10 sports movies where the main characters actually lose

Victory comes in many shapes and sizes; and, paradoxical as it may seem, it sometimes takes the form of loss. Proof of this are some beloved sports movies where the main characters lose in the end, but in the process gain something far more important.


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Sometimes it’s about proving to yourself that you’re capable of succeeding, as in Eddie the eaglewhile other times it is about self-improvement and community, as in Coach Carter. Either way, when the stars of a sports movie lose, there’s always a much more valuable trophy for the characters and for the audience.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

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Play or Be Played – “Any Sunday” (1999)

a soccer coach giving instructions to one of his players

In this division Pierre Olivier film, an aging American football coach (Al Pacino) is forced to reevaluate his game plans and even his own life when a third-string quarterback (Jamie Foxx) gives a stunning performance on the pitch.

Aided by its solid editing and a talented cast featuring the likes of Dennis Quaid and Cameron DiazStone creates an elegant and dense film with Any Sunday. His ending is incredibly inspiring, despite the main team ultimately losing the Championship Finals.

A Big Dream at Twenty Below Zero – ‘Cool Runnings’ (1993)

Cool races
Image via Buena Vista Pictures

This incredibly charming and funny Disney comedy tells the true story of a Jamaican sprinter (Leon) who, after being disqualified from the Olympics, recruits a disgraced coach to start Jamaica’s first bobsled team.

In their final race, the team loses epically after one of their bobsleigh blades comes off, but they gracefully pick up their vehicle and carry it to the finish line. The end of Cool races is a catchy film, full of sweetness and emotion that manages to be both poignantly sincere and satisfyingly feel-good, even though the film is not particularly faithful to the actual source material.

Billy Bob Thornton instructing his football players in the locker room

In this compelling film based on a true story, a small town in Texas has an unhealthy obsession with its high school football team. So when a star player is seriously injured, all hope dies for the team and the town’s social problems become more apparent.

Throughout its execution, Friday night lights perfectly walks the line between uplifting and devastating, and nowhere is that clearer than at the end as the team loses the state championship. There’s an undeniable air of sadness and defeat, but the things that are won make for an emotional yet satisfying ending.

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The Titanic Task of Being Your Own Hero – ‘Whip It’ (2009)

Elliot Page rollerblading in a green uniform

Whip it, Drew Barrymorefor his directorial debut, finds Bliss (Elliot Page) finding a way to deal with his non-compliance after discovering a roller derby league in Austin.

Barrymore has a surprisingly charming directing style, and the ending proves it. In it, Bliss and his team narrowly lose the championship game, but they enthusiastically accept their loss and celebrate how far they’ve come. Ultimately, the film is a moving tale of finding your own path in life.

Growing Up With Baseball – ‘The Bad News Bears’ (1976)

a little league team shouting from the bench

In this classic ’70s comedy-drama, a down-on-his-luck former minor leaguer coaches a team of misfits in California’s extraordinarily competitive little league.

Bad news carries isn’t just a hilarious comedy, it also has some really effective dramatic moments, deep and thoughtful themes, and a killer ending. Although the Bears end up losing the game, the whole movie refuses to celebrate meritocracy. It really feels like the team won just by showing up, doing their best and having fun.

Aim Higher Than You Can Possibly Reach – ‘Eddie the Eagle’ (2016)

Taron Egerton as Michael 'Eddie' Edwards in Eddie the Eagle

Based on a true story that feels good, Eddie the eagle is the story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), and how a charismatic coach (Hugh Jackman) helped him become an unlikely British ski jumper with far more self-confidence than actual talent.

With charm and tenderness to spare, the film accelerates towards an exhilarating end where Eddie arrives last at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. It’s not a sad ending, however, as Eddie is acclaimed by audiences and viewers around the world. He is hailed as a national hero, delivering a powerful message about resilience and hard work.

It Starts on the Street, It Ends Here – ‘Coach Carter’ (2005)

Coach Carter holds a ball and talks to his team on the field

Arguably one of the most inspiring sports dramas of the 2000s, Coach Carter is based on the true story of a high school basketball coach (Samuel L. Jackson) who benches his undefeated team due to poor academic performance.

At the end of the film, the team loses the state quarterfinals. It’s a heartbreaking yet hopeful moment knowing that the team members have won the “ever elusive victory on the inside”. It’s a beautiful ending that celebrates perseverance and self-improvement over petty victories, making it one of the best basketball movies of all time.

There are no tears in this film! – “A league apart” (1992)

A League of Their Own women's baseball team

Penny MarshallThe beloved comedy tells the story of two competitive sisters who join the first all-female professional baseball team, trying to nudge it towards unlikely success.

A league apart is a timeless entertainment, celebration of teamwork and leadership based on an inspiring real-life story. Although the main characters lose at the World Series, the sense of community built and the lessons learned along the way really carry much more weight.

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What is an inheritance? – ‘Creed’ (2015)

Rocky instructing Adonis Creed

Ryan Coogler took the world by storm Creeda phenomenal Rocky spin-off/sequel centered on Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), Rocky’s son (Sylvester Stallone) the late friend of Apollo Creed.

Creed more than lives up to the quality of the franchise, being perhaps one of the best sports movies of all time. It works on just about every level, and its ending is amazingly powerful. Although Adonis loses on a split decision, he earns the respect of the public, his rival, and most importantly, himself, proving himself a worthy bearer of his father’s name.

The Ultimate Sports Movie Ending – ‘Rocky’ (1976)

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa

When it comes to talking about films where the protagonist loses, the conversation should always veer towards Rockythe Oscar-winning drama about an uneducated amateur boxer who tries to win the heavyweight title of the world against Apollo Creed (Carl Meteos).

By the end of the movie, Rocky doesn’t really care who won the fight, and neither does the audience. It was about going the distance and the protagonist’s beautiful relationship with Adrian (Talia County), resulting in one of the most uplifting and thrilling endings in movie history.

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