Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Favorite Films: Sports Films

With the Superbowl upon us today, I thought I would list my favorite sports movies. Ironically, this is a genre that to me is defined more by its failure than its successes. Sports is tailor-made for drama and film, and yet so many sports films just don't seem to get what draws people to sports. In any event, here goes.

1. Major League (1989): One of the problems with serious sports films is that they focus only on the ugly, cynical side of sports. They may or may not have that one moment of triumph at the end, but they skip all the other things that make us love sports. Major League is a comedy and it chooses instead to focus on all of that. And the end result is the definitive baseball movie. Seriously. This comedy has it all: the whacky hijinx that surround sports teams, the good and bad characters, the tropes we really believe, the ugly underbelly that we sometimes read about as well as the childlike joy of playing sports, bad owners, crazy fans, fair weather fans, loyal fans, the start of brilliant careers, the end of other careers, and all the amazing lows and the unbelievable highs that only sports can bring. It's all here.

2. The Longest Yard (1974): That this ranks as a sports film really shows you how poorly Hollywood does sports. This is really a prison movie with a sports subplot. That said, it's a hell of a film. This film takes all the tension and drama of a prison movie and lets that tension be released in a brutal football game between the guards and the convicts, with Burt Reynolds as their quarterback. Solid fun here.

3. The Bad News Bears (1976): This is a fascinating film. This is a "losers do well film," which has become the standard format for sports films, but this is the first film I can recall doing that. What really makes this film work for me though, is the sense of nostalgia it brings for the 1970s. This was an era where people weren't rule bound or litigious, didn't obsess about safety and self-esteem, and weren't afraid to let their kids be kids. And while the Bears are a multi-ethnic team to make a point and their star is a girl, this film was not making a politically correct point... it was making comedic points. That's so refreshing in our demographically-regulated world.

4. All The Right Moves (1983): This is a depressing film, but it's compelling. It's the first film that really made me realize that Tom Cruise can act. It also felt very real to me in terms of the high school football experience.

5. Rocky (1976): This is one of the best sports films around, even though I don't like boxing. Rocky's character and his struggle to prove himself is truly inspiring and there is just enough of a glimpse into the boxing world (without smothering us) that it feels like you are getting some insight from the film too.

6. Friday Night Lights (2004): This is the definitive high school football "exposé film." This film is highly derivative, but it derived well. I can't say I love this one, but I do find that I watch it periodically and I enjoy it.

7. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004): First of all, I love dodgeball... damn you sick f***s who got it banned from schools. What I love about this film though is both that it's so ridiculous, yet it perfectly parodies other sports films, and Rip Torn, who delivers some of the best lines of all time.

8. Real Steel (2011): Yeah, how sad that a movie about fake robot boxing makes the list... what does this say about other sports film? Anyway, this is a highly manipulative film that really lands every blow it attempts. What makes this film work ultimately is the touching father-son story, where the roles are reversed and the son is the more responsible one. It's hard not to cheer during this film.

9. Slapshot (1977): Yeah, I like this one. This is a dark comedy that's a lot more dark than comedy, but it's satisfying. The story involves a failing minor league hockey team captained by Paul Newman who decides to inject a little chaos into things when he realizes the team is falling apart. It's an interesting film with some compelling characters and moments.

Others I Like: There are other sports films I like, but not enough to really recommend. Days of Thunder was a decent movie, but forgettable. Bull Durham was good, but feels overshadowed to me by Major League. I do love Field of Dreams and The Blind Side, but neither really includes any sports. Here's one I like though, Heaven Can Wait, a 1970s comedy that is well worth the time... and has a great theme song. I also sort of recommend North Dallas Forty as a fascinating, but unsatisfying film -- it needed more. I despise Any Given Sunday, however, as nothing more than a glitzy rip off of North Dallas Forty, with nothing new to say.



Floyd R. Turbo said...

Good list...

In no particular order...

1. Brian's Song -- yeah a TV movie, but dammit it is still the best excuse for a man to cry ever made by Hollywood.

2. Eight Men Out. -- John Sayles' best for me -- 1919 Black Sox. Almost bad enough t make A-Rod look better -- nah.

3. Field of Dreams. I love it. It's sappy, but I love it. The Daddy issues, the James Earl Jones character and the great Burt Lancaster as Moonlight Graham,

4. Tin Cup. Kevin Costner has the best run of sports movies... Great film about golf.

5. Caddyshack -- natch

6. Bingo Long's Traveling All-Stars... great 1970s flick about Negro Leagues and barnstorming baseballers...

7. Rudy. Yeah it's mythology, but it's a great movie.

8. 42. Alan Tudyk's scene is so appallingly evil and well done. Jackie Robinson deserves every accolade and honor he got and gets.

