By Max Lark
There’s no question sports are back. With the National Football League and college football seasons underway, Major League Baseball beginning post-season play this week, National Basketball Association Finals already in progress, the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup just won by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and international tennis, golf, and soccer competitions at fever pitch around the world, sports fans everywhere are relishing the return of their favorite teams and players. If watching your favorite matchups on ESPN+, ABC, and ESPN still leaves your inner sports fan wanting more, there is plenty of great cinematic sporting fare on Disney+ to keep you happy between sports jousts (including a few movies celebrating anniversaries this month). Here are 11 great sports movies on Disney+ every sports fan should watch (or watch again)!
The Mighty Ducks (1992)
Quack! Quack! Quack! Sports fans love underdogs (under-ducks?), and on October 1, 1992, Emilio Estevez and a cast of relatively unknown kid-actors hit the ice in the ultimate underdog story. The Mighty Ducks was the surprise hit of 1992, launching a trio of films, an animated TV series, and even a professional hockey team, the Anaheim Ducks. Estevez stars as hard-hitting trial lawyer Gordon Bombay, who gets in trouble with the law and is slapped with a community service assignment of coaching a disastrously bad kids’ hockey team. And although Bombay’s past experience as a win-at-all-cost youth-league hockey player (and lawyer) seem, at first, to be exactly what this losing team needs, he soon learns that some things are more important than winning. The film launched the careers of many of its young actors, including Joshua Jackson, who went on to star in Dawson’s Creek, Fringe, Urban Legend, and Cruel Intentions; Aaron Schwartz, who also starred in the film Heavyweights; and Elden Henson, who became a fan favorite in Marvel’s Daredevil and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 and Part 2. The success of the film led to the release of more Mighty Ducks fun, also available on Disney+.
D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
Riding high on the success of The Mighty Ducks, Estevez returns as coach Bombay, who brings back “the Flying V” for another round of on-the-ice comedy and madcap fun. This time, he gathers the Ducks together for a trip the Junior Goodwill Games in California for another edge-of-your-seat overtime showdown.
D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996)
For the third and final film in The Mighty Ducks trilogy, also celebrating an October anniversary, the ragtag Ducks team grows up and receives scholarships to a prestigious prep school, where they face off against the pretentious varsity team. Audiences, of course, are given much to cheer about as the Mighty Ducks prove once and for all why they are one of the most beloved hockey teams on film.
Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series (1996)
Disney’s Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series is a wholly different adventure about a band of hockey-loving ducks who fight back against the sinister Dragaunus and his plans to take over Puckworld. They form a hockey team, the Mighty Ducks, and build a secret base to protect Earth from Dragaunus’ sinister plans.
Cool Runnings (1993)
The idea of a competitive Jamaica bobsled team has the makings of comedy and movie gold, but the fact that it’s based on a true story makes this film a true family gem. Giving the film extra poignancy is the fact that it also happens to be one of the final onscreen appearances of beloved comedy legend John Candy—and the last movie released during his lifetime. Based on the true story of the Jamaica national bobsleigh team’s debut in competition at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the film, out 27 years ago this month, landed clearly in the hearts of audiences and critics alike. As can be expected, pulling together a team from the warm-weather paradise of Jamaica to compete at the highest level of winter-weather sports is no easy task, but Candy’s character, Irving Blitzer, is up for the challenge, even if the world thinks it can’t be done. We won’t spoil the ending for you, but rest assured that the film never disappoints and is about a whole lot more than coming in first place—and its heart-stealing final scenes will have you hitting rewind again and again.
Remember the Titans (2000)
When young Black coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), new to Alexandria, Virginia, is hired as head coach of the T.C. Williams High Titans over Bill Yost, a white man with several years seniority, the pair learns to work with each other and discovers they have a lot more in common than just football. One of the best movies about football ever made, Remember the Titans features realistic gridiron action, an unforgettable performance by Denzel Washington, an impossibly undersized outside linebacker played by Ryan Gosling, and a moving storyline that will have you shouting “Remember the Titans!” as the end credits roll.
The Big Green (1995)
The dusty town of Elma, Texas. Kids and parents alike don’t seem to be going anywhere, until a British schoolteacher, Anna Montgomery (Olivia D’Abo), arrives and proceeds to shake things up. She introduces her students to football—football as the world knows it, that is, soccer—and proceeds to transform what begins as an athletically challenged group of quirky characters into a formidable team of giant slayers. The accent is on comedy in The Big Green and the movie reminds you of all the bad teams that you played on as a kid but how much fun it was to play together.
