Top 10 Sports Movies Where the Team Loses
VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
WRITTEN BY: Timothy MacAusland
So close and yet so far. For this list, we'll be looking at the endings of sports movies wherein the protagonists do not ultimately emerge victorious. Our countdown includes “A League of Their Own”, "Friday Night Lights", "Cool Runnings", and more!
Top 10 Sports Movies Where the Team Loses
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Sports Movies Where the Team Loses.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the endings of sports movies wherein the protagonists do not ultimately emerge victorious. And even though it’s in the title, films don’t have to center on team sports to merit inclusion, so singles sports like boxing are fair game. Naturally, this list is going to be one giant spoiler, so you have been warned.
What sports movie loss was the most devastating for you? Lament in the comments.
#10: “A League of Their Own” (1992)
As we’ll see with many entries on this list, the final game of “A League of Their Own” is about as close as can be. This fictionalized retelling of the inaugural season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League follows the Rockford Peaches - led by Geena Davis’s superstar catcher Dottie Hinson - as they push the Racine Belles to a decisive Game 7. In it, Dottie gets the go-ahead RBI in the top of the ninth against her sister Kit. Kit, forever in the shadow of her sister, gets the chance to redeem herself by miraculously hustling for an inside-the-park home run. The throw beats her to the plate, but the collision knocks the ball out of Dottie’s glove, sealing the championship for the Belles.
#9: “Mystery, Alaska” (1999)
Something else we’ll be seeing on this list are small, upstart squads that come out of nowhere to challenge the big dogs. And it doesn’t get any more nowhere than the fictional town of Mystery, Alaska, where the propensity for quality, amateur hockey draws the interest of major-league talent. Mystery manages to get the New York Rangers of the NHL to fly in for an exhibition game. Though they at one point surrender five straight goals, the Mystery boys storm back in the final minutes. They line up the game-tying shot, but the puck ultimately bangs off the crossbar as time expires. Though defeated, Mystery proves they belong on the same ice, and two of their stars even get inducted into New York’s farm system.
#8: “Whip It” (2009)
We’ve all had to navigate schedule conflicts, but usually the conflicting things aren’t a beauty pageant and roller derby. However, that’s exactly the position the teenaged Bliss is faced with at the end of “Whip It.” Though Bliss would rather compete at the roller derby championship, pressure from Bliss’ domineering mother forces the teenager to do the other. Compassion wins the day, however, as Bliss’ father convinces his wife that their child’s happiness is the most important thing. Again donning the moniker “Babe Ruthless,” Bliss and the rest of the Hurl Scouts come close to victory, but more importantly come together as a team. Just like the beginning of the film, we’re again inspired by their positive postgame attitude.
#7: “Friday Night Lights” (2004)
There’s the old adage that says football is a game of inches, and never is that more evident than at the end of “Friday Night Lights.” Though the film veers a good deal from the real events upon which it is based, what transpires on screen makes for truly exciting drama. Playing in front of 55,000 for the state championship, the Permian Panthers are initially severely outmatched against the much larger Dallas Carter Cowboys. In proper sports movie fashion, an inspiring halftime speech gives Permian the drive they need to claw back in the game. It all comes down to the last play, as Permian scrambles to find the endzone. When the dust settles, it’s revealed they came just inches short. Absolutely devastating.
#6: “Kingpin” (1996)
We move over to singles sports now with this comedic cult classic. Years after losing his right hand, bowling phenom Roy Munson looks to reclaim his shot at glory by coaching Amish prospect Ishmael to a $1 million jackpot at a tournament in Reno. As fate would have it, however, Ishmael breaks his hand in a freak wall-punching accident. With Ishmael in his corner, it’s instead Roy who enters the tournament, using his rubber, prosthetic hand to get the job done. We don’t quite know how that works, but Roy manages to bowl his way into the final against the man responsible for his injury. Roy has a lead in the final frame, but McCracken bowls three strikes in a row to win by a single pin.
#5: “Bring It On” (2000)
Even in competition, there are more important things than winning, such as the respect for one’s self and one’s opponent. In “Bring It On,” the Rancho Carne Toros cheer squad must rediscover that respect upon learning their previous routines were lifted from those of the East Compton Clovers squad. Newly appointed captain Torrance Shipman looks to rectify her predecessor’s cheating ways, but there are some serious speed bumps along the way. At nationals, the new-look Toros ultimately cede their titles to the Clovers. However, now that the Toros have an identity of their own, the two squads are able to overcome their strife and come together in the spirit of friendly competition.
#4: “Tin Cup” (1996)
Winning a title certainly puts you in the record books, but it’s the individual moments that people remember. Case in point, no one thought Roy McAvoy would be in contention for the U.S. Open in 1996’s “Tin Cup,” but it wasn’t his final score that shocked them. When faced with the same shot on the 18th hole he missed the last three days, Roy forgoes his lead and goes for it again, only for it to land squarely in the water once more. Rather than press on and accept the tie, Roy goes for it continuously, miraculously managing to get it in the hole on his last ball. Despite Roy losing handily, his love interest Molly puts it best in describing what he’s achieved.
#3: “Cool Runnings” (1993)
“Cool Runnings” is another biographical sports film that fudges the truth for the sake of suspense, but we’re not going to let that keep us from cheering. Fact or fiction, an Olympic bobsled team from Jamaica is a Cinderella story just by getting to the big dance, let alone actually contending. However, the dramatization in this Disney classic certainly made us believe. Maybe not on their first day, but definitely on their second. On the last run, the Jamaicans look poised to finish in record time, but tragedy strikes when their sled crashes. Unscathed and undeterred, the bobsledders carry their sled across the finish line on foot, their determination more than earning a slow clap.
#2: “The Bad News Bears” (1976)
When it comes to sports movies, there’s no zeros-to-heroes story quite like “The Bad News Bears.” The pee-wee Bears are the definition of hopeless team, forfeiting their first game before they even get the chance to bat. Yet somehow, with a roster of misfits and a drunken coach, they’re able to turn their season around in a hurry. Okay, okay, and with the help of a couple of ringers, which are staples in the sports movie genre. Though the Bears have a title victory in their sights, Coach Buttermaker rightly realizes winning isn’t everything and subs in his benchwarmers so everyone can have fun. The Bears of course lose, but they certainly celebrate like they won with beer showers.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“North Dallas Forty” (1979)
Dallas Fumbles What Would’ve Been a Game-Tying PAT
“Eddie the Eagle” (2016)
His Landing Isn’t Pretty, but at Least He Recovers
“Coach Carter” (2005)
They Lost in the Playoffs, but Won in School
The A’s Won 20 in a Row but Still Lost 3 Out of 5 in the Playoffs
#1: “Rocky” (1976)
This Best Picture winner from 1976 will likely go down as the definitive sports movie and what people think of when protagonists lose at the end of one. The ultimate underdog, Rocky Balboa, an ostensible nobody from the streets of Philadelphia, is granted a match against heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed. Pure and simple, nobody expects Rocky to contend, but he sees it as an opportunity to make something out of himself. He trains, trains, and trains some more, and his tenacity ensures he only loses to Creed via a split decision, though he could hardly care less. It’s such a memorable outcome that the franchise replicated it in later installments “Rocky Balboa” and “Creed.”