Hoop Dreams (1994)



Critic Consensus: One of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of all time, Hoop Dreams is a rich, complex, heartbreaking, and ultimately deeply rewarding film that uses high school hoops as a jumping-off point to explore issues of race, class, and education in modern America.

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Movie Info

This documentary about the aspirations of high-school basketball players from inner city Chicago won awards from the Sundance film festival, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Academy Award (Oscar) for best editing. Two young men are followed during their entire high-school career, beginning with their participation in playground games and ending with their being recruited by colleges. The obstacles these young men face include parental drug addiction, family poverty, and inner-city violence, as well as the usual obstacles that arise in competition, including physical injuries. While each aspires to leave the ghetto, there are many reasons to suppose they may not be able to, despite each beating the odds against them by winning college scholarships.
Documentary , Special Interest , Sports & Fitness
Directed By:
In Theaters:
Fine Line Features

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William Gates
as Himself
Arthur Agee
as Himself
William Gates
as Himself
Arthur Agee
as Himself
Emma Gates
as Herself (William's mother)
Sheila Agee
as Herself (Arthur's mother)
Earl Smith
as Himself (Talent scout)
Gene Pingatore
as Himself (Coach)
Isiah Thomas
as Himself (Professional basketball player)
Kevin O'Neill
as Himself (Marquette University head basketball coach)
Dick Vitale
as Himself (Television sports commentator)
Bobby Knight
as Himself (Indiana University head basketball coach)
Spike Lee
as Himself (Film director)
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Critic Reviews for Hoop Dreams

All Critics (51) | Top Critics (14)

It's about three hours long. But it moves like Isiah, fast and smooth, and it's over in a heartbreak.

Full Review… | August 3, 2008
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Hoop Dreams has shown us that the rules of the game are stacked against kids like Gates and Agee. Even better, it shows us how they fight back, with the inside moves of hope.

Full Review… | March 30, 2008
Top Critic

A heady dose of the American dream and the American nightmare combined -- a numbing investigation of how one point on an exam or one basket or turnover in a game can make all the difference in a family's fortunes.

Full Review… | March 21, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A prodigious achievement that conveys the fabric of modern American life, aspirations and incidentally, sports, in close-up and at length, Hoop Dreams is a documentary slam dunk.

Full Review… | March 21, 2007
Top Critic


Full Review… | June 23, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

An ironic drama so beautifully sculpted it could be transposed without alteration into a fictional film.

June 7, 2005
Hollywood Reporter
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Hoop Dreams

Two Chicago-area teens undergo a myriad of struggles as they hope to one day play in the NBA. I remember when this film came out and Siskel and Ebert almost creamed themselves over it and had a collective apoplectic fit when it wasn't nominated for Best Documentary. Conflating themes of race, poverty, urban violence, parenting, education, and the illusory American Dream, Hoop Dreams offers a lot to chew on, making it understandable that professional critics would find it so riveting. I agree that it is an extraordinary film that has a profound and wide scope (though I wouldn't go so far as Hal Hinson who calls it "The most powerful movie about sports ever made"). And though Gates and Agee are occasionally unlikable, they are interesting, flawed and human in readily identifiable ways. The one thing I didn't like was the "degree of embeddedness." It seemed like the documentarians checked in on their subject regularly, and thus we don't get to see some of the profound changes like the birth of Gates's kid or the histrionics of Agee's father. Overall, even though nothing could live up to the hype that originally surrounded this film, Hoop Dreams is a profound portrait of American life and our pursuit of happiness, which often gets confused with the pursuit of money and fame.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

The best documentary ever made concerning two young boys in Chicago who dream of becoming pro basketball players some day, and how their lives intertwine and how each faces disappointment and life-altering decisions as they get older. Director Steve James has crafted a three-hour epic that blows by at a lightning speed pace, all while exploring every facet of these boys lives. Even more tragic is that fact that some of the family members in the movie have been murdered in street-related violence since this film was made. It is hands down one of the most depressing films I have seen, but one of the best in terms of detailing race, class, education, and the crazy expectations we put on phenoms from Day 1. Even if you do not like basketball, the film serves more of a microcosm of late 80's/early 90's culture in the city and how important the sport of basketball is, and how more important life and getting an education is in the end.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer


A documentary that is about much more than basketball, this is filmmaking at it's finest.

Graham Jones
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer

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