The 25 best movies about high-school sports – Yardbarker

The subject of high-school sports has made for some of the most popular — and even beloved — movies of all time. Whether involving real life or fictional stories and characters, it doesn’t matter — people want to watch. 
Here’s our chronological list of the 25 best.
An undersized but hard-hitting cornerback from blue-collar Ampipe High, Stefen Djordjevic (Tom Cruise) is looking to trade football for a top-notch college education and become an engineer. While he sometimes plays the victim, Djordjevic is not afraid to speak his mind or defend his teammates, especially against authoritarian Coach Nickerson (Craig T. Nelson). Especially after that emotional contest against Walnut Heights. The late Chris Penn and Lea Thompson also deliver strong performances in one of the most underrated football movies of all time.
Helen Hunt stars in this story of the real-life Tami Maida, who turned heads when she earned a spot on the varsity football team at an Oregon high school, and also gets nominated for Homecoming princess. It’s a wholesome family drama that is very made-for-television. It’s also inspiring and encouraging when it comes to acceptance — and not just because it’s the tale of a girl playing a boys’ sport. A young Tim Robbins provides some comic relief as the athletically challenged backup quarterback.
OK, this classic is not exactly a high-school sports movie, but the main characters are of high-school age. Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) made a Cinderella-like run to the finals of the famed All-Valley karate tournament. An event, that most expected to be dominated by the bullies from the Cobra Kai dojo. In the championship match, ranking Cobra Kai bad-boy Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) was heavily favored, and needed to “sweep the leg” to gain the advantage. However, the hobbled LaRusso bounced back and, through his famous crane kick, stunned Lawrence to win the title. The movie obviously spawned a franchise of films and the popular Netflix series Cobra Kai.
Entering the season, the Beacontown Beavers had not won a game in three years. However, that changed with the emergence of the dominant Teen Wolf, aka Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox). With the Wolf, the Beavers were unstoppable and earned a spot in the regional finals against the rival Dragons. However, after Howard denounced the Wolf and quit the team, the Beavers fell behind early to in the championship contest. Scott returned to the floor, as himself, and somehow managed to rally his team to the title — via one of the great sports montages ever. 
Until his senior year of high school, dynamic and promising prep wrestler Louden Swain (Matthew Modine), from Spokane’s Thompson High, really hadn’t done anything meaningful in his life. Now 18 years old, he’s poised to take down the best wrestler in the state of Washington (the menacing Brian Shute) while also trying to deal with falling for an older woman (Linda Fiorentino), who conveniently enters his life. The underrated Michael Schoeffling offers a solid supporting performance as Louden’s friend “Kuch.” The film also features one of the best soundtracks of the 1980s. 
Everyman and athletically-challenged Jack Dundee (the late Robin Williams) still can’t get over dropping a sure touchdown pass against mighty Bakersfield High from 1972, while playing at Taft Midway Union High School. So obsessed with the matter, Jack finds a way to replay the game 14 years later, no matter how much it seems to disrupt his current adult life. Meanwhile, it’s somewhat sad that Reno Hightower’s best football days were in high school. Hightower (Kurt Russell) is considered one of the great prep quarterbacks in Kern County, California, history. (Legend has it he threw seven touchdowns in one game). Thanks to former teammate and buddy Jack, Reno gets one more shot at football glory.
It can be argued that Hoosiers is the greatest sports film of all time, regardless of the actual sport highlighted, inspired by and loosely based on the 1954 Indiana state basketball champions from tiny Milan High School. The David vs. Goliath tale is Hollywood at its best, and truly encapsulates what prep sports can mean to a small town. Actually, it doesn’t matter where we’re watching from, the emotion and passion of the movie can transcends location. Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, Barbara Hershey all shine bright in this feel-good classic. Now, who’s ready to run the picket fence?
Again, not a traditional sports movie, but high-school football plays a prominent part in the story line. However, suburban Chicago’s Park High football team in this Corey Haim vehicle is terrible. However, its best player Cappie Roew (Charlie Sheen) would likely be an all-area performer at any other above-average prep program in the region. The “Big Man on Campus,” Cappie has a caring heart, and is the only jock who is nice to the eccentric Lucas (Haim), who tries out for the team to impress Maggie (Kerri Green), the new girl at school. It’s also important to mention that Guy Boyd’s character might be the worst prep coach in fictional sports history.
