The Best Basketball Movies: The Sweetest 16

Heading to the hoop this weekend with "Space Jam: A New Legacy"? Keep the game going with our 16 picks for the best basketball movies ever.

Chuck Walton

By Chuck Walton

Best Basketball Movies Space Jam A New Legacy

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

LeBron James and Bugs Bunny will have the youngsters and young-at-heart rooting for an intergalactic basketball triumph this weekend with the opening of "Space Jam: A New Legacy." But they're not the only memorable players in the long-standing game of hoops cinema. Check out any of the 16 classic bball movies below for more inspired tales of underdogs and real-life winners who know their way around the free-throw line.

(c)Orion Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

(c)Orion Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

  • 1Hoop Dreams
    William Gates in "Hoop Dreams."

    (c) Fine Line Features/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

    The late, great film critic Roger Ebert said of this classic ’94 doc, “A film like ‘Hoop Dreams’ is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself.” Almost three decades later, the quote still applies. It’s the greatest basketball documentary. In addition, it’s the greatest basketball movie.

    Hoop Dreams Poster

    Hoop Dreams

    Documentary / 1994 / PG-13

    Watch on

  • 2Hoosiers
    Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers."

    (c) Orion/courtesy Everett Collection

    The second greatest basketball movie may also be the greatest Gene Hackman performance. Granted, though, he is the Oscar-winning star of “The French Connection." The actor’s unforgettable as Coach Norman Dale. The older mentor seeks glory for his small-town Indiana high school team and redemption for himself. Loosely based on the story of the 1954 Indiana state champions, it’s an all-ages triumph and features a timeless Jerry Goldsmith score.

    Hoosiers Poster


    Drama / 1986 / PG

    Watch on

  • 3Space Jam
    Bill Murray and Michael Jordan in "Space Jam."

    © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

    Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan take on Charles Barkley and Larry Bird in an interstellar matchup for the ages. What’s not to love? This will always be the original jam, and perfect viewing before this era's follow-up in "Space Jam: A New Legacy."

    Space Jam Poster

    Space Jam

    Comedy / 1996 / PG

    Watch on

  • 4White Men Can't Jump
    Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes in "White Men Can't Jump."

    © 20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection

    Later on, Wesley Snipes served time for tax evasion, and Woody Harrelson lost his hair. But in the early '90s, they shot and scored. In this Ron Shelton directed classic, they play two street ball players on the outdoor courts of LA. It’s a highly entertaining blend of of beach-side basketball, comedic shenanigans and lots of trash-talking. And it's definitely one of the best basketball movies.

    White Men Can't Jump Poster

    White Men Can't Jump

    Comedy / 1992 / R

    Watch on

  • 5The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh
    Margaret Avery and Julius Irving in "The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh."

    ©United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

    The venerable Julius Erving took some time off from his day job to star as Moses Guthrie. He's the leader of a struggling pro Philadelphia team. That's until waterboy Tyrone (James Bond III) comes up with the crazy/ingenious idea to surround the Pisces superstar with players sharing his astrological sign.

    The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh Poster

    The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh

    Comedy / 1979 / PG

    Watch on

  • 6Love and Basketball

    Romance and sports aren’t usually the greatest mx. But “Love & Basketball” proves the naysayers wrong, developing an affecting story about the paths of two childhood friends. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) aspire to become professional basketball players. Their passion for each other and the game is strong, but external forces prove to be extra challenging.

    Love and Basketball Poster

    Love and Basketball

    Romance / 2000 / PG-13

    Watch on

  • 7Teen Wolf
    Michael J. Fox in "Teen Wolf."

    © MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

    He’s a teen, he’s a wolf, and he’s Michael J. Fox. In the year of 1985, that added up to instant box office success. Nowadays, the whole thing’s a bit cheesy. But watching Michael J. Fox dunk a basketball in full-blown wolf-out mode is a sight to see. If entertainment value is the only criteria, it's absolutely one of the best basketball movies.

    Teen Wolf Poster

    Teen Wolf

    Comedy / 1985 / PG

    Watch on

  • 8He Got Game
    Denzel Washington in "He Got Game."

    © Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

    Spike Lee and Denzel Washington have proven to be a potent cinematic combo time and again. "Mo Better Blues," "Malcolm X"…even Washington’s son John David starred in Spike's "BlacKkKlansman." Here, Denzel plays a man imprisoned for killing his wife during a domestic incident. However, he’s given an opportunity to reduce his sentence if he can convince his superstar son to attend the governor’s alma matter.

