Since the Oscars were this past weekend, I decided to dedicate my column this week to the greatest sports stories that cinema has produced. I saw a few people’s rankings last week, and I massively disagreed, so I wanted to put my own list together. It proved harder than I thought because there are way more than 10 movies that I believe should make the list. But I managed.
Keep in mind that this is a completely subjective list. Everyone has their own favorite movies based on where and when they grew up and their own personal tastes. These are the 10 sports movies that I have enjoyed the most — they are not written in stone. However, if you disagree with me so much that you need to express displeasure, my email is at the bottom. Here we go.
10. Happy Gilmore (1996)
With all respect to “Caddyshack,” this is the best golf movie of all time. Adam Sandler is really at his best as the former-hockey-washup-turned-golf-prodigy. He’s hilariously funny, incredibly animated but yet also sensitive regarding his Grandma (Frances Bay). There are countless hilarious scenes and quotes in this movie like, “You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?” Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald) is a great villain, Chubbs (Carl Weathers) plays a great mentor role for Happy and even Ben Stiller has a funny appearance as the sadistic nursing home orderly. There’s a lot of great things in this movie, including the soundtrack, and Happy’s fight with Bob Barker is one of the funniest moments in cinema history. I like a lot of Adam Sandler movies, but this one is definitely my favorite.
9. The Mighty Ducks (1992)
I really love this Disney classic about a dysfunctional peewee hockey team who, under the leadership of new coach Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez), make a run at the championship. As someone who grew up playing hockey, this movie was always one of my favorites. Estevez kills his role as Bombay, who has to face his past in the form of the Hawks, the league’s best team which he played on when he was a kid. We learn more about his past, including his tumultuous relationship with coach Jack Reilly (Lane Smith) that caused him to quit hockey. Bombay is able to rally his team on the notion of having fun, and he learns to love the game again. It’s a cliché underdog story, but it’s a damn good one.
8. Space Jam (1996)
What do you get when you combine the Looney Tunes and basketball legends from the 1990s? Only one of the most iconic movies ever made. During his first retirement, Michael Jordan gets recruited by Bugs Bunny to help the Looney Tunes beat the Monstars in a basketball game. The Monstars, meanwhile, have stolen the talent of some of the NBA’s top players, including Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, leaving the league in a panic. This movie is just really fun and showed a new side of MJ, making him more likeable to a general audience. This was one of my favorite movies as a kid and I still will watch it any time it’s on.
7. The Bad News Bears (1976)
The original “Bad News Bears” is awesome. Walter Matthau plays the alcoholic Coach Buttermaker, who inherits a group of misfits for a baseball team. With the help of new additions Amanda (Tatum O’Neal), a pitcher who Buttermaker trained in the past, and Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley), a talented delinquent, the Bears are able to improve throughout the season. They almost take down the cocky and aggressive Yankees in the championship, but even with the loss, they are able to celebrate the improvements they made. This movie is a perfect mix of funny and serious and is easily one of the best baseball movies ever.
6. Remember the Titans (2000)
Based on the true story of coach Herman Boone and the integration of the T.C. Williams High School football team in 1971, this is about as good of a biographical sports drama as there is. Denzel Washington is amazing in his portrayal of Boone, and Will Patton adds a great role as assistant coach Bill Yoast, who has to figure out along with Boone not only how to unite the team, but how to unite the racially divided community around them. The players initially resist the unification, but they learn to respect and stand up for each other as a team and go on to accomplish a perfect season. The relationship between two of the captains, Julius Campbell (Wood Harris) and Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst), who put aside their difference in race and become brothers, is especially moving.
5. Field of Dreams (1989)
Of course there has to be a Kevin Costner movie on here, but it may not be the one you’re expecting. I like “Bull Durham,” but this one really romanticizes the game of baseball in a way no other movie does. It’s a fairytale story of Ray Kinsella (Costner), who builds a baseball field in his Iowa cornfield at the direction of a mysterious voice. His field becomes a haven where the ghosts of the 1919 “Black Sox,” including Ray’s idol Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), and other old players can come and play. Ray continues to hear voices, and they lead him on a journey all over the country with author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), who also loves baseball. This movie has a terrific ending with Ray getting to play catch with a younger version of his late father. It’s just a spectacular movie for any baseball fan.
4. The Karate Kid (1984)
Sometimes I forget this is actually a sports movie because I associate it so much with the 80s genre. But nonetheless it definitely deserves a spot in the top five. So many phrases from this movie have become staples in pop culture, like “Wax on, wax off” and “Sweep the leg.” Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), a bullied teen, learns karate from Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) in order to defend himself. He is at first frustrated by Miyagi’s strange training methods, but as he learns more, he becomes very close with Miyagi. Eventually, LaRusso participates in the district tournament, where he takes on his bullies and emerges victorious. Morita is perfect in his role as Miyagi, and the movie has themes of teenage struggles and redemption that still hold up today.
3. Major League (1989)
This is another movie about a misfit baseball team, but unlike “The Bad News Bears,” they aren’t little leaguers, they are the Cleveland Indians. Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Wesley Snipes are among the stars in this hilarious, feel-good classic. Even though the team shows little promise early in the season, after learning they are being set up to fail by the owner, the team rallies to win the division. Legendary baseball announcer Bob Uecker appears as the sarcastic announcer Harry Doyle who provides some iconic lines (“Juuuuust a bit outside”). Even Dennis Haysbert, better known now as the Allstate Insurance guy, has a memorable role as Pedro Cerrano, the voodoo-practicing outfielder who can’t hit a curveball. All the characters in this movie are so great. If you haven’t seen this movie, watch it ASAP.
2. The Sandlot (1993)
Few movies have resonated with people my age as much as “The Sandlot.” I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t like this movie. Personally, I think I could quote it by heart. Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) is a geek, but after Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) takes him under his wing, he is able to make friends with a group of kids who play baseball every day at a sandlot field. The movie follows their adventures throughout a particular summer and their quest to get back a Babe Ruth autographed baseball from The Beast, a (supposedly) vicious guard dog who lives beyond the sandlot. This movie is so awesome, and it may be No. 1 on a lot of people’s list, but for me there was only one choice.
1. Rocky (1976)
This is the only position on this list that I was certain about from the start. This is not only the greatest sports movie of all time, it is one of the greatest movies in any genre. “Rocky” is the perfect version of an underdog story ever. It launched a monster of a franchise that consists of eight movies that have made over $1.6 billion at the box office. This movie made Sylvester Stallone an international star as the title character Rocky Balboa, a club fighter from Philadelphia. Rocky gets a chance at the heavyweight boxing title when Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) sets up what seems to be just a show-fight. However, Rocky trains hard and stuns the world by going the distance with Creed. Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith and Burt Young are all terrific in their supporting roles. The movie also has one of the greatest theme songs ever (You hear it in your head right now, don’t you?). There is just no question to me that this is the greatest sports movie ever made.
Rookie of the Year, Hoosiers, The Longest Yard (original), Bull Durham, Moneyball, Miracle, 42, A League of Their Own.