Successful sports movies often conjure an effect that’s similar to the experience of the real thing. Indeed, watching something like “Rocky” or “Any Given Sunday” for the first time is not all that different from viewing an actual boxing match or football game, respectively. Throw in a good underdog story and some time-tested filmmaking techniques and an already gripping situation becomes all the more so, with serious ticket sales numbers to show for it. (It didn’t hurt the success of the Rocky franchise that its creator and principal was Sylvester Stallone, one of the most popular action stars of all time.)
To determine the highest-grossing sports movies ever made, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from film industry site The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. Sports movies were ranked based on inflation-adjusted worldwide ticket sales as of March 6, 2023. Ticket sales figures were adjusted for inflation using historical ticket prices from the National Association of Theatre Owners. Data on ratings IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings are current as of March 2023. Cast credits are from IMDb.
While the majority of blockbuster sports movies focus on comebacks and competitions, the tone or style can shift wildly from one title to the next. Films such as “Major League” and “Caddyshack,” for example, feature traditional subgenre tropes but are mostly played for laughs. Compare that to “Creed” or “Remember the Titans,” which interweave intense personal struggles with epic showdowns and retain a primarily dramatic tone. (Some inspirational moments in such films count among the most movie speeches ever delivered in a movie.)
Then there are the movies that use sports as a recurring backdrop while arguably telling a largely character-driven story. Examples include everything from “Jerry Maguire” to “Field of Dreams” to “Heaven Can Wait.” It all goes to show that the sports movie subgenre is far more diverse than one might suspect.
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