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Ten powerful sports stories based on real people and events

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Sports films have a way of moving an audience. Many of them tell an underdog story, but even with similar themes of overcoming obstacles and beating the odds, each film tells its own story. 

There are a slew of sports movies that are entirely fictional, but many are based on true events, with, of course, a Hollywood twist of fictional elements.  

In this roundup, you’ll find a handful of classic titles, as well as some that aren’t quite as mainstream but still tell powerful sports stories, based on real people. Even though all of these movies are based on real people and events, there are fictional elements mixed into these true stories. Some films follow the true events more closely than others. 

A scene from "Remember the Titans"

“Remember the Titans” is a sports movie based on the T.C. Williams High School football team.  (Buena Vista/Getty Images)

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  1. “Remember the Titans”
  2. “Rudy”
  3. “Radio”
  4. “My All American”
  5. “Raging Bull”
  6. “Miracle”
  7. “We Are Marshall”
  8. “Invincible”
  9. “Moneyball”
  10. “Greater”

1. “Remember the Titans”

No sports movie roundup is complete without “Remember the Titans.” 

The movie takes place in the ’70s, when an African American coach named Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) is hired to coach the T.C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia. His assistant coach, Bill Yoast (Will Patton), had been a favorite of the program for many years before Boone’s beginnings with the team.

The two men of different races must work together to lead their team to victory. The movie includes real-life people, including the coaches and a handful of players, like Gerry Bertier, as well as fictional characters and events. 

Football players in "Remember the Titans"

“Remember the Titans” came out in 2000 and has remained an extremely popular sports film based on true events.  (Buena Vista/Getty Images)

2. “Rudy” 

“Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” 

This movie is based on the life of Daniel Eugene Ruettiger, played by Sean Astin, who dreamed of playing football at the University of Notre Dame. 

Even though Rudy did have strong athletic abilities, his learning barriers and smaller size made it difficult to get into the highly esteemed university.

This is a great underdog story of hard work, perseverance, determination and never giving up on yourself and your dreams. 

This movie was released in 1993. Ruettiger has also penned two books, “Rudy’s Insights for Winning in Life” in 1999 and “Rudy: My Story” in 2012.

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There was also a documentary made about his life in 2018. 

3. “Radio” 

The 2003 movie “Radio” was inspired by James Robert “Radio” Kennedy. It is based on the 1996 Sport Illustrated article “Someone to Lean On” by Gary Smith. 

The film is about Kennedy, a man with an intellectual disability who frequently visits the football practices of the local football team, T.L. Hanna. 

The movie depicts the friendship between Kennedy and Harold Jones, who coaches the football team, as well as Kennedy’s importance to the team and the community. 

4. “My All American”

“My All American” tells the heart-wrenching true story of Freddie Steinmark. The movie is based on the book “Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story” by Jim Dent. 

In the film, Steinmark dreams of playing college football and refuses to let his smaller stature stand in his way. 

Steinmark embarks on a journey of playing football for the University of Texas at Austin. 

This movie tells of Steinmark’s time with the team and the devastating diagnosis that changes everything. 

5. “Raging Bull” 

“Raging Bull” is a widely popular sports movie based on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta. 

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This film was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Robert De Niro as LaMotta. 

De Niro earned an Oscar for his portrayal of LaMotta in the film. The movie was adapted from the 1970 memoir “Raging Bull: My Story.”

Robert De Niro in "Raging Bull"

“Raging Bull” is an Oscar-winning sports movie starring Robert De Niro. The film is based on the life of Jake LaMotta.  (Getty Images )

The 2005 film “Cinderella Man” is another popular boxing movie based on a true story. This film, which takes place during the Great Depression, is based on the life of James J. Braddock, played by Russell Crowe. 

6. “Miracle” 

This movie is based on the real life Herb Brooks, depicted by Kurt Russell in the film. 

“Miracle” is based on the true events of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team and their remarkable victory over the Soviet team. 

This Disney movie came out in 2004 and is a fan favorite. 

Another popular Disney sports movie is “The Rookie,” a film based on the life of Jim Morris, who joined MLB when he was 35 years old. 

7. “We Are Marshall”

“We Are Marshall” is a 2006 movie that tells the tragic true story about the plane crash of 1970. The crash killed 75 people, including 37 players of the Marshall University football team, eight coaches, 25 boosters and five flight crew members.

A new coach, Jack Lengyel, played by Matthew McConaughey, is hired to rebuild the program filled with tragedy and despair from all they’ve lost. 

8. “Invincible” 

“Invincible” is a 2006 movie starring Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale. 

This film follows Papale, a Philadelphia bartender facing a string of bad luck, who takes a chance by attending tryouts for the Philadelphia Eagles. 

9. “Moneyball” 

“Moneyball” is a 2011 movie based on the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis. 

 

This story follows Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. 

Brad Pitt at press conference for "Moneyball"

Brad Pitt stars in the 2011 sports movie “Moneyball.”  ( Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Beane must establish a winning team, with a tight budget standing in his way. 

10. “Greater” 

“Greater” is often compared to “Rudy.” The 2016 movie is based on Brandon Burlsworth. 

This inspirational story tells of Burlsworth beating the odds to earn his spot on the Arkansas Razorbacks. 

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