Hustle: 10 sports movies based on true stories

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by Netflix Hustle is so good that many people think the fictional Stanley Sugerman and Bo Cruz are based on real sports personalities, but that’s not the case. Even though their characters are totally made up, their storyline vividly reflects the real world of basketball.

Some sports films are so easy to integrate that it’s hard to decipher where reality collides with fiction. Fictional stories seem real and biopics are often passed off as fake. No matter which end of the spectrum they’re at, some of the best sports movies are based on real stories.

23 Blast (2013)


A man and a woman sit on bleachers in 23 Blast

This is the incredible true story of Travis Freeman (Mark Hapka), an average Kentucky teenager who dreams of becoming a football player. When Travis suffers a series of migraines and later survives bacterial meningitis, he suddenly becomes blind.

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Initially, Travis wants to give up, which is completely understandable given the dire circumstances he’s facing. But once the shock of his new normal wears off, Travis does what many believe is impossible: he gets up and learns to play football despite his blindness.

The Blind Side (2009)


Considered one of the best films based on a true story, the sports drama The blind side stars Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, adoptive mother of football sensation Michael “Big Mike” Oher (Quinton Aaron), who overcame a traumatic childhood to be drafted into the NFL.

The blind side was a commercial success, grossing over $300 million against a budget of $29 million (per box office mojo). Bullock and Aaron had an undeniable chemistry that played out believable onscreen, which became the backdrop for the film‘s inspiring tone.


A League of Their Own (1992)


Dottie and Jimmy in the dugout in A League of Their Own

Few of the best baseball movies center on women, but A league apart is a fictionalized true story of how women saved baseball during World War II.

Tom Hanks and Gina Davis lead the cast of the comedy, which tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Although Davis’ character, Dottie Hinson, is actually the only factual character in the film, the league’s story is true.

Me, Tonya (2017)


Margot Robbie in I Tonya

Ice skater Tonya Harding’s 1994 attack on gold medal favorite Nancy Kerrigan has been chronicled many times before in film and television; however, none of the previous outings have told the story the same way as Me Tonya.


As one of the best sports movies with a female lead, Me Tonya sees Oscar nominee Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding and Best Supporting Actress winner Allison Janney as Tonya’s abusive mother, LaVona Golden. Me Tonya is loosely based on the facts of the case. It’s up to viewers to decide which of the unreliable sources is telling the truth.

Brian’s Song (1971)


Song by James Caan Brian

Viewers are advised to prepare tissues for this one. Brian’s Song is one of the simplest and most poignant tears ever made about sports. Sometimes the script makes the main characters seem fictional; however, it is based on a true story.


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After being drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1965, Brain Piccolo (James Caan) is forced to share a room with his black teammate Gayle Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) in a racist atmosphere. Eventually, the two become best friends, but tragedy strikes when they learn that Brian has been diagnosed with cancer.

Friday Night Lights (2004)


Billy Bob Thorton in Friday Night Lights (2004)

“Gentlemen, the hopes and dreams of an entire city rest on your shoulders. You may never be more important in your life than now.” This quote from coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) perfectly sums up the totality of Friday night lights.


From the peewee leagues to the NFL, the Texans take their football seriously. This true story about the small town of Odessa, Texas and their obsession with football. So when the Permian High School Panthers bid for the state championship, the town rallies around them, even as the gaming world crumbles.

Remember the Titans (2000)


The Titans come out on the pitch to claim victory in Remember the Titans

In 1971, Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) accepts a position as head coach at TC Williams High School in Virginia, despite the school’s recent integration and rising racial tensions. This sets the scene for the true story of Remember the titans.

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While some fictionalized events have been incorporated into the storyline, the core issue of the Titans’ struggles to come together amid the glaring team differences and personal struggles they faced remains intact. A few “extras” are added for dramatic effect; however, it is a captivating watch rooted in truth.

Bigger (2016)


11 days after being drafted as a third-round pick for the NFL, Brandon Burlsworth (Christopher Severio), College All-American, dies in a car accident. The harrowing consequences of his death are a test of faith and a testament to his strength before he dies.

Told in flashback from when Brandon started dreaming of playing football, Bigger connects the audience to who he was as a person and how others received him throughout his short life. Its story unfolds more like a celebration of life than a tragedy while tugging at the heartstrings.

Invincible (2006)


Mark Wahlberg in Invincible

It’s the 1970s and the Philadelphia Eagles football team is in turmoil. New head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) goes on TV to announce open tryouts for the team. That’s when Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg), 30, decides to live his dream and try.

Although there are differences in how Papale’s football career is depicted in the film as opposed to in reality, Invincible sticks closely to the true story. Once he’s on the team, Papale’s incredible journey from contender to winner is uplifting to behold.

The 5th Quarter (2010)


Andie MacDowell in The 5th Quarter

The 5th trimester is arguably one of the best heartbreaking sports films of all time. When popular Wake Forest High School athlete Luke Abbate (Stefan Guy) tragically dies in a car crash caused by a reckless teammate, his brother Jon (Ryan Merriman) is determined to help his legacy continue.


The way the Wake Forest unites with the Abbate family as they work through Luke’s grief is touching. When he meets a personal trainer who advises him to play two, Jon is inspired to refer to the fourth quarter as the fifth, in honor of Luke’s No. 5 jersey. From there, the team believes Luke’s presence helps them win in the fourth quarter.

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