Season Northwest League in the med-1970s – they were owned by Bing Russell.
9. When We Were Kings (1996)
When We Were Kings is an American sports documentary directed by Leon Gast and released in 1996. It tells the story of the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in 1974 – one of the greatest boxing fights of all-time where George Foreman and Muhammad Ali fought for the heavyweight championship.
8. Athlete A (2020)
Athlete A is an American sports documentary directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. Released in 2020, it tells of the groundbreaking investigative story surrounding Larry Nassar – the team doctor who sexually assaulted members of the United States gymnastics team.
7. Touching the Void (2003)
Touching the Void is a sports documentary directed by Kevin Macdonald – the same director who brought us One Day In September. Released in 2003, it tells the story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who find themselves in a life-and-death situation after reaching the summit of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes.
6. Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)
Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos is a sports documentary directed by Paul Crowder and John Dower. Released in 2006, it tells the story of the New York Cosmos – one of the greatest and most popular football (soccer) clubs in American history.
5. Icarus (2017)
Icarus is an American sports documentary directed by Bryan Fogel and released in 2017. The film explores how easy (or difficult) it is to use performance-enhancing drugs to win a cycling race. In the midst of his exploration, he ends up discovering a major international doping scandal in Russia.
4. Free Solo (2018)
Free Solo is an American sports documentary directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Released in 2018, the film tells the story of Alex Honnold – a rock climber who attempts to climb the El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, all by himself. It’s a captivating story.
3. O.J.: Made in America (2016)
O.J.: Made In America is an American sports documentary directed by Ezra Edelman and released in 2016. It tells the famous story of O.J. Simpson – from his illustrious football career to his infamous murder trial that had the entire world watching. The question remains, did he do it?
2. The Last Dance (2020)
The Last Dance is an American sports documentary miniseries directed by Jason Hehir and was released in 2020. The series consisted of 10 episodes and tells the incredible story of Michael Jordan – more specifically the 1997-98 season, which was his last with the Bulls.
1. Hoop Dreams (1994)
Hoop Dreams is an American sports documentary directed by Steve James and released in 1994. The film is nearly three hours long, but is taken from over 250 hours of footage across five years of filming. It follows the story of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two basketball players with a dream.
The Best Sports Documentaries Are Yet to Come!
The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist is going to be the first of four stories told across five films, making up Volume 2 of Netflix’s UNTOLD sports documentary series. The other three films in Volume 2 are The Rise and Fall of AND1, Operation Flagrant Foul, and Race of the Century.
Volume 2 will be released weekly between August 16th and September 6th, so there will be plenty of sports documentaries to enjoy over the next few weeks. Netflix will also be releasing an untitled Tour de France series and Season 5 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive in 2023.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: 30 of the Best Sports Movie Quotes of All-Time
If you’ve already watched all the best sports documentaries in recent and not-so-recent history, then don’t worry – there’s plenty more where that came from in the near future. So, hang tight and stay patient, you’ll have some new sports documentaries to watch very, very soon!
At The Buzzer, or ATB is the place for those who love sports, life, family, community, and so much more. We are far from the run-of-the-mill 24/7 sports news websites. We not only bring you what’s happening in the world of sports in terms of trades and breaking news, but we also bring you the news that goes on behind the scenes, like big life moments, and so much more. So take a minute and read one of our articles, we promise you won't regret it.