A Complete Guide to Basketball Movies

Posted on 14 May, 2019 by Dimitrije Curcic

"Basketball is like poetry in motion; cross the guy to the left, take him back to the right, he's fallin back, then just J right in his face. Then you look at him and say, "What?" " - Jesus Shuttlesworth, He Got Game (1998)

 

As a truly global sport, basketball has spread its influence way above the sports sphere. The game has become a part of the music culture, fashion, and cinema, among the others.

Since "The Fair Co-Ed" hit the theaters in 1927, over 140 basketball movies have been presented to the audience. As this number keeps growing each year, we decided to gather them in one place, analyze them in more detail, and come out with some interesting stats.

We wanted to collect every single basketball movie and present them as they are, letting you decide which one is the best. They all have one thing in common - basketball. So if you are the fan of the game, and cinema, you'll find everything you need right on this page.

Table of content

  1. List of basketball movies
  2. Top rated basketball movies
  3. Genre breakdown
  4. The Michael Jordan effect
  5. Basketball at the box office
  6. About

List of basketball movies 

In this guide, a film is considered as "basketball movie" if basketball plays a significant role in the movie plot. 2000 drama "Finding Forester" is a good example; it is a story about the friendship between a writer and a young student who is a promising athlete and basketball player. Since basketball is a big part of the protagonist's life, the movie is considered a basketball movie. 

This is the most extensive collection available on the Internet, standing at 146 movies currently. Don't hesitate to reach out to us if you have a feature that's not on the list - it will be included if it checks out.

 

 

 

Bball Movies in-depth

147 movies are big enough sample for taking a closer look into them. Over the next 4 sections, we'll present some interesting movie stats, see which genre goes along with basketball the most, which are the best rated, best selling, most expensive... In short - we present you basketball movies in-depth.

 

Top rated basketball movies

Audience and critics review of a film is what matters the most as time goes by. After the premiere, theater releases, box office success/failure, it's the rating that stands as the most accurate measure of a film value.

Documentaries' ratings are taken separately from the other genres as the unique movie form. These are top10 basketball movies of all time, with documentaries excluded.

 

 

1973 masterpiece "Maurie" stands at the top. It's a true story about the love and friendship of two NBA players, Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes after Stokes faces a horrible injury that got him permanently paralyzed. Drama and biographical pieces dominate the top10 list, but we'll get to the genre breakdown a bit later.

Looking at the documentaries, these are the chosen 10:

 

 

The first thing noticeable is that documentaries have a better IMDB rating than the other movies. Again, we'll analyze the genre closely, but it's worth mentioning now.

ESPN's documentary "Once Brothers," who tops the list, tells a story of two Yugoslavian NBA stars, Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic - from their early days and successes with the Yugoslavian national team until the horrible civil war tore their friendship apart, and ended with Petrovic's tragic death in 1993.

 

Genre breakdown

From the collection, it's noticeable that basketball movies are spread across pretty much every film genre. 15 different movie genres appear on the list, from action to thriller.

Since basketball is such a convenient movie plot element, let's take a look at which genres are most fitting for its usage. For starters, here is the number of movies made by each genre.

 

 

The number of basketball documentaries is not a surprise - there's plenty of exciting and inspiring real-life stories to tell. Take ESPN's documentary "Once Brothers" example - a compelling story on how even the biggest friendships between two NBA stars could be torn apart when their home countries engage in bloody civil war. 

Basketball is an emotional game, with constant rises and falls. This is a perfect foundation for good drama, which is why, right after the documentaries, the most basketball films fall under the drama category.

Sport and comedy close the group of the most used genres. On the other side of the spectra, there haven't been many experiments with combining basketball and thriller, musical or film-noir, although some excellent movies fall into this category.

Numbers aside, let's see how each genre passed the test of the audience and critics. The chart below shows the average movie rating by each genre.

 

 

Top 2 best ranking categories by IMDB suggest that the best basketball movies are the ones inspired by true stories. Animation ranks 4th (6.2 average rating ), even though only 3 animated hoops related films have been produced so far - maybe we need more of those!

