You know that rush you get when your team snags a big win? Now imagine that feeling but with an extra dose of drama, hilarity, and polyester pants. For nostalgic souls like me who spent their formative years in the 1970s, these sports flicks hold a special place in our hearts.
We cried and felt inspired by the heart-tugging tales of Brian’s Song and Bang the Drum Slowly, and we laughed out loud at the gut-busting shenanigans of The Bad News Bears. So grab a brewski, kick back, and join us as we time travel back to the grooviest decade and look back on the best sports movies of the 1970s!
The Best Baseball Movies of the 1970s
1. The Bingo Long Traveling All-stars & Motor Kings, 1976
This movie is a freaking masterpiece. It’s a side-splitting yet heartwarming dive into the lives of the badass ballplayers from the Negro Leagues who, despite being barred from the majors, played the hell out of America’s favorite pastime.
With a cast boasting smooth-as-silk Billy Dee Williams and the legendary Richard Pryor, you know you’re in for a wild ride. And for all you James Earl Jones enthusiasts out there, guess what? Field of Dreams wasn’t his first baseball movie – catch him stealing scenes as the uproarious catcher Leon Carter.
2. The Bad News Bears, 1976
Looking for a flick that’ll leave you grinning like a kid who just scored their first home run? Enter The Bad News Bears. You’ll be rolling in the aisles with Walter Matthau as Morris Buttermaker, the beer-chugging, ex-ballplayer-turned-reluctant-coach. Matthau’s mission? To half-assedly manage a little league team filled with misfit kids who couldn’t hit a ball if it were the size of a beach ball.
Buttermaker recruits a secret weapon—a girl with a killer arm! Tatum O’Neal knocks it out of the park as the curveball-hurling Amanda Whurlitzer (get it, whirl? Wink wink). Heads up, though, this movie has some racial slurs that can be shocking coming from the mouths of kids!
3. One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story, 1978
This movie will make you believe in second chances. Ron LeFlore’s was born in crime-ridden Detroit and became involved in drugs at a young age, ending up in state prison at age 22. But LeFlore started swinging for the fences in the prison league in a twist worthy of Hollywood. Detroit Tigers manager Billy Martin took a chance on LeFlore, kicking off a life-changing journey.
Once free, Ron hustled through the minors and eventually became a certified big-league menace at the plate. LeVar Burton brought this gritty underdog story to life with an unforgettable performance in this made-for-TV movie.
4. Bang the Drum Slowly, 1973
Robert De Niro graced the silver screen in this movie with a performance that made many a grown man weep. Bang the Drum Slowly tells the story of Bruce Pearson, a baseball catcher who, though faced with a fatal diagnosis, continues to play the game that sets his soul ablaze. Michael Moriarty brings an equal measure of heart and skill to his role as Pearson’s best friend, Henry Wiggen, who walks with him through the shadow of the valley.
Together, they forge a bond that transcends the sport, a testament to love and the spirit of living life to its fullest. Keep a box of tissues handy, for this one will tug at your heartstrings, even as it celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.
The Best Football Movies of the 1970s
5. Legend in Granite, 1973
When this television movie first aired, I found myself questioning whether the man on the screen was the accomplished actor Ernest Borgnine or the iconic Vince Lombardi. The likeness was uncanny, a testament to the transformative power of both casting and performance.
The film offered viewers a compelling glimpse into the unyielding drive and resilience that defined the legendary coach, whose indomitable spirit led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships and a pair of Super Bowl victories. This cinematic portrayal of Lombardi’s life paid homage to the man himself and underscored the lessons of perseverance and dedication that continue to resonate within the world of sports today.
6. Something for Joey, 1977
In the annals of college football history, few stories are as poignant as that of John Cappelletti, the Penn State running back who captured the Heisman Trophy in 1973. Yet the true heart of his story lies not in his gridiron prowess but in his tender and devoted relationship with his younger brother Joey, who valiantly battled leukemia. Joey, a fixture at his brother’s practices and games, was the inspiration behind John’s deeply moving Heisman acceptance speech, a tribute that still resonates today.
