By Alex Flanagan
Sports provide a movie genre primed for teaching some of life’s most important lessons. Whether it is overcoming adversity and beating the odds, breaking down racial and cultural barriers, or sticking together and standing up for what you believe in. We’ve put together our list of the 40 best sports movies for the kids.
ILTWYP’s 40 Best Sports Movies For Kids
THE SANDLOT (1993) PG: Considered by many as the greatest kids movie ever. A classic film the whole family will like about a young boy’s challenge and adventures who moves into a new neighborhood and is trying to fit in by playing baseball with the other kids. Lots of laughs and life lessons about determination, drive, and friendship.
HOOSIERS (1986) PG: Many call this the best sports movie ever made. Must watch film about an underdog coach and a team that defies the odds and go to the Indiana State finals. Starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Hopper.
FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) PG: Classic baseball movie starring Kevin Costner as an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field in his cornfield that is visited by the ghost of baseball’s past. A great movie that also teaches some baseball history.
THE NATURAL (1984) PG: Arguably one of the best baseball movies ever made. Nominated for four Academy Awards. Starring Robert Redford. A beautifully shot movie that tells the story of success and failure through the game of baseball. One note. Make sure you have enough time for this one. It is long, running 2 hours and 18 minutes.
RUDY (1993) PG: Legendary movie. Undersized, Rudy overcomes the odds to play football for Notre Dame. This movie is timeless, a family favorite, and a fun way to see Notre Dame Stadium.
HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978) PG: One of my all-time favorites. Old school movie. Warren Beatty becomes Quarterback Joe Pendleton of the L.A. Rams after he accidentally gets taken to heaven too soon by an over-eager angel.
MIRACLE (2004) PG: this movie is a good history lesson on one the greatest moments in sports history, “the miracle on ice.” The true story of the 1980 Winter Olympics when the United States beat the Soviet Union in Hockey. Stars Kurt Russell.
KICKING & SCREAMING (2005) PG: Will Ferrell is hilarious in this comedy that has become a classic in our home. Former Bear’s coach Mike Ditka helps Ferrell coach a ragtag soccer team against his overachieving Dad. Fun for all members of the family. Teaches the important life lesson that winning isn’t everything.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM (2014) PG: A self-absorbed sports agent goes to India hoping to transform Indian cricket players into Major league baseball pitchers. A great story about what it’s like to be different. Also, give the kids a little bit of an education on Indian culture.
McFARLAND, USA (2015) PG: Big budget Disney film based on the true story of Jim White, a down on his luck coach played by Kevin Costner, who lands a job in the poor and predominately Latino city of McFarland, CA. Costner turns an unlikely group of high school boys into one of the best cross country teams. A heartwarming and inspirational story about never giving up, sticking together, and overcoming the odds.
THE ROOKIE (2002) G A big-budget Disney Movie based on the truly inspirational story of Jimmy Morris(Dennis Quaid) about a baseball coach who overcomes the odds to make his almost impossible dream of pitching in the big leagues come true.
INVINCIBLE (2006) PG: The story of a bartender and substitute teacher in Philadelphia who, despite never having played football, goes to the Eagles’ open tryouts and makes the team.
SOUL SURFER (2011) PG: A true story based on the life of Bethany Hamilton. A successful teenage surfer who loses an arm in a shark attack and refuses to quit the sport she loves.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992) PG: Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, and Rosie O’Donnell star in this Dramedy about an all-female baseball league formed during World War II.
AIR BUD (1997) PG: A young man struggling with his Dad’s death finds reprieve in his pet dog, Bud. Bud is a stray who turns the kid’s life around when he joins the school’s basketball team.
THE EXPRESS (2008) PG: The story of the first African-American, Syracuse’s Ernie Davis, to win the Heisman Trophy. An inspirational film packed with football.
SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISHER (1993) PG: The story of a young chess prodigy. Starring Laurence Fishburne and Ben Kingsley. Bobby is forced to deal with the stress and pressures of being one of the world’s top chess players, but he refuses to adopt the same approach as real-life legend Bobby Fisher.
KARATE KID (1984)PG: We love the original one starring Ralph Macchio. The classic tale of the underdog overcoming adversity. A young boy is taught Karate to defend himself from bullies by an unlikely mentor, Mr. Miyagi.
