Hoop Dreams

Movie review by
Hollis Griffin, Common Sense Media
Hoop Dreams Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Stunning documentary addresses race and class issues.
  • PG-13
  • 1994
  • 171 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Poverty can crush the spirit, but family can help support people through difficult times. Hard work and listening to experts and coaches don't always get you what you want. Life is not fair. Talent does not always rise to the top. Sometimes bad luck ruins everything. Drug use is destructive. Additional themes include perseverance and teamwork.

Positive Role Models

William and Arthur both dream of NBA careers, but life takes them elsewhere. Both reevaluate the role of basketball in their lives as they begin to understand how few talented players make it to the NBA. Spoiler alert: Disappointed, they each replace the goal of reaching the NBA with the goal of achieving a college education. Their parents do their best under the most difficult circumstances to be loving and supportive. A suburban private high school reneges on its scholarship when a player doesn't meet expectations, then holds his records hostage for the $1,800 in back tuition the unemployed parents can't afford.


A character describes being mugged, and the danger of living in the ghetto is a theme throughout. Knee surgery is shown. The usual scuffles on a basketball court during a game are shown.


William fathers a child before he graduates from high school. Teen sexuality is discussed in terms of its consequences.


Locker-room profanity. Some strong language from basketball coaches, such as "bulls--t," and a scene where one of the characters is listening to music with particularly strong lyrics.


The process of scouting and recruiting talented young basketball players, from as early as age 12, is depicted in terms of economic advantage -- most especially to the high schools and colleges that recruit and give scholarships and secondarily to the striving players who dream of wealth, fame, glory, and a route out of the ghetto. Brand-name sports shoes and athletic gear are seen as overpriced and desired by those who can't afford it.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drug use by family members and friends is discussed, always in terms of its consequences. Drug-dealing neighborhoods are shown. Bo is a crack cocaine addict who eventually gets clean.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hoop Dreams is a powerful documentary that provides an excellent way for families to talk about big issues like race and class in urban America, long-term goals, and teen sex and drug use. Almost three hours long, it features lots of intense discussion by two young men about their experiences with parental separation and divorce, extreme poverty, sport-related injuries, urban blight and violence, and teen pregnancy, all while they're trying to earn college basketball scholarships. There's some strong language in the locker room and from basketball coaches, including "bulls--t," as well as a scene in which one of the characters listens to music with particularly strong lyrics.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written by36chambers December 30, 2020

The Greatest Documentary Ever Made

Hoop Dreams is a truly special film. Following the journeys of these two boys over several years results in one of the most honest depictions of American life I... Continue reading
Adult Written bycinephile-27690 April 18, 2019

One of the very best movies I have ever seen!

I have a book called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and this is a suggested movie. I loved this movie, it was so enthralling that you forget that it... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byTotally500 August 27, 2010

A Basketball Film that is remarkable for teens to see

this was a great film that i ever saw. It showed lots of messages and it was sad in most parts. It is a great film that every teen should see
Kid, 11 years old April 25, 2009

have to see

it was sad but good. a great film!

What's the story?

HOOP DREAMS follows the trials and tribulations of two young African-American basketball standouts from Chicago. Following the boys from eighth grade through their senior year in high school, director Steve James offers an intense look at the often depressing situation facing many young people who live in inner cities: parents, siblings, and friends all struggling with vastly limited opportunities, potentially fatal temptations, and overwhelmingly poor odds. That William Gates and Arthur Agee are gifted athletes provides them with the potential to avoid the predicaments of those they love by winning basketball scholarships to college -- and maybe, just maybe, a ticket to the NBA.

Is it any good?

This film's greatest strength is that it is pragmatic before it is hopeful. James is careful to highlight the many obstacles standing in Gates and Agee's way: from corner drug dealers to test scores, from tuition payments at ritzy private schools to parental desertion. Rather than providing viewers with a candy-coated confection of "local boy makes good," Hoop Dreams illustrates how nearly impossible it is for such a story to even take place -- and that frequently it's a result of things completely out of the boys' control. The result is a searing portrait of inner-city life in America, and the extraordinary, downright unfair expectations placed on the shoulders of many young African-American athletes.

Hoop Dreams painstakingly tempers the romanticism characteristic high school athletes by paying special attention to the many roadblocks that stand in the way of Gates and Agee's dreams. This movie provides an excellent way for families to talk about issues such as race and class in urban America, long-term goals, teen sex and drug use, and getting good grades.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the experiences of William Gates and Arthur Agee both on and off the high school basketball court in Hoop Dreams. How are William and Arthur's high school experiences different? How are they the same? How do their family environments both help and hurt each of them?

  • mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language:

  • EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA">How are issues of race and class intertwined, especially in urban America? What insight into those issues does this movie provide?

  • What do you think about the boys' long-term goals? What are your long-term goals?

  • Do you think the media glamorizes professional sports and sports stars? If so, is that a positive or negative thing?

  • How do William and Arthur demonstrate perseverance and teamwork in Hoop Dreams? Why are those important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sports

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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