The 40 Greatest Sports Comedies of All Time
America’s biggest sporting event is days away. The Super Bowl brings together the young and the old, the diehard football fans and the people who just showed up at your party to eat chicken wings, for one hallowed Sunday of athletic excellence. (Unless the game’s a total blowout, of course — those are the worst.) Football is the country’s biggest sport, but it’s hardly the only one we obsess over, which probably explains why there’s an entire genre of film devoted to competition on the gridiron or diamond or court or rink. We can’t get enough of watching winners and losers.
Within that genre, there’s a subcategory of sports comedies, which largely exist to mock the grandeur and self-importance the world earnestly assigns to grown-ups playing games meant for kids. Because so many sports dramas treat their stories as life-or-death affairs, it’s a relief to have someone funny come along and poke a hole in all that gravitas. Like sports themselves, sports comedies remind us that it’s important to remember to have a little fun, too.
But here’s the sad truth: A lot of sports comedies are terrible. Sophomoric and uninspired, they deliver lazy jokes and lame action — you’d be better off just watching an actual game with a funny friend. So as I put together a list of the 40 best sports comedies, I quickly realized that what made my picks rise above the rest is that, deep down, I sensed that the filmmakers and actors genuinely liked the sport they were goofing on. Otherwise, what’s the point of expending all that energy?
Before I reveal my rankings, here are a few ground rules. I didn’t include any documentaries, although The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is hilarious. Sports dramas that happen to be funny, like Moneyball and Air, didn’t count. Movies that feature sports as a tangential element weren’t eligible. (M*A*S*H’s finale involves a football game, but no sane human being would describe that Robert Altman film as a sports comedy.) I considered the Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn rom-com Woman of the Year, in which Tracy plays a sportswriter, but that seemed a little too far afield. Also, I was fairly liberal in terms of what I considered “athletics,” so readers who turn their nose up at NASCAR, Evel Knievel-like stuntmen or poker players may quibble with my choices. But, c’mon, be a good sport about it.
Necessary Roughness (1991)
Sometimes, the clichés just work. Such is the case with this predictable but enjoyable underdog comedy about a college football team that was once great — that is, until the program was hit with crippling probations. Now, the school has to rebuild, which explains why Scott Bakula plays a thirtysomething who takes over at quarterback. Necessary Roughness hits every single lovable-losers trope, but it’s a cheerful, appealing film, even if you’ve seen it all before.
She’s the Man (2006)
Remember that era during the aughts when Hollywood kept turning Shakespeare’s masterworks into teen films? She’s the Man transplanted Twelfth Night to the contemporary East Coast, where pretty Viola (Amanda Bynes) dresses up as a boy so she can play for her boarding school’s soccer team. This was one of Channing Tatum’s first major film roles — he plays the hunky love interest, natch — and the movie is a low-key, funny charmer.
Space Jam (1996)
Kids who grew up on Space Jam tend to be overly fond of this live-action/animation mixture, forgiving some of the strained humor and the focus on Michael Jordan over his Looney Tunes pals. But despite its uneven nature, this remains a clever, very amusing mash-up, with folks like Bill Murray lending a comedic hand from time to time. And it’s miles better than the terrible LeBron James sequel.
Kicking and Screaming (2005)
Watch any youth sporting event, and one thing becomes painfully clear: The parents are often way more invested than their kids. Kicking and Screaming weaponizes that truism, telling a funny story about an ineffectual guy (Will Ferrell) who decides to coach his son’s soccer team as a way to get back at his bullying father (Robert Duvall), who coaches a rival team. Director Jesse Dylan enjoys digging into the cringe-y humor of adult men who haven’t let go of their childhood competitiveness — not to mention fathers and sons who act out their anger toward each other in immature, roundabout ways.
The Waterboy (1998)
Adam Sandler had made commercially successful movies before The Waterboy. But this broad comedy, about an underestimated idiot who turns out to be a demon on the football field, was a legitimate blockbuster — and it remains one of his all-time biggest hits. Sandler, who co-wrote the script, has better comedies (and better sports comedies, as you’ll see later on this list), but The Waterboy’s sheer amount of “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” gags wear down your defenses. Plus, Kathy Bates is a hoot as his mom.