9. The Pride of the Yankees. Gary Cooper nailed it. The speech at Yankee Stadium gets me every time.

10. Victory. Presposterous soccer movie set in WW2. Stallone, Pele, Michael Caine and Max von Sydow... I don't care if it's preposterous... it rocks.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, Good list! Field of Dreams always brings tears to my eyes.

Caddyshack is just hilarious. What a fun film.

On Eight Men Out, I enjoy the film. But your mention of A-Rod bring up this thought that he really has ruined his entire career in my eyes. I'm sure he achieved 99% of what he did without whatever it was he took, but all I can think of is that he cheated. What a stupid thing to do.

Dave Olson said...

My own mother, who loves movies and hates sports that aren't figure skating, loves Major League as well. It's a very human story that just happens to be about a baseball team.

Speaking of figure skating, The Cutting Edge should count as a sports movie, especially since this is an Olympic year. And in an Olympic year, we oughtn't forget Cool Runnings. That one was about as predictable as you could get, but it's a helluva lot of fun to watch. It also has several powerful conservative messages woven into it, but they don't hit you over the head the way a liberal film would.

One thing that drives me nuts about sports movies is the tendency to have some yutz giving you play-by-play commentary. I just knew that the remake of The Longest Yard would be awful, but it was made worse by adding that guy from ESPN to tell us what was happening. As Hal Holbrook grumbled at the Dodgers' game in The Star Chamber, "Look at all these people with headphones on, like they won't believe what they're seeing unless Vin Scully tells them what happened."

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, Major League really is a very human movie. It's enjoyable on many levels and without any special knowledge or passion for baseball.

Cool Runnings was fun, but the predictability hurt it for me. They needed to take some chances and they really didn't.

Totally agree about the play-by-play. That's one thing I really dislike in these films. Although, again, in Major League it works because it's such nonsense. Ditto on Dodgeball.

That's a great line from The Star Chamber.

Dave Olson said...

The commentary in Major League was by the immortal Bob Uecker, and was done for comic relief: "He leads the American League in most categories including nose hair; when this guy sneezes he looks like a party favor!" So I'll give it a pass. The play-by-play in Slap Shot would only be in a separate cut. There was never running commentary when the camera was working the ice. I really wanted to like Miracle, but they brought Al Michaels in to yammer away like he did in 1980. I mean, I understand that he was needed because his call in the last 5 seconds gave the movie its title, but still.

I wonder if anyone is going to do the Super Bowl-winkle show today, in which Rocky and Bullwinkle go back to his alma mater, Wossamatta U, and help out their football coach, Rock Knutnee.

Anonymous said...

I've said this before but the genre of "sports movies for kids" apparently died off in the late 90s. We had The Mighty Ducks and its sequels, Angels in the Outfield, Little Giants, and a whole lot more.

BUT my favorites from that period would have to be The Sandlot (which I still see quoted now and then) and Rookie of the Year. They were a lot of fun and genuinely funny and heartfelt. "You're killing me, Smalls!"

As for the rest, definitely Caddyshack. Just yesterday, I found myself quoting Bill Murray's Dalai Lama speech: "So I got that going for me, which is nice." :-)

Outlaw13 said...

I used to play baseball so I think this colors my choices.

The Natural. People may not like Robert Redford and no matter how much Vaseline they use on the lens he was still too old for the part...but the mythology of that movie is just awesome to me.

The Rookie. Dennis Quaid as a Texas teacher and baseball coach who makes it to the bigs...based on a true story.

Happy Gilmore. I know a lot of what Adam Sandler does is way over the top, but I think this movie got it about right. It's highly quotable as well. "Grizzly Adams did have a beard!"

It Happens Every Spring. A scientist (Ray Milland) discovers a formula that makes a baseball which is repelled by wood. He promptly sets out to exploit his discovery.

Bad News Bears. The original, accept no substitutes.

Tennessee Jed said...

It happens Every Spring, 8 Men Out, Hoosiers, the original Longest Yard, Miracle, Fear Strikes Out. Any Given Sunday are some of my faves

Dwizzum said...

I liked Dodgeball, but for goofy sports movies, I prefer BASEketball. Also, I second Victory. Love that movie.

