The 15 Best Underdog Movies of All Time, Ranked

Few movies are as inspirational as the ones where disadvantaged heroes win against all odds. Check out our favorite underdog movies!
The 15 Best Underdog Movies of All Time, Ranked

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Everyone loves a good underdog story, whether it's about a rag-tag sports team or an ancient hero of old. 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 as a film unfolds.

Underdog movies are the modern David versus Goliath tales that have the power to make us sit with bated breath and hang on to see how things turn out. Whatever happens on screen can leave us elated to the heavens or utterly devastated. It takes skill to pull off a film like this.

Here are my picks for the best underdog movies of all time, where you'll cheer for characters who pour their hearts and souls into overcoming the impossible.

15. Dumb Money (2023)

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Starring Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Vincent D'Onofrio

Biography, Comedy, Drama (1h 45m)

6.9 on IMDb84% on RT

Dubbed the Gen Z version of The Big Short in which memes replace cutaways of Margot Robbie in a bathtub, Dumb Money is about a regular guy who turns his skills of financial analysis into funny YouTube videos. Who knew talking about stocks could be so entertaining?

His channel, called Roaring Kitty, eventually blows up and earns Keith Gill (played by Paul Dano in the film) more than $11 million, which sets off alarm bells on Wall Street.

Seth Rogen, Shailene Woodley, Pete Davidson, America Ferrera, and Nick Offerman also star in this nerd-turned-millionaire comedy-drama, which just so happens to be a true story.

You can still watch the real Roaring Kitty videos on YouTube to compare with Paul Dano's re-enactments. Who knows what other YouTuber biopics are to follow? Zoella? PewDiePie? Oh, I hope not.

14. Kingpin (1996)

Directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly

Starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Bill Murray

Comedy, Sport (1h 54m)

6.9 on IMDb49% on RT

Kingpin is one of the most underrated movies of the 1990s. It took 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.

Kingpin 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!

13. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Vince Vaughn

Comedy, Sport (1h 32m)

6.7 on IMDb71% on RT

Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn's brilliant movie about a gym on the verge of closing down if it can't earn $50,000 by month's end is the stuff of comedy gold. Yeah, Dodgeball is a bona fide classic.

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 I never knew I needed, while Vince Vaughn's Peter LaFleur is the deadbeat hero I didn't know I 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. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story certainly lives up to its title.

12. Next Goal Wins (2023)

Directed by Taika Waititi

Starring Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana

Comedy, Drama, Sport (1h 44m)

6.5 on IMDb44% on RT

Taika Waititi is the perfect director for oddball comedy-dramas, from Jojo Rabbit to Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Next Goal Wins isn't his highest-rated movie, but its still a fun ride that's carried by star Michael Fassbender.

One could even say the film's poorly scattered narrative reflects its underdog characters, as the hapless American Samoa soccer team was once the laughingstock of the world.

Why? Because the players ended up beating the wrong kind of world record when they scored the largest official loss in soccer history. How bad was it? A whopping 31–0 against Australia.

Next Goal Wins depicts the aftermath of their colossal failure when US soccer coach Thomas Rongen trained the American Samoas not to win but to simply score. This subsequently earned them a place in the FIFA World Ranking and a place in viewers' hearts.

11. Cool Runnings (1993)

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Starring John Candy, Leon, Doug E. Doug

Adventure, Comedy, Family (1h 38m)

7.0 on IMDb76% on RT

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. When one of them fails to qualify for the 100-meter sprint, he sets his sights on qualifying for the Winter Olympics instead.

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.

10. The Karate Kid (1984)

Directed by John G. Avildsen

Starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue

Action, Drama, Family (2h 6m)

7.3 on IMDb89% on RT

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 (played by Ralph Macchio) moves to a new school, he's bullied by teenage karate champion Johnny Lawrence (played by William Zabka). But when Daniel meets Mr. Miyagi (played by Pat Morita), the pair embark on a fist-pumping journey together.

The Karate Kid wasn't just a financial success. It also saw Pat Morita nominated for an Oscar for his performance!

The story was eventually continued on Netflix as Cobra Kai, a sequel series set 35 years after the original film. Oh, there's also the 2010 remake with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith! It was surprisingly good.

9. Warrior (2011)

Directed by Gavin O'Connor

Starring Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton

Action, Drama, Sport (2h 20m)

8.1 on IMDb84% on RT

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 sports 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 great performances.

Both Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are fantastic in Gavin O'Connor's brilliant drama 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!

8. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman

Drama, Sport (2h 12m)

8.1 on IMDb90% on RT

A struggling Los Angeles waitress with a dream, Maggie (played by Hilary Swank) rocks up to a dingy-looking gym in search of a boxing trainer. Before she can prove to the world she has what it takes to become a WBA fighter, she has to prove it to her own coach.

Director and star Clint Eastwood plays the gym owner who initially rejects Maggie on the grounds that "girly tough ain't enough" but eventually becomes her guide to the big leagues.

Eating food scraps off customer plates isn't exactly the makeup of a champion, but Maggie shows that her gender, age, and income shouldn't make her the underdog. The only thing that actually stops her is... well... you'll have to watch the film to find out!

7. Invictus (2009)

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge

Action, Adventure, Biography (2h 14m)

7.3 on IMDb76% on RT

The film Invictus—named after the poem that Nelson Mandela so dearly loved—depicts the incredible story of South Africa's triumph at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. It was the first sporting event 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.

6. Legally Blonde (2001)

Directed by Robert Luketic

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair

Comedy, Romance (1h 36m)

6.4 on IMDb71% on RT

Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) is a favorite of feminist cinema as she verifies that, yes, you can be both pretty and smart and it's possible to enjoy both fashion and law.

Her pink wardrobe, handbag chihuahua, and ditsy blonde stereotype don't stop Elle from getting into Harvard, boasting an impressive 4.0 GPA, and scoring 179 points on the admission test.

Even with these stats, people still assume the worst of Elle. Her SoCal-Gemini-vegetarian personality does not bode well with the snobby, anti-social East Coasters, who frequently mock her intellect. Jokes on them! Elle's knowledge of hair perm chemicals comes in clutch in court.

5. Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Directed by James Mangold

Starring Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal

Action, Biography, Drama (2h 32m)

8.1 on IMDb92% on RT

Ford v Ferrari is a different kind of sports drama. The contestants here don't actually do much moving around; they just drive really fast.

By 1963, Ferrari had long been established as the top-dog racing car line. Ford may have been the first famous car manufacturer—revolutionizing engineering with the creation of the assembly line—but they weren't exactly known for their speed.

As the underdog of the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans race, Ford hires American designer Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon) and British driver Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale) to secure victory in 90 days.

When ordered to "go to war," the two men gladly take on the challenge of beating all odds on the race track.

4. Moneyball (2011)

Directed by Bennett Miller

Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Biography, Drama, Sport (2h 13m)

7.6 on IMDb94% on RT

As far 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.

Moneyball is awesome from start to finish, and the complex subject was wonderfully adapted for the big screen by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, who both got Oscar nominations. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill also earned Oscar nominations for their roles.

3. Spotlight (2015)

Directed by Tom McCarthy

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams

Biography, Crime, Drama (2h 9m)

8.1 on IMDb97% on RT

Spotlight is the kind of high-caliber film that you'd think is worthy of Best Picture but isn't loud enough or glamorous enough to actually win it. Except, this one actually did! Against the sweeping Leonardo DiCaprio epic The Revenant, no less.

But Tom McCarthy's poignant journalism drama wasn't just an award circuit underdog. It told an underdog (true) story, too!

The "Spotlight" investigative team of The Boston Globe is shunned to the basement to do the newspaper's dirty work. Instead of glittery celebrity headlines, the writers of the Spotlight team tackle a more difficult case: child sexual abuse amongst Catholic Church priests.

Naturally, the Church tries to snuff them out but the team pushes through, determined to uncover the whole, horrifying picture.

Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Brian d'Arcy James comprise the cast of dogged journalists who are unafraid to face down the big guys on top.

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller

Drama (1h 43m)

7.9 on IMDb85% on RT

"Wallflower" is practically a synonym for underdog, with Charlie (intimately humanized by Logan Lerman in his career-defining role) admitting to his friends that "I didn't think anyone noticed me."

Charlie is a shy bookworm and a sensitive poet. Not qualities that'll get you far up the food chain in high school! Luckily, he's discovered by a new group of friends in his freshman year, like a shiny pebble in the sand of bullies, jocks, and populars.

Befriending this new gang of "misfit toys" allows Charlie to flourish and emerge from his shell... until they all leave for college and his skeletons come creeping back out the closet.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is so authentic, impactful, and pure-feeling in tone, narrative, character, soundtrack, and cinematography because it was directed by the author of the original book, Stephen Chbosky!

1. Rocky (1976)

Directed by John G. Avildsen

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young

Drama, Sport (2h)

8.1 on IMDb92% on RT

Rocky is THE king of underdog movies. 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.