Their unbreakable bond served as the emotional core of the 1977 television movie, Something for Joey. A testament to the power of love, loyalty, and family, the film deftly portrays the Cappelletti brothers’ unwavering support for one another in the face of life’s most daunting challenges. Garnering two Primetime Emmy nominations, Something for Joey stands as an enduring reminder of the indomitable human spirit and the strength we can draw from those we hold dear.
7. North Dallas Forty, 1979
The Dallas Cowboys, in their 1970s heyday, inspired both fervent admiration and visceral disdain as they carved out their place in NFL lore. In the midst of this maelstrom, former Cowboy Peter Gent penned a fictional bestseller, North Dallas Forty, which pulled back the curtain on the raucous lifestyles of professional football players.
Drawing from Gent’s groundbreaking novel, a film adaptation emerged, boasting a star-studded ensemble featuring Nick Nolte, Mac Davis, Charles Durning, and Dabney Coleman. Though the on-screen team bore the moniker of The Bulls, discerning viewers could easily recognize the unmistakable parallels with the real-life Cowboys.
By blending the glamour and grit of the era’s football scene, North Dallas Forty offered audiences a compelling, unvarnished look at the off-field lives of the men who donned helmets and shoulder pads in pursuit of glory on the gridiron.
8. The Longest Yard, 1974
Burt Reynolds, the charismatic former football player-turned-actor, delivered a tour de force performance in this uproarious comedy that blended gridiron action with gut-busting humor. The narrative traces Reynolds’ journey from a fallen quarterback to a prison inmate who finds redemption by marshaling a motley crew of fellow prisoners against their oppressive guards.
Eddie Albert’s masterful portrayal of the malevolent warden is so compelling that it ignites a burning desire to see him meet his just deserts. The climactic finale is the embodiment of sports movie magic, a triumphant moment that makes you want to leap to your feet, fists raised, and exclaim your elation to the heavens.
9. Brians’s Song, 1971
In the pantheon of football films, the 1971 television movie Brian’s Song occupies a hallowed space, transcending the realm of sports to capture the essence of the human spirit. Featuring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams in unforgettable roles as two running backs, the film charts the growth of their friendship amid the challenges of athletics, racial tensions, and, ultimately, the specter of a terminal illness.
Garnering the 1972 Primetime Emmy for Best Single Program Drama or Comedy, Brian’s Song stands as a testament to the power of camaraderie and resilience. For many, it holds the distinguished honor of being the finest sports movie ever crafted, a distinction that is difficult to dispute. If you were to choose only one cinematic experience from this list, let it be Brian’s Song – a film that transcends the boundaries of the genre and resonates with the deepest aspects of our shared humanity.
The Best Boxing Movies of the 1970s
10. The Super Fight, 1976
Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner of the cinematic boxing ring, we have The Super Fight, a film that packs a punch as bizarre as it is entertaining. It asks the ultimate question that would make even the most knowledgeable sports fan squirm: Who would come out on top in a 15-round slugfest between Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali, two of the all-time heavyweight greats from different generations?
Leave it to a gang of computer whizzes to tackle this head-scratcher. They devised a program to decide the victor in this larger-than-life fantasy bout. And, as if the concept wasn’t mind-blowing enough, Marciano and Ali actually slipped on the gloves and traded leather in the ring to give the film some good old-fashioned fisticuffs.
Mirroring the fanfare of a genuine heavyweight showdown, The Super Fight had a one-night-only, worldwide cinema extravaganza. So, grab some popcorn and get ready to rumble with this peculiar but utterly captivating piece of boxing history.
11. Fat City, 1972
Boxing flicks can get under your skin, don’t they? It’s that unfiltered, in-your-face action of two fighters going toe-to-toe that grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go. Well, folks, buckle up for the gritty, gut-punching 1972 classic Fat City.
