Favorite Basketball Moviesby IMDb-Editors | last updated - 18 Mar 2016
From the emotional journey of the members of the Hickory High School basketball team to an animated pairing of Michael Jordan and some familiar Looney Tunes faces, we run down some of our favorite hoops-themed films to enjoy in the middle of March Madness and throughout the rest of the year. — Bret Federigan
For many a sport fan, any list of favorite basketball-themed movies begins and ends with this 1986 classic that brings into poignant focus the complex love affair between a small town and a high-school basketball team in 1950s Indiana. Gene Hackman plays Norman Dale, a crusty basketball coach with a troubled past who is given one last chance to salvage his career. And in an Oscar-nominated role, Dennis Hopper plays the town drunk, who finds a second life on the bench as a sober, assistant coach. The real stars of the film, however, are the members of the fictional Hickory High School basketball team, who despite significant distraction and pressure from their fellow townsfolk make their way to the 1952 Indiana state high school basketball championship game.
White Men Can't Jump (1992)
If you've got an affinity for trash talk, you'll love the on-court back and forth between Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) and Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes), an unlikely pair of streetballers who hustle their way to some serious cash in this fun '90s flick. The movie takes an entertaining look at the brash, in-your-face culture of two-man, half-court basketball and also helped accelerate Rosie Perez's acting career. In a comedic breakthrough performance, Perez steals the show as Billy's acid-tongued, "Jeopardy!"-obsessed girlfriend.
Above the Rim (1994)
This 1994 film follows the story of Kyle Lee-Watson (Duane Martin), a promising young basketball player in New York City who finds himself having to grapple with his relationships with two brothers: Birdie (Tupac Shakur), a powerful drug dealer, and Shep (Leon Robinson), a once promising hoops prospect himself who is now a security guard. Things come to a head when he must choose which brother to play for in an upcoming playground basketball tournament. The movie's soundtrack was one of the most successful of the mid 1990s, featuring breakout hit "Regulate" by Warren G. and Nate Dogg.
Glory Road (2006)
The 1966 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament was a landmark event not only for the history of college athletics but for all sports in general. It was in that tournament's championship game that Don Haskins, coach of Texas Western College, made the bold and brave decision to start five African American players against the formidable (and all-white) Kentucky Wildcats. This film documents Haskins' journey to cultural consequence, beginning from his appointment as the new men's basketball coach to the fateful night of the championship game where he secured more than just a moral victory. Josh Lucas stars as Don Haskins, and Jon Voight portrays legendary coach Adolph Rupp, who was Haskin's foil in more ways than one.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Originally intended to be a short film for public television, director Steve James' engrossing film about two African-American high-schoolers and their aspirations of becoming professional basketball players has become the standard by which all hoops documentaries are measured. One reason for the movie's success is the compelling life stories of its two main figures, William Gates and Arthur Agee, whose destinies seem forever pushed, pulled, and manipulated by forces and personalities beyond their control. Another reason is the grittiness of James' storytelling, which pulls no punches, preserving every triumph and heartbreak with equal measures of honesty.
Coach Carter (2005)
Think you've had a tough coach or two in your high-school career? Try a basketball coach who temporarily suspends the season and locks down the gym to prove a point about meeting expectations to his young charges. In this feel-good flick from 2005, Samuel L. Jackson plays hard-as-nails Ken Carter, a storied former high-school athlete who returns to his alma mater to elevate its struggling basketball program. He quickly discovers a culture sorely in need of some changing and a group of young men lacking discipline both in and out of the gym. Imposing a strict regime that regulates everything from grades, dress code, and behavior, Coach Carter hopes to inject some order into the chaos and offer up some harsh lessons about life after varsity basketball. It takes a while for folks to get on board, but ultimately Coach Carter is able to convince those around him to sign on to his winning game plan.
Finding Forrester (2000)
This 2000 film from Gus Van Sant tells the story of the unlikely friendship that forms between Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), a teenaged, African-American basketball player, and William Forrester (Sean Connery), a reclusive author who mentors the high-schooler once he's admitted into a prestigious prep school because of his sporting talent. Wallace helps Forrester overcome his J.D. Salinger-like fear of facing the public, while Forrester in turn develops Wallace's chops as a writer. It's a win-win situation for both and even for fans of Matt Damon, who makes a cameo appearance late in the film as Forrester's lawyer.
Teen Wolf (1985)
Long before it became a critically acclaimed TV show on MTV, Teen Wolf was Michael J. Fox's first feature film after the release of Back to the Future. In this film, Fox also plays a high-schooler, here named Scott Howard. But instead of launching into the past to fix his parents' relationship, Fox plays a character who has to come to terms with his family's unusual pedigree of producing werewolves that sometimes skips a generation. During a high-school basketball game, Scott's true nature is revealed to all, though not after he discovers that he's got some new hoops skills that eventually propel his team to the state championship game.
