Ranking the 25 greatest sports movies of all-time – For The Win
With the seventh Rocky movie, Creed, coming out later this month and My All American, an inspirational sports film about a former Texas football player, hitting theaters Friday, we at FTW decided to rank the top 25 sports movies ever made. The master list from which to choose is smaller than you think: Since 1976, Box Office Mojo lists the release of just 204 sports movies. By comparison, 604 films have dropped in 2015 with dozens of more slated before the end of the year. It’s not a genre that’s particularly popular: Just 12 sports movies had made more than $100 million at the box office and those were mostly cheesy comedies or feel-good stories peripherally about sports (The Blind Side). Our only rule: No documentaries. There are too many great ones out there (not Hoop Dreams — that’s the most overrated sports film ever) and they’re far too different from a comedy or drama to compare. (That list will come at another time.)
25. The Karate Kid
The final movie on our list was tough to choose — it was one tale of a diminutive outsider fighting for respect against another, but we had to go with Daniel LaRusso; sorry Rudy. Though the music is great and the last scene is pretty good, the cloying Notre Dame love is a little much and Rudy’s a bit whiny, no? I mean, leave Dan Devine alone. He has a team to coach! But Karate Kid? It’s just Daniel-San, Mr. Miyagi and Elisabeth Shue battling the world. Well, them and Joe Esposito.
24. A League of Their Own
The worst part about this movie (and keep in mind that this is a film starring Rosie O’Donnell) might be Tom Hanks, who overacts his way through the whole thing. But the story of the All-American Girls Baseball League is a great one and Geena Davis gave a wonderful performance. And if the filmmakers got residuals for every time someone said “there’s no crying in baseball” they’d have bought as island by now.
23. Eight Men Out
Underrated drama that’s sort of like The Untouchables minus the gun violence, Sean Connery and, oddly, Kevin Costner, who I though had a contractual agreement to appear in all late-1980s baseball films.
22. The Sandlot
Is The Sandlot great cinema? Of course not. But is it a fun, enjoyable moving that evokes memories of playing outside in the summer until your mom called you in and has James Earl Jones in it? Yes, yes and (goes deeper), oh yes.
21. Remember The Titans
When I showed my original list to people, every single one said “where’s Remember The Titans?” I replied, “eh, it’s a bit cheesy and purports to be a true story but is very different than the story it claims to tell,” whereupon I realized that such a fact doesn’t make a movie any less entertaining and that if I was going to ask people to take the time to give me suggestions, I might as well listen to them.
20. North Dallas Forty
The NFL wasn’t cooperating with football entertainment long before Playmakers, Any Given Sunday or that Concussion movie that, at least from the trailer, looks like it’ll be one of those movies you watch once and never see again. But ND40 movie was the first real behind-the-scenes look at professional football and though it’s horribly dated like 90% of ’70s movie, it’s still a great watch. Also, it should have won an Oscar for special achievement in mustaches. We had to choose between this and another Nick Nolte sports movie — Blue Chips. It was hard to leave you off, Shaq and Penny. Not so much you, Calbert Cheaney.
19. Bring It On
Before there was Legally Blonde and The Devil Wears Prada there was Bring It On to serve as the go-to girl-power cable movie. Try to slip “this is not a democracy, it’s a cheerocracy” into everyday conversation. You’ll be surprised how easy it is.
18. Breaking Away
Bike racing? College hi jinx? Shirtless Dennis Quaid? An Academy Award-winning screenplay??? A Best Picture nomination????!!! Oh yes, my friend, Breaking Away is the real deal. If you haven’t watched it, give it a whirl. (Wordplay!)
Like Philadelphia Eagles fans, Rocky is a little over-the-top and obnoxious. Like the Eagles, it’s overrated. But unlike both, at least it got to celebrate a championship with its absurd Oscar win.
16. Slap Shot
What do you get when you take 1) Paul Newman, 2) the guy who directed The Sting and Butch Cassidy and 3) brothers who fought when it was still cool and wore hipster glasses well before it was cool? The best hockey movie ever, with apologies to Emilio Estevez.