Backthrow said...

I never was interested enough in pro sports to follow any team, and the old ABC Wide World Of Sports show was pretty much the extent of my television sports-watching, however... I like quite a few sports-themed movies... so, my list would include:

The Freshman (1925)
College (1927)
Blood and Sand (1941)
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
The Set-Up (1949)
The Stratton Story (1949)
Night and the City (1950)
The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951)
Rhubarb (1951)
Genevieve (1953)
The Hustler (1961)
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965)
The Endless Summer (1966)
Le Mans (1971)
Junior Bonner (1972)
The Last American Hero (1973)
The Longest Yard (1974)
Bite the Bullet (1975)
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Hard Times (1975)
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Rocky (1976)
Slap Shot (1977)
The Black Stallion (1979)
Breaking Away (1979)
Caddyshack (1980)
Hoosiers (1986)
Shall We Dance? (1996)
Seabiscuit (2003)
Cinderella Man (2005)
Invincible (2006, Mark Wahlberg)
Jet Li's Fearless (2006)
Redbelt (2008)
The Fighter (2010)
Secretariat (2010)

I also enjoyed Dodgeball and Bill Paxton's golf movie, The Greatest Game Ever Played. Though I haven't watched Raging Bull in a long time, oddly, while every aspect of the production was superb, I remember the overall film being curiously unaffecting, truly the whole being less than the sum of its parts. I'll have to watch it again soon, to see if my reaction now is different. I still haven't seen North Dallas Forty, but Netflix just added it to streaming yesterday.

Interestingly, it looks like the 1970s were something of a "golden age" for sports-themed movies. Also, most Hollywood post-Hoosiers sports films (with some notable exceptions) seem pretty cookie-cutter (Remember the Titans, Radio, Coach Carter, We Are Marshall, etc). There's almost always the cliche of the coach's wife who is supportive, but then harangues him for putting his job ahead of his family.

Tennessee Jed said...

Backthrow, I understand how difficult it must be to come up with sports themed movies, but couldn't you at least try? A list that only includes 35-40 films is pretty minimalist in any man's book. Regarding Raging Bull, I kind of agree. It was a step forward in terms of "realism," but I consider it more of a great acting job than a gret film. "you're the man, you're the boss."

Tennessee Jed said...

I felt the same about the Wrestler, btw.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I didn't like The Wrestler at all. It acted like it was profound when it wasn't and in the end it just gave us an uninteresting story about someone you can't like.

Not a fan of Raging Bull either.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, Bob Ueker was hilarious in Major League. "You can't swear on the air!" "It's ok, nobody listening."

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The 1990s were definitely a time for kids sports films. They all seem to have been patterned on the "lovable losers make good" formula, but a couple were ok.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, Baseball seems to do better on film than other sports. I think it's because the pauses allow the director to inject contemplative moments. That's hard to do in a hockey game or even a football game, which tends to be about pure adrenaline.

I think it also helps that baseball has been so enshrined with our national history that even people who've never seen a game know some of its greatest moments.

Happy Gilmore was fun.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Hoosiers was an interesting film.

AndrewPrice said...

Dwizzum, BASEketball was a fun film. Nice effort from the South Park guys.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, The Hustler was a good film (poorly redone as The Color of Money), but my favorite pool "film" is actually the Twilight Zone episode with Jonathan Winters and Jack Klugman. That's one of my favorites.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hoosiers, Miracle, The Mighty Macs, The Greatest Game Ever Played are all based on true stories and variations of the David & Goliath theme. It never really gets old, and all of the stories are slightly embellished so that the hurdle to overcome is that much more dramatic. The only difference is in the skill of the movie maker to keep things from becoming unbearably trite.

Tennessee Jed said...

For animal sports stories, in addition to Secretariat, Seabiscuit was incredibly well done, and I loved Iron Will ever since living in Minnesota and taking our youngest up to the north shore of Lake Superior to watch the John Beargrease sled dog marathon

AndrewPrice said...

OT: Wow! Phillip Seymour Hoffman has died at 46. RIP

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, What's interesting is how often the players involved in these unbearably trite films come out and say, "No, it was never like that." Then you look into it and you find out the whole David v. Goliath aspect was either made up or completely exaggerated.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew, I just read about Hoffman. Reports are that he was found dead in his bathroom. Very sad. RIP

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, They said that his publicist had to deny an internet rumor yesterday that he was dead. Ironic. I guess they're saying it was an overdose. Sad.

