The Best Movies That Celebrate The Underdog

Everyone loves a tale of characters overcoming enormous odds to find success. Hollywood usually uses sports stories, like Rocky, to tell this tale as old as time. Still, sometimes the tale of a scrappy game show contestant fighting for love steals our hearts. The celebration of the human spirit that these underdog stories explore fill our hearts with warmth and remind us just how much good there is left in the world. The following movies are the most uplifting underdog movies you can watch.

Rocky Fought Its Way To Ten Oscar Nominations

sylvester stallone rocky great underdog movies
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

One of the most well-known underdog stories ever told, Rocky came out in 1976 and became an instant classic. It was so beloved, it received ten Academy Award nominations, including two for Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone, who was nominated for acting and writing, didn’t take home a trophy, but he did win our hearts. Few stories are as memorably told as the “Italian Stallion’s” rise from nobody to a world-renowned boxer. Even the sequels were good. We know one of them will be on this list for sure!

The Karate Kid Was So Good They Made It Twice

the karate kid greatest underdog movies ever
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

The Karate Kid hit its way into theaters in 1984, introducing us to the world of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel. Originally played by Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio respectively, audiences wanted seconds so much that the film was remade in 2010.

The updated version starred Jackie Chan as Mr. Han and Jaden Smith and Dre Parker. It went on to make over $170 million at the box office, nearly $100 million more than its predecessor. Unlike the original, which spawned three sequels, the reboot stands alone.

Cinderella Man Gave Us Turtles

cinderella man greatest underdog movies
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Based on the true story of Jim Braddock, Cinderella Man follows the life of the down on his luck boxer during the great depression. As he is about to find redemption during the title fight, he tells reporters that his kids misheard him say he was going to bring home turtles instead of the title.

Of course, before the credits roll, he brings home both. Although a disappointment at the box office, Cinderella Man was nominated for three Academy Awards, most notably one for Paul Giamatti’s performance as Braddock’s real-life manager Joe Gould.

Cool Runnings Warmed Even The Coldest Hearts

cool runnings greatest underdog movies all time
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Who can forget the story of the Jamaican bobsled team that qualified at the Winter Olympics as told by Disney? The silly take on the true story has become a classic, thanks in large part to its anchoring performance by John Candy.

Critics loved the film, calling it light hearted and inspirational. Audiences loved it too, turning it into one of the surprise hits of the fall of 1993. Now the movie is a yearly staple on television, and when it comes up, it’s hard to change the channel to something else.

Slumdog Millionaire Took Love To New Heights

slumdog millionaire greatest underdog movies all time
Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlight

Slumdog Millionaire came out of nowhere when it was released in 2008. The film about unrequited love in the technology age showed the heights of hope that fill the human heart. Although set in India, the film felt like it could have taken place anywhere and found worldwide success.

Directed by Danny Boyle and starring Dev Patel Slumdog Millionaire won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Directing. Since the movie’s release, it has fallen under some scrutiny for its portrayal of wealth disparity in India but has mostly kept its reputation for proving the power of love.

Dodgeball Proved That “If You Can Dodge A Wrench, You Can Dodge A Ball”

dodgeball a true underdog story greatest underdog movies all time
Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

How do you save a gym designed to support average looking people trying to get into shape? You enter a nationally televised Dodgeball competition! That’s the premise of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, a movie that proved nice guys don’t have to finish last.

The hilarious film is perfectly cast with Vince Vaugh playing the everyman trying to save his gym opposite Ben Stiller’s smug gym owner. Stiller wants to buy Average Joes, so Vaughn creates a ragtag team to win the prize money and save his dream.

The Rookie Proves You’re Never Too Old To Dream

the rookie greatest underdog movies all time
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Dennis Quaid gives a brilliant performance in Disney’s underdog baseball movie The Rookie. The story follows the true life of Jim Morris, a former MLB prospect who became a teacher after injuries derailed his career.

After throwing batting practice to his high school baseball team, they challenge him to try out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays if they go undefeated. Despite his age, he follows through, and ends up in the minor leagues, where he is eventually called up to the big show!

Rudy Made Us Cheer For The Little Guy

rudy greatest underdog stories all time
Sony/Columbia Pictures
Sony/Columbia Pictures

It’s impossible to talk about underdog films without bringing up Rudy, the dramatic re-telling of Daniel Ruettiger’s struggles to play football for Notre Dame. The film was released in 1993, and fans have been yelling “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” ever since.