Under the masterful direction of the legendary John Huston, this film delivers a one-two combo of storytelling and character development that’ll leave you reeling. It plunges headfirst into the unvarnished lives of two boxers, played with unrelenting intensity by Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges, who risk it all in a merciless world where only the strong survive.
So, if you’re up for a cinematic experience that’ll make you feel like you’ve gone twelve rounds with a heavyweight champ, step into the ring with Fat City and brace yourself for the beautiful brutality of life between the ropes.
12. Rocky, 1976
It’s time to talk about the heavyweight champ of sports movies, Rocky. Rocky is more than just a film; it’s a testament to the indomitable human spirit, a rousing call to arms for anyone who’s ever stared down the odds and thought, “Why not me?”
Rocky didn’t just set the bar for sports cinema; it tossed that bar into the stratosphere. The film paved the way for countless others that dared to dive into the soul-stirring power of sports and the life-changing magic of believing in oneself.
And let’s not forget the man of the hour, Sylvester Stallone, who breathed life into Rocky Balboa, the scrappy underdog who became the poster boy for grit, guts, and never-say-die determination. Rocky’s story reached beyond the silver screen, leaving an indelible mark on popular culture and inspiring generations to face their challenges with the heart of a champion.
The Best Ice Skating and Hockey Movies of the 1970s
13. Champions: A Love Story, 1979
When it comes to love stories, figure skating movies glide effortlessly into our hearts. Take Champions: A Love Story, for example. This 1979 TV movie spins a tale of romance on ice, featuring two gifted figure skaters whose passion for their sport is matched only by their passion for each other.
As they train together, the couple’s bond deepens, and they find themselves navigating a rink filled with personal struggles, pressures of a budding career, and a heartrending tragedy. Their love story transcends the ice, reminding us that even in the face of adversity, dedication, resilience, and the support of a loved one can help us soar.
So, if you’re in the mood for a love story that’ll warm your heart and inspire you to lace up your skates, give Champions: A Love Story a spin. Remember, when life throws you a triple axel, sometimes you need a little teamwork and a lot of heart.
14. Ice Castles, 1978
Ask this question to any woman who grew up in the 1970s, and you’re bound to see her eyes light up with memories: “Remember that movie about the figure skater who lost her sight?” Ice Castles, starring Lynn-Holly Johnson and Robby Benson, tugged at heartstrings and left an indelible mark on its viewers.
Johnson delivers a powerful performance by playing a gifted figure skater who suffers a heartbreaking accident. But it’s her on-screen beau, portrayed by Benson, who steals the spotlight with his unwavering love and support. Together, they skate through life’s challenges and prove that determination and resilience can help you overcome even the toughest obstacles.
Ice Castles is more than just a movie about figure skating; it’s a testament to the power of love and the human spirit. Watch it, and you’ll find yourself inspired, touched, and maybe even dusting off those old skates in the attic.
15. Slap Shot, 1977
Slap Shot is the uproarious cinematic gift that keeps on giving! Paul Newman, a man who could charm the skates off a Zamboni driver, plays a player-coach for the less-than-stellar Charlestown Chiefs. These guys were one step away from being the ice’s answer to a bad garage band, and Newman’s character knew it.
Enter the Hanson Brothers, a trio of hockey-playing hooligans so rowdy they could make a pack of wolves look like well-behaved kindergartners. These guys don’t just bring the noise, they bring the whole dang orchestra. And if you’re in the mood for a symphony of flying fists and checked teeth, you’re in the right place.
But don’t let the slapstick fool you – Slap Shot has more layers than a hockey player in a snowstorm. It takes a good, hard look at the role violence plays in sports and the effect it has on the lives of players and the community that cheers them on.
So, the next time you’re hankering for a sports comedy that packs a punch (literally), lace up your skates, grab a cold one, and give “Slap Shot” a whirl. Just remember to keep your head up and your stick on the ice.
