Sports

Ranking The Best Disney Channel Original Sports Movies On Disney+

If you had cable growing up, you know the joys of the Disney Channel Original Movie. These took the after school special to new heights—adding whimsy, magic, and teamwork to our lives packaged nicely with a moral about clean, healthy living. Most of them were poorly written and badly acted, and many of them involved sports.

Since you were a child when you watched them and had no cinematic opinion at the time, you’ve probably seen most of these. And now they’re roaring back to you by way of the massive library of movies Disney will house on its Disney+ streaming service. So let’s wade through them all and rank them properly so you know exactly what to watch once you’ve finished The Mandolorian.

But be careful because—when it comes to DCOMs you often end up learning a lot about yourself as you watch characters embark on a televised journey of self-discovery.

But first, a special honorable mention: Tiger Town.

Tiger Town is not the first true DCOM, but it was the first Disney Channel movie. It’s a Disney Channel Premiere Film released in 1983. It stars Roy Scheider—yes, the Jaws guy—as “veteran baseball player” in his final season with the Detroit Tigers.

Schneider was 61 years old when Tiger Town was filmed, which is incredible. The full thing is on YouTube, so please join me in watching an old man pretend to field and catch like a professional baseball player for the next 76 minutes before we continue.

OK, let’s get on with the show.

26) Zapped

First Aired: June 23, 2014
IMDB Score: 5.5
How Does It Sports?

This is not the Scott Baio film, it’s actually based on a novel called Boys Are Dogs. And also because Scott Baio would have been a pretty weird get for Disney Channel in 2014. This is kind of like that Adam Sandler movie Click, but for children. Zapped mixes a dance crew AND a basketball team into the plot here, as two siblings somehow use a dog-training app to control all the boys around them at school. Because boys are dogs, you see.

Yes, in high school the clear use for this kind of technology is to settle provincial grudges and improving at sports. Sounds exactly right to me.

25) Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board

First Aired: June 8, 2007
IMDB Score: 5.8
How Does It Sports?

This is a sequel to Johnny Tsunami, which we’ll discuss much later. All you need to know is that it takes place back in Hawaii. Somehow, there’s mountain boarding involved. Let’s never speak of this again.

24) Den Brother

First Aired: August 13, 2010
IMDB Score: 5.6
How Does It Sports?

Den Brother is a charming inversion of gender roles and copyright avoidance. A self-centered high school hockey player is forced to be a den… brother for his sister’s Girl… Guide troop because his mother is dead and his father is already dead inside. Like parents like son, Alex treats the troop terribly until he learns that his actions have consequences for others. He then, of course, learns some empathy and finds a place in his heart for the Girl Guides, making the All-Star team of his dreams in the process. I’m sure in the inevitable sequel they sell delicious… biscotti or something in between D-I hockey games. Look for that one sometime in 2020 on Disney+.

23) Hatching Pete

First Aired: April 24, 2009
IMDB Score: 5.6
How Does It Sports?

This one only sort of relates to sports. Awkward Pete swaps places with his charismatic mascot-friend Cleatus, because Cleatus says he can get Pete a date with his sister. Which is weird. Of course, Shy Pete does a better job of mascotting than Cleatus. Somehow, it makes the bad basketball team better. Hijinks ensue, secrets are revealed and everything is resolved nicely as the bad basketball team finally wins a game.

“You can live your whole life in a shell or… you can hatch.”

OH. I get it now! Listen: this one was bad.

22) Full-Court Miracle

First Aired: November 21, 2003
IMDB Score: 5.9
How Does It Sports?

Full-Court Miracle is based on the true story of Lamont Carr, an African-American college hoops player who took over a Jewish basketball team after a career-ending injury. It’s a unique story, but this movie got some mixed reviews. Check out this one from Joe Eskenazi when it first aired in 2003.

“Full-Court Miracle,” a Disney film about the little yeshiva basketball team that could, is so cheesy that kosher-conscious viewers ought not to watch it while eating meat.