THE MIGHTY DUCKS (1992) PG: A self-absorbed Lawyer has to coach a ragtag youth hockey team as his community service. Starring Emilio Estevez.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (1993) PG: A young boy’s dream of playing in the major leagues comes true after shoulder surgery causes his tendons to heal so tightly he can pitch 103 mph. 12-year-old Henry becomes the youngest player to ever play in the big leagues.
LITTLE GIANTS (1994) PG: A young girl who doesn’t make the town’s top pee wee football team forms her own team made up of outcasts. The bad news bears of pee wee football. A sweet movie for both boys and girls about believing in yourself.
REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000) PG: This Disney classic stars Denzel Washington, a football coach of a football team during the forced desegregation of a Virginia high school in the early 1970s.
ROCKY (1976) PG: Sylvester Stallone stars in one of the best-known sports films of all time about a small-time boxer from working-class Philadelphia. Rocky Balboa is chosen to take on the reigning world heavyweight champion.
SPACE JAM (1996) PG: Michael Jordan plays basketball with bugs bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest of the looney toons. Kind of a silly, mindless movie that will entertain the kids.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) PG: Academy Award Best Picture. The true story of two British Track stars journey to winning a gold medal in the 1924 Paris Olympics. A beautiful and patriotic film.
THE BIG GREEN (1995) PG: A group of misfit kids in a small town in Texas is coached soccer by a teacher from England.
SECRETARIAT (2010) PG: The story of Secretariat, still arguably the best racehorse ever. Based on the true story of the 1973 triple crown winner and the family who owned him.
WE ARE MARSHALL (2006) PG: Warner Brothers movie starring Matthew McConaughey as the football coach tasked with rebuilding a team tragically decimated after it’s players are killed in a plane crash. Based on true-life events.
ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (1994) PG: Disney movie starring Danny Glover and Tony Danza star in this a young boy’s prayers are answered by 2 angels that come out of the sky and not only lead a baseball team to wins, but a life lesson about hope and courage and loyalty.
COOL RUNNINGS (1993) PG: Fun movie about a group of Jamaican bobsledders who dream of competing in the Winter Olympics, even though they have never seen snow. John Candy stars as the former disgraced champion tasked with coaching them. Loosely based on a true story.
FOR THE OLDER KIDS
HOOP DREAMS (1984) PG-13: basketball documentary was largely financed by PBS. It’s the real-life story of two young basketball players trying to make it out of their poor Chicago neighborhood.
SEA BISCUIT (2003) PG-13: An unlikely horse becomes a champion and a symbol of hope for Americans during the great depression.
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2002) PG-13: A coming of life story about an Indian Girl playing soccer in England even though her family disapproves.
42 (2013) PG-13: The story of sports icon Jackie Robinson who broke baseball’s color barriers as the first African American to play professional baseball. An inspirational story that all American’s should know. One note, the N-word is used throughout the film to authentically represent how Robinson was spoken to. It was an opportunity to discuss the history of the word and what it represents today with my children.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2004) PG-13: The story of a football-obsessed small town in Texas. Struggles, challenges, and life lessons unfold through a story about football. The film handles subjects like alcoholism, accepting your parents, dealing with failure, and taking charge of your own destiny.
UNDEFEATED (2011) PG-13: Academy Award winner for best documentary feature. It tells the story of a high school football team’s struggles in Memphis trying to win after many losing seasons. The film earned high critical acclaim by many.
THE BLIND SIDE (2009) PG-13: Semi-biographical film about NFL Player Michael Oher and his impoverished upbringing and adoption. Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the woman who took Oher in and helped him become a first-round draft pick in the NFL. A feel-good movie.
COACH CARTER (2005) PG-13: We should all watch this one as a reminder that school is more important than sports. Based on a true story of a basketball coach played by Samuel L. Jackson who shuts down his team’s championship season when their grades slip.
INVICTUS (2009) PG-13: A film about how sports can bring people together. The amazing real-life story of how Nelson Mandela joined with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team to help unite a country with deep racial wounds.
THE ENDLESS SUMMER (1966): For our So. Cal kids. The most epic and legendary surf film ever. The documentary about 2 friends searching the world, including surf spots in Hawaii, Australia, and South Africa, for “The Perfect Wave.” In 2002 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Alex Flanagan co-founded I love to watch you play in 2015. She was flying home from an NFL work assignment when a learning specialist, who was sitting next to her, shared 5 reasons she shouldn’t feel guilty missing her son’s game. She shared their conversation on her own website alexflanagan.com, and the response was so overwhelming it inspired her to create ILTWYP to help parents like herself navigate youth sports.