The Best Running Movies of the 1970s
16. The Jericho Mile, 1979
The Jericho Mile hits the ground running and never looks back. This 1979 television gem stars Peter Strauss as Larry “Rain” Murphy, a lightning-fast long-distance runner who just happens to be serving a life sentence in the infamous Folsom State Prison.
As the story unfolds, we watch Murphy lace up his sneakers and chase down his Olympic dreams, hurdling obstacles and sprinting toward redemption. This gripping tale of hope and determination offers a rare glimpse into prison life, reminding us that even when the odds are stacked against us, we can still strive for greatness.
17. The Loneliest Runner, 1976
Michael Landon serves a triple-threat performance as writer, director, and star in this 1976 TV movie. The Loneliest Runner centers on John Curtis, a young teenager grappling with enuresis (bedwetting) and the humiliation that comes with it.
With his mother airing his dirty laundry—literally—John’s shame fuels his desire to escape the torment. Enter long-distance running, his newfound refuge from ridicule. As John’s legs carry him farther and faster, we watch him transform into a formidable runner, proving that even the most challenging personal battles can give rise to triumph.
If you’re looking for a movie that explores the human spirit’s ability to overcome adversity, you’ll love The Loneliest Runner. It’s a poignant reminder that sometimes our greatest victories are born from our deepest struggles.
18. See How She Runs, 1978
Joanne Woodward hits the ground running in See How She Runs, a 1978 TV movie about the struggles of a recently divorced, 40-year-old schoolteacher. With her life in disarray, she turns to long-distance running to piece it back together, one stride at a time.
As Woodward’s character, Betty, finds solace in the rhythm of her footsteps, she sets her sights on the ultimate finish line: the prestigious Boston Marathon. With grit, perseverance, and a whole lot of heart, she tackles each challenge that comes her way, proving that it’s never too late to lace up your sneakers and chase after your dreams.
If you’re looking for a movie that celebrates the power of reinvention and determination, See How She Runs is a heartfelt reminder that even when life knocks us down, we can still pick ourselves up and sprint toward the finish line.
The Best Auto Racing Movies of the 1970s
19. Le Mans, 1971
Get ready to burn some rubber with Le Mans, a high-octane dive into the world of the legendary 24-hour endurance race in France. With Steve McQueen behind the wheel as Michael Delaney, we’re taken on a pulse-pounding journey that captures the raw emotion and intensity of competitive racing.
This cinematic gem serves up a potent cocktail of gripping action sequences and authentic race footage, ensuring Le Mans remains a touchstone in the pantheon of motorsports movies. It’s a testament to the power of speed, skill, and sheer determination, all wrapped up in a thrilling package.
If you’re looking for a classic film that will have you gripping the edge of your seat and leave you with a newfound respect for the world of endurance racing, Le Mans is your ticket to ride.
20. The Last American Hero, 1973
There’s a line in Bruce Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch” where he sings, “Junior Johnson runnin’ through the woods of Caroline.” It’s that story–a man who ran moonshine in the hills of North Carolina before taking the wheel as a NASCAR driver–that the 1973 film The Last American Hero brings to life.
The movie weaves together action, drama, and heart, spinning a rich tapestry that captures the spirit of a man who would become an American legend. The film is a testament to the resilience and determination that made Junior Johnson rise above his circumstances, trading in the shadows of the backwoods for the roar of the racetrack.
21. Greased Lightning, 1977
Wendell Scott is a name that echoes in the annals of history as the first African-American to take the wheel as a professional stock car racing driver. In the 1977 biographical drama Greased Lightning, the inimitable Richard Pryor steps into Scott’s shoes, painting a vivid portrait of a man who shattered barriers and defied the odds in a world that sought to hold him back.
This film weaves a tale of Scott’s ascent to fame, a journey fraught with racial obstacles and personal hardships, yet ultimately culminating in triumph within a sport dominated by white faces. And who better to bring this stirring story to life than Pryor, an actor with a rare ability to infuse humor and depth into a role, capturing the essence of Scott’s indomitable spirit?