It features long stretches of acting and dialogue only slightly less wooden than the Boston Garden’s famed parquet floor. And it boasts the most embarrassing sequence of young men dancing since a treacherously skipping record a decade ago exposed Milli Vanilli as little more than a glorified karaoke act.

Still, I sort of liked it.

Joe…

I agree.

21) Can of Worms

First aired: April 10, 1999
IMDB Score: 5.3
How Does It Sports?

This one isn’t so much about football as it is a vehicle for a boy to think he hallucinates about aliens after a football injury. Seems like they could have used this to make a real statement about concussions in youth sports, and they dropped the ball. This is the kind of movie where a reviewer on its IMDB page earnestly asked “did the writer die before he finished this?” so… maybe it doesn’t have much of a third act?

20) Go Figure

First Aired: June 10, 2005
IMDB Score: 5.9
How Does It Sports?

Unfortunately, this one does not star a mathlete. In fact, it’s a bit unfortunate all around. The tagline for hockey/figure skating movie is: She shoots. She scores. She accessorizes.

Because classy ladies can’t play hockey, you see.

Anyway, this one is surprisingly snappy despite it’s weird premise. Katelin is a standout figure skater that demands a Russian coach worthy of taking her to the next level. But for some reason she has to pretend to be a hockey player to get close to her? In the opening minutes of the film a rubber band breaking in her hair throws off her centrifugal force and she falls during a routine. It’s all very unclear. Kristi Yamaguchi also makes an appearance here. I hope she was paid well.

19) Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior

First Aired: June 16, 2006
IMDB Score: 5.5
How Does It Sports?

This is a bit more about the supernatural than actual sports, which is pretty common with DCOMs. Brenda Song’s character finds out she’s the reincarnation of a female kung fu master and needs to save the world. Martial arts are sports, you know, so it makes the list. In fact, Song has been a tae kwan do black belt since age 14, making her one of the few actors in a DCOM to actually know what they’re doing in their respective sport.

18) Miracle In Lane 2

First Aired: May 13, 2000
IMDB Score: 6.2
How Does It Sports?

Holy crap I forgot about this one. Frankie Muniz in a soap box derby. Instant classic.

Actually no, this was another one based on a true story. I remember now. Munez is a 13-year-old in a wheelchair who really wants to race. He got a special derby car he can use, but he crashes it. Also, the movie art kind of gives this one away. He wins the race. Can you believe that? First place. What a world.

It’s also one of the rare movie titles that end in “2” but it isn’t a sequel. Fun little fact there.

17) Ready to Run

First Aired: July 14, 2000
IMDB Score: 5.6
How Does It Sports?

Ready to Run is about horse racing. You get the idea. I don’t really want to talk about Ready to Run because I just finished watching BoJack Horseman, and I’d rather talk about that show instead.

Have you watched BoJack Horseman yet? You should do that instead of watching some old Disney movies. That underwater episode in Season 3 was beautiful and hilarious and awe-inspiring. I still think about it a lot. It’s really a tremendously unique and funny show that can routinely send me out on an existential crisis from which I may never return. Now that’s great television.

16) Rip Girls

First Aired: April 22, 2000
IMDB Score: 6.2
How Does It Sports?

A young Camilla Belle moves to Hawaii to discover the island after her family inherits a plantation. She learns to surf despite a tragic accident involving her mother that made the family leave Hawaii for the waves of Lake Michigan when Sydney was young. Despite that, she overcomes her Great Lakes childhood to find friends, and new hobbies, in America’s 50th state.

If her dad had his way, this is just a movie about a young photographer who moves to a scenic location to better her career in the arts. But dad didn’t get his way! Because dads are dumb.

15) Gotta Kick It Up!

First Aired: July 26, 2002
IMDB Score: 5.7
How Does It Sports?

There was some dancing in this.

14) Buffalo Dreams

First Aired: March 11, 2005
IMDB Score: 5.9
How Does It Sports?

This movie features an end sequence where mountain bikers herd American bison. I’m serious. I’m going to let the Wiki page speak for me here:

Josh eventually enters a race against his rival and proves to be the better of the two, however, he quits the race after seeing the buffalo herd stampeding. Josh quickly gathers his friends to save the town and while his rival refuses to help, his disgusted friends do. Together, they herd the buffalo away from the town and back onto their preserve.

