On March 11, the UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball team qualified for the 2023 NCAA March Madness Tournament after winning 72-62 against California State University, Fullerton in the Big West Conference Championship. As a film buff and college basketball fanatic, I have compiled a list of the most iconic and my personal favorite basketball movies in honor of this accomplishment.
“I ain’t no gizzard!” Inspired by the true story of the Milan High School basketball team winning the 1954 Indiana State Championship, “Hoosiers” is considered to be one of the best sports movies of all time. Gene Hackman stars as the new head coach at a high school in rural Indiana, where he passionately reinvents and inspires the team to achieve greatness. It is the classic feel-good story and encapsulates everything a good sports movie needs — an underdog team, a dedicated coach and a chance at redemption.
“White Men Can’t Jump” (1992)
Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson team up for a dynamic duo in this hilarious sports comedy. After pairing up to hustle streetballers for money, the two find themselves entangled in mobsters, debt and relationship issues. It’s hilarious, clever and just overall a fun watch. A remake starring Sinqua Walls and Jack Harlow is set to be released on May 19, 2023 on Hulu.
“Space Jam” (1996)
Would any basketball movie list be complete without “Space Jam?” Starring basketball legend Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes characters, the film follows Jordan as he helps the cartoon characters win a basketball match. The star-studded cast includes cameos from NBA stars Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, along with actors Danny DeVito and Bill Murray. Despite the zany premise, this live-action and animated comedy took the world by storm and is currently the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time.
“Love & Basketball” (2000)
Arguably one of the best romantic comedies from the 2000s, Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps star as childhood friends with dreams of playing professional basketball. The film follows the two as they grow up, showing the ups and downs of their relationship. It’s heartwarming, heartbreaking and everything in between, cementing itself as a cult classic. One could say it’s simply a story about love (and basketball).
“Finding Forrester” (2000)
The film depicts the unlikely friendship between talented basketball player and gifted student Jamal Wallace and antisocial writer William Forrester. As Jamal grapples between his love for basketball and skill for writing, Forrester takes the 16-year-old boy under his wing as his protégé. With Forrester’s help, Jamal is able to enter a path of self-discovery and find balance between his two talents. Sean Connery and Rob Brown give stellar performances in this heartwarming yet poignant film about friendship and identity.
“17 Again” (2009)
This movie features one of the best type-casts in cinematic history. Zac Efron perfectly portrays a 37-year-old man who is transported back to his teenage self. Once 17 again (get it?), he re-enrolls in high school to relive his high school basketball dreams. The film is like a raunchier “High School Musical” (2006) with elements of “Back to the Future” (1985), making for a strange but hilarious fusion. While far from critically acclaimed, “17 Again” still makes for a fun watch.
“Uncut Gems” (2019)
Is this a stretch? I would argue no. The entire premise of the movie is based around Kevin Garnett and a Boston Celtics game. With that being said, none of the events would’ve happened without basketball. Therefore, “Uncut Gems” is a basketball movie — and a really entertaining one at that. Adam Sandler delivers a career-best performance in this tense crime thriller. It’s engaging and addicting, and I guarantee you will be on the edge of your seat throughout its entirety.
Sandler shoots and scores again in this sports dramedy, playing a struggling NBA scout who attempts to prepare a talented streetball player from Spain for the NBA draft. The film is essentially a love letter to basketball, packed with specific references to the sport and multiple cameos by NBA stars. With another critically acclaimed performance from Sandler, the film garnered him a career-first nomination at the Screen Actors Guild Awards earlier this year.
“Chang Can Dunk” (2023)
This recent Disney+ original follows Chang, a 5-foot-8 Asian American high schooler, and his journey to successfully slam dunk by homecoming after challenging the school’s basketball star. Chang’s journey has it all: family drama, a love triangle and a training montage. While cheesy and often cliché, this coming-of-age tale is the definition of an underdog story. Can Chang dunk? Watch to find out.
And last but not least…
“High School Musical” (2006), “High School Music 2” (2007) and “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” (2008)
Since the first movie’s release in 2006, the High School Musical franchise has continued to captivate pop culture. Featuring breakout stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, the movies tackle themes of conformity, societal norms and the overall challenges of growing up. All of that is set to an iconic soundtrack, featuring songs such as “We’re All in This Together” and the incredibly relevant “Get’cha Head in the Game.” What I consider to be the holy grail of basketball movies and director Kenny Ortega’s magnum opus, “High School Musical” is a must-watch.
The Gauchos are currently seeded No. 14 in the South Region NCAA Tournament and will play the No. 3 seed Baylor University on March 17 in Denver, Colorado. The full tournament schedule can be found on the official NCAA website.