Court Side Newspaper has crunched the numbers and produced a list of the 10 best basketball movies and basketball documentaries of all time. We combined the following criteria:
- Gross Box office revenue
- Rating by professional critics
- Rating by regular viewers
- Nominations and Awards
- Google search volume
- YouTube volume
However, using the above criteria was sometimes like comparing apples to oranges. Fiction movies can have famous actors to attract more publicity than a documentary. They also have bigger budgets and much more exposure. It matters if a movie is only released in a limited number of theatres, has a worldwide audience, or is only broadcasted on TV. Nevertheless, taking all the factors into account here is our Top 10 list of basketball movies and basketball documentaries:
10 – Once Brothers (2010)
The ESPN documentary “Once Brothers” had the highest ever review score (8.5) among basketball movies and documentaries (until The Last Dance aired)! It is also the only nominee on our list that focuses on non-American basketball (players).
Before there was a dream team, there was the Yugoslav national team. That team dominated Europe for decades and shaped international basketball. On the old continent, they were invincible. Eventually, the Yugoslav civil war tore that dream team apart and also destroyed many personal relationships. That is what this basketball documentary is all about. Most of all, the effect it had on two teammates and friends; Vlade Divac (Serb) and Drazen Petrovic (Croat).
While Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic did not personally fight in the war, they dealt with a battle in their life which tarnished their friendship. Their connection died permanently when Drazen Petrovic tragically passed away in a car accident in 1993. Therefore, the two former teammates and friends never had a chance to reconcile.
The “Once Brothers” documentary chronicles a deeper view of what war can do to someone. It also conveys the message to always appreciate everything in life because it can quickly vanish.
For those familiar with international basketball, and the tragedy of the Yugoslav civil war, this documentary had a huge emotional impact. It was one of the biggest tear-jerkers in the region of the former Yugoslavia.
The full reach of this basketball documentary remains unknown because it was not released in movie theaters around the world. Therefore, there is a lack of data to measure. It simply didn’t get the exposure that commercial basketball movies got.
Currently, Vlade Divac is the GM of the Sacramento Kings. Before that, he was the President of the Serbian Olympic Committee. Drazen Petrovic was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Both Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic are considered among the best European basketball players of all time.
9 – More Than a Game (2008)
More than a Game was another basketball documentary. It focused on the high school careers and the flashy performances of a young Lebron James and his teammates; Romeo Travis, Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, and Willie McGee. They played for St. Vincent-St. Mary High school basketball team (the Fighting Irish) and destroyed rival teams throughout Akron, Ohio. However, the Lebron James story also showed their championship loss at Roger Bacon High school.
Along with being a Lebron James documentary, it also depicts the life-long friendships between the players. Most of all, it shows the teammates fighting together with one goal in mind, and that was to win. Those viewers who are not typical basketball fans will nevertheless fall in love with this basketball documentary and admire the dedication and talent. More than a Game racked in four nominations, including an Image Award.
8 – He Got Game (1998)
Spike Lee produced the movie “He Got Game”, and included two stars in his cast. Actor Denzel Washington and NBA player Ray Allen. Denzel Washington played the character of Jake Shuttleworth, the father of Ray Allen’s character.
Jake Shuttleworth was serving many years in prison for murdering his wife. His son Jesus grew up as a fatherless teenage basketball prospect, who became a target after a prison ward gave his father Jake Shuttleworth a chance at freedom. In return, Jake Shuttleworth had to persuade his son to commit to the governor’s alma mater.
The Spike Lee basketball film captures the audience’s attention by depicting the excitement and intensity of the game, while also mentioning the exploitation that goes with it. The movie demonstrated the societal issues in the inner city such as domestic violence, fatherless teenagers, and many other subplots. The “He Got Game” cast helped the movie earn ten award nominations. However, the Spike Lee basketball movie never gained any award titles. Nevertheless, despite everything, this is one of the best-known basketball movies of all time.
7 – White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
White Men Can’t Jump flirts with racial stereotypes and centers around a white player who is constantly underestimated. Woody Harrelson played the leading role of Billy. He attracts the partnership of Sidney (played by Wesley Snipes). While swindling others, Billy also had to continue to remain on his wife’s good side. A character portrayed by Rosie Perez.
The “White Men Can’t Jump” cast surpassed rigorous training and competition on the basketball court, prior to earning their roles. The director of this basketball comedy movie, Ron Shelton, weeded out actors who did not play up to par on the court. As a result, high-profile actors such as Keanu Reeves were ultimately rejected because of their lack of basketball skills.
Ron Shelton’s movie received a rather meager review but became an international success. Consequently, the film grossed one of the highest revenues among basketball movies. A significant part of that revenue was generated outside the US.
6 – Hoosiers (1986)
The Hoosiers had hundreds of hopefuls audition for the movie. The producers finally chose Gene Hackman to play the leading role as coach Norman Dale. His character had a chance to revamp his coaching career after failing at the collegiate level. Coach Norman Dale is hired at a high school in Indiana but struggles to build a winning team. In addition, he faces enduring criticism for his character and choices.
The name “Hoosiers” in this hoops movie, refers to a native of Indiana. Hoosiers became a fan favorite and was labeled as a film “with all heart” upon its release. The Hoosiers basketball movie eventually snagged a couple of Oscar nominations and was also nominated for a Golden Globe.
