Movies have inspired us since the start of television and there’s no shortage of sports movies and documentaries today to inspire coaches, personal trainers and people who want to adopt a fitness regime.

A sports movie will not only show you how a trainer can motivate and train someone towards better technique, it may also pay tribute to coaches who have had a lasting and positive impact on someone’s life. These movies will show you how an athlete’s determination and drive will push them to the edge, carry them through the toughest times and how sport can help people to rise above their own backgrounds and circumstances.

Here is a list of some of the best sports movies and documentaries of all time to help inspire both skilled personal trainers and those who are starting a fitness regime for the first time.

Invictus – Leaders and Sports

Sport is a powerful force that can unite people from different cultures and backgrounds. South Africa won the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but it’s not the first time that rugby has inspired and united all South Africans.

Invictus, one of the best known rugby movies of all time, was directed by Clint Eastwood and released in 2009. The movie is set against the backdrop of South Africa’s recent democracy where the unlikely winner challenges the world for the first time in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Morgan Freeman portrays the role of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected South African president and probably the most influential leader of our lifetime. During this time he was faced with the almost impossible challenge of uniting a previously segregated nation and joins forces with Francois Pienaar (portrayed by Matt Damon), the Springbok captain during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

For the first time South Africa was allowed to compete in international sporting events after sanctions were lifted. This moving film is based on real events and shows an underdog victory of a country uniting to ultimately win as they walk away with the Rugby World Cup. It is a truly inspirational film that shows how passionate leaders can unite in common humanitarian goals and under the banner of sports, unite a nation.

A country became united around rugby / Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Rocky – A Series of Some of the Best Sports Movies

Some would say that this is a series of the most inspirational sports movies of our time. Rocky is a story of a small-town boy who gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight the heavyweight champion of the world. Born out of Sylvestor Stallone’s ambitions to break into the industry with a major feature, he declined the first production offers to ensure the story gets the budget to execute it as best as possible. This determination has earned the movie three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and a turnover of $117 million in the U.S. alone.

Rocky is a range of boxing films that will show how an athlete’s determination and persistence in the face of challenges and adversity can make them rise to the top, the same way Sylvester Stallone had to to make the film a reality.

The Rocky franchise has grown from the first original movie in 1976 to include eight inspirational sport movies and more current films called ‘Creed’ in 2015 and 2018. This film is about a young boxer played by Michael B. Jordan who tries to avenge his father’s death and his subsequent life without a father. He recruits his father’s nemesis-turned-best friend, Rocky Balboa, to help him with his training who gets in ready for a shot at the title.

If you struggle with motivation or are a personal trainer trying to find a movie to inspire clients, this is the film for that. Easily one of the most inspirational films of all time is a Rocky film.

Murderball – Disabled Athletes With a Can-Do Attitude

A documentary like no other, Murderball is a story about the lives and passion of quadriplegics who play wheelchair rugby.

That’s correct, with reinforced wheelchairs these paraplegic men engage in a full contact sport where they even have a strategy to knock an opponent off their wheelchair. With off-field tension, rivalry and human drama, the documentary shows how sport could be the backdrop against which people find meaning and inspiration.

Each of the athletes has a tragic story about how they lost their limbs, but they speak openly about the reality of their conditions. Their developed athletic capability coupled with a can-do attitude will force you to have a serious look at your own life. It’s a must-see for every athlete and one of those rugby movies that puts a spotlight on people’s hopes, fears, lives and dreams that will stop you in your tracks to realise just how much you have to be grateful for.

Million Dollar Baby – a Magical Relationship With a Coach

This boxing film won a total of four Oscars in 1995.  This best feature was directed by Clint Eastwood, and Hilary Swank walked away with the Oscar for best actress while Morgan Freeman won the best supporting actor in a film award.

Inspirational sports movies can only be created by winning teams and this one is no different.  They created a story of a down-and-out veteran boxing trainer who has given everything to the sport of boxing with very little to show for it.

Frankie Dunn (portrayed by Clint Eastwood) has nothing to live for until Maggie walks into his gym seeking his training expertise. Frankie clearly expresses that woman are not fit for boxing and feels the prospects are doubtful that she’ll get anywhere as he thinks she’s also too old and lacks technique.

