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What Sport Makes The Best Movies? | Arts & Culture

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What Sport Makes The Best Movies?
What Sport Makes The Best Movies?

A recent preview of the new Marky Mark film The Fighter provoked a discussion among many of my friends that generated the question, "What is the best kind of sports film?" Many people have ranked sports movies over the years, and have done so in various ways: some by the individual sport, some lump all sports together, and some by sports movies starring Kevin Costner. I am a fan of both sports and movies and am therefore, by the transitive property, a fan of sport movies. To paraphrase Crash Davis:

“Well, I believe in the underdog. The long shot. The comeback. The small town kid with a big heart. The ex-wife who didn’t believe in you. Well-placed Cameos. Musical Montages. That the movies of Ron Shelton are brilliant and true to sports. I believe Tommy Lee Jones was a terrible choice to play Ty Cobb. I believe there ought to be a Constitution amendment Kevin Costner from making anything but sports movies. I believe in the sweet spot, slow motion action scenes. This generation needs to remember Paul Newman his sports movies more than his charitable dressings. And I believe in that it is ok for a grown man to mist up during Brian’s Song...Goodnight.” 

The only question that has never been asked is what sport best lends itself to the movies?  Let’s break it down:

10.  Tennis

Tennis movies are the only thing duller than Men’s professional tennis.  It’s a sad state of affairs when a movie about the career of Pete Sampras would be more watchable than any movie ever made about tennis.  

Ace: Bachelor Party - While not specifically being a tennis movie, Bachelor Party is the best movie with elements of tennis in it.

You Cannot Be Serious: Match Point, Nobody's Perfect, and Wimbledon - All of these movies are somehow the same and involve a relationship that comes about because of professional tennis.

A good doubles player: Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach - Sean William Scott plays a former professional tennis professional turned janitor who takes over a high school tennis team after the untimely death of the coach, played by Randy Quaid.

Tennis Movie I’d make: Mac Attack, John McEnroe fights crime by day and keeps senior tennis alive at night.

9.  Olympics

Hollywood can’t get Olympic movies right for some reason. Maybe because the majority focus on the Winter Olympics, since that is the only time the U.S. is ever really seen as an underdog. Despite the effort, Olympic movies never quite stick the landing.

Gold: Cool Runnings - The semi-true story of the Jamaican Bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics. The part that is true:  There was a Jamaican bobsled team at the Winter Olympics in 1988.  Prefontaine/Without Limits - Between 1997 and 1998 there were two movies made about track and field. Both were about Steve Prefontaine, the American middle distance runner who failed to medal in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Munich - While not specifically about the Olympics, the movie is based on the true story about the men chosen to eliminate those responsible for the Black September raid during the 1972 Olympics

Caught with performance enhancing drugs: Blades of Glory - Will Ferrell is the Ted McGinley of sports movies. This one starring Napoleon Dynamite is so unfunny that TBS won’t show it midday during the Olympics on a Saturday.  Lake Placid - What the 1980 U.S. hockey team did to put Lake Placid on the map, this movie is about a terrorizing lake monster and its many sequels took away.

Embodied the Olympic Spirit: Downhill Racer - An early Robert Redford film that looks at the life of those who are willing to throw themselves down a mountain at high rates of speed.

Olympic Movie I’d like to make: On Eagles’ Wings - The story of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the British ski jumper who captivated the world and captured last place in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.

8. Soccer

Soccer is seen as being un-American and is therefore not a popular subject for sports movies in the United States. However, Soccer movies are fantastic at exploring the relationships fans have with their teams; and occasionally we discover films of the most popular sport in the world, much like a sophomore at a liberal arts college in a World Cup year.

GOOOAAAAAAAALLLL!: Fever Pitch - A surprisingly likable Colin Firth stars as an Arsenal supporter in this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s book of the same name (which would later be ruined by Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore in their version involving the Red Sox). Bend it Like Beckham - Despite the techno action scenes, this might be the best women’s sports movie out there; and as an added bonus, Keira Knightly comes across as attainable for most guys. Green Street Hooligans - A movie about an American played excellently by Elijah Wood who moves with his sister to London and falls in with a gang who also happen to support West Ham.

Own Goals: Kicking and Screaming - Will Ferrell begins his string of ruining sports movies with this clunker about a father and son who coach opposing soccer teams. Not even the unnecessary cameo by Mike Ditka can save this one. Mean Machine - A British remake of The Longest Yard where instead of a physical brand of football they play soccer. At least in this remake they changed the sport unlike the Adam Sandler version.

Corner Kick: Ladybugs - I have an affinity for Rodney Dangerfield, who should be considered for the sports movie hall of fame. In this instance, because of his decision to have a boy play on a girls soccer team while starring opposite Jackée Harry. (Then of course for his diving scene in Back to School and his portrayal of Al Czervik in Caddyshack.)

Soccer Movie I’d make: Football Style - An ex NFL kicker gives the rough world of the British semi-pro soccer a shot as he looks for redemption.

7. Basketball

Of the major American sports, no group of movies has been more disappointing than the collection of basketball movies.  There have been a few exceptions, but for it being a purely American sport, basketball is not easily grasped by Hollywood. And unfortunately, unlike other sports movies, basketball movies don't capture the inherent drama and passion of the sport.