Growing up, Seann William Scott played just about every sport except hockey. But he fell for the script for Goon, about a nice guy who ends up finding his calling as an enforcer on the ice. “I thought it was different, it wasn’t just straight up comedy,” he said later. “It wasn’t like a hockey movie, it was a character-driven movie that was funny with a lot of violence.” That nicely sums up Goon, which doesn’t shy away from the brutality or the sweetness. One thing, though: Scott signed up for a sequel, but you should skip it.
Inspired by the early days of professional football, director/star George Clooney crafted a nostalgic screwball comedy in which his aging player recruits an up-and-coming star (and World War I hero), played by John Krasinski, to join his struggling team. With Renée Zellweger as the journalist both men pine for, Leatherheads is a throwback rom-com that has plenty of charm. Your dad probably loves it.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley are both terribly endearing in this crowd-pleasing comedy as two young women living in London who love playing soccer, although Nagra’s family disapproves. Bend It Like Beckham was a British film, but it caught on in America at a time when the U.S. women’s soccer team was first becoming ascendant, leading to a growing interest in the game. But the movie is also a study of friendship and cultural divides, all wrapped up in a feel-good ending.
Nacho Libre (2006)
After becoming an indie darling with Napoleon Dynamite, director Jared Hess hooked up with Jack Black, who plays a friar by day who raises money for the poor by wrestling. Nacho Libre isn’t much beyond its goofy accents, broad gags and slapstick silliness, but the movie’s abiding sweetness is impossible to resist. And let’s face it: Black looks funny shirtless in tights.
True basketball junkies appreciated this affectionate nod to the long-forgotten ABA, aka the other pro league that eventually got swallowed up by the NBA. Semi-Pro looks at a fictional ABA team hoping to survive the merger, allowing Will Ferrell to be an utter goofball. Does the movie spend too much time satirizing the fashion and attitudes of the 1970s? Oh, maybe, but costars Woody Harrelson and André Benjamin are more than game.
Cool Runnings (1993)
Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme!
Blades of Glory (2007)
Will Speck and Josh Gordon’s feature directorial debut was, for a time, best remembered as the movie that provided a couple choice samples for a hit Jay-Z/Kanye West track. (“It gets the people going!”) But it’s also one of Will Ferrell’s most enjoyable non-Adam McKay films of the period: He teams with Jon Heder as male figure skaters who, get this, must do paired figure skating to get back into the sport after they disgraced themselves. Blades of Glory makes ample fun of the pageantry and pomposity of the Olympic event, and it’s so bizarre and relentless that you succumb to the silliness.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Before he started making bland action films with Dwayne Johnson like Red Notice, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber specialized in wonderfully dumb slapstick comedies. Dodgeball is a triumph of dopey characters, ridiculous facial hair and the most idiotic jokes that you’re almost ashamed to laugh at. Almost. There’s no sane reason to find the movie’s wrench scene funny. And yet…
Major League (1989)
Cleveland’s baseball team has been woeful for generations, so of course they were the perfect underdogs in this hit comedy, which starred Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Tom Berenger and Corbin Bernsen as members of the Indians, who will make an improbable run to the playoffs. Major League very much taps into the spirit of an earlier era of slob comedies, like Caddyshack, which championed the goofy, idiosyncratic little guy against the mean rich people. And, of course, the film made baseball-player-turned-broadcaster Bob Uecker a national treasure — to this day, when a pitcher totally misses the plate, your Palovian response will be to say, “Juuuuuuust a bit outside!”
The Sandlot (1993)
“We could talk for the next year and a half about all the times I’ve been in airports and heard moms and dads saying to their kids, ‘You’re killing me, Smalls!’” That quote comes from writer-director David Mickey Evans, who in 2018 reflected on the enduring appeal of his directorial debut. Set in 1962 — the same year Evans was born — The Sandlot toasts both boyhood and the national pastime, finding the gentle humor in adolescents wasting away their summer having fun.
The Cutting Edge (1992)
She’s an ice skater. He’s a hockey player. How can they possibly work together to compete in the Winter Olympics as a figure-skating pair? This romantic comedy’s opposites-attract premise worked so well thanks to Moira Kelly and D.B. Sweeney’s chemistry. But also credit screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who would go on to make Michael Clayton and write Jason Bourne flicks.
