People have played and watched sports since the dawn of time, and there is no reason why that should change in the future. There is an ancient idea of Bread and Circuses that applies just as easily to the future, too.

The phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses). Juvenal, who originated the phrase, used it to decry the selfishness of common people and their neglect of wider concerns. The phrase implies a population’s erosion or ignorance of civic duty as a priority.

Intellectual Noam Chomsky said something similar, in a more modern context:

I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I’m listening to is a discussion of sports. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it’s plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount… On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it’s at a level of superficiality that’s beyond belief.

Often this idea is taken very literally and future societies are shown enjoying gladiatorial games, such as you would see at the arena, rather than sports. For this list, however, I have excluded any match that is exclusively based on combat. There must be some other element of skill to make the game a sport. For this reason I have excluded Thunderdome and The Hunger Games, because they are gladiatorial contest rather than sports. Likewise robot combat like that seen in Real Steel is also excluded.

10 – Pod Racing

The Star Wars prequels are famously terrible, but there is one concept from them that is verging on good. Podracing is a dangerous racing sport on Tatooine. Podracers are small, one-man craft pulled by large engines. In Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker wins the Boonta Eve Classic on Tatooine, securing his freedom from a life of slavery thanks to Qui-Gon Jinn’s bet with Watto.

9 – Mean Arena

The Mean Arena is a 1980s comic book story from 2000 AD. It was very influenced by Rollerball, but it brought something unique to the mix, too. The game is a blend of street football, gladiatorial combat, sniping, and whatever happened to occur to the writer any particular week. The rules of the game were constantly in flux, depending on the needs of the story. Teams include the Southampton Sharks, Mother Vlad’s Vampires, and the Ellesmere Port Elephants. The Mean Arena was a popular strip and ran for 72 episodes.

8 – Basquash!

Basquash! is a sports and sci-fi anime that involves characters playing basketball while riding mecha. It has a very bright look, that is a nice relief from some of the dark and grim visuals of the movies and TV shows on this list. The story takes place on an alternate, futuristic version of Earth where human society is split between the far more advanced lunar society and that of the planet’s surface. A popular sport is BFB (Big Foot Basketball), where players ride mecha called “Big Foot” and play basketball in a giant arena. This is a sport that features giant robots playing basketball. It’s a crazy premise, but anything involving giant robots always gets extra points with me.

7 – Zero-G Squash

This sport is from a Doctor Who story called The Leisure Hive, first broadcast 30 August 1980. The plot is a little convoluted. Acording to Wikipedia:

In the serial, a criminal organisation of alien Foamasi called the West Lodge attempt to buy the planet Argolis from the Argolin people there as a West Lodge base. Meanwhile, the young Argolin Pangol (David Haig) seeks to start a war against the Foamasi his people had previously lost to with an army made up of clones of himself.

At one point, doctor and assistant drift past an ongoing game of zero-gravity squash, played without gravity in an octagonal room. The special effect on display are, hands down, the worst on this list, but the sport still somehow looks quite convincing.

6 – Rollerball

Rollerball is a 1975 sci-fi sports film starring James Caan. Rollerball is a violent, globally popular sport similar to Roller Derby. It’s a great looking movie which would have placed higher on the list if a better performance could have been coaxed from Caan. How it works is two teams clad in body armor skate on roller skates or ride on motorcycles around a banked track. The object of the game is to score points by throwing a steel ball into a magnetic, cone in the wall of the arena. While its ostensible purpose is entertainment, Mr. Bartholomew, a high-level executive of the Energy Corporation, describes it as having a “distinct social purpose”: to show the futility of individual effort.

5 – Death Race 2000

Death Race 2000 is a 1975 American action film starring David Carradine. The film takes place in a dystopian American society in the year 2000, where the murderous Transcontinental Road Race has become a form of national entertainment. This is an enormously influential movie, even though it is also very obviously B movie schlock. It could have placed at number one if it wasn’t so unrelentingly cheesy. It has just too much of Wacky Races about it.

4 – Pyramid

Pyramid is a fast-paced combination of skill, speed, and brute force. The way it was brought to life on screen for the original show looks so convincing, and yet so futuristic, it has to place highly, even though the game itself is not as bloodthirsty as something like Rollerball. The game gets its name from its triangular shaped court, the origins of which go back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Most people believe that pyramid originates hundreds of years ago on Caprica, developed as a diversion in the isolated mining outposts in the backlands. There are literally no rule books. They did not make it on anyone’s escape ship, and it has become part of the pyramid culture to distain arcane and fussy rules. Most games happen without any referee.

3 – Supersurf

This sport uses Powerboards and is an illegal race, held on the streets of Mega-City One. Legends involved in the race include Chopper, Dak Goodvibes, and Johnny Cuba. Tackling set obstacles and avoiding gunfire from the Judges, the surfers speed through the future city, many falling along the way. This is the second sport taken from the pages of 2000 AD, a comic book that has always been fertile ground for ideas coupled with great art.

2 – Light Cycles

The light cycles look so cool, both in the original movie, and in the remake. I remember playing a light cycles game on my ZX81, and loving it. The new light cycles in the latest movie are 5th-generation, an upgrade of the original light cycle with a design that more closely resembles a real-world motorcycle. It is powered by pure liquid energy, and the Light Ribbons it produces can be toggled on or off at any time, unlike the earlier generation Jetwalls which were constant on the Game Grid. Direct collisions with a light ribbon are fatal, but the light cycle will also often dissolve underneath its rider, leaving them to sustain injuries in a more survivable accident.

1 – Robot Jox

I started this list by disallowing any sport that was a simple gladiatorial combat, but I have decided to break this rule so that the number one future sport can be crowned. It is Robot Jox, a 1990 post-apocalyptic science fiction film about Achilles, one of the “robot jox” who pilot giant machines that fight international battles to settle territorial disputes in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world. It was a flop, earning $1,272,977 in domestic theatrical gross, and failing to return its production cost. Robot Jox received negative critical response and little audience attention upon its first theatrical run, but it is now being reevaluated. It didn’t make it to a cinema near me, back in 1990, and I had to search through video stores until I could find a copy to watch. It was an epic quest, but I still remember the excitement when I finally located a copy. I was not disappointed. This is truly the apex of sci-fi sports.

Galaxy Dog (Dark Galaxy)

Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy

Galaxy Dog is an epic space opera. What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet, brings to light an ancient archaeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy. This is the story of his rise, and the story of the fierce and independent woman and the feisty robot who help him.