Sports has often served as a way of bringing people together who otherwise may not have anything in common, and sometimes, sports films are another way to achieve that.
The Daily Lobo sports editor compiled a list of the more notable sports movies. The categories focus on the “big three” American sports and other popular sports genres in film. Other films were not considered for the list if he determined that they fell into romantic comedy or relied too much on nostalgia, such as “Jerry Maguire” and “Field of Dreams.”
Editor’s Pick: A tie right off the bat (pun intended) — “The Natural” (1984) and “Major League” (1989)
Many people consider Robert Redford’s portrayal of Roy Hobbs his finest acting role. As a boy, Hobbs carves out a bat from a tree that was struck by lightning, dubbing it “Wonderboy.”
Hobbs’ opportunity to try out for the Chicago Cubs was derailed, but he and his bat return some 15 years later and start crushing pitches out of the park.
In “Major League,” an unscrupulous owner attempts to sabotage her newly-inherited Cleveland Indians, so she could move the team to Miami. The team of lovable misfits starts off slow as expected, but turned things around once they become aware of her plan.
The movie offered some great characters — Charlie Sheen played Ray “Wild Thing” Vaughn, a recent parolee and pitcher who found accuracy with his fastball once he started wearing his trademark glasses.
Wesley Snipes portrayed speedster Willie “Mays” Hayes, an overconfident talent who eventually settled into his role as lead-off hitter.
Dennis Haysbert (perhaps better known from his deep voice assuring people they are in good hands with Allstate Insurance) took on the role of Pedro Cerrano. The struggling hitter cannot hit a curveball and started making offerings to his voodoo doll, Jobu, to help him break out of his slump.
Bob Uecker served as the Indians’ play-by-play announcer Harry Doyle, contributing hilarious commentary to bring even more laughs.
Honorable Mention: “The Sandlot” (1993)
The newest generation of adults may have no clue where the phrase, “You’re killing me, Smalls,” came from. Scottie Smalls was the new kid after he and his parents moved to Los Angeles. He wanted to become friends with the children in the neighborhood and unwittingly took his stepfather’s autographed baseball, signed by Babe Ruth, to continue playing a game in the sandlot.
The ball ended up in the yard of a giant dog, which the boys referred to as “the beast,” and a good portion of the movie involves their attempts to retrieve it. All ends well for the boys as the movie concluded with a look at how baseball still connected a couple of the main characters.
Overrated: “Bull Durham” (1998)
Many baseball purists would consider calling the movie overrated sacrilege.
The movie has received critical acclaim and many say it captures the essence of minor-league baseball, but the veteran-rookie relationship between Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins’ characters on the Durham Bulls didn’t resonate for me.
Editor’s Pick: “White Men Can’t Jump” (1992)
Blacktop basketball was something many experienced growing up, and this movie seemed to capture what is was like on any-playground, U.S.A. during that era.
Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes appeared to have great chemistry as Billy Hoyle and Sidney Deane, respectively. The pair became unwilling partners and proceeded to hustle their way through the street courts of Los Angeles, though Hoyle discovers in the end “sometimes when you win, you really lose.”
Honorable Mention: “Blue Chips” (1994)
With all due respect to “Semi-Pro” and the musical genius of Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell), this may have been a movie that was well ahead of its time.
It depicted the corruption of college sports, NCAA rules violations regarding pay-for-play and the willingness to sacrifice morals for wins. Head coach Pete Bell, played by Nick Nolte, experienced his first losing season and was forced to decide whether it is more important to win or run a “clean” program.
“A foul is not a foul unless the referee blows his whistle,” a line spoken by one of the player’s mothers, summed up how easy it can be to turn a blind eye. The program payed blue-chip athletes, two of which were played by Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway, NBA players at the time. They joined Nolte’s team and returned it to prominence but left the coach wondering if he could live with the decision.
Overrated: “Hoosiers” (1986)
The movie delivered one of the most iconic scenes, in which Gene Hackman’s character breaks out a measuring tape for dramatic effect to show his team the basket is 10 feet tall, no matter what court the team plays on. Again, the movie showing up in this section doesn’t mean it is bad, just perhaps not worthy of all the praise.
