Basketball isn't all fun and games, you know. Two characters facing off on the court is a sound plot device for a whole lot of movies. Not only is a friendly game of b-ball one of the bonding activities of the X-Men in the animated series, it's also served as a great way to solve disputes in any number of genre movies—from the times a leprechaun played it, to the times a werewolf played it, to the times when a vampire played it.
In celebration of one of America's greatest inventions and its profound effect on genre films, we've assembled a list of some of the most important, riveting, and world-changing basketball games ever seen on the big screen.
Back in 2004, a studio had a dream, and that dream was to make a movie about Catwoman starring Halle Berry. Instead of trying to start out with obvious, people-pleasing tactics, such as reading a single issue of any comic featuring fan favorite Catwoman, they came up with a new character that bore absolutely no similarity to the iconic one we've come to know and love.
Today, that little blockbuster that could is mostly remembered for being amazing. Just kidding, it's mostly remembered for being terrible — but, to be fair, there was some good stuff in there. Take the scene when Patience Phillips finds herself on a court with Benjamin Bratt's Detective Tom Lone and decides to go all out, jumping off a wall, doing some Globetrotter moves, and, well, straddling Bratt on the cement. As you do! As some people sometimes do.
The Sixth Man
You know what? Not every movie can be an Oscar winner. We can't live in a world of constant perfection, otherwise perfection would lose all meaning. Some movies need to be The Sixth Man, starring Marlon Wayans and Kadeem Hardison. One brother (Hardison) tragically dies after suffering a heart attack while making an improbable slam dunk, then starts showing up to aid his brother (Wayans) throughout his games, offering some much-needed total cheating to give him an advantage.
After a while, though, the living brother starts to question how completely amoral it is to win all the games via supernatural manipulation, and he becomes determined to win the game on his own merits. Spoiler: he does. It's pretty amazing. His ghost brother bounces from the physical realm, while the still-living brother goes on to... well, play more basketball.
The Luck of the Irish
The tagline on the poster for the 2001 movie The Luck of the Irish reads, “Kid today, leprechaun tomorrow.” It serves as a reminder for us all of the chaotic nature of existence, in which one never knows when one might simply wake up a leprechaun. This Disney Channel Original Movie follows Kyle as he learns of his family heritage, something his mom refers to as Irish but is actually Leprechaun — which is slightly different than being Irish.
Slowly growing pointy ears and mutton chops and shrinking to a much smaller size, Kyle's life as a star basketball player comes seriously into question as he discovers that his transformation has been caused by an evil leprechaun who STOLE HIS GOLD! Yes. You knew there was going to be gold in there somewhere. The leprechauns end up in a basketball game to determine who will be the One True Owner of the gold, and it is pandemonium.
The late Robin Williams was much beloved for his many dramatic performances, including Good Will Hunting and other movies that won Oscars and have nothing to do with this list. Perhaps his greatest role in a long and storied career, however, was in the remake of Flubber as the brainy, socially-challenged Professor Philip Brainard.
Flubber tells the universal tale of man versus creation, much like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein before it, as Brainard attempts to create a new energy source. What he comes up with is Flubber, a green, kind of sentient mass of goo that looks kind of like Gak (remember Gak?). Due to some pretty incredible levels of cheating, he wins a surprisingly close basketball game, proving that Flubber is, in fact, awesome (and somewhat useful for non-cheating purposes, too).
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie was pretty good. Unlike the more complex television series, the title is pretty much the plot and the plot is pretty much the title. It follows the story of Buffy, a cheerleader who discovers it's her fate to battle vampires.
One particularly iconic moment in the film occurs during a basketball game, when Buffy notices that several players on the court appear to be, well, vampires. She gives chase, eventually doing the slaying thing she's so well known for on a whole metric ton of vampires throughout the rest of the film. Featuring Ben Affleck in perhaps his greatest bit part as a generic teen boy, this basketball scene is an absolute classic.
The Amazing Spider-Man
After three successful films starring Tobey Maguire, the Spider-Man franchise was in desperate need of something new that would draw in new audiences. The Amazing Spider-Man was not that, as it mostly just rehashed Spider-Man's origin story for the umpteenth time. On the other hand, we all really like that origin story so it's still worth it.
Featuring one of the very least likable renditions of teen bully Flash Thomspon ever (and that's saying a lot), the basketball scene in The Amazing Spider-Man starts with him bullying other kids until Peter Parker waltzes up and embarrasses him in front of everyone by dunking on him. Although it may not be everyone's favorite Spider-Man movie, it's still the Spider-Man movie with the most basketball in it.
While the scene has mostly been the cause of an ongoing fan debate over whether or not it contains a really quick flash of nudity, it's important to remember that Teen Wolf was also one of the most successful genre movies of the '80s. Not only did it spawn a sequel and a Saturday morning cartoon, but it cemented Michael J. Fox as one of the most bankable actors of the time, appearing here as Scott Howard.
An ordinary teenager that wishes he could be more exciting, Scott rapidly comes to regret that wish when he becomes a werewolf. He turns into a basketball star using his wolf powers, but his grandstanding bums everyone else on the team out so he decides to nix the werewolf during the championship game. You probably know how the movie ends, but either way, Teen-Wolf will go down in history as the film in which a werewolf plays the absolute most basketball.
Featuring ample character growth for our beloved Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and many great interactions between her and relative franchise newbie Annalee Call (Winona Ryder), Alien: Resurrection doesn't get enough props. The basketball scene here barely even qualifies as a game, technically. It mostly consists of Ripley walking in, owning everyone, and making a shot over her shoulder without even looking, but still deserves a top spot on this list for sheer flawlessness. Ripley, you are the greatest, although your remarkable history as a basketball all-star remains as of yet unexplored.
The thing about this list is that most of these movies have one really great basketball scene. Space Jam, on the other hand, is a great basketball movie from beginning to end.
Riffing on basketball legend Michael Jordan's retirement in real time, Space Jam follows the Looney Tunes crew as they challenge a group of aliens known as Nerdlucks, who steal the abilities of several famous players. Seeing that they're at a disadvantage, the Looney Tunes beg Michael Jordan for help, but he declines –— that is, until the Nerdlucks turn him into a basketball and dribble him around the court. Rude! Needing to reassert his dignity and his place in basketball history, Jordan agrees to help the Looney Tunes. My favorite part of Space Jam is Lola Bunny, who's the most skilled at the game and who walks away with Bugs Bunny's heart.