Hoop Dreams

Critics 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.



Reviews Counted: 55

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Audience Score

User Ratings: 12,566


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Average Rating: 4.2/5

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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.

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Critic Reviews for Hoop Dreams

All Critics (55) | Top Critics (14)

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

    Aug 3, 2008 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Mar 31, 2008 | Full Review…

    David Ansen

    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.

    Mar 21, 2007 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Mar 21, 2007

    Todd McCarthy

    Top Critic
  • Unforgettable.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Derek Adams

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • An ironic drama so beautifully sculpted it could be transposed without alteration into a fictional film.

    Jun 8, 2005

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


This film isn't really about "Hoop Dreams." It's about two teenagers growing up in urban Chicago facing a plethora of life challenges, one of which happens to be basketball. As we follow Agee and Gates through their high school years, we see them mature mentally and psychologically as they struggle through difficulties, from a father who can't seem to act like an adult to trying to get a high enough ACT score to obtain a scholarship. The most striking thing about the film is that for tens of minutes at a time, you forget that you're watching a documentary, and it feels like not much more than another urban-kid-overcomes-life's-challenges film. That's not a good thing. The filmmakers have failed to continually remind the viewer that this is not a fictional film, resulting, at times, in an all-too-familiar plot structure. The film's moments of brilliance, though, come when the viewer is abruptly reminded that this film isn't fake at all. A scene toward the end of the film features an 18-year-old Agee playing a game of street basketball with his father, who for much of the film refuses to act his age. Sure enough, when Agee easily handles his aged, trash-talking father, his father dons an unsportsmanlike attitude fit for an eighth grader. No writer could ever write a scene like that, no director could ever create the realism of the scene, and most notably, no actor could ever imitate the immaturity shown by this middle-aged man It's a quality documentary, but the story it has to tell is, in many regards, unremarkable considering the many fictional films out there that tell a nearly identical story to this one.

Jay Hutchinson
Jay Hutchinson

Super Reviewer

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