Never given the chance to coach football at powerhouse Prescott High, Molly McGrath (Goldie Hawn) took an underachieving group of slackers, troublemakers and criminals from rough Central High all the way to the city title game. Against Prescott, Central stunned the favorites after wide-load Phillip Finch showed his hops by blocking a kick that star Levander “Bird” Williams (Mykelti Williamson) returned for the game-winning touchdown. In addition to Hawn, the comedy features Williamson, Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and Robyn Lively in some of their early-career work.
David Greene (Brendan Fraser) is a 1950s star high school quarterback from blue-collar Scranton, Penn., recruited to quarterback Massachusetts’ St. Matthew’s prep-school football team for his senior year. The prestigious school is filled with old-money students destined for the Ivy League, and many are not fond of Greene’s Jewish faith. Once some of his so-called friends, like Charlie Dillon (Matt Damon), discover his spiritual secret, David becomes embroiled in a battle to remain at the school and continue his progression toward Harvard. Football is a backdrop to the film, but the old-timey game scenes are entertaining.
Richard Linklater’s breakthrough classic is not a sports movie, but football has a key place plot. Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jeremy London) is the star quarterback at Lee High School but does not want to conform to the stringent social limitations put on the players by the coaching staff. The decision whether or not to sign the “commitment to his team” eats at Pink throughout the film, culminating with a “joint subcommittee meeting” on the 50-yard line of the school’s football field. It’s also an example that popular high school athletes tend to rule the school — at least socially.
Holly Hunter is stellar as Wanda Holloway, the real-life maniacal mother who tried to advance her teenage daughter’s cheerleading career by putting a hit on a high-school team member and her mother. Hunter won an Emmy Award for it. Beau Bridges, who played Wanda’s brother-in-law hired to perform the hits, was even better — winning an Emmy and Golden Globe. One of the best made-for-TV movies of the ’90s, this black comedy is highly entertaining and well worth the time to see just how deranged people can be when trying to live vicariously through others. 
We know there was a lot of pressure on prep star Jesus Shuttlesworth (former college and NBA star Ray Allen) from his old man, Jake (Denzel Washington), to parlay a successful collegiate hoops career into an early prison release for Jake. In terms of the game, Jesus is one of the team’s best players and would probably start on any other team. Now, maybe it’s a little far-fetched to believe that the great Allen can pass for a high-school hoop star, but he’s actually highly believable and more than serviceable as an actor.
In fictional West Canaan, Texas, high-school football is king. Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) is an authoritarian who only cares about winning district titles. However, when star quarterback Lance Harbor (the late Paul Walker) goes down with a severe knee injury, book-smart backup Jonathan “I don’t want your life” Moxon (James Van Der Beek) takes over and has trouble dealing with his instant fame — and Kilmer. This Brian Robbins’ film tries to capture all the hysteria of Texas high-school football in a fictional sense, and it certainly has memorable moments. However, we find it quite interesting that there are so many pretty people attend a small-town high school, and that a teacher who moonlights as a stripper can still keep her job.
As a new school year begins, Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) fulfills her dream of being named captain of the famed Rancho Carne High School cheerleading squad. It was destined to be the beginning of a great experience. Instead, it ushered in a series of challenges for Torrance and Co., especially from an urban cheer squad lost in the shadows within the national cheerleading scene. The comedy was so popular that it spawned a franchise of sequels and a stage musical, and turned Gabrielle Union into a household Hollywood name.
While football is the obvious focal point of this classic, the true inspiration is coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and his ability to integrate a team, and turn those players into winners. Will Patton also shines as assistant coach Bill Yoast, who swallows his pride and shuns his prejudice for the greater good of the team, school, and community — much like most players — to come together for a common purpose. This true-life story is right up there with the great sports movies ever released, and features early efforts from Kate Bosworth and Ryan Gosling.