Tin Cup (1996)
Bull Durham filmmaker Ron Shelton and star Kevin Costner reunited for this portrait of another never-was, the drunken Roy, who flamed out after being a promising golfer. Tin Cup boasts a winning love story between Costner and Rene Russo, a shrink who takes an interest in Roy, but it also reminded audiences how enjoyable the everyman Costner could be. Remember, this movie came out around the period when he was doing Waterworld and The Postman, big-budget debacles that swelled with self-importance. Tin Cup let him return to his roots as a winsome normal dude.
The Phantom of the Open (2021)
A few years after winning an Oscar for Bridge of Spies, respected English actor Mark Rylance starred in this gentle comedy about Maurice Flitcroft, who was labeled “the world’s worst golfer.” The Phantom of the Open challenges the notion of most sports films, which celebrate greatness and dogged devotion. Instead, Maurice is a likable nobody who just loves golf, no matter how inept he is at the game. Rylance is never condescending in the role, and the movie believably champions the pursuit of a passion, even if it’s never going to lead to trophies or stardom.
Win Win (2011)
Filmmaker Tom McCarthy is probably best known for The Station Agent and the Oscar-winning Spotlight, but he’s also responsible for this funny, melancholy character study anchored by Paul Giamatti as Mike, a lawyer whose practice is floundering. He’s also a wrestling coach who, because of some complicated circumstances, takes under his wing a troubled teenager (Alex Shaffer) who might just be a champion wrestler. For fans of Giamatti in grumpy sad-sack mode, Win Win is right in his comfort zone.
Fighting With My Family (2019)
Florence Pugh has delivered a series of terrific performances in a short period of time, but the one that tends to get overlooked is her portrayal of real-life wrestler Saraya Bevis, who grew up in a family obsessed with the sport. Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, Fighting With My Family generates myriad laughs from Bevis’ interactions with her quirky brood — Lena Headey and Nick Frost are a kick as her parents — but Vince Vaughn is also really good as a WWE recruiter who’s not sure if she’s got the chops. Pugh has mostly done drama, but here she’s very endearing as an outspoken woman who’s not going to stop until she’s in the ring. She should do more feel-good films like this.
White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
If you count Gloria’s love of Jeopardy! — played by Rosie Perez, she’s Billy’s (Woody Harrelson) girlfriend — White Men Can’t Jump actually chronicles two sports. But most return to this trash-talking classic because of its portrayal of Venice Beach basketball, where guys from different walks of life compete with each other on the court. Writer-director Ron Shelton is primarily interested in the growing friendship between Billy and Sidney (Wesley Snipes), who are bonded by their love of hoops and their inability to fully commit to their adult lives. In truth, White Men Can’t Jump is a very funny film about two fairly sad individuals who aren’t ready to grow up.
Shaolin Soccer (2001)
What if you combined kung fu with soccer? Say hello to Shaolin Soccer, director/star Stephen Chow’s goofy comedy about a lowly kung fu master who joins forces with some other martial-arts pros to compete in a soccer tournament. Do they know much about the “beautiful game”? Not really, but you don’t need to, either: This madcap, effects-heavy film is like a live-action cartoon.
Hot Rod (2007)
Is this stretching the definition of “sports comedy” a bit? Oh, probably, but this Lonely Island joint found the funny in an inept stuntman (Andy Samberg) who’s about to execute his most daring stunt — all to raise money for his stepdad’s operation. Hot Rod was initially going to be a Will Ferrell film, which makes sense, but Samberg and his team reworked the script’s ironic/ridiculous humor to match their quirky/peculiar worldview. What resulted was a movie in which you never knew where the jokes were coming from — including inspired bizarro references to Footloose.
Whip It (2009)
The world of women’s roller derby is brought to amusing life in Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, which starred Elliot Page as a Texas teen who rejects the beauty-pageant life aspired to by most of her peers, instead signing up to be part of the Hurl Scouts. Both coming-of-age drama and sports comedy, Whip It populated its supporting cast with Kristen Wiig, Zoë Bell and Juliette Lewis. The film may have bombed at the box office, but its female-empowerment theme helped set the stage for later female-centric comedies like Bridesmaids.
