The Spin List: These are the sports movies that have won Best Picture at the Oscars

Jan 14, 2020

Nailbiting motorsports movie Ford v Ferrari got the nod today for Best Picture in the annual Academy Awards.

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But in a field crowded with high-profile nominations (among them, Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Netflix’s The Irishman, and the first Korean movie to get a Best Picture nom, Parasite), chances are slim that the Christian Bale-starrer will take home the trophy.

If it does, it will join the very few sports movies that have ever been won Best Picture at the Oscars. Here’s all of them. It’s a short list.

Rocky (1976)

One of the most iconic sports movies ever. Even if you’ve never watched this more than 40-year-old classic, you know its training montage scene by heart: the thud of Rocky Balboa’s fists against frozen meat hanging from cellar hooks, the one-handed and clap push-ups, the triumphant training run up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (now known as the “Rocky steps”). Legendary. Its sequels Creed and Creed II, released just a few years ago, aren't half-bad either.

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Chariots of Fire (1981)

Boxing may be the favored sport for Best Picture wannabes, but the second sports movie to ever win Best Picture in the long history of the Academy Awards was about track and field. Chariots of Fire may be more known now for its stirring soundtrack by Greek composer Vangelis, but when it was released, it was hailed as a classic. A true story of British outsiders competing at the 1924 Olympics, it showed two runners who fought against the system to earn their place among the greats — only to be forgotten years later.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

In real life and reel life, boxing has always made for good underdog stories. Many pugilist movies have been nominated for Oscars, but Million Dollar Baby is only the second to get the championship belt after Rocky. Hilary Swank’s Maggie Fitzgerald is determined to become a fighter, and ornery old coach Frankie Dunn (played by director Clint Eastwood) won’t let her. It’s a typical sports movie set-up — until the story takes a dark, unsentimental turn that dares to punch way above its weight.

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Dear Basketball (2017)

Okay, so this short film didn’t win Best Picture — but it did win “best picture” in its category: Best Animated Short. It’s notable for giving Kobe Bryant an unlikely Oscar award. Narrated and written by the Black Mamba himself (based on a poem he made), it’s a short, six-minute look back at a career and his undeniable, lifelong love for the sport.

Honorable Mentions

They may not have won Best Picture or Best Animated Short, but these sports movies came up big in acting or writing categories. They’re also worth a watch, if they ever come up in your recommended tab on Netflix.

The Fighter (2010)

The Fighter stepped into the ring with a hard-hitting performance from (Ford v Ferrari alert) Christian Bale, who took home a Best Supporting trophy, along with co-star Melissa Leo.

The Blind Side (2009)

American sports movies often have to tackle the ugly specter of racism. The Blind Side may have been a little heavy-handed in its take, but Sandra Bullock’s Best Actress turn was a perfect storm, and its scenes may have you reaching for those tissues.

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Jerry Maguire (1996)

That rare sports movie that’s not about a player or a coach. Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire is an agent who represents a football star played by Cuba Gooding Jr. The latter got a Best Supporting Oscar for this role, largely based on his winning line, “Show me the money!”

Raging Bull (1980)

Another boxing movie classic. The role of Jake LaMotta will forever be one of De Niro’s most indelible acting feats — he won a Best Actor for an unflinching portrayal of a very detestable man. One of Martin Scorsese’s best.

The Color of Money (1986)

A sequel to 1961’s The Hustler, Paul Newman returned to play an older version of his character, out to teach Tom Cruise some billiard table con tricks. Newman picked up Best Actor for this one. (The Hustler also won Best Cinematography and Best Direction back in ‘61.)

Fun fact: this movie also inspired 'The Color of Money' match-ups between Efren 'Bata' Reyes and Earl 'The Pearl' Strickland, held in 1996 and 2001.

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Breaking Away (1979)

A lighthearted growing-up movie with a small-town bicycle race as its centerpiece, Breaking Away starred a very young Dennis Quaid. Sports may not have been the highlight, but this plucky tale of underdogs very much embodies its spirit, and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

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