So, let Greased Lightning transport you to a time and place where one man’s courage and determination changed the course of history in the world of racing, reminding us all that sometimes, the most powerful force on the track is the heart that beats within.
Other Great Sports Movies of the 1970s
22. Babe, 1975
If you want to learn about a bona fide legend, look no further than Babe Didrikson Zaharias. This woman was the Swiss Army knife of athletes, conquering every sport she touched with a dazzling array of talents. She bagged a pair of Olympic golds and a silver, swung her way to victory in multiple LPGA tournaments, and even toed the rubber in a few MLB spring training games. Oh, and did I mention her stint with a basketball team and her turn on the vaudeville stage?
Enter the 1975 TV movie, Babe, a tip of the cap to this extraordinary woman and her boundless spirit. This gem of a film offers a front-row seat to the whirlwind life of an athlete who redefined the word “versatile” and set the standard for generations of competitors to come. Trust me, you won’t want to miss this inspirational tale of a true trailblazer.
23. Dreamer, 1979
You may not believe me, but Bowling is a sport! And if you need proof, look no further than the 1979 cinematic gem, Dreamer. Starring Tim Matheson, hot off his Animal House fame, this film rolls a strike right down the alley of sports movie greatness.
Picture this: a young bowler with dreams of turning pro and nabbing that elusive first big win. It’s like Rocky but with a 16-pound ball and some slick bowling shoes. And speaking of Rocky, guess who scored Dreamer? None other than Bill Conti, the maestro behind the iconic Rocky theme.
24. Players, 1979
If you’re looking for a sports movie with a dash of romance and a side of strawberries and cream, you’re in for a treat. Picture the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, where Ali MacGraw and Dean Paul Martin (yes, that’s Dean Martin’s kid!) serve up a love story with a twist of championship tennis in the 1979 classic.
Young Martin wasn’t just playing make-believe on the court. The guy was a real-life pro tennis ace, and it shows in those electrifying action scenes. The movie builds to a heart-stopping Wimbledon showdown, where love and glory hang in the balance like a perfectly-lofted lob.
25. One on One, 1977
One on One is a tale of hoop dreams and small-town heroes that will have you cheering from the stands. In this slam-dunk of a movie, Robbie Benson stars as a high school basketball phenom who trades in his hometown court for the big-time university scene.
Unfortunately, our hero has some hurdles to clear. As he grapples with the cutthroat world of college sports, he risks losing his scholarship and his sweetheart, played by the lovely Annette O’Toole.
Watch as Benson dribbles, drives, and dishes his way through the challenges of college athletics, searching for that elusive sweet spot where he can prove his worth both on and off the hardwood.
26. Breaking Away, 1979
Breaking Away captures the essence of heartfelt storytelling. This coming-of-age gem follows four working-class pals from Bloomington, Indiana, as they make their way through the twists and turns of young adulthood.
Our hero, played by Dennis Christopher, is a slightly nutty cycling enthusiast with dreams of going wheel-to-wheel with the Italian cycling pros. And if that means pretending to be Italian to woo a lovely ragazza, well, amore conquers all, right?
But this movie is not a one-man show. Christopher’s buddies, brought to life by Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, and Jackie Earle Haley, saddle up alongside him to form a team for the annual Little 500 bicycle race. Along the way, they discover their own identities and the true meaning of friendship.
27. Pumping Iron, 1977
Pumping Iron will have you flexing your biceps and questioning your gym routine. This 1977 documentary pulls back the curtain on the world of professional bodybuilding, putting the spotlight on the muscle-bound rivalry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno as they battle it out for the 1975 Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe titles.
But this ain’t just a film about oiled-up, Herculean physiques. It dives deep into the dedication, discipline, and mind games needed to conquer this iron-pumping sport while giving us a glimpse into the personal lives of these larger-than-life characters.
