Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie Robinson in the biopic “42,” which co-stars Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. But they are far from the first actors to portray iconic figures from classic true stories on the silver screen. Here are a few of the all-time great performances in sports biopics.
Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy
The Blind Side (2009)
Bullock earned the Academy Award for Best Actress by playing Michael Oher’s fiery adopted mother from Memphis in the highest grossing ($255 million) sports biopic ever.
Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Cooper plays the “Iron Horse” in a baseball classic that also includes cameos from Gehrig’s “Murderer’s Row” teammates Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Mark Koening.
Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar
Clint Eastwood directed Damon as the South African rugby star and Morgan Freeman as President Nelson Mandela in an emotional, politically charged “undefeated” drama.
Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta
Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus featured arguably the most realistic fight scenes ever and earned De Niro the Academy Award for Best Actor for his gritty performance.
Tobey Maguire as Red Pollard
Maguire hung up his Spiderman costume and hopped in the saddle to play the once angry, one-eyed jockey Pollard in an uplifting Depression-era tale of redemption.
Barry Pepper as Roger Maris
Pepper’s turn as Maris and Thomas Jane’s effort as Mickey Mantle highlight Billy Crystal’s labor of love in the HBO film based on Maris’ historic 1961 season.
Brad Pitt as Billy Beane
Pitt stars as the Oakland A’s general manager in another successful biopic based on a book by Michael Lewis, who also wrote the source material for The Blind Side.
Ronald Reagan as George “The Gipper” Gipp
Knute Rockne, All American (1940)
Before becoming the 40th President of the United States, Reagan urged Rockne — the iconic Notre Dame coach played by Pat O’Brien — to “win just one for the Gipper.”
Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks
Russell sends chills of exhilaration through the audience with Brooks’ now famous — and parodied — pregame speech to the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team.
Will Smith as Muhammad Ali
Smith gained 35 pounds of muscle, going from 185 to 220 pounds, in order to play the champ in the Michael Mann film that also stars Jon Voight as Howard Cosell.
Denzel Washington as Herman Boone
Remember the Titans (2000)
Denzel also played boxer Rubin Carter in The Hurricane, but his best sports biopic role is that of the football coach attempting to inspire and unify a racially divided team.