The film also helped jump start the career of Sean Astin, who would go on to be a stand out in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Oh yeah, he was also Bob Newby in the first season of Stranger Things.

Invincible Is Every Eagle’s Fans’ Favorite Movie

invincible greatest underdog movies all time
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Philadelphia is a football city, and the movie Invincible tells one of the greatest stories about Philly football ever told. Mark Wahlberg plays Vince Papale, who walked onto the Eagles in 1976 after an open tryout was held.

Papale went to on to play several years for the Eagles and is a local legend in the city of brotherly love. The movie, released in 2006, was hailed by critics as “authentic” and went on to earn $57 million domestically.

Moneyball Changed Baseball Forever

moneyball greatest underdog movies all time
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

Moneyball follows the story of former Oakland Athletics’ manager Billy Beane as he works around a limited budget to build a playoff roster. To achieve this amazing feat, he looked at analytics and valued a player’s ability to get on base more than anything else.

The 2002 season, as shown in the film, was almost a bust until the A’s went on a historic 20-game win streak. They stayed hot, and thanks to Beane, made the playoffs. The film was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay.

Rocky IV Took The Franchise To New Heights

rocky iv greatest underdog stories ever told
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Rocky may have triumphed in his big screen debut, but the 4th movie in the franchise would see his soul get crushed back down to Earth. Dolph Lundgren played Ivan Drago, a Soviet boxer who wants to fight Rocky, but settles for Apollo Creed instead.

During the fight, he takes the life of Creed, leading Rocky to train for the fight of his life to try and avenge his fallen friend. Critics weren’t kind to the film, but audiences drove to the theater is swarms, making it the highest grossing Rocky movie in the history of the franchise!

Creed Saw Rocky Pass The Torch

creed greatest underdog movies all time
Warner Brothers Pictures
Warner Brothers Pictures

In 2015 the world of Rocky needed a lift, so Ryan Coogler came up with Creed, a soft franchise reboot that would focus on the son of Apollo Creed. Michael B. Jordan was cast in the lead role, and Sylvester Stallone took on supporting duties.

By the end of the film, Adonis Creed overcomes his demons, barely losing the fight to best boxer in the world, but winning the respect of the people around him. Creed was nominated for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Stallone) at the Oscars.

Remember The Titans Was Disney’s Take On Football

remember the titans greatest underdog movies all time
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney took to the gridiron in 2000 with the release of Remember The Titans. Based on the harrowing story of coach Herman Boone, the first African American head coach at recently integrated T.C. Williams high school. As he finds success on the field, he learns that if he loses a single game he will be fired.

The movie touches on racial tensions at the time while leaving the audiences, and coach Boone, with a shining light of hope that good will always triumph over evil at the end of the day.

Miracle Pushed America To Its Limits

miracle greatest underdog movies ever
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Team USA was supposed to be a pushover in hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics. No country took them seriously, not even the Soviet Union, the top-ranked team in the world at the time. Then the “Miracle on Ice” happened and the USA beat the Soviets in the gold medal round to claim a shocking victory.

The event was dramatized in 2004 in the film Miracle, which takes on the story from the perspective of head coach Herb Brooks, played by Kurt Russell. Made on a budget of $28 million, it was a major hit, earning $64 million in theaters.

Hoosiers Tells A Tale As Old As Time

hoosiers greatest underdog movies all time
Orion Pictures
Orion Pictures

Set in 1951, Hoosiers follows Norman Dale, the newly hired basketball coach at a small town school in Indiana. He has a dark past and is hoping for a fresh start. What he gets is a team that only has seven players and is facing incredible odds against them to win a game.

Of course, the team wins more than one game. With Dale in charge, they win the state championship, even after his past threatens his future with the team. The movie is roughly based on the 1954 Milan High School team.

8 Mile Turned Eminem Into An Underdog

8 mile greatest underdog movies all time
Universal Studios
Universal Studios

The movie 8 Mile marked the big screen acting debut of hip hop icon Eminem. The musician stars as B-Rabbit, a white rapper in Detroit who has to choose between work and his love for rap against insurmountable circumstances.

When it was released, it was expected to be a cash grab with ticket sales driven by Eminem’s name on the marquee. Then it opened to $51 million and critics hailing it as ” a real movie, not a fast-buck package to exploit the fan base of a rap nonentity.”