Koshcat said...

It seems that some of the best quotes come from either sports movies or sport related movies.

Movies I loved:
Bull Durham
Major League
Slap Shot
Happy Gilmore
BASEket Ball
The Last Boy Scout
The Karate Kid (original)

I liked Any Given Sunday but didn't see North Dallas Forty. I also really liked Tin Cup although Costner's acting is not good.

No love for Bloodsport?

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I love Bloodsport, it just slipped my mind sadly or I would have added it to the list. Good call!

Sports movies do deliver some excellent quotes.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Rollerball and Running Man are good futuristic sports-type movies (or a la Hunger Games... not really sports I guess is it?) Or is it?

By that criteria Gladiator is a sports movie.... or is that a sports movie like Ben Hur is a film about rowing?

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I'm a big fan of Rollerball.

It's hard to call any of these sports films, though I guess technically they would be. That's a good question actually.

T-Rav said...

The Sandlot was my hands-on favorite sports movie growing up (I liked Rookie of the Year but it couldn't compete because it was about the Cubs). Beyond that, I would say Field of Dreams is my favorite serious sports movie and Dodgeball is my favorite funny sports movie.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, who's up for the annual pregame Bill O'Reilly-Barack Obama interview? :-)

Backthrow said...

Thinking on it, one film that's almost a sports movie, but not quite, is Meatballs. It has all the trappings, but, like MASH (the movie), the games are more an incidental event than the movie entirely revolving around them.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Field of Dreams is a fantastic movie.

Another interview? Yikes. I'll pass.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, Yeah, the sports in Meatballs is really tangential... funny, but tangential.

KRS said...

I'll step out of my comfort zone and offer an honorable mention for A League of Their Own for just two memorable quotes:

"...give the wife a little tickle pickle ..."


Outside of that, it was dreck. But credit where credit is due.

KRS said...

Btw, my all time favorite is The Rookie (2002) with Dennis Quaid. Its the quintessential American values/strong family/loyal friends/against all odds story. And its baseball. I confess I love a good movie more and forgive more errors when the sport is baseball. My weakness.

AndrewPrice said...

Briefing from the middle of the Super Bowl. First, the game sucks. Secondly, F-you, Coke. Bad choice.

Kit said...

To all of you Broncos fans. You have my deepest condolences.

Kit said...

What did Coke do?

AndrewPrice said...

Watch this and see how it makes you feel: LINK

Kit said...

"America, the Beautiful". Sung in multiple languages. Kind of an... odd choice.

But no Klingon. Racists.

AndrewPrice said...

Yep, racist. Also a great way to turn people off.

Kit said...

Unfortunately, the complaints will be lumped with the idiots screaming about the biracial Cheerios advert.

AndrewPrice said...

True. But this was stupid. This was "waving it in people's face." This is how you get people to resist you.

Kit said...

re the Coke commercial: Its just such a bizarre choice. What were they thinking with it?

AndrewPrice said...

They wanted to recreate their famous commercial with the "I'd like to give the world a Coke," song and this time pimp diversity. Apparently, there was even a gay couple in the ad.

Kit said...


Tennessee Jed said...

This was the kind of superbowl I would expect in the 5th year of reign of Augustus Obama.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, You're saying he can't even stage an effective circus?

Tennessee Jed said...

over-hyped, and boring with in your face "messages" like the Coke ad. About the only thing missing was Joe Willie Namath grifting obamacare

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, True. Of course, they did the celebrity thing showing us all the celebrity "fans" who came to be seen... er, came to watch the game. That always makes me barf.

And most of the ads stunk too. I did like the woman quitting her job though and the Doberhuha.

Dave Olson said...

Kit: The only people "screaming" about the Cheerios ad are the barking moonbats on MSNBC

Anonymous said...

I like sports movies, even for sports I don't like (if they are done well that is), I think it is as they are usually underdog stories where the characters have to overcome the odds and I like that type of story....

A lot of them have been listed so far,
Major League, Caddyshack, The Rookie, Dodgeball, Basketball, The Longest Yard (original and The Mean Machine the British remake), Miracle, The Natural, Invincible, The Waterboy, The Replacements, Friday Night Lights, The Club, Phar Lap amongst others.


Kit said...

Maybe the "banned" Budweiser ads will be good.

PikeBishop said...

