From the world of sports to the great battles of old, everybody loves a good underdog story. When the odds are stacked against one who’s willing to put it all on the line, that’s when you can really feel the tension that hangs in the air of a crowded cinema.
These underdog stories are the modern David versus Goliath tales that have the power to make audiences sit with bated breath and hang on to see how things turn out. Whatever happens on screen can leave viewers elated to the heavens or utterly devastated.
It takes skill to pull off a film like this. Here are the best underdog movies of all time, where you’ll cheer for characters who pour their heart and soul into overcoming impossible odds.
On the surface, Remember The Titans might be a sports movie about a great football team that comes together to win in the end. That much is certainly true. But Remember The Titans is so much more than that.
The film follows the story of American football coach Herman Boone and the way he managed to unify his team against racial prejudice in the local community.
During the 1971 season, he took his team to a 13-0 undefeated championship, which made national news because of his integrated squad of high school players.
The film is a reminder that the fight for equality is always a struggle, but always one that’s worth the blood, sweat, and tears. The ever-reliable Denzel Washington is in top form as Coach Boone, while Will Patton’s performance as assistant coach Bill Yoast is a career best.
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Kingpin is one of the most underrated movies of the 1990s. It brought in modest revenue when it released in 1996, and was subsequently met with modest reviews. However, time has re-evaluated the film—and it has gone on to become a cult classic.
This story of a one-handed washed-up bowling prodigy and his dim-witted Amish protégé is as funny as anything you’re likely to see today. Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid put in solid performances, but Bill Murray as Ernie McCracken is iconic from start to finish.
The film leaves you with a real sense of satisfaction when the final credits begin rolling, and it doesn’t always take the obvious route in getting to that resolution. It’s genuinely affecting!
Based on a true story, Cool Runnings is the incredible tale of four young men from Jamaica who want a chance to go to the Olympic Games. After one of them fails to qualify for the 100-meter sprint, he sets his sights on qualifying for the Winter Olympics.
As inspirational stories go, Cool Runnings is chest-thumping. Not because anything unrealistic happens to this bobsled team from Jamaica, but because their sheer determination not to embarrass themselves—or their nation—comes across marvelously.
The whole film is anchored by the great John Candy’s final brilliant performance, plus a script that’s both funny and warm-hearted.
When Rocky won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1977, its monumental success led to all kinds of underdog movies in its wake. One of those iconic underdog movies was The Karate Kid.
Daniel-san’s story has the same DNA as the Rocky films, but it’s also uniquely its own. When Daniel LaRusso moves to a new school, he’s bullied by teenage Karate champion Johnny Lawrence. But when Daniel meets Mr. Miyagi, the pair embark on a fist-pumping journey.
The film wasn’t just a financial success. It also saw Pat Morita—who played Mr. Miyagi—nominated for an Oscar for his performance. The story is currently continuing on Netflix as Cobra Kai, a sequel series set 35 years after the original film.
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Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn’s brilliant movie about a gym that’s on the verge of being closed if it can’t earn $50,000 by month’s end is the stuff of comedy gold. While the plot points are predictable—and you can see where the movie will end from miles away—it doesn’t make the journey any less epic.
Ben Stiller’s White Goodman is the comedic villain we never knew we needed, while Vince Vaughn’s Peter LaFleur is the deadbeat hero we didn’t know we wanted. On top of all that, Rip Torn’s performance as coach Patches O’Houlihan steals the film.
It could so easily have been awful, but in the end the performances, the script, and the direction all came together perfectly.
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The sport of MMA (mixed martial arts) has become one of the world’s biggest spectator events in recent years due to the emergence of stars like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. To profit off of that, Hollywood came out with a new kind of sporting film.
Although Warrior exhibits the same tropes and platitudes of any film of its kind, it does have everything it needs to be a success: great direction, great writing, and top-notch performances.
Both Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are fantastic in Gavin O’Connor’s brilliant drama film about two estranged brothers who enter an MMA competition for the prize money. Nick Nolte was even nominated for an Oscar for his role as their father.
After Rocky Balboa, yet another sequel to the Rocky series just seemed unnecessary. After all, Rocky Balboa managed to end Rocky’s story on a high note and we didn’t need more. Except, we did.
Creed isn’t a strict sequel to the Rocky movies. It’s a different story that’s set in the same universe and manages to head down a new path that feels fresh and timely. When Donnie Creed—the illegitimate son of Apollo—decides to fight full-time, he seeks out Rocky’s help.
The premise sounds generic, but Ryan Coogler’s script and direction proved us all wrong. Michael B. Jordan is great as Donnie Creed, and Sylvester Stallone is perfect as an old Rocky who’d all but given up.
The film Invictus, named after the poem that Nelson Mandela so dearly loved, is an incredible story about South Africa’s triumph at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
It was the first sporting event that the country had hosted since it abandoned apartheid and elected Mandela as President. The team wasn’t expected to advance very far in the tournament, but they beat the New Zealand All Blacks in the finals—and that was a moment that helped unite the country in its post-apartheid era.
Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman are excellent in their roles, and both were nominated for Academy Awards. Invictus has aged well since its release in 2009, and the triumph of the film is that it captures a very important moment in South Africa’s history as a country.
As “true story” sport movies go, Moneyball is as miraculous as they come. Back in 2001, Billy Beane was the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. After a difficult season, he scoured the league for new players to join his team.
Instead, he encountered a young statistician whom he recruited to help him in building a competitive team. The pair ended up assembling a squad that achieved the longest winning run in baseball history.
The film is fantastic from start to finish, and the complex subject was wonderfully adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, who both saw Oscar nominations. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill also garnered Oscar nominations for their roles.
Rocky is THE king of underdog stories. The tale is a simple one of a low-ranked broke professional boxer who gets the shot of a lifetime by facing off against the Heavyweight Champion.
From there, the film is an emotional roller coaster that sees Sylvester Stallone’s most iconic character’s journey from street bum to genuine challenger. The greatest strength of Rocky is that he’s so likable as a person. He’s not a bad man; he’s just a victim of poverty.
Rocky saw Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, and Burt Young all receive Oscar nominations for their performances, and the film itself won Best Picture and Best Director for John G. Avildsen.