Harold Ramis made his directorial debut on this quintessential golf comedy about a plucky teenager (Michael O’Keefe) who caddies at an elite club, forced to deal with rich schmucks like Chevy Chase’s horndog Ty Webb. Although a bit more uneven and ragged than you probably remember, Caddyshack nonetheless became beloved because of its litany of colorful supporting players, most notably Bill Murray’s disturbed Carl Spackler, who swears to god he’s gonna get that gopher one day.
Bring It On (2000)
Ant-Man director Peyton Reed got his start with this sharp teen comedy in which Kirsten Dunst’s cheerleading team battles it out with Gabrielle Union’s. Bring It On features plenty of high-school-themed humor — dating, insecurities, etc. — but it’s also smart enough to squeeze in a little commentary about sports movies, not to mention class and race. But the film also demonstrated that Dunst, who was a child actor who’d graduated to serious indie cinema such as The Virgin Suicides, was a star. She’d be kissing Spider-Man in the rain in no time.
I, Tonya (2017)
Margot Robbie received her first Oscar nomination for this caustic biopic about Tonya Harding, the 1990s ice skater who locked horns with rival Nancy Kerrigan, leading to Kerrigan being attacked under mysterious circumstances. I, Tonya satirized the genre conventions while also poking fun at some of the backwoods cretins in Harding’s life. But what gives the film its oomph is Robbie’s sympathetic performance as Harding, an impoverished young woman who wants to prove she’s more than the white-trash nothing her cruel mother (Oscar-winner Allison Janney) assumes she’ll always be.
Breaking Away (1979)
One of the great portraits of Midwestern boyhood, the Oscar-winning Breaking Away starred Dennis Christopher as an Indiana teen who wants to be a competitive cyclist. But will his small-town dreams get him anywhere? Part love story, part coming-of-age drama, part buddy film — Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley play his pals — the movie builds to an important bike race, but this isn’t your typical big-game finale, with director Peter Yates keeping a close eye on the humor and the humanity of these everyday characters.
The Longest Yard (1974)
In between Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynolds enjoyed another big hit with this punishing football comedy, in which he plays a former pro who gets sent to the slammer, recruiting his fellow prisoners to play against the guards on the gridiron. The Longest Yard was remade decades later with Adam Sandler, but the original gets the nod for its no-B.S. 1970s spirit. The football sequences are better, and the “us vs. them” rebelliousness packs more of a punch, capturing the anti-establishment spirit of the times.
Happy Gilmore (1996)
Inspired by a buddy of Adam Sandler’s who played hockey (and, apparently, had a bad temper), Happy Gilmore gleefully threw a bull into a china shop, with Sandler’s hotheaded title character battling it out with the snobs and the jerks of the golf world. Long before Julie Bowen charmed audiences on Modern Family, she was delightful as Happy’s sweet love interest, and character actor Christopher McDonald became iconic as the villainous, pompous Shooter McGavin. But let us also tip our cap to Bob Barker and Carl Weathers, each of them equally hilarious, both of them sadly no longer with us.
Woody Harrelson’s hook for a hand. Bill Murray’s hair. Randy Quaid’s dopey grin. Vanessa Angel’s calm reason amidst the insanity. Less beloved than the Farrelly brothers’ other 1990s films, Kingpin might be the filmmakers’ stupidest of the era, telling the story of a washed-up former bowling prodigy (Harrelson) who befriends an Amish guy (Quaid) who’s an expert bowler. The laughs are idiotic and plentiful, but the movie’s also surprisingly touching for a comedy with a joke about drinking bull semen.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Fun fact: This is the only film on the list that features Roy Firestone, Frank Gifford, Mel Kiper Jr., Al Michaels and Mike Tirico. None of them are very funny, though.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Big director Penny Marshall had seen a documentary about an all-women’s baseball league that sprung up during World War II. Maybe there was a movie in it? A League of Their Own continued a hit streak for Geena Davis, who had just been in Thelma & Louise and had won an Oscar for The Accidental Tourist, playing the scrappy, confident Dottie, who joins the league alongside her jealous younger sister Kit (Lori Petty). Tom Hanks got to deliver the film’s trademark line, but the ensemble as a whole (which includes Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna) is superb.