15. Any Given Sunday
More quarterbacks need to release rap videos, Willie Beamen style. (I’d have linked to it, but there’s every curse word in the book and full nudity so, feel free to YouTube it yourself.) My goodness, can you imagine the outrage on First Take if Colin Kaepernick had done this? Anyway, Oliver Stone’s football movie isn’t on TV nearly enough and when it is, regular cable isn’t worthy of its R-rated feel. But that last Pacino speech? It may have been the last great scene of his career. (WARNING: Profane language.)
14. Rocky IV
Colleague: Rocky IV too high?
Me: It ended communism. Are you a communist?
Colleague: (Rolls eyes) Whatever.
Is the movie 40% montages? Yup. Is there a talking robot? You know it. Is Adrian still a wet blanket who doesn’t want Rocky to avenge Apollo’s death? Check and mate. But if you don’t love the last fight scene or the training sequence which ends with Rocky somehow atop a mountain, then you aren’t American.
13. White Men Can’t Jump
It’s not that hard: Get two likable actors, write a funny script, cast Rosie Perez as a scene-stealer and give the film a classic name that’ll enter the pop-culture lexicon.
The HBO Sports documentary about the Miracle on Ice should have been good enough. At the time, I figured this was going to be the most unnecessary film ever made. But Kurt Russell nails it as Herb Brooks, the hockey is realistic enough to look good and syncing up the game with Al Michaels’ call was brilliant. It turns out that drama and triumph are good no matter the medium.
11. Space Jam
I’m kidding. Space Jam is awful. It’s not good even in an ironic, nostalgic way. It’s just bad. Shame on you for believing it could actually be this high.
11. The Hustler
The opening scene with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, as Minnesota Fats, is one of the best ever in a sports film. It’s so good that it manages to lift the memory of the somewhat-mediocre sequel The Color of Money, with Newman and Tom Cruise.
10. He Got Game
Spike Lee’s film about a jailed father trying to get his high-school son to sign with a specific school came right around the time Kevin Garnett and others were jumping to the pros, but doesn’t feel at all dated, except in the SportsCenter clip in which coaches such as Bobby Cremins, John Chaney and a ridiculously young-looking Jim Boeheim all tout the miracle of Jesus.
9. Pride of the Yankees
This 1942 classic stars Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth as Babe Ruth. It came out just three years after Gehrig’s “luckiest man alive” speech and one year after Gehrig was taken by the disease named after him.
How were they possibly going to turn Michael Lewis’s book about Billy Beane and the A’s looking for value in different places into a feature film? Somehow they pulled it off, with the help of Brad Pitt and a surprisingly game Jonah Hill. It’s better the second time you watch it too.
I don’t even think it’s that funny; I just didn’t want to get Dalai Lama quotes clogging up my timeline. (Though it’s the best scene in the movie, by far.)
6. Tin Cup
I’ve done lists such as this before and everybody tells me I have Tin Cup too high. Nonsense. If you like sports, this is the movie you’re most likely to see on your guide on a lazy night and flip to. You’ll say, I’ll just watch until he breaks his clubs or until he sleeps with Rene Russo or until the start of the U.S. Open and then, next thing you know, you’re watching Jim Nantz and Ken Venturi laughing in the booth as Roy McAvoy makes history.
5. The Natural
4. Bull Durham
If you’re going to write a perfect script about life in the minors and then cast Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon just absolutely perfectly, couldn’t you at least have gotten a pitcher (Tim Robbins) who could actually throw the ball? But other than Caddyshack, this is probably the most quotable film on the list.
3. Major League
I’ve always found it interesting that Cleveland was simply playing for the AL East title in the film, not the ALCS or the World Series. But that’s neither here nor there. The funniest of the movies on our list (yes, funnier than Caddyshack — a lot funnier) is one of the most rewatchable too. The number of classic scenes are in the double-digits.
2. Field of Dreams
A friend once said to me, “if someone doesn’t like Seinfeld, I don’t think I can be their friend.” I agreed. But I’d also add Field of Dreams to that, a film which has far more detractors because, I don’t know, some people have no soul?
The best sports movie ever made, hands down. Gene Hackman is perfect, Barbara Hershey tries her best but can’t bring down the film (her character’s awesome mother prevents that from happening), the players are excellently cast (even if Shooter’s son looked like he was old than Dennis Hopper) and the scene in which Coach Dale talks to Jimmy, who’s shooting outside, is perfection, right down to Jimmy missing the shot with Hackman walks away. And if you doubt its placement at No. 1, just listen to this. It should do the trick.
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