With so many corny and over-directed basketball films out there, we figured it was time to put together a rundown of all the best hoop flicks. No criteria needed here; just good action and solid story lines. Here are the 10 best films you need to see as a basketball/movie fan.
SUMMARY: I’m not even that much of a fan of this movie, but felt I had to throw it on the list. It’s like having a best player ever argument without naming Oscar Robertson or having a best emcee ever discussion without mentioning LL Cool J. Everyone loves this movie. But, it’s so corny I can’t really watch it. I’m assuming that’s why most people love it. Yet, I can’t hate the story because it became the basis for most sports movies made after it. And Gene Hackman is fantastic in it. He gives some great speeches.
BEST SCENE: When Dennis Hopper, “Shooter”, takes over the lead chair on the bench. That was straight comedy. He didn’t even have to say anything.
9. Air Up There
SUMMARY: This was one of my favorite hoop movies until I was like 12. Every time I watched it, I thought I was watching the Hakeem Olajuwon story. The basketball footage is pretty weak and some scenes are just boring. The scene where they are cutting stomachs as a sign of being in their African tribe is kind of nasty. But, for the most part, I liked it. It may lack some replay value, but it’s entertaining for what it’s worth.
BEST SCENE: When Kevin Bacon uses the Jimmy Dolan Shake-N-Bake on the cocky recruit at the beginning of the film. I always feel like I’m watching Scott Skiles or something.
8. Sunset Park
SUMMARY: An underrated gem. This was one of the first of the Coach Carter type of basketball movies. Does that make it any better? Probably. Fredro Starr does a decent job in his character, as does Terrence Howard as Spaceman, while everyone else is just average. The biggest criticism of this one is its predictability. Also, many of the problems and themes taken on are pretty bland and very stereotypical. Still, it makes for good entertainment and deserves a spot on this list instead of the films that followed in it’s footsteps.
BEST SCENE: When Rhea Perlman’s character tells Starr to pull up his pants and take off his hat inside. I don’t know why, but it’s hilarious all-around.
7. Love & Basketball
SUMMARY: One of the more popular basketball flicks because it connects with males and females of all ages. Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan may not be ball players, but the film does a very good job of at least presenting them as that. It’s also cool to follow them throughout their careers from start to finish and see how it’s not always the most talented who make it. It loses points though because of the finish: probably one of the corniest I’ve seen in a while. So I can’t put it any higher despite the popularity.
BEST SCENE: I guess Epps balling in high school, but that wasn’t anything special. This just proves the somewhat bland style of this one.
6. Passing Glory
SUMMARY: Actually, I haven’t watched this movie in a minute. But, I do remember it was always one of my favorites. Very few people know about this gem and it’s a wonder why not. Andre Braugher plays a priest from up north who ventures down into the Deep South during the civil rights movement and finds himself in the middle of a basketball firestorm. The basketball action is very good throughout, especially towards the end. Even though some of the film is cliché, it does touch on a lot of important and deep topics.
BEST SCENE: When Braugher’s all-black team shows up during the city championship celebration to let everyone know that title doesn’t mean anything until the all-white champs beat them.
5. Finding Forrester
SUMMARY: Another film where the basketball action was solid for the most part because Rob Brown seems like he’s actually nice on the court. What makes this movie different than most of the others on here is that basketball is just a part of the backdrop. Watching it, it’s obvious Brown’s character is a ball player at heart, but the scenes concentrate on his other endeavors. He’s not made out to be a pro. Because of this, the film’s plot is very good, yet never loses that attitude. In terms of realness and authenticity, this is one of the top 2-3 on this list.
BEST SCENE: Near the conclusion, Sean Connery puts a professor on blast that questioned Brown’s character’s writing prowess. Ill.
4. White Men Can’t Jump
SUMMARY: It actually took me awhile to finally watch this. Yet, the first scene had me hooked. In fact, most of the basketball scenes mix Woody Harrelson’s goofiness with Wesley Snipes‘ cockiness pretty well and it makes for good theater. Overall, it’s just a comedy that becomes even better when you think about Harrelson hustling people in basketball. But, is it true Snipes was dunking on a seven-foot hoop during the shooting of the film? That’s terrible. At least put it at like 9.
BEST SCENE: “I’m going to get my gun”… or any scene with Rosie Perez.
3. Above the Rim
SUMMARY: Criminally underrated. Most people don’t seem to ever give credit to this movie because of one Tupac Shakur and some of its subject matter. But Pac is totally believable, just as some of the tournament action is undeniable unbelievable. Still, this is probably the only film on this list that can get away with behind the back wrap-around passes leading to 360s and showing the same scoring clips from different angles. And it gets bonus points for a ridiculous soundtrack.
BEST SCENE: Duane Martin killing Bernie Mac in the playground. The head fake move that leaves Mac on his stomach works…I’ve used it.
2. Blue Chips
SUMMARY: Another classic film that got it right: get actual ball players to play ball players. Nick Nolte is fantastically bad as a typical, overbearing college coach, making the movie more believable with his every move. Similar to He Got Game, this film perfectly weaves in the corruption in amateur sports. It doesn’t let that override the film to the point where it isn’t realistic. Still, watching Butch McRae always makes me sad.
BEST SCENE: Nolte watching McRae destroy people in some tiny, 1945 church gym. First time I saw this scene, I rewound it more than a couple of times.
1. He Got Game
SUMMARY: Honestly, no other hoop flick deserves this spot. Denzel Washington. Spike Lee. Jesus. All three of these guys played their parts perfectly; Ray Allen may have had a few stiff moments, but also delivered some classic quotes. It perfectly mixes the temptations and accolades of what it means to be the best player in the country. Also, having actual NBA dudes gives it an authentic feel. This movie creates a sense of time perfectly with the XIIIs (“so you got the new Jordans I see?”) and all of the fawning of the country’s best college coaches.
BEST SCENE: The final one-on-one scene between Jesus and his father where Jesus literally locks him up and sends him back to jail. Cold-blooded, Ray.
Coming up next… Top 10 Best Basketball Documentaries Of All-Time.
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