Editor’s Pick: “Rudy” (1993)
Another true underdog story. One generation might remember Sean Astin as Mikey in “The Goonies,” while someone younger could place him as Samwise Gamgee from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
The people in between likely recall Astin as playing the role of Rudy Ruettiger, an undersized kid with a big dream to attend Notre Dame, though not many people in his life showed support.
After the death of his best friend, Ruettiger decided to leave home and head to South Bend, Indiana to chase his dream.
Ruettiger is met with many obstacles along the way, and although it seemed like an impossible task, he is finally accepted to Notre Dame and tries to make the football team as a walk-on. He is described as five-foot-nothing, 100-and-nothing and possessing no athletic ability, but managed to make the team with a display of heart and unrelenting will.
Though many have debunked some of the things portrayed in the movie as sensationalized, the story has remained one of the most inspiring underdog films.
Honorable Mention: “Any Given Sunday” (2005).
So many true stories — such as “We Are Marshall” or either version of “Brian’s Song” — are potential tear-jerkers, but “Any Given Sunday” was revolutionary for its time.
Director Oliver Stone gave movie patrons perspective from the football field the like of which had never been seen before. Raw and up-close footage made it feel like a first-person experience and flawed football personas that were entertaining.
Overrated: “Friday Night Lights” (2004)
Another film that has received seemingly undue high praise. Not by any stretch an awful film, rather sensationalized to the point where it may not be enjoyable to some fans of sports movies.
Editor’s Pick: “Rocky” (1976)
This could be lauded as the best movie of all-time. Still relevant over 40 years later, the consummate underdog story saw a local Philadelphia southpaw (Sylvester Stallone) get a shot at the title against Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).
Likeable character — check. Love story — one of the most recognizable. Epic fight — you betcha.
“Rocky” checked pretty much all of the boxes and has continued to give movie-goers sequels that still continue today.
“Creed II” is scheduled to be released in 2018. There will be no spoilers even decades later — but the protagonist does what nobody thought he could, as he yells out in search of his girlfriend, Adrian.
Honorable Mention: “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)
“Cinderella Man” and “The Fighter” are two great movie depictions of real-life boxers, but Clint Eastwood delivered a masterpiece, starring Hillary Swank as female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald.
Eastwood, who also stars in the film, reluctantly takes on Fitzgerald as a boxing protégé and she quickly rises to the top of her sport. Her showdown with ruthless champion Billie “The Blue Bear” played by actual boxing and kickboxing champion Lucia Rijker is the penultimate event in the movie.
“Million Dollar Baby” — as many Eastwood films do — featured a twist at the end. But it will remain undisclosed in this article to protect those who haven’t seen the film.
Overrated: “Raging Bull” (1980)
Some might argue that the movies in the “overrated” section are far superior to anything else on the list, but it didn’t feel like this movie lived up to overwhelming hype attached to it.
Solid movie picks in other sports
Editor’s Pick: “Bend It Like Beckham” (2002), “Seabiscuit” (2003), “Secretariat” (2010), “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (2005), “Cool Runnings” (1993), “Cars” (2006)
“Bend it like Beckham” for soccer and both “Seabiscuit” (2003) and “Secretariat” (2010) which were based on true events surrounding horse racing, would’ve been at the top of their respective lists.
“The Greatest Game Ever Played” (2005), starred Shia LaBeouf prior his rise to stardom and tumultuous fall from it as amateur golfer Francis Ouimet. The story revolves around the 1913 U.S. Open, where Ouimet became the first amateur to win the event.
Other strong candidates, also inspired by true events, such as “Cool Runnings” (1993), a story about a Jamaican bobsled team and “Invictus” (2009), based on the South African rugby team, were also really well-done selections to watch.
Finally, “Cars” (2006) would have raced away as the favorite for best animated sports movie, if one was included.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers football and men’s and women’s tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_maler.