The NCAA March Madness tournament remains one of the most popular sporting events. Sixty-eight teams compete for a shot at the National Championship game each year.
The American Gaming Association predicted that 45 million Americans would bet on the tournament in 2022. That figure represented over $3 billion in betting volume through legal sportsbooks.
In contrast, the AGA estimated that 50 million Americans would bet on the Super Bowl. The big game might have drawn a whopping $16 billion in wagers.
Sports play a massive role in U.S. culture.
Since 1915 when Charlie Chaplin starred in the silent movie The Champion, Hollywood has released hundreds if not thousands of sports-themed films.
Watching memorable basketball movies is a great way to get hyped up for March Madness.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the best basketball films to watch during the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament.
List of Basketball Films
Hollywood movies with plots that center around basketball began as far back as 1927. Two films in the 1950s brought the Harlem Globetrotters to light. Based on a novel and Broadway play, the 1960 movie Tall Story saw Jane Fonda in her first screen role.
There were only a dozen basketball movies in the 70s and 80s. One film in the early 1990s brought basketball to the forefront of American cinema.
White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Ron Shelton wrote and directed White Men Can’t Jump, released by 20th Century Fox in March 1992. With a budget of $31 million, the film grossed $90.8 million at the box office.
It stars Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as basketball hustlers.
Billy Hoyle (Harrelson) is a former college basketball player who pretends he can’t play because he’s white. Billy pairs with Sidney Deane (Snipes) to hustle other players and even each other.
The movie also centers around gambling. Later in 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), legislation that made sports gambling illegal, became law.
PASPA was repealed in 2018 by the Supreme Court, leading to one of the largest gambling booms in U.S. history. Sports betting began to thrive, with more than half the county offering some form of legal gambling.
There are also plenty of reputable offshore options. You can check out the latest March Madness betting odds at your favorite online sportsbook.
Space Jam (1996)
Michael Jordan starred in one of the most successful basketball movies of all time, Space Jam. Composed of a team of writers, Joe Pytka directed the animated sports comedy.
Looney Tunes characters seek Jordan’s help to save them from an invading alien species.
With a budget of $80 million, the film generated $250 million at the box office worldwide.
That made it the highest-grossing basketball film in history.
He Got Game (1998)
Written and directed by Spike Lee, He Got Game stars Denzel Washington as Jake Shuttlesworth. Out on parole, Jake, in prison for accidentally killing his wife, gets a chance at a reduced sentence.
Jake gets tasked with convincing his son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), one of the country’s most sought-after high school basketball players, to play for the governor’s former university, Big State.
The film could have been a financial success at the box office.
Instead, it offered a viewpoint on how playing professional basketball helps to lift young black men out of poverty.
Finding Forrester (2000)
Directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), Finding Forrester is another drama with basketball at the center of the plot. Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) chooses basketball with friends in the Bronx over excelling at academics.
After getting dared by his friends to sneak into the home of William Forrester (Sean Connery), a reclusive writer, the two become friends.
Jamal gets offered a full academic scholarship to attend a prestigious private school in Manhattan.
He must also join the school’s basketball team (with Forrester as his secret writing instructor).
Coach Carter (2005)
Samuel L. Jackson stars in Coach Carter, a biographical story about real-life high school basketball coach Ken Carter. Carter suspended his entire undefeated team for their low academic standings.
The movie also stars Ashanti and Channing Tatum.
Released in January 2005, the film grossed $76 million worldwide.
In the world of film, sports movies fall under categories like drama, comedy, romance, and documentary. The NBA peaked in popularity between 1979 and 1998, generating some of Hollywood’s most popular sports films.
They include Hoosiers (1986), Above the Rim (1994), Celtic Pride (1996), and Air Bud (1997).
A rise in famous players like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James continued to draw large audiences beyond the 2000s.
Starring Will Ferrell and Woody Harrelson, Semi-Pro (2008) offered a humorous take on the sport—even if the movie became a flop. The basketball film Hustle (2022), starring Adam Sandler, saw a Netflix release, a new trend in the genre.
What’s your most memorable basketball movie to watch during March Madness?