During the process, Josh’s friend Thomas Blackhorse falls in front of a buffalo, but is saved by his sister who finally speaks for the first time in years to help calm the buffalo. Josh and his friends are hailed as heroes by the town and in recognition of his bravery, Josh is made an honorary member of the Navajo tribe with the name Rides With the Wind. He and Thomas, who he had trouble getting along with before, make a pact to keep the buffalo safe together.

Wait, no. Let’s clarify something. The formerly-mute sister doesn’t speak for the first time in years—she sings “Lean On Me.”

My word. How did this not win an Oscar?

13) High School Musical

First Aired: January 20, 2006
IMDB Score: 5.2
How Does It Sports?

This is one of the most popular DCOMs of all-time. And while it’s not ultimately about sports, it does feature a snazzy sports musical using real life basketball sounds and sports terms! Getcha head in the game, folks. This one’s about the sporps.

12) The Color of Friendship

First Aired: February 5, 2000
IMDB Score: 7.4
How Does It Sports?

You may not think a powerful piece about the strength of humanity in the face of South Africa’s policy of Apartheid has anything to do with sports, but it does. Friendship is the most dangerous sport there is. The stakes were high in this one, and these girls scored a touchdown.

All jokes aside, this is a good movie.

11) The Thirteenth Year

First Aired: May 15, 1999
IMDB Score: 6.0
How Does It Sports?

A high school swimmer defrauds his local athletic authority by transforming into a mermaid to get even better at swimming. This film wrongly teaches children to hide their performance-enhancements from the proper governing bodies and promotes poor sportsman/mermaidship among species.

IMDB says Kristen Stewart is an uncredited extra in this movie which—poor sportsmanship aside—is about as exciting as it gets here. Still pretty fun, though.

10) Cloud 9

First Aired: January 17, 2014
IMDB Score: 6.8
How Does It Sports?

This one has a 2,000-word plot summary on Wikipedia that even George R.R. Martin called “a bit much.” It was also produced by Ashley Tisdale of High School Musical fame, so now these movies are replicating by mitosis. I am afraid. Anyway, this film dives back into the world of competitive snowboarding and the snowboarding team is called the Hot Doggers. I’ve never seen it all the way through and the plot summary was longer than the script, so let’s just put it here and move on.

9) The Luck of the Irish

First Aired: March 9, 2001
IMDB Score: 6.3
How Does It Sports?

Basketball and whimsy really go together like two peas in a pod. The Luck of the Irish is a bit Teen Wolf-y and stars someone who looks exactly the same as the kid from that mermaid movie Disney made two years earlier. I think he had to dye his hair red for this role. And try to put on an Irish accent. Great acting performance all around.

The basketball scenes are, of course, hilarious. And so is the premise. Watch this one with your family every St. Patrick’s Day. Every holiday needs a tradition.

8) Going to the Mat

First Aired: March 19, 2004
IMDB Score: 7.1
How Does It Sports?

You gotta hand it to the Lawrence Brothers — they got their money from Disney back in the day. This wrestling film had Andrew Lawrence play a blind musician that everyone at school kind of hates. To fix this, Lawrence’s Jace Newfield takes up wrestling. One problem: he sucks at it!

Fixing that involves dancing with a giant stuffed dog. I like the movie’s commitment to cross-disciplinary athletic training. It’s always good to diversify your interests as an athlete. You never know what you might like.

Wayne Brady also makes an appearance! Guess what: He’s also blind!

Casting representation issues aside, this one’s actually pretty solid. You could learn a good deal about wrestling from this movie, if you needed to. Good sports film.

7) Right on Track

First Aired: March 21, 2003
IMDB Score: 6.6
How Does It Sports?

Right on Track has a young Oscar winner in the cast—Brie Larson. That gives it a bit of a boost in the rankings. Larson is one of two sisters who compete in youth drag racing events, beating boys and turning heads. The other sister is Beverley Mitchell, of 7th Heaven fame. And the two sisters the movie was based on were actually stunt drivers in the racing scenes. Really a lot going on in this one.

