Learn These Sports Genre Lessons from The Best Hockey Films


From Slapshot to The Mighty Ducks, we drop the puck on everything you should know about the greatest hockey films of all time.

Moving along with our series on the best examples of different sports genre films, we move north to the frozen lakes and rivers of the stick and puck with the best hockey films. The sport of hockey, whose origins can interestingly enough be traced to ancient Egyptian times some 4,000 years ago, exists today in a mainstream culture mainly as a team sport popular in the chillier northern climates of the United States and Europe.

And, as you might expect for a popular North American sport, ice hockey (as it’s often classified) has a rich history in the Hollywood film industry on par with other sports film genres like basketball, baseball, and American football.

However, unlike these other sports, the hockey film has its unique quirks and rules, which—if you’re interested in making a hockey film of your own—you should absolutely study. To help keep you from getting tripped up on the ice (especially with an expensive camera in your hand), here are our picks (and lessons you can learn from) of the best hockey films of all time.


Honorable Mentions

Starting, we have to highlight some honorable selections which are cinematically and culturally significant but not entirely on our list of top picks. These are also a nice blend of cross-genre types as the hockey genre (like many other sports film genres) lends itself well to combine with comedy, drama, and even action.

Take, for example, Strange Brew (1983), a Canadian comedy film featuring comedians Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis in a popular film version of a SCTV sketch. Or Indian Horse (2017), a coming-of-age drama telling the story of a Canadian First Nations boy who dreams of growing up to become a professional hockey player.


7. The Cutting Edge (1992)

Another example of the hockey film making good fodder for cross-genre sensibilities is the 1992 sports rom-com The Cutting Edge starring Moira Kelly and D. B. Sweeney. This is a great intro to the hockey genre as its offers a fascinating juxtaposition of the sport of hockey as a blue-collar pastime up against the higher prestige of figure skating.

Of course, there’s a love story at the heart of this disconnect and even a fun ’80s USA versus Russia subplot akin to Rocky IV. However, this is a great first start for anyone wanting to get an idea of how hockey can build up a film character.


6. Sudden Death (1995)

Next on our list is probably one of my favorite selections (and arguably my all-time favorite Jean-Claude Van Damme film). Sudden Death is a fun but by-the-books genre action film which features hockey as a sometimes minor (and occasionally major) plot construct.

Directed by Peter Hyams and released in the mid-’90s, Sudden Death is one of numerous films to take the Die Hard premiere but add a “but in a ____” feature. In this case, Van Damme’s character is a security guard at a hockey game that a tux-clad terrorist targets for a high-stakes game of hostage.

Yet, even with hockey being a convenient plot background, there are great scenes where Van Damme (of course) must go out on the ice and play goalie to keep the game from ending.


5. Goon (2011)

Similar perhaps to what Happy Gilmore did for the golf sports genre, the 2011 film Goon (starring Seann William Scott) might be the current poster child for a solid hockey comedy. While considered to be a flop on release with little box office return, the film, which features Scott as an enforcer for a minor league ice hockey team who loves his job, went on to become a bit of an online cult success.

It even earned a sequel in 2017, with Scott returning to the role. While not a masterclass in high art cinema by any means, it does a respectable job of conveying the chaotic, and at times dangerous, energy of being out on the ice in a way few films have dared to film. Watch it for the character laughs, but also for its hockey fight sequences.


4. Miracle (2004)

Now, moving along, if there’s one theme that seems to be consistent in the top hockey films of all time, it’s that feel-good sports dramas do well with this particular sport. Our first selection in this vein is the 2004 film Miracle. This historical sports drama is about the United States men’s ice hockey team who miraculously won a gold medal over the heavily favored Soviet team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

To many, this is hands down the most important moment in hockey history and is essential viewing, at least from a historical perspective, to understand why this story matters to fans. However, it’s also a pretty great movie starring Kurt Russel as coach Herb Brooks. Its solid directing, acting, and editing helped it to become a moderate box office success—and a passionate fan favorite.


3. Mystery, Alaska (1999)

Similar to Miracle in some respects, the 1999 American sports comedy-drama film Mystery, Alaska also attempts to tell a similar underdog story. However, while not based on actual events, the film feels authentic as it follows an amateur ice hockey team from a small town that plays an exhibition game against an NHL team.

Directed by well-known comedy director Jay Roach, the film does an excellent job of not trying to do too much besides telling an enjoyable story that centers on the sport of hockey sincerely. While also not a box office hit, the film’s legacy has built over the years due to its authenticity. It’s regarded as one of the better sports films of all time.


2. The Mighty Ducks (1992)

Perhaps the most well-known film (or film series for that matter) in the hockey sports film genre, The Mighty Ducks (1992) was the original film that launched a franchise (and even got a real-life NHL team its name).

While a household name nowadays, the original film was shot on a relatively small $14 million budget and was another rag-tag group of kids banding together sports film put out by Disney similar to The Little Giants or The Sandlot. Yet, something about the filmmaking, the acting, and perhaps the backdrop of hockey instead of another sport helped the film take off.

The Mighty Ducks would launch an entire media franchise featuring three live-action films, a live-action television series, an animated series, and of course, a real world NHL team. Feats no other sports film in any other genre have been close to replicating.


1. Slap Shot (1977)

Finally, while The Mighty Ducks might be our most culturally significant hockey film, Slap Shot is widely considered the best film this particular sports genre has produced. Directed by George Roy Hil and written by Nancy Dowd, Slap Shot stars Paul Newman in one of his most charming roles.

Loosely based on writer Nancy Dowd’s professional ice hockey playing brother Ned Dowd experiences on 1970s minor league professional hockey teams, Paul Newman’s Reggie Dunlop leads another comedic rag-tag group of cutthroats to compete for the championship.

Simply put, Slap Shot does the best job of bringing the sport of hockey to life in a way that resonates with fans even still today. It’s fun, not too serious, yet gives enough reverence (and great on-ice cinematography) to really capture what the hockey genre is all about.


Feature image via Disney.

For more genre filmmaking insights and articles, check out these additional resources below.





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