Now, this is obviously a story about aging teacher/coach-turned Major League Baseball-pitcher Jim Morris (played by Dennis Quaid). However, the fuel for his decision to give a major-league tryout a go is his high-school baseball team, a group of underachievers who Morris turns into winners. In both the cases of Morris and his prep team, it’s about defying the odds and following a dream one thought wasn’t possible. It’s a feel-good movie that inspires many to believe, through baseball, that anything is possible.
There are some high expectations heading into the 1988 season for the mighty Permian High football team. Nothing less than a state championship will do for this Odessa, Texas, football factory, where the players are idolized. They are football players before students, and the pressure is daunting for the likes of quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), running back Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund), and superstar running back “Bobbie” Miles (Derek Luke), whose future is based on his football success. The film version of H. G. Bissinger’s real-life book is just as riveting on the big screen as on the pages.
Fans of sports movies might not realize that this is one of the most acclaimed movies in the history of the Disney Channel. Andrew Lawrence stars as Jace Newfield, a blind student at a new school in Salt Lake City. Looking to fit in after a self-inflicted rough start, Jace is convinced to join his school’s wrestling team. Following a rough beginning on the mat as well, Jace improves. He enjoys success along with his teammates, while also learning one doesn’t have to be someone else in order to be accepted by others.
Some of the best high-school sports movies of all time are based on true stories. Like this one, telling the real-life story of California prep basketball coach Ken Carter. To no surprise, Samuel L. Jackson is solid as expected in the starring role. This story of putting academics and discipline before sports is fit for Hollywood. There is plenty of inspiration to draw from the movie — via Carter and his players — and the concept, real or fiction. However, in real life, there are not enough of these types of stories being told.
This is an under-the-radar movie that is highly entertaining. Done on a budget of $100,000, Facing the Giants made more than $10 million at the box office. This Christian-based tale is about a struggling high-school football coach (versatile director, writer, and actor Alex Kendrick) and his team, who turn around their fortunes on and off the field with the help of the Lord. It often pops up on basic cable, and despite being schmaltzy, it is family-friendly and wholesome. 
Another inspiring true story, this time about young, eager assistant baseball coach Kent Stock (Sean Astin), who is asked to take over head-coaching duties of the powerhouse baseball program at tiny Norway High School in Iowa. Of course, the school administration intend for Stock to fail after popular and legendary coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) isn’t brought back while the school faces being absorbed into a larger district. There’s plenty for Stock to prove, and he relies on some unknown talent to continue Norway’s tradition of success even if the odds seems stacked against him. 
The movie that won Sandra Bullock an Academy Award as the outspoken, feisty Leigh Anne Tuohy has blossomed into one of the all-time feel-good sports movies. The story of Michael Oher’s rise from his impoverished Memphis dwellings to high school football star to the NFL was pretty much made for the big screen and scored a touchdown with audiences. However, in the years since then, we’ve heard from Oher about how authentic the movie was, and the accuracy of Tuohy’s real-life involvement in his life high school life and beyond. 
Another underrated sports movie that is ideal for the whole family to watch. Based on legendary prep cross-country coach Jim White (a.k.a. “Blanco“), who turned McFarland High School, a poor, predominantly Hispanic high school from California’s Central Valley, into a long-distance running powerhouse. Things didn’t start smoothly for White (Kevin Costner), who never coached cross-country before arriving at McFarland and seemed like a fish out of water in his early days at the school. However, as time went on and trust between the parties was earned, success came for those involved — both on and off the course.
Lost amid the COVID-19 pandemic, The Way Back stars Ben Affleck as a former high school basketball star who has fallen on hard times as an adult. Battling alcoholism, Affleck’s Jack Cunningham takes a job coaching hoops at Bishop Hayes, his former Catholic high school. The team’s as much of a mess as he is, but there is an opportunity for both parties involved to turn things around. The plot is somewhat predictable, but there it’s worth the time to watch, and the basketball does get better. 
A Chicago native, Jeff Mezydlo has professionally written about sports, entertainment and pop culture for nearly 30 years. If he could do it again, he'd attend Degrassi Junior High, Ampipe High and Grand Lakes University.
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