Boxing was however the only thing that gave Maggie meaning and her determination and drive eventually convince Frankie to train her. What develops between them is a special bond which shows us how a fateful meeting changed their lives and the lengths they would go to for each other.

It’s a movie about pure determination and even though it’s centred around boxing, a fitting portrayal of how a coach can stick with their athlete through tough times. It is certainly one of the best sport movies to inspire any coach and athlete team to work towards relationships that create magic.

Through sports we can learn to defy the odds / Photo by Reagan M. on Unsplash

Eddie the Eagle – An Athlete Who Believed in Himself

Some athletes will fight the odds to achieve their dream, even when no one else shares their enthusiasm and belief. It is this that makes them rise above circumstances and ‘Eddie’ is a feel-good, humorous story based on true events of an unlikely British ski-jumper (played by Taron Egerton) gunning it at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. With the help of a rebellious and charming coach (portrayed by Hugh Jackman),

Eddie is a charming and inspiring film about an athlete’s determination. Starting out as the joke of the nation, Eddie eventually make history by winning the hearts of sport fans across the globe. It’s a movie of heart and humour that wins solid gold.

I, Tonya – When Sport Becomes Our Life

For some, their entire world centres around their sport. This world came crashing down for Tonya Harding, an American figure skater who’s career and legacy became tainted when her ex-husband decided to execute an attack on a fellow competitor.

This story of Tonya Harding (portrayed by Margot Robbie) is based on real events and you will see phenomenal performances by Robbie Allison Janny and Sebastian Stan. Make sure you see this movie if you are in the mood for a hilarious and cheeky portrayal of an athlete’s life and sporting career.  Captivating, thought provoking and memorable it’s one that should certainly be on the list of the best sports movies.

Moneyball – The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Based on the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game was written by Michael Lewis. It was crafted into a dramatic true story about Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) who challenges the system and reinvents the way baseball teams are put together.  With no money he has to use unconventional methods to challenge old school traditions.

Moneyball is not really a traditional sports movie, but is certainly just as inviting and inspirational for non-sports people. It’s filled with humour because of its spot-on portrayal of irony and solid understanding of the human nature. Make sure you see this if you want to know how the underdog can outsmart and outwin the bigger players.

Movies of courage will change the future of people / Photo by Matheus Bertelli on

Undefeated (2013) – The Right Coach Can Change History

If you like football movies, you should see this inspiring documentary. It is a story about kids from a poor background who team up with a coach to rise above their circumstances.

Bill Courtney, a former high school football coach volunteers to step in during the spring of 2004 and under his guidance the team starts to change the school’s 110-year history of losing.  There are plenty of football movies and documentaries made in the U.S. but this one is truly inspirational and certainly on the list of the best sports movies. Football is huge in America and if it interests you, you can easily find the best football movies of all time online.

Sports can change history / Photo by Mari Carmen Del Valle Cámara on Unsplash

When We Were Kings – Sport Rising Under Racial Politics

Muhammed Ali has been one of the most inspiring African sportsman of our time. This documentary is about his famous fight in Zaire (now the DRC), called the rumble in the jungle that happened on October 30, 1974.

Muhammed Ali’s testimony of his fight against the former heavyweight champion George Foreman, tells a story of popular culture, politics and the relationship between African-Americans and the African continent during an era of brutality under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Anyone will be inspired by Ali’s story, but this documentary is just another example of how not even political adversity could put athletes down when they are determined to follow their dreams to compete.

Sports people will keep on inspiring us / Photo by Who?du!nelson on Unsplash 

How Movies Can Help

The internet is filled with lists of the best sports movies of our time to inspire you and hundreds of review websites. Sport is a powerful platform that shows us what humans are capable of when their passion and drive helps to push them through adversity.

The fact remains, whether you like football movies, rugby movies or just inspirational sports movies in general, there will be something to get you fired up and excited about coaching the next winning team or competing in your next competition.

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Writer and qualified yoga instructor, who is passionate about health and well-being.