Hoosiers is in a class by itself, based on a true story, well-acted and written with characters who are 3 dimensional and fully fleshed out. Some of the best moments:

1 Hackman plays with four players rather than let the kid who lipped off to him back in the game.
2. Ollie's two foul shots. (Interesting note, of all the actors in the movie the actor who played Ollie was the best hoops player in real life)
3. "We're gonna run the picket fence at 'em." (part of Shooter's arc of redemtion)

KRS said...

When the multilingual "America the Beautiful" ad came on, my teenage daughters went ballistic and started throwing their fury at the TV. Then they began tweeting and texting their anger to friends and their friends responded in kind.

I think the commercial had the exact opposite effect that was intended, with all these young people going full Archie Bunker on it.

"If you can't sing it in English, get out of my country!"

The irony is that, if a multilingual "America the Beautiful" commercial had come out in the seventies - back when, you know, we were all bigots - the reaction would probably have been positive.

"Melting pot, cool."

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'm the same way. If the movie is good, then the sport portrayed doesn't matter to me. I haven't seen Mean Machine, but I despise the American remake of The Longest Yard. (Ditto on the remake of Bad News Bears).

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I enjoyed Hoosiers a lot.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, The people I was with (who are not anti-immigrant, in fact, one of them is an immigrant), started throwing four-letter words at the screen. Coke pissed a lot of people off last night.

tryanmax said...

I still don't have a lot of interest in sports movies. As I recall, there weren't many good ones in the late 90s/early 2000s (i.e. my high school/college years). Certainly nothing from that era appears on this list; Friday Night Lights came out the year after I graduated.

From that timeframe I can come up with Remember the Titans and Jerry McGuire, and I'm well over both of them. The latter became an instant cliché and the former was repeatedly shown to my peers as a "valuable lesson" Which was what, exactly? To not be bigots? Pretty sure it wasn't our generation that ever had a problem with that.

PikeBishop said...

I never got what was so great, let alone Oscar worthy about "Jerry McGuire." My girlfriend at the time said "It was a basic chick flick with sports glommed onto it."

KRS said...

I'll pitch another movie, Facing the Giants (2006). It's a Christian themed movie from Sherwood Pictures. It's about a hard luck high school coach who's essentailly watching his life fall apart. Instead of crumbling, he uses faith to pull things back together. There's a bit of corn served with the cheese, but it has that natural vibe of a rural community where high school sports are perhaps a tad more important than they should be and good people trying to do the right thing. The characters are engaging and their portrayal of hard driving high school coaching is very, very good.

I've never been a fan of Christian-themed movies, but the genre seems to be turning a corner. In this story, they integrate Christianity in a very natural way, rather than beat you with the white oak paddle of blessed enlightenment.

wulfscott said...

I would not classify Rollerball as a sports movie, although the sport sequences were well done. Saw it in college; my friends and I would come to attention whenever we heard Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Rocky and Rocky II - I really liked the exploration of Rocky's character in both. That's what really drew me to both movies. In Rocky II, Rocky had his shot at fame, so he really couldn't go back to his old life (too well known for the loan shark to employ him) and was not well suited for his new life (the endorsement scene just looked painful for Rocky). And the first - he didn't want to win, he just wanted to last through all the rounds, and so he proved that he could compete at that level. In the second, he fought because he really didn't have anything else that he knew he could do to provide for his family.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, The Mean Machine is a lot better than the remake of The Longest Yard which is full on over the top, the Poms are not going to go that far with it, their sense of humour is too subtle for that. It is basically the same movie (with soccer instead of American football) but done British style so it still may not be for everyone.


Kit said...

Rudy, Miracle... I really have not seen that many sports movies.

Oh, the Greatest Game Ever Played starring Shia Lebouf as 1913 US Open winner Francis Ouimet and Stephen Dillaine as golfing great Englishman Harry Vardon.

TJ said...

A little late to the party as usual, but here's my two cents worth:

Love the original Bad News Bears - that came out during my tomboy years and I could relate to the misfit characters.

Miracle - I remember them beating the Soviets at the time, but I wasn't into hokey back then. Kurt Russell's portrayal of Herb Brooks was incredible.

Seabiscuit - the salty language was a bit much for me, but I love the way the three men were brought together with the right horse to create horse racing history. The book it's based on is also a good read.

One I haven't seen mentioned is Necessary Roughness with Scott Bakula - it's kind of goofy, but I enjoy it.

AndrewPrice said...

TJ, I'm a big fan of Bakula, and that was a fun movie.

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