Twenty-five years ago this month, A League of Their Own hit movie theaters and took the country by storm. Just as a women’s professional baseball league had shocked and inspired during World War II, this female-directed female-filled movie was inspiring to women and girls across the country. Even today, Geena Davis says that women of all ages tell her that the movie inspired them to play sports and become athletes.
And that’s just one movie. While most sports films are still sadly male-centric, there are more than a few sports-based movies that star women — women who break stereotypes, break barriers and win the gold against all odds. Let’s pop some popcorn, put on our favorite jerseys and watch some of our favorite female-led sports movies.
Starring a young Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, National Velvet may be the first best female-led sports movie. This timeless classic was released way back in 1944 and begins when a little girl named Velvet wins a horse in a raffle and decides to train it to race in the Grand National Sweepstakes. Don’t let the old-timey feel trick you: this movie has such a great storyline and such great acting that you won’t notice the outdated bits. And many of the challenges faced by Velvet and her horse, Pie, are still barriers for girls and women today (unfortunately).
If you love badass women and surfing, this movie is for you. Released in 2002, this fun, fast ride of a film follows three women who surf the huge waves of Hawaii’s North Shore. But as protagonist Anne Marie Chadwick tries to put aside her fears to win a big surfing competition, she is distracted by a football player who threatens her passion and her focus. This movie wins points for its exhilarating surf sequences and for how deftly it navigates feminist issues in sports (while still including a steamy love story).
She’s the Man
Here’s the second movie on our list — after National Velvet — where a woman is forced to dress like a man just to play the sport she wants to play. In the 2006 teen flick She’s the Man, star Amanda Bynes isn’t sure what to do when her school’s girls soccer team is cut and they won’t let her play with the boys. The obvious solution? Cut your hair, pretend to be your twin brother, and start attending his private school across town. She makes the men’s team, and everything is going as planned until she falls for a young Channing Tatum and her brother returns to town. This comedy gets extra points for taking on serious issues of gender discrimination while also bringing the (albeit corny) laughs.
This totally underrated 2009 film stars Ellen Page as a Texas teen who doesn’t fit in with the pageant life her family wants for her. When she discovers roller derby, everything in her life seems to fall into place. We love the all-girl cast, including Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis. Bonus points that this is directed by a woman, too: Drew Barrymore. Our favorite moment is when Page passionately confesses to her conservative family that she is in love with roller derby, not some stupid boy (although there is a tiny love interest subplot that we don’t mind at all).
If there’s one thing we love more than sports, it’s Goldie Hawn. In this mostly forgotten ’80s flick, we meet Molly McGrath, who applies to be the head football coach of an inner city high school team that can’t seem to win. Although no one — including the team — thinks she can do it, she starts pulling off wins. The movie is funny and touching, and did we mention Goldie Hawn? We are also pretty sure it’s the only movie on the planet about a female coach. We need more of those.
Love and Basketball
This movie follows Monica and Quincy through their lives, which are dominated by their love of basketball (and… wait for it… each other!). From childhood to college hoops to professional ball, the two butt heads, date, break up and make up, all in between three-pointers. We love this film because Monica never compromises on her love of the game and her goals with Quincy, which ends up being the thing he loves about her most. Aww, we want to watch this one again immediately.
Bend It Like Beckham
For our next movie, we return to the common theme of girls who have to rebel against their families and society just to kick a ball around. In this 2002 comedy classic, the 18-year-old daughter of orthodox Sikh outside of London does all she can to keep her family happy while also joining a football (that’s soccer, Americans) team. Will she pursue her dream of playing sports professionally, or will she learn to cook and get engaged like all the women who came before her? Cue this one up to find out.
Million Dollar Baby
Oh boy, this one’s a tearjerker. Rough-around-the-edges Hillary Swank wants to become a champion boxer, but first she’ll have convince trainers Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman that she’s worth their time even though she’s a girl. Eastwood finally relents, discovering that Swank is not only a fantastic athlete, she’s also someone he needed in his life in order to heal and become a better person. And then… well, you just have to watch this one. We’ll have the tissues ready.
Bring It On
If you don’t think cheerleading is a sport, we invite you to stop reading this article right now. Actually, if you don’t like Bring It On, we also invite you to stop reading this article. This is a major classic from the year 2000, where a young and gratingly peppy Kirsten Dunst takes charge of her high school cheerleading team only to find out the squad has been cheating for years. It isn’t the deepest movie that’s ever been made, but it is amazing.
Let us now travel to the ’80s and the wonderful world of track and field. Personal Best came out in 1982 to critical acclaim, and it’s easy to see why. A young track star is training for the Olympics but gets caught up in a love triangle between her mentor (actual track star Patrice Donnelly) and a swimmer. Can she work hard enough to make the team, or will she get distracted by her love life? This movie is more than a bit dated, but that makes it fun. And we really appreciate the appearance of a same-sex relationship in a sports movie (can we have more of that, please?). Worth the watch!
Did we miss your favorite female-led sports flick? Sound off in the comments!
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