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Will Ferrell at the Semi-Pro premiere. (Photo by Entertainment Press/Shutterstock)
December 13th, 2020
The only thing more entertaining than a good basketball game is a good basketball movie. Filmmakers have turned to James Naismith’s beloved sport continuously over the years to craft compelling stories about players' exploits, both on and off the court. Some of them, like Space Jam and Semi-Pro, have been downright goofy, while others, like Coach Carter and The Way Back, have been deeply inspiring.
Grab some popcorn and lower the lights as we boldly rank the top 10 basketball movies every NBA fan should watch.
Rating: PGRuntime: 1 hour and 28 minutesCast: Michael Jordan, Bill Murray, Bugs Bunny
We couldn’t compile a list of basketball flicks without including the highest grossing hoops film of all time. Released in 1996 by Warner Bros, Space Jam raked in more than $230 million worldwide, and became a cinematic and cultural sensation.
A big part of the film’s appeal is the antics of Bugs Bunny and his animated pals, but Michael Jordan isn’t half bad either playing a glorified version of himself. By the mid-90s MJ was already such a global phenomenon that no one ever doubted his ability to thwart a team of aliens and save the planet.
A new generation of moviegoers will get to experience Space Jam for the first time in July, 2021 when Space Jam: A New legacy hits theatres everywhere.
Rating: RRuntime: 1 hour and 31 minutesCast: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre 3000
We’ll be the first to admit that Semi-Pro isn’t Will Ferrell’s best sports movie. Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory are both superior. However, this rollicking film about a pop-star-turned-basketballl player is full of riotous, laugh-out-loud moments.
Ferrell is the main attraction as Jackie Moon, but the SNL vet receives a big assist from Woody Harrelson, as a past-his-prime point guard who’s traded for a washing machine, and Andre 3000, as a high-flying showboat who learns the value of teamwork. Make sure to stick around until the very end for the outrageous outtakes.
Rating: PG-13Runtime: 2 hours and 16 minutesCast: Samuel L. Jackson, Channing Tatum, Ashanti
If you’ve played basketball for long enough you’ve probably had a coach like Ken Carter, the no-nonsense, ball-buster at Richmond High School. Played to perfection by Samuel L. Jackson, Carter is a high-minded believer in the power of education who shuts down Richmond’s hoops program until his wayward players begin hitting the books just as hard as they hit the boards.
The film follows a straightforward – and occasionally predictable – path, but Jackson’s unwavering performance makes it must-see viewing for any true basketball fan.
Rating: PG-13Runtime: 1 hour and 48 minutesCast: Nick Nolte, Ed O’Neill, Shaquille O’Neal
We generally steer clear of any movie featuring Shaquille O’Neal, but Blue Chips is a notable exception. The classic 1994 film stars Nick Nolte as a hardass coach who breaks every rule in the books to land the top recruiting class in the nation.
Nolte keeps the movie humming while Shaq, Penny Hardaway, Allan Houston, and Bobby Hurley all turn in winning performances as thinly-veiled versions of themselves.
Rating: RRuntime: 1 hour and 48 minutesCast: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Janina Gavankar
Anyone looking for a feel-good film should steer clear of The Way Back. The deeply depressing flick chronicles the life of a former basketball hotshot-turned alcoholic who returns to coach his high school team.
Although the subject matter is far from uplifting, it features one of the finest performances of Ben Affleck’s career. The Oscar-winner is exceptional as a tortured jock haunted by loss and destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
Rating: RRuntime: 2 hours and 16 minutesCast: Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Milla Jovovich
Sometimes it takes a great basketball fan to make a great basketball movie. That was the case in 1998, when diehard Knicks fan Spike Lee wrote, produced, and directed He Got Game, a spellbinding drama about a felon who tries to get his sentence reduced by persuading his estranged son to play for the governor’s alma mater.
Denzel Washington shines as convicted con Jake Shuttlesworth, but Ray Allen is the real revelation as can’t-miss prospect Jesus. The Hall of Famer hits all the right notes as an immensely talented but deeply conflicted teen, and wisely lets his game do the talking in the film’s pivotal one-on-one showdown.
Rating: RRuntime: 1 hour and 55 minutesCast: Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez
The reason why some teams win championships while others implode is often because of chemistry. You either have it or you don’t, and in White Men Can’t Jump, Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes have it in spades.
The All-Star actors play a pair of fast-talking streetball hustlers who team up to win a two-on-two tournament. The hoops action is fun, but it’s the hilarious bromance between Harrelson and Snipes that makes this comedy click.
Rating: PG-13Runtime: 2 hours and 50 minutesCast: William Gates, Arthur Agee, Isiah Thomas
Hoop Dreams was an instant classic when it was released in 1994, and remains every bit as relevant more than 25 years later. The ambitious 170-minute documentary follows Chicago high school students William Gates and Arthur Agee for eight years as they pursue their dream of playing in the NBA. It’s honest, inspiring, and ultimately heartbreaking as hell.
Hoops Dreams earned closed to $12 million at the box office and became just the second documentary film ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing.
Rating: PGRuntime: 1 hour and 54 minCast: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper
Everyone loves an underdog, which is just one of the reasons why Hoosiers was a huge hit when it was released in 1986. Written and produced by Angelo Pizzo, this beautifully constructed film tells the story of an undermanned high school basketball team that improbably wins the Indiana State Championship.
Yes, Hoosiers is full of clichés, but the exceptional acting and Oscar-nominated score help gloss over some of the film’s deficiencies, and leave you rooting for the boys from Hickory until the final whistle.
Rating: TV-MARuntime: 8 hours and 11 minutesCast: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson
Quite possibly the only good thing to come out of 2020, The Last Dance arrived on the scene on April 19, and within weeks became one of the most popular series in Netflix history with more than 66 million views. The timing couldn’t have been better as the sports-starved masses were hungering for something – anything – new, but The Last Dance had a lot more going for it then just a good release date.
Jason’s Hehir’s 10-part documentary series gave viewers an intimate view into the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 championship season with hundreds of hours of never-before-seen footage. Even though everyone knew exactly how it would end, it was still thrilling to see how it all began. Hehir’s light touch and Michael Jordan’s candidness make this a must-see for every sports fan.
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