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
The Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl in 2022, but at the movies, they first won it more than 40 years earlier. Warren Beatty co-directed and co-wrote this comedy-drama (based on Harry Segall’s play) about Rams quarterback Joe, who is taken off this mortal coil prematurely, forced to inhabit another person’s body as he waits for the powers to be to fix their afterlife screw-up. Joe is determined to use this person’s wealth to buy the team so he can lead them to the Super Bowl, but complications ensue. Heaven Can Wait is a cutting, melancholy film that sports a dynamic supporting cast that includes Julie Christie, Charles Grodin and Jack Warden. And, hey, Beatty’s pretty convincing as a gridiron great.
Buster Keaton was among the most athletic, graceful stars Hollywood ever produced, so it’s especially funny that, in College, he plays a bookworm college student trying to win the heart of a beauty (Anne Cornwall) by proving he’s as sporty as his more macho coeds. What follows is a predictably brilliant comedy filled with incredible stunts and big laughs.
Slap Shot (1977)
After directing him in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, Oscar-winner George Roy Hill teamed up again with Paul Newman for this smart-ass hockey comedy about a minor-league club that discovers that being violent on the ice is the key to success. Newman sunk his teeth into the role of Reggie Dunlop, an aging stud realizing his glory days are behind him, and the film was (for its time) shockingly vulgar, reflecting its blue-collar characters’ anger at a world that was leaving them behind.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Although Ron Burgundy may have something to say about it, Ricky Bobby might have been the character the Dear Lord Baby Jesus put Will Ferrell on Earth to play. Sending up NASCAR and the George W. Bush era in general, Talladega Nights featured terrific race sequences, but the bulk of the film’s greatness comes from the crack comic timing between Ferrell and John C. Reilly as Ricky’s second-banana buddy. Amy Adams may have never been funnier than she was here, and Sacha Baron Cohen killed his supporting role as the Frenchest Frenchman ever. Plus, the film taught us all the importance of not stabbing ourselves in the leg.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
In the 1960s and 1970s, Walter Matthau was among the most talented and popular comedic actors, and it’s possible he’s best known for his role as Morris Buttermaker, the angry, foul-mouthed drunk who finds himself coaching a bunch of snot-nosed youth baseball players who aren’t especially gifted or even all that likable. The Bad News Bears is very much a product of the New Hollywood Cinema of the ‘70s, which rejected traditional heroes and embraced a jaundiced view of society, subverting genres and flipping the bird to authority. The racially-tinged punchlines don’t make this ostensible kids’ flick ideal viewing for an all-ages movie night, but its rude, coarse humor remains a welcome relief from all the feel-good crap littering most family films.
California Split (1974)
Two L.A. gamblers (George Segal, Elliott Gould) become friends, discovering that they love hanging out, placing bets and playing cards with each other more than, frankly, anything else in their lives. Director Robert Altman put out such a formidable collection of films in the 1970s that it’s easy to overlook California Split’s offhand mastery, which finds endless humor in these guys’ rat-a-tat-tat rapport and laid-back cool. The film romanticizes this oddball world, but it’s also clear-eyed about the desperation and addiction at its core, leading to one of the decade’s best gut-punch endings. (Special shout-out to Mississippi Grind, an underrated 2015 gambling drama starring Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds that pays significant homage to Altman’s singular achievement.)
Bull Durham (1988)
Ron Shelton’s tribute to minor-league baseball also features one of the great romantic triangles. All three leads are perfect: Tim Robbins as the clueless Nuke, Susan Sarandon as the sharp Annie and Kevin Costner as the cynical, soulful Crash. Bull Durham gets the baseball right — the writer-director had played in the minors for years — but it also understands matters of the heart, as we watch Crash and Annie develop feelings for each other that seem destined to last more than one season.
Sexy, grown-up and smart, the film is often listed as the best of all baseball movies — especially by those who reject the sentimentality of Costner’s other big baseball film, Field of Dreams. That debate rages on, but no one can dispute that Bull Durham is a whole lot funnier. But the highest compliment I can give the movie is this: It’s probably the one film on this list that even your non-sports friends enjoy. Bull Durham transcends the game to get at something very true about love and life.