The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)
Golf movies hold a special place in the hearts of any human being who has had the courage—or stupidity—to pick up a mashie, a niblick, or a mashie-niblick (i.e., golf clubs). There’s something so spiritual about the sport, so enigmatic (ask former pro golfer David Duval, who went from No. 1 in the world and winning the Open Championship in 2001 to never winning a tournament again) that fans love to watch golf movies, if only to understand what makes the sport so intriguing, beautiful, and utterly frustrating. The Greatest Game Ever Played is one of those special films that golfers everywhere love to talk about. It tells the true story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf), a former caddy, who won the U.S. Open at age 20, assisted by his 10-year-old caddy, Eddie. It’s inspiring enough to make you pick up the old clubs—or forget that dumb idea and sit back and watch the movie again!
Johnny Tsunami (1999)
Everyone wishes they had a grandfather as rad as Johnny Tsunami is in the Disney Channel Original Movie of the same name. Johnny Tsunami tells the story of Johnny Kapahala, a teen surfing prodigy in Hawai‘i who is forced to move to Vermont when his father scores a new job, leaving his grandfather, Johnny Tsunami, behind in Hawai‘i. In Vermont, outsider Kapahala gets embroiled in a rivalry between the Skies—local prep school skiers—and the Urchins—public school snowboarders. Eventually, Johnny Tsunami rejoins the family in Vermont and resolves the conflict and teaches his grandson how to harness his competitive spirit and unleash his prodigious athletic abilities.
The Game Plan (2007)
If Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is in a movie, it’s pretty much a must-watch, and The Game Plan proves that theory again. He plays Joe Kingman, a self-indulgent professional quarterback who has everything he always wanted—cool digs, supermodel girlfriend, immense athletic talent—who one day is shocked to find an 8-year-old girl, Peyton, at the door of his über-cool bachelor pad, informing him she is his daughter. Over the course of a football season, Joe learns that the only game that really matters has nothing to do with touchdowns, but with winning the heart of the one little fan who matters most.
Glory Road (2006)
Just about anyone who loves the sport and didn’t attend the school pretty much dislikes the University of Kentucky basketball team. They have this somewhat obnoxious habit of winning almost every game they play. That gives Glory Road, not that it needs it, an extra bounce of likeability, because it tells the inspiring true story of perennial underdog the Texas Western Miners, coached by passionately dedicated coach Dan Haskins (played with relentless conviction by Josh Lucas), who in 1966, fielded an all-Black team that won the NCAA tournament, vanquishing the all-white University of Kentucky Wildcats. It’s an inspiring story that’s as relevant today as it was in 1966.
Disney Legend Kurt Russell plays hockey coach Herb Brooks, who at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, fielded a ragtag squad of elite wannabes who would eventually go on to win the gold medal in men’s hockey. To do so, they had to vanquish a juggernaut Soviet Union team, gold medal winners in the previous four Winter Olympics, a squad still thought of today as the greatest international hockey team of all time. If you were old enough to watch this event unfold live on television (ahem), the movie always sparks warm nostalgia; if you never saw the game, you have to watch this retelling of one of the most miraculous sports events of all time.
Double Dribble (1946)
While most sports movies immortalize and celebrate the virtues of sport, the Disney animated short Double Dribble skewers sports’ idiosyncrasies by depicting a college basketball game between U.U. and its thousands of assembled fans, and P.U., who only has one fan in the arena, Goofy. The game, played by Goofy look-alikes, proceeds in ludicrous fashion, spotlighting the cheating players and the semi-blind referee missing all the calls. We won’t reveal who wins this titanic struggle, but players’ names—including Hannah and Lounsbery—were inside jokes and based on the short’s director, Disney Legend Jack Hannah, and animator, Disney Legend, and member of the “Nine Old Men,” John Lounsbery.
The Rookie (2002)
Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks) hits another one out of the park with The Rookie, which tells the story of Jim Morris (as an adult played by Dennis Quaid), who is robbed of a professional career in baseball by injury and who is now a high school teacher and baseball coach in Big Lake, Texas. His team makes a deal with Morris; if they win the district championship, coach has to try out with a big-league team. When the team goes from worst to first, Morris gets a try out, dazzles the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with his fastball, and earns a minor-league contract. The Rookie remains a powerful story about never giving up on your dreams (and Dennis Quaid looks like he can really pitch!).