Trailblazers on Screen: Female Movie Athletes Who Inspired Generations

Fact Checked by Pat McLoone

Whether it be a classic bit of cinematic lore like 1992’s “A League of Their Own,” or a more recent feat of big-screen grandeur like 2017’s “Battle of the Sexes,” there’s no shortage of noteworthy female-centric sports movies to choose from over the years.  

The topic once again has come alive, thanks to the soon-to-be-released tennis film, “Challengers,” which stars Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist. In the movie, Zendaya’s character is tasked with helping her down-on-his-luck pro tennis player husband (Josh O’Connor) get back on his feet.  

The movie has sparked conversation around a tennis prodigy turned coach.

In anticipation of the film, took a break from Illinois sports betting and decided to find out which female movie athletes – real or not – are most popular. Using SEMrush with a search period of Feb. 1-March 1, 2024, we found that Bethany Hamilton’s character in ”Soul Surfer” was the most famous.

Most Famous Female Movie Athletes

RankCharacterMovieSearch Volume
T-1Bethany HamiltonSoul Surfer74K
T-1Billie Jean KingBattle of the Sexes74K
3Molly McGrathWildcats33.1K
4Marla HoochA League of Their Own3.6K
T-5Dottie HinsonA League of Their Own2.9K
T-5Monica WrightLove and Baskeball2.9K
7Jasmine PlummerThe Longshots2.4K
8Cathy RushThe Mighty Macs1.3K
9Haley GrahamStick It880
10Kelley FliehlerThe Miracle Season720


Which Roles Illinois Residents Love Most?

Based on search volume, it seems like Illinois residents can’t get enough of lead characters like Bethany Hamilton of “Soul Surfer and fellow tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King in “Battle of the Sexes,” with both athletes drawing totals of 74K each.

Those two trailblazers beat out Molly McGrath of “Wildcats” (33.1K search volume) and “A League of Their Own”stars Marla Hooch (3.6K search volume) and Dottie Hinson (2.9K search volume). “Love & Basketball” subject Monica Wright also had a total of 2.9K.

Throw in Jasmine Plummer of “The Longshots” (2.4K search volume), Cathy Rush of “The Mighty Macs” (1.3K search volume), Haley Graham of “Stick It” (880 search volume) and Kelley Fliehler of “The Miracle Season” (720 search volume) and you have the full list in the Prairie State.

Whether Zendaya’s portrayal of tennis prodigy turned coach Tashi Duncan will net her a spot on Illinois’ top female sports movie subject list in 2025 remains to be seen. We’ll find out for sure once Challengers hits the big screen on April 26., in addition to covering Illinois sports betting apps, offers stories of general interest such as this.

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Christopher Boan is a lead writer at specializing in covering state issues. He covered sports and sports betting in Arizona for more than seven years, including stops at, the Tucson Weekly and the Green Valley News.

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