There is also a volleyball scene.

6) Double Teamed

First Aired: January 18, 2002
IMDB Score: 6.2
How Does It Sports?

This one has an unfortunate name. There’s no getting around it. But it might actually be the best story of the bunch because the two sisters the movie is based on—Heidi and Heather Burge—both played in the WNBA. Also significant here: the two girls playing the volleyball-turned-basketball stars were not twins. They weren’t even related! Now that’s some impressive casting right there.

5) Genius

First Aired: August 21, 1999
IMDB Score: 6.4
How Does It Sports?

Man, Disney Channel had a lot of sports movies in 1999. The hockey—and science—in this one were probably some of the worst sports scenes ever recorded on film, but it was pretty fun. I liked the Back to the Future vibe with the professor and the young kid, and the two main characters had fun chemistry.

Here’s a funny thing: unlike many of the actresses, few of the actors in these DCOMs ever seems to have done anything with their careers afterward. Except Charlie Boyle! He was in Jurassic Park III and has had a long career on television. Good for him! Emmy Rossum, meanwhile, has found a lot of success on Shameless. This might be the best cast success of the DCOMs, High School Musical notwithstanding.

4) Alley Cats Strike

First Aired: March 18, 2000
IMDB Score: 6.3
How Does It Sports?

Bowling is great and this movie has a surprising amount of star power. Kaley Cuoco played a big role on the bowling team before she went on to star on network television. Alley Cats Strike is about a retro-loving group of bowling teens who band together to win a cross-city high school rivalry/apple trophy by playing the sport they love most. They even recruit a real jock to help them shine and save a bowling alley along the way.

This is a fun movie with a slick soundtrack. It might be the best DCOM, but I can’t stand by and let the great sport of bowling get marred by its ending. That’s the dumbest attempt at making a 7-10 split ever. It just doesn’t work and the pins were set up in the wrong spot on the lane, anyway. Ruins the whole movie’s believability, gang.

3) Motocrossed

First Aired: February 16, 2001
IMDB Score: 6.7
How Does It Sports?

Andrea Carson just wants to race, but racing is for dudes, brah. It takes an injury to her twin brother for her to get out on the track with the boys, who think she’s her brother Andrew when she cuts her hair. But oh no, “Drew” gets to befriend the dreamy—and talented—Dean Talon. Sexually confusing sparks fly. There are a lot of slow-motion racing montages set to chill music. I think I remember a weird swimming scene.

Adolescent me didn’t realize that this was a take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Apparently its name during production was “The 12th Lap,” which is pretty clever. This movie made everyone want to communicate with their parents using a white board. Despite the fact that Andrea looks absolutely nothing like her “twin” brother with a crew cut, this is a good one. But not the best.

2) Johnny Tsunami

First Aired: July 24, 1999
IMDB Score: 6.4
How Does It Sports?

It’s the most rote sports script there is. An outsider stumbles upon an unfair situation, sides with the underdogs and changes the world forever. Johnny Kapahaala is a cool surfer dude with an even cooler grandpa who gets dropped in the middle of Vermont and must learn to snowboard.

Along the way, he angers skiers, wears a cool hat, and shreds some fresh powder to some phat tunes. Urchin’s motto is ‘go big or go home.’ This movie came through.

1) Brink

First Aired: August 29, 1998
IMDB Score: 7.2
How Does It Sports?

Brink was the first athletics-based DCOM in the modern era, and it’s the best. Andy “Brink” Brinker leads a rag-tag team of “Soul-Skaters” against a black-clad corporate inline skating monolith in this classic good vs. evil movie. This is the film that made a lot of impressionable kids buy Fastball’s All the Pain Money Can Buy because of that one song.

Everyone pulls for Team Pup N’ Suds as they grind their way to glory. It’s a great pick for a nostalgic Halloween costume, if you have skating knee pads lying around the house. I actually had no idea it was loosely based on a story called Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates until writing this. Disney cribbed hard from other sources in these movies but, when executed well the stories shine through. This was a fun movie to watch growing up. Still is.

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