So grab some popcorn, maybe a protein shake, and watch as Pumping Iron pumps up bodybuilding’s popularity and catapults Arnold Schwarzenegger to global stardom. You’ll never look at a dumbbell the same way again.
28. Big Wednesday, 1978
Let me tell you about one of the gnarliest surf flicks ever to ride the celluloid wave: Big Wednesday. This 1978 gem had Jan-Michael Vincent hanging ten as a surfer navigating life’s swells and wipeouts in the sun-kissed world of ’60s and ’70s surf culture.
And then there’s Gary Busey, playing a surfer so wild he makes a great white look like a guppy with an attitude problem. He’s got a death wish that would make even the most daring of wave riders wince.
Together, these sun-bleached bros are cruisin’ toward destiny, chasin’ the ultimate thrill on a monster of a wave named “Big Wednesday.” So, if you’re in the mood for an epic ride through surf, sand, and the human spirit, paddle out to your couch and let “Big Wednesday” carry you away. Remember, it’s all about finding that perfect balance – in life and on the waves.
29. The Black Stallion, 1979
A young boy and a wild Arabian stallion triumph over the odds in The Black Stallion, a heart-pounding tale of survival and friendship. After a shipwreck leaves the boy and horse stranded on a deserted island, the two form an unbreakable bond, relying on each other to stay alive in the face of adversity.
But fate has more in store for this dynamic duo. When a fishing ship finally rescues them, they’re whisked back to civilization, where they catch the eye of a savvy horse racing trainer. With a little guidance and a lot of heart, the stallion transforms into a racing powerhouse, galloping toward glory in the high-stakes world of horse racing.
This riveting tale reminds us that even the wildest dreams can become a reality with perseverance, trust, and a little luck.
30. Rollerball, 1975
In a world where sports and science fiction collide, you’ll find Rollerball, a thrilling drama that will have you on the edge of your seat. Rollerball serves a chilling vision of a future where corporations rule the roost and individualism takes a backseat to the almighty bottom line.
James Caan skates into the spotlight as a renegade star of the eponymous sport. This high-octane game combines football gear, motorcycles, and roller skates in a dizzying display of athleticism. But it’s not just about scoring goals; it’s a ruthless battle for the soul of humanity.
Buckle up for adrenaline-pumping action and an ending that’ll go down in cinematic history.
31. Death Race 2000, 1975
Strap in for another wild ride through a dystopian world where sports and science fiction collide: the 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000. In this high-octane action flick, society’s thirst for violence has spawned a popular spectator sport known as the “Death Race.” This no-holds-barred cross-country car race values carnage over sportsmanship, with competitors racking points by mowing down unsuspecting pedestrians.
Enter David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone as fierce rivals, duking it out in a high-speed battle filled with jaw-dropping car stunts and heart-stopping mayhem. Death Race 2000 offers a chilling look at a society where human life takes a backseat to twisted entertainment.
32. The World’s Greatest Athlete, 1975
When I was a young sports fan, The World’s Greatest Athlete had me doubled over with laughter, convinced that no other movie could top its hilarity. Picture a Tarzan-like character named Nanu, discovered by a pair of coaches on an African safari, who brings his jungle-honed skills to the world of collegiate sports.
With a leap and a bound, Nanu becomes a track-and-field sensation, leaving his rivals in the dust and racking up more than a few laughs along the way. But it’s not all fun and games for our intrepid hero, as a cast of bumbling villains tries—and fails spectacularly—to bring him down.
If you’re looking for a side-splitting romp that combines sports and humor with a healthy dose of jungle shenanigans, The World’s Greatest Athlete is the perfect movie to take you back to the days of childhood wonder. Remember, sometimes the most unlikely heroes can teach us the greatest lessons—and leave us in stitches.
Well, that’s a wrap! We hope you enjoyed looking back at these memorable movies. And here’s the answer to the trivia question for those who read through the entire list: In the 1970 film The Super Fight, Rocky Marciano knocked out Ali in the 13th round to claim virtual victory!