54 movies under sports genre average 6.04, placing them in the middle of the list. Maybe basketball turns out to be more than just a sport? We certainly believe so, and the data indicate the same thing.

Comedy movies average mediocre 5.5 IMDB rating, despite being the 4th most represented genre. At the bottom of the list stands action movies - only two of those include basketball in the plot, and they performed unconvincingly, at most.

 

The Michael Jordan effect

Since the emergence of Lary Bird and Majic Johnson in the early 80s, the NBA's popularity never stopped to grow. And when Michael Jordan came into the league, especially since his first title with the Bulls and the Olympic Dream Team, the NBA became a truly global sport.

This popularity reflected in cinema. Here is the chart that shows the number of basketball movies produced each decade.

 

The numbers speak for themselves - there were more movies produced during the 90s than all the decades prior combined. That's what we call  "the Michael Jordan effect." This trend continued in the new millennia, although it followed the exponential growth of the movie production since 2000.

 

 

Basketball at the box office

The last, but not the least - financial aspect. The success of the movie at the box office is the best measure of popularity, so we can say that the highest grossing movies are the most popular ones. On the other hand, the movie budget is also a factor. We'll take a look at which films earned the most, but also made the highest profit, and often these two values are not the same.

Let's start with the gross of movies in the USA:

 

 

If you haven't been convinced in the MJ effect, think again. 1996 "Space Jam" dominates the basketball box office in the USA, followed by Spike Lee's "White men can't jump," and "Coach Carter" starring Samuel L Jackson. 

Here's how basketball movies performed on foreign soil:

 

 

Only 3 movies from our database made more earnings internationally than in the USA, two of them making the top10 list - the untouchable Space Jam at the top, and "Movie 43" at the 4th spot.

Movie 43 must be the weirdest movies that fall into the basketball category. Those who watched it will never forget the hilarious pep talk by Coach Jackson (Terrence Howard) to his players. The scene is full of parody and twisted views of race issues - one for the ages.

Here's how the top10 list looks for total worldwide gross:

 

 

 

This chart shows the full dominance of "Space Jam," whose gross overcomes the next 3 movies' combined. We can make a strong case that this movie took the NBA to another level, making the league available in every home around the world.

Earnings at the box office are just one part of the story. Higher incomes usually come after higher investments in production, and here is the top10 in that aspect:

 

 

It's interesting to see the comedy genre dominating the top10 box office list, along with the most expensive list. Comedy basketball movies are among the lowest-rated movie genres, but they make great success at the box office and are worth investing. We'd like to hear some reasons behind that...

Overall, production costs and box office gross combined, here are the 10 most profitable basketball movies of all time:

 

 

Two of the most recognizable basketball movies, "Space Jam" and "White Men Can't Jump," lead the list of the most profitable movies. However, the Top10 list is dominated by not-so-much critically acclaimed films. It seems that the quality is not the main driving force for the profit... but we'll leave that to the film critics. 

 

Conclusion

With the rise of basketball's popularity all over the world, the game started to spread its influence way outside of the sports sphere. This led to a massive movie production with basketball as the integral plot element, and the figure is growing each year.

This growth started to kick in during the 90s, which strangely coincides with the Micheal Jordan era. It's not accident however that the 'Space Jam" is the most popular, most watched, and the most recognizable basketball movie of all time.

Documentaries and biographical films have the highest ratings among critics and audiences. On the other hand, they are not the ones making the most profits...

 

Basketball movies infographic

 

 

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Author
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Dimitrije Curcic

Dimitrije Curcic has been playing basketball for over 22 years. Like Manu Ginobili, he’s a left-hander whose moves led him to a better career-shooting percentage than the Argentine himself. After playing professionally for 10 years, Dimitrije moved to coaching for two seasons before he became a basketball statistician for StatScore, and FanSided contributor for the San Antonio Spurs. Dimitrije loves to tell hoop stories through numbers and graphics and has been featured on Fansided, FiveThirtyEight, Eurohoops, and TalkBasket among the others.

dimitrije@runrepeat.com