The Mighty Ducks Turned Dreams Into Reality

the might ducks greatest underdog movies all time
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Usually, an underdog film like The Mighty Ducks is based on a true story, not the other way around. Released in 1992, the silly children’s hockey movie tells the redemptive tale o Gordon Bombay, who is forced to coach a community hockey team after getting a DUI.

The hit film was such a successful underdog movie that Disney named their new Anaheim hockey franchise after it in 1993. Today, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are more simply known as the Anaheim Ducks.

A League Of Their Own Proved Women Are Just As Good As Men

a league of their own greatest underdog movies all time
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

In 2012 A League of Their Own was honored by the Library of Congress by being selected to the National Film Registry. The library cited the underdog tale about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League as being, “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Coached by Jimmy Duggan, the Rockford Peaches brought prominence to the league in 1943, when several MLB players were fighting overseas. The Peaches won the World Series, proving that women can do anything men can do.

The Lord Of The Rings Made The Impossible Possible

the lord of the rings best underdog movies all time
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

You might not think The Lord of the Rings belongs on this list, but we assure you it does. The hero of the movie trilogy is Frodo, a scared and undersized hobbit given the most heroic task he possibly could. Going on the journey with him is his loyal, but just as scared friend Sam.

Throughout the three films, Frodo and Sam find their hidden courage and learn how to be the heroes Middle Earth needs to rid them of the evil Sauron.

The Pursuit Of Happyness Brought Us To Tears

the pursuit of happyness greatest underdog movies ever
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

One of the most uplifting stories put on film, The Pursuit of Happyness starts off with a man who has lost everything except his son. His wife has left him, he has no job, and he’s homeless. It also happens to be the real story of Chris Gardner.

By the time the credits roll, Gardner has become a stockbroker with the means for even more success. Played by Will Smith, the movie left everyone crying tears of “happyness” when it was released in 2006.

Glory Road Broke Stereotypes

glory road greatest underdog movies all time
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Glory Road came out in 2006 and dramatized the 1966 college basketball season of Texas Western. The team won the NCAA Championship, becoming the first to ever do so with a starting lineup of only African-Americans.

In the championship game, Texas Western famously took on powerhouse Kentucky, winning 72-65. Only a minor hit when it originally came out, Glory Road won the ESPY for Best Sports Movie and has gone on to be a staple on television.

Friday Night Lights Was Based In Gritty Realism

friday night lights greatest underdog movies all time
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Friday Night Lights is not your proto-typical underdog movie. It takes a gritty and realistic look at small-town life in Texas, where high school football is everything. The pressure put on the students in West Texas makes them true underdogs, and when they lose the big game at the end you can’t help but feel heartbroken for them.

The movie is based on the best selling book of the same name, which recounts the first season of a new head coach, played by Billy Bob Thornton. The movie proved so popular that a fictional television series was created shortly after and aired for five seasons.

Major League Is A Side-Splitting Underdog Comedy

major league greatest underdog movies all time
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Major League is full of star power and side-splitting jokes that still hold up thirty years after it originally came out. The Cleveland Indians are portrayed as an incompetent baseball team with an owner bent on moving them to Miami.

The only way to stay in Cleveland is to start winning, which they do against all odds. Major League was such a hit it spawned three sequels and helped launch the career of Wesley Snipes, who stole every scene as fast running Willie Mays Hays.

Star Wars Started As And Underdog Story

star wars greatest underdog movies all time
Twentieth Century Fox/Walt Disney Pictures
Twentieth Century Fox/Walt Disney Pictures

Star Wars: A New Hope is an underdog tale at its core, and it’s a great one. Luke Skywalker is a teenager wanting more from his life when he’s whisked away on a space adventure where he’s forced to find out what he’s really made of.

We don’t have to tell you how the movie ended, or where the franchise has gone since then. What we will tell you is that A New Hope was so lauded in 1977 that it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, losing to Annie Hall.

Seabiscuit Gave People Hope During The Great Depression

seabiscuit greatest underdog films all time
Universal Pictures/Dreamworks Pictures
Universal Pictures/Dreamworks Pictures

Like Cinderella Man, Seabiscuit takes place during the great depression and shows how sports can give helpless people hope. Seabiscuit was a thoroughbred racing horse who had a struggling jockey and brilliant trainer. Surprising everyone, the horse went on to win several races during the depression.

The movie was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Costume Design. Unfortunately, it couldn’t overcome the odds on the big night and failed to win a single statuette.