This old basketball movie became such a hit that upon its 30-year anniversary, the Indiana Pacers vowed to wear the Hickory inspired uniform during the 2015-2016 NBA season to pay homage to the film.
5 – Coach Carter (2005)
The basketball movie depicted the actions coach Ken Carter did to whip his players into shape. Physically and academically. Ken Carter put the players through tough regulations which led to the success that lived-out after graduation.
The “Coach Carter” movie brought the reality that young adults growing up in the inner city face daily, such as teenage pregnancy. Professional critics trashed the movie and even viewers gave a mediocre rating. Nevertheless, the gross revenue is among the top 3 basketball movies. Furthermore, it was nominated for various awards 15 times, and ultimately won three of them. Those numbers don’t lie. Ken Carter and the players’ legacy continues to live on in the city of Richmond.
4 – Hoop Dreams (1994)
The basketball documentary Hoop Dreams followed the life of Arthur Agee and William Gates, two talented teenage basketball players. They tried to make it out of the inner city of Chicago and eventually join the pros. Ultimately, their dreams fell through. Arthur Agee rejected a contract with the CBA’s Connecticut Pride and William Gates fell short of the dream due to his constant injuries.
Hoop Dreams is one of the most influential sports documentaries ever created. It has received the highest rating ever by professional critics (98). Also, it earned the third-highest review score (8.3) among basketball movies and documentaries. To everybody’s surprise, the Hoop Dreams documentary was snubbed by the Academy Awards committee. It created such chaos and outrage that the committee was later forced to alter the nomination process for the future.
The Arthur Agee and William Gates story was originally intended to be released on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) network but was released in theaters instead. Hoop Dreams continues to hold the most nominations (28) and wins (21) in awards history for sports documentaries and movies!
3 – Love and Basketball (2000)
Love and Basketball chronicled the life of the lead characters, Monica and Quincy. The movie is divided into four segments/quarters in reference to a basketball game. It depicted the story of a couple who shared their love for each other and the game of basketball. Actors Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps had already developed chemistry before going onset because they were in a relationship prior to auditioning for this film.
During the auditioning process, the Love and Basketball actors were put through demanding levels of performance. The height of Omar Epps was an issue (5’10 or 177 cm) and so was the lack of basketball skills by Sanaa Lathan, who had never played basketball before. The producer, Gina Prince-Bythewood, hired basketball coaches for the actors. She initially preferred a skilled female basketball player (maybe even a professional) for the female lead role. Sanaa Lathan had no skills and was constantly put through a rigorous auditioning process. In the end, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s husband helped her make the decision on the female lead role. He asked a simple question; was this going to be a basketball film or a romance?
Eventually, Sanaa Lathan got the role and was nominated for various awards. In fact, both Love and Basketball actors gained much attention and were nominated and surpassed the competition with many awards. Search terms on Google and Youtube that are related to Love and Basketball generate more queries than all other basketball movies and documentaries.
2 – Space Jam (1996)
This partly animated film combined two legends, Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny. The idea was initially turned down when it was pitched at Warner Bros. In addition, professional critics shredded the movie and they gave one of the lowest scores ever. Regular viewers weren’t that thrilled either. Despite all this, Space Jam went on to become the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time! Furthermore, the soundtrack also ranks among the best basketball songs of all time.
Michael Jordan came out of retirement and rejoined the Chicago Bulls during the filming and release of the Space Jam movie. The movie depicted the Looney Tunes and their Cinderella story. They faced the Nerdlucks who (also known as the Monstars) were bigger and stronger than the Looney Tunes. Therefore, the Bugs Bunny’s team found themselves desperately seeking the help of Michael Jordan.
The Looney Tunes team had to compete and dominate the Nerdlucks in a basketball game to have their freedom from Swackhammer. He was the owner of Moron Mountain and wanted to manipulate and enslave the Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan.
1 – The Last Dance (2020)
The Last Dance is a docuseries that provides an in-depth look at the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty through the lens of the final championship season in 1997-98.
Above all, this basketball documentary shows Michael Jordan’s career with the Bulls and is packed with exclusive footage. The film crew had an all-access pass to the Bulls, and ESPN interviewed more than 100 people, including Michael Jordan himself.
The docuseries aired on April 19, 2020, during a time when almost all of the sports world had come to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic and much of the planet was in lockdown.
Barney Ronay described the documentary as follows:
The Last Dance is a sensationally good sports film. The storytelling is thrillingly detailed, and performative too. The beauty of basketball lies in its interlocking details, the way players, skills, tactics, and backstories elide in a snapshot, creating that dizzyingly rich athletic ballet. This is what the series gives you: a lavish, beautifully constructed courtside seat. It is, whatever else, a love letter to its sport.
Millions of people around the world watched this basketball documentary through Netflix, and it got high ratings everywhere. But there was also some criticism. Scottie Pippen did not like the way he was portrayed in the docuseries, and Horace Grant also had some critical remarks.
Some say that this wasn’t a basketball documentary but the idealized biography of a saint. After all, Jordan had full editorial control.
But to millions of fans around the world that doesn’t matter. The last dance made headlines everywhere, which proved that it was far more than just some sports documentary on Netflix. Just like Michael Jordan himself was always much more than just a basketball superstar. He was a global phenomenon and a cultural icon.