    He Got Game Poster

    He Got Game

    Drama / 1998 / R

    Watch on

  • 9Finding Forrester
    Rob Brown in "Finding Forrester."

    © Columbia Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

    Not too many years after the success of “Good Will Hunting,” filmmaker Gus Van Sant scored an artistic triumph with this bball story. It's about the friendship between a high school basketball player named Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) and cantankerous writer William Forrester (Sean Connery). It’s a well-made tale and a reminder of the late, great Connery’s legendary talent.

    Finding Forrester Poster

    Finding Forrester

    Drama / 2000 / PG-13

    Watch on

  • 10Coach Carter
    Samuel L. Jackson in "Coach Carter."

    ©Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

    Samuel L. Jackson, the ageless wonder who looks the same in the amazing “Captain Marvel” as he did in the 1990s, stars in this 2005 sports drama set in 1999. It’s the tale of Coach Ken Carter, who famously suspended his undefeated team due to their poor performance in the classroom. It’s a familiar story about the importance of sports and grades. And it’s a good one, anchored by a great title performance.

    Coach Carter Poster

    Coach Carter

    Drama / 2005 / PG-13

    Watch on

  • 11Uncle Drew

    Usually, making a movie based on characters from a soda commercial would be a bad idea. But “Uncle Drew,” inspired by PepsiMax spots, has an easy-to-cheer-for story and likable performances. We especially love the NBA legends dressed up as old codgers who can still play the game.

    Uncle Drew Poster

    Uncle Drew

    Comedy / 2018 / PG-13

    Watch on

  • 12Linsanity
    Jeremy Lin at the premiere of "Linsanity."

    (c) Everett Collection

    Another winning basketball documentary is "Linsanity," which covers the life story of NBA star Jeremy Lin. Narrated by actor Daniel Dae Kim ("Hawaii 5-0"), it’s an engrossing tale about a Chinese/Taiwanese youngster. The kid grows up in Paolo Alto, succeeds on Harvard's basketball team, and becomes a superstar with the New York Knicks.

    Linsanity Poster


    Documentary / 2013 / PG

    Watch on

  • 13Like Mike
    Lil' Bow Wow in "Like Mike."

    (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

    Rapper/actor Bow Wow, back when he was Lil' Bow Wow, starred as a teenage fan who dreams of becoming an NBA star. While it sounds like a pipe dream, never discount the magical powers of a pair of sneakers inscribed with the letters "MJ."

    Like Mike Poster

    Like Mike

    Children / 2002 / PG

    Watch on

  • 14Glory Road
    Derek Luke in "Glory Road."

    (c) Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

    Amongst the best based on real life, this basketball flick concerns the events of the 1966 NCAA University Division Basketball Championship. “Glory Road” tells the story of Coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) and the Texas Western College team, which featured the NCAA’s first all-black starting lineup. Among the players causing a good stir are Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke) and Harry Flournoy (Mechad Brooks).

    Glory Road Poster

    Glory Road

    Drama / 2006 / PG

    Watch on

  • 15Above the Rim
    Eric Nies and Duane Martin in "Above the Rim."

    (c)New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett Collection

    This gritty ’94 film is notable for a few reasons. It stands up as an authentic tale about the game of basketball as its played in the streets. Secondly, it’s an interesting tale about a high school star (Duane Martin) torn between his relationships with a drug dealer (Tupac Shakur) and a local legend (Leon). Finally, it’s a showcase for Tupac, who’s memorable as a villain named Birdie.

    Above the Rim Poster

    Above the Rim

    Drama / 1994 / R

    Watch on

  • 16The Basketball Diaries
    Leonardo DiCaprio and Ernie Hudson in "The Basketball Diaries."

    © New Line/courtesy Everett Collection

    Long before they were bickering cops in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg played together on the hard streets of New York in “The Basketball Diaries.” While the film is only nominally about basketball, it has enough hoops to qualify as a great bball movie about a teen's journey from promising athlete to hardcore heroin addict.

    The Basketball Diaries Poster

    The Basketball Diaries

    Drama / 1995 / R

About the Author

Chuck Walton

Chuck Walton

Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango,, MediaTrip, and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.

More from Chuck Walton