Slam dunks: Hoosiers - Gene Hackman leads a small town basketball team to the state finals - spoiler alert! they win - in the semi-true story of the Milan (Indiana) High School Indians 1954 state championship. Teen Wolf - Michael J. Fox stars as a teenager who really goes through puberty. His newfound hair and fangs turn him into an all-star basketball player and big man on campus.  White Men Can’t Jump - Another Ron Shelton film that looks at people trying to get by through sports. This time it’s hustling basketball. Basketball Diaries - A deeper look at basketball as a metaphor for life, this also has a copious amount of drug abuse and more sex than the similarly named Red Shoe Diaries.

Technical Fouls: Celtic Pride - Two crazed Celtics fans kidnap Utah Jazz star Damon Wayans to guarantee their team a trip to the championships. My two cents: If you have to kidnap a Utah Jazz player to win the championship, you are in big trouble. Blue Chips - When the best actor in your movie is Shaquille O’Neil you know you have a bomb on your hands.  Semi Pro - Will Ferrell’s second unwatchable sports movie focuses on an ABA team in the 1970’s before the merger with the NBA. Certainly a shark jumping moment for Farrell.

Free Throw: Glory Road - The true story of the barrier-breaking Texan Western basketball team that won the 1966 NCAA title.

Basketball Movie I’d make: In the Jim - Looks at the George Mason Patriots' improbable rise to the Final Four as an at-large bid through eyes of Patriots head coach Jim Larrinaga.

6. Hockey

Every few years, Americans realize that our friends to the North may have more to offer than maple syrup and cheap prescription drugs and focus on hockey. Here in the Washington area the Capitals have generated new excitement in the sport by offering fans the only chance to watch a local team in the early rounds of the playoffs.  Without any recent box office success, fans are turning to some classic hockey films to get their cinematic puck fix and I understand that several hockey films are in the works right now, including remakes of several masterpieces. Let's hope that they instead decide to make my Mario Lemieux biopic, Better Than Gretzky.

Shoots and scores!: Slap Shot - Paul Newman stars in one of the top 5 sports movies ever made as a foul-mouthed minor league coach who fabricates a move to Florida to inspire his last place team to the championship.  Miracle - It could have also fallen under the Olympic banner but this look at Herb Brooks and the 1980 Miracle on Ice team is without out equal among Disney sports movies.  Sudden Death - Its game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and terrorists have taken over the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. Who will save the day? Jean Claude Van Damme, with excellent supporting roles by Mike Lange and Paul Steigerwald.   The Mighty Ducks Trilogy - The journey of Gordon Bombay and the Ducks from DUI to Division I Hockey will warm your heart on even the coldest Minnesota nights.

Choked on the open net: Slapshot 2 - Made many years later and with a Baldwin, this movie definitely left you searching for the glory of the original. The Love Guru - A bigger black eye to the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise than their 43 year Stanley Cup drought.

Earns an assist: Youngblood - Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze playing hockey and learning about life along the way.

Hockey Movie I’d Make: Better Than Gretzky - The true story of Mario Lemieux’s rise from a French speaking goon to hockey tycoon, while beating opponents and cancer along the way and being a part of three Stanley Cup Champions.

5. Horse Racing

America has had a long-time love affair with horse racing while completely ignoring the inhumane aspects of the sport, because in the end we as Americans love gambling more than animals.  Hollywood is no different, and we have seen an explosion of equine films in the past couple years and will no doubt see more because the lead in these movies literally will work peanuts.

Superfecta: Seabiscuit - The first of the modern day horse racing movies moved into the winners circle with the story of a horse that overcame the odds to become a champion. Secretariat - The fictionalized story of Big Red was almost as good as the real life journey of this colt. Let It Ride - Somewhere between his peak (Jaws) and his valley (Mr. Holland’s Opus), Richard Dreyfus made this fun movie about a degenerate gambler on a hot streak. A Day at the Races - A classic Marx Brothers film about a fun filled day at the track.

Came up Lame: Racing Stripes - An animated film about a zebra who wants to be race horse.

Claimer: Sex and the City - Sarah Jessica Parker sheds the bridle and becomes a bride while writing stories about dating, friends and New York City.

Horse Racing Movie I’d make: Harnessing Strength (Alternative Title: Heaven Can Gait) - A true story about legendary harness race driver Dave Palone and his journey back to the sulky after injury, despite a career filled with success.

4. Golf

While there have been relatively few golf movies made, this genre has made the game more accessible to the masses. Any Saturday morning you can hear lines from golf movies echoing across the pitch marks and divots all across the country. Fun fact: Caddyshack recently earned the distinction of 2nd best comedy of all time on Bravo’s list of “100 funniest movies.”

Birdies: Caddyshack, the classic tale of snobs vs. snobs can hold its own with any of the top sports movies.  Happy Gilmore, Adam Sandler stars as a hockey player turned golfer in this comedy about a guy who tries to save his grandmother’s house after he finds out he can hit a long drive. Hilarity ensues when he tries to putt.  Tin Cup, another Kevin Costner and Ron Shelton joint that paints an accurate picture of the life of a struggling professional athlete.  The Legend of Bagger Vance, while largely panned by critics this is a fun movie about a golfer who lost the will to play, but with the help of a Christ-like figure finds his game and his girl after struggling to adjust to life after World War I.

Bogies: Caddyshack II, this movie should have never been made and anyone who was associated with both this and the original should be ashamed of themselves for letting this movie be made.  The Greatest