The movie chronicles the journey of the 1980 US Olympic Mens ice hockey team. Then University of Minnesota head coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) interviews with the United States Olympic Committee, discussing his philosophy on how to beat the Soviet team, calling for changes to the practice schedule and strategy. Brooks meets his assistant coach Craig Patrick at the tryouts in Colorado Springs. However, Brooks selects a preliminary roster of 26—later to be cut to a final roster of 20—indifferent of the tryouts and the preferences of senior USOC hockey officials. He convinces Walter Bush (Sean McCann), the executive director of the committee, that he has their best interests at heart. Bush agrees to take the heat from the committee, saying, "I'll back you up on this one."
During the initial practice, tempers flare as forward Rob McClanahan and defenseman Jack O'Callahan get into a fight based on an old college rivalry. Brooks bluntly tells the players that they are to let go of old rivalries and start becoming a team. He then calls for introductions, in which each player states his name, his hometown, and for whom he plays.
The coach starts the team on an exhausting conditioning drill (which became known as "Herbies"), in which the team sprints together back and forth across the ice, over and over.
During an exhibition game against the Norwegian National Team in Oslo that ends in a 3–3 tie, Brooks notices the players are distracted by pretty girls in the stands and not playing up to their potential. After the game, in a wrenching scene, he makes them run "Herbies" far into the night, asking the team who it was that they played for. Finally exhausted, forward Mike Eruzione responds with the answer that Herb had wanted all along, "I play for the United States of America!" and the drills are ended.
The team plays the Soviets in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden. The Russians manhandle the young American team, winning by a score of 10-3. During the game, O'Callahan receives an injury that could keep him out of the entire Olympics, and starting goaltender Jim Craig is told he may be benched in favor of back-up goalie Steve Janaszak. Craig ends up retaining his starting job when the coach brings him to realize that he hasn't been giving his very best.
As the Olympic tournament begins, the Americans trail Sweden 2-1 in the first game. Brooks fires up the team during the break by slamming a table out of his way and accusing injured McClanahan of quitting (Doc had said his injury wouldn't get worse if he played on it.) McClanahan ends up playing despite his pain, and the inspired American team came through as Bill Baker scores a goal in the final minute for a dramatic 2-2 tie. They follow that up with a 7-3 win over heavily favored Czechoslovakia, then victories over Norway, Romania and West Germany to earn a spot in the medal round.
The Americans are considered overwhelming underdogs to the Soviets in the first medal round game. The game begins and following a slash which doesn't get called a penalty, the Russians score the first goal. Then O'Callahan, having healed enough from his injury, enters the game for the first time. He makes an immediate impact by knocking down Vladimir Krutov on a play that leads to a goal by Buzz Schneider. Following another Soviet goal the first period winds down. In the final seconds the Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak stops a long shot by Dave Christian, but Mark Johnson gets the rebound and scores with less than one second left in the period - the clock shows 00:00.
During the first intermission the Soviet coach replaces Tretiak with backup Vladimir Myshkin. In the second period the Soviets score a goal to go up 3–2. Early in the final period the Soviet team is called for a penalty, giving the Americans a man advantage. Johnson scores his second goal of the game just as the penalty is about to expire. Later Eruzione enters the game and scores to give the US a 4-3 lead. The entire team skates onto the ice as the crowd celebrates.
Now, however, the US team goes into a defensive mode, as the Soviet team becomes increasingly aggressive to score in the final ten minutes. After a long, intense and suspenseful 10 minutes, the clock ticked down the final few seconds, in which commentator Al Michaels said his now famous words, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" The Americans held off the Soviets, and completed one of the biggest upsets in sports history. As the team proudly celebrates on the ice with the roaring crowd, an obviously emotional, shaken and proud Herb leaves the rink to a small, quiet room to have a few seconds of quiet with himself, to take in what he and the team had just accomplished.
Two days later, the team would then go on to defeat Finland to win the gold medal. The movie ends with Brooks staring out over his team with pride as the entire team crowds together on the gold medal platform.
- Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks
- Patricia Clarkson as Patti Brooks
- Noah Emmerich as Craig Patrick
- Sean McCann as Walter Bush
- Kenneth Welsh as Doc Nagobads
- Eddie Cahill as Jim Craig
- Patrick O'Brien Demsey as Mike Eruzione
- Michael Mantenuto as Jack O'Callahan
- Nathan West as Rob McClanahan
- Kenneth Mitchell as Ralph Cox
- Eric Peter-Kaiser as Mark Johnson
- Bobby Hanson as Dave Silk
- Joseph Cure as Mike Ramsey
- Billy Schneider as Buzz Schneider
- Nate Miller as John Harrington
- Chris Koch as Mark Pavelich
- Kris Wilson as Phil Verchota
- Stephen Kovalcik as Dave Christian
- Sam Skoryna as Steve Janaszak
- Pete Duffy as Bob Suter
- Nick Postle as Bill Baker
- Casey Burnette as Ken Morrow
- Scott Johnson as Steve Christoff
- Trevor Alto as Neal Broten
- Joe Hemsworth as Mark Wells
- Robbie MacGregor as Eric Strobel
- Directed by Gavin O'Connor
- Produced by Mark Ciardi, Gordon Gray, Ross Greenburg, Justis Greene, Jon Mone, Greg O'Connor
- Written by Eric Guggenheim
- Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
- Release date: February 6, 2004
- Running time 135 min.
- Country United States
- Language English
- Box office $64,445,708