Space Jam (1996)
With the help of the Looney Tunes family of characters, this film mixing live action and animation serves up a fun, alternate look at Michael Jordan's life after retiring from professional basketball in the early 1990s. Only the likes of Bugs Bunny is able to coax the hoops legend off the golf course and back on to the court to face some familiar NBA personalities. There's plenty for you to cheer about in this film – whether it's the inclusion of nearly every Warner Bros. animated character you grew to love as a child, the deep bench of NBA stars who lent their non-athletic talent to the movie, or the iconic soundtrack that includes some durable '90s hits from R. Kelly, and Seal, among others.
Love & Basketball (1997)
With basketball as the recurring background music, here's a love story between next-door neighbors that evolves over time and various life changes. Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) first meet as pre-teens, each with the dream of playing in the NBA, and end up spending the better part of 13 years of their lives falling in and out of love with each other. When Quincy suffers a serious injury as a professional basketball player, Monica flies to check up on her old friend only to discover she still has unresolved feelings to work through. And you might guess where the two work their differences out for one final time: On the court.
Blue Chips (1994)
With an abundance of appearances from real-life basketball players and coaches, Blue Chips tells the story of a desperate college basketball coach racked with the pressures of bolstering his win-loss record by stocking his roster with can't-miss prospects. Nick Nolte stars as Pete Bell, who resorts to some illegal methods to attract Neon Boudeaux (Shaquille O'Neal), Butch McRae (Penny Hardaway), and others to his program. His shady practices bring some short-term success but some long-term guilt, and Bell is ultimately forced to confront his moral choices. Besides O'Neal and Hardaway, the movie features appearances by Bob Cousy, Bob Knight, Rick Pitino, Larry Bird, Jerry Tarkanian, and Dick Vitale among others.
He Got Game (1998)
In what would be his first film to open at No. 1 at the box office, director Spike Lee explores the world of college recruiting and father-son relationships in this late '90s film that pairs Denzel Washington as convict Jake Shuttlesworth and NBA shooting legend Ray Allen as his son Jesus, a top-ranked high-school basketball prospect. The two are forced to come to terms with each other when Jake is released on parole for a week in order to help convince his son to attend the state governor's alma mater. Fun fact: Lee originally had intended for Kobe Bryant to play the part of Jesus Shuttlesworth. Having just finished his rookie season in the NBA, Bryant opted instead to use the 1997 offseason to train, and Lee then turned to Allen, who quickly accepted the leading role.
Taking an irreverent look at the wild days of the ABA in the 1970s, this comedy film starring Will Ferrell and Woody Harrelson follows the fortunes of a 1976 woebegone basketball team in Flint, Mich., as it tries to play its way into the NBA. Ferrell is player/owner Jackie Moon, who pieces together a ragtag bunch of misfits and retreads played by the likes Woody Harrelson as an aging point guard and André Benjamin as a talented but uncoachable NBA hopeful. The film is full of familiar comedy faces including a couple cameo appearances from Pattie LaBelle, as Jackie's mom, and former NBA greats George Gervin and Artis Gilmore.
In real life, New York Knicks fans are among the most vocal, rabid, and devoted of followers in the NBA. In this comedy, however, none match in intensity the devotion of limo driver Edwina "Eddie" Franklin (Whoopi Goldberg). During the halftime break of game in what has been a miserable season, Eddie wins the opportunity to become honorary coach of the Knicks for the second half. It doesn't take her long to win the job for good, and she manages to win over some skeptical professional athletes and the entire city. The movie is chock full of cameos from NBA stars from that era including Doc Rivers, Vlade Divac, Spud Webb, Mark Jackson, and Rick Fox among others. Astute Knicks fans will be disappointed to know the game footage wasn't shot in Madison Square Garden but in the Charlotte Coliseum, the home of the then Charlotte Hornets.
The Basketball Diaries (1995)
Just two years before he romanced Rose on a sinking ship, Leonardo DiCaprio starred as poet and writer Jim Carroll in the film adaptation of his memoir of the same name. Joining a cast that includes a young Mark Wahlberg, Juliette Lewis, and Lorraine Bracco among others, Leo portrays a street-tough member of a high-school basketball squad who develops a drug addiction while attempting to tackle the increasing pressures of life at home, at school, and with his friends. The movie was the second time both DiCaprio and Lewis shared screen time; they had previously starred in What's Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993.
Air Bud (1997)
Here's one for the whole family to enjoy: This 1997 film, which eventually spawned a 14-movie franchise, tells the unlikely story of a golden retriever named Buddy with the uncanny ability for playing basketball and an uncommon bond with his human, 12-year-old friend Josh (Kevin Zegers), the new kid in town who's just trying to fit in. Eventually, Josh makes his school's basketball team, and Buddy ends up revealing his on-court skills. If you recognize Buddy from TV, you'd won't be surprised to know that he starred as Comet in "Full House." Sadly, Buddy died of cancer a year after filming. He was 10 at the time.