Looking for a Final Four: Bruce Miller's top 32 basketball films, just waiting to be ranked

Looking for a Final Four: Bruce Miller's top 32 basketball films, just waiting to be ranked

  • 0
Way Back

Ben Affleck plays a star basketball player who returns to coach at his old school in "The Way Back."

We may not have 32 teams in the NCAA tournament, but we’ve got 32 basketball films vying for your attention. While there are others, here are ones that should be in your bracket (including the newest, “The Way Back”) and what you might discover.

A Final Four? Here’s your chance to pick.

AIR BUD (1997) – A dog helps a basketball team change its losing ways. While the picture appeals primarily to kids, it has enough heart to make adults smile, too. Sadly, the dog featured lost a leg shortly after filming.

ABOVE THE RIM (1994) – Tupac Shakur is here, but he’s not the hero. He’s the drug dealer who tries to lure a star player (Duane Martin) to the dark side.

Above the Rim

"Above the Rim" features Tupac Shakur, but he's not the hero. 

THE AIR UP THERE (1994) – Kevin Bacon plays a coach who goes to Africa to find his players. Unfortunately, he runs head first into a culture clash. As comedies go, this isn’t a slam-dunk.

THE BASKETBALL DIARIES (1995) – Before he became Mr. Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio starred in this fact-based drama about a ball handler with a drug problem. How he changes his life is interesting, but much of the film is quite depressing. Look for Mark Wahlberg in his first big-screen effort.

BLUE CHIPS (1994) – Nick Nolte plays a coach who looks the other way when recruiters pave his path to glory. Although some big names (Shaq, Larry Bird and Bob Cousy) turn up to lend authenticity, the story seems more than a little pat. Nolte, too, looks suspiciously like one of the real-life coaches featured in the film.

CELTIC PRIDE (1996) – How rabid are fans? This might offer a clue. Daniel Stern and Dan Aykroyd kidnap a star Utah Jazz player so their Celtics have a shot at winning the title. Cute.

COACH CARTER (2005) – Samuel L. Jackson gets the clipboard as the coach of yet another undisciplined team. There are better, similar films on the list.

Coach Carter

Samuel L. Jackson, center, stars as a basketball coach in "Coach Carter."

CORNBREAD, EARL AND ME (1975) -- Jamaal Wilkes plays a high school basketball star who gets an athletic scholarship and gives hope to those in his neighborhood. Laurence Fishburne co-stars.

DEAR BASKETBALL (2017) – Kobe Bryant won an Oscar for producing this animated film with Glen Keane based on his retirement letter. Touching, it’s a great tribute to the sport and the man who was one of its legends.

FAST BREAK (1979) – Gabe Kaplan (“Mr. Kotter”) takes his inner city basketball team to a Midwestern school and, like “Air Up There’s” Kevin Bacon, encounters problems. The laughs are there, but they dribble out.

FINDING FORRESTER (2000) – Sean Connery plays a writer who befriends a young man (Rob Brown). Connery learns how to embrace life; Brown learns there’s more to life than basketball.

THE FISH THAT SAVED PITTSBURGH (1979) – It’s dated, but you get to see Dr. J lead a Pittsburgh team through a tough time in the 1970s. The fish? That’s the Pisces sign, the sign players need to be born under.

Glory Road

Josh Lucas, stars as coach Don Haskins in the film “Glory Road.”

GLORY ROAD (2006) -- Based on the 1965-66 national championship run, this shows how coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) assembled the first all-black starting lineup in college history. It’s stirring and a nice lesson in history.

HE GOT GAME (1998) – Spike Lee took his shot with basketball with this complex look at gifted athletes and the folks who surround them. Ray Allen plays Jesus Shuttlesworth; Denzel Washington turns up as his father. It’s long but, as with any Lee film, it’s filled with great social commentary.

HOOP DREAMS (1994) – Perhaps one of the best documentaries ever made, this compelling film follows two Chicago-area players through their high school careers. It details the pursuit of glory and the disappointment of defeat. Watching parents open up and tell all is among its greatest accomplishments.


Actor Gene Hackman gives fictional Hickory High basketball players instructions during filming of the final game of the movie "Hoosiers" at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the Butler University campus in Indianapolis in 1985.

HOOSIERS (1986) – For some, it’s the gold standard, the basketball film that shows the passion in play. Gene Hackman stars as the grizzled coach who gets a small town team to the state tournament. Dennis Hopper steals the spotlight as a dad who finds pride in a son who didn’t follow his lead.

HURRICANE SEASON (2009) – After Hurricane Katrina hits, a coach (Forest Whitaker) has to assemble a team from five different schools. It’s the typical “rivals pull together and win” story. Based in truth, it co-stars Taraji P. Henson and Lil’ Wayne.

INSIDE MOVES (1980) – A troubled man (John Savage) discovers basketball, self-worth and pride. He’s pretty good with the game, too, but the film is stolen by Diana Scarwid as a woman who could change his life. It’s more drama than sport.

JUWANNA MANN (2002) – Oh no he didn’t. Oh yes he did. When a basketball star is kicked out of the NBA, he dresses as a woman and joins that league. Miguel Nunez Jr. plays the two players. It’s as bad as you think.

LIKE MIKE (2002) – Bow Wow, back when he was Lil Bow Wow, plays a 14-year-old NBA star thanks to a pair of sneakers with a certain M.J.’s initials inside. Kids love this one.

LOVE AND BASKETBALL (2000) – What’s better? Love or basketball? Gina Prince-Bythewood brought together Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan as players trying to figure out what matters most.

ONE ON ONE (1977) – Robby Benson pulled a Matt Damon back in the 1970s and wrote this film about a high school basketball player discovering the corrupt world of college sports. He’s good in a doofus sort of way but the film doesn’t crack any new shells. Instead, it lets veteran baddie G.D. Spradlin play the coach with particular relish.

REBOUND: THE LEGEND OF EARL ‘THE GOAT’ MANIGAULT (1996) -- Don Cheadle plays the street star who could have been the greatest ever if he hadn’t gotten involved with drugs. The film tracks his rise and oh-so-deep fall.

SEMI-PRO (2008) – There probably isn’t a sport Will Ferrell hasn’t lampooned (OK, curling) but this is his look at a semi-pro team in the 1970s and its struggle to stay afloat. Woody Harrelson (of “White Men Can’t Jump” fame) doesn’t tarnish his baller reputation, largely because Ferrell handles the fouls. It’s about as fun as a semi-pro game.

THE SIXTH MAN (1997) – Apparently, you have a ghost of a chance of winning the NCAA title if your star player comes back from the dead. Marlon Wayans and friends lace up, but you really have to be a fan to want this experience. Kadeem Hardison plays the dead guy; Wayans is the one who has to bear the stress of winning.

Space Jam

"Space Jam" draws lots of laughs, courtesy Michael Jordan and the Toon Squad.

SPACE JAM (1996) – Michael Jordan didn’t make his acting debut with just anyone. He chose the Warner Bros. Toon Squad and gets lots of laughs from Daffy, Bugs and the gang.

SUNSET PARK (1996) – Rhea Perlman plays the coach in this feel-good look at a team that learns the value of respect and representation. A young Terrance Howard is on the team.

TEEN WOLF (1985) – Every basketball team needs a werewolf, right? That’s what director Rod Daniel thought when he cast Michael J. Fox as a hairy competitor. It doesn’t take the game seriously and still gets huge, huge laughs.

THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON (1982) – What happens after the cheering stops? That’s the dilemma faced by a group of aging men who relive their big basketball victory way back when. A better play than movie, this Pulitzer Prize-winner stars Stacy Keach, Robert Mitchum and Paul Sorvino. In a word: Talky.

Way Back

Al Madrigal, left, plays assistant to Ben Affleck in "The Way Back," a film about a basketball player's comeback.

THE WAY BACK (2020) – The newest basketball film stars Ben Affleck as a high school standout who turns to alcohol after his son dies. His alma mater tries to help him back by offering him a coaching job. Naturally, the team isn’t exactly a team. Expect tears.

WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP (1992) – If you want basketball action, this is the flick. Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson play plenty of street ball in an attempt to win friends and scam suckers. Ron Shelton, who also did “Blue Chips,” shows he knows the game.

THE WINNING SEASON (2006) – Oscar winner Sam Rockwell gets a chance at his own Hoosiers glory in this comedy about a girls team and its beleaguered coach. Rooney Mara and Emma Roberts suit up, too, but this isn’t the great basketball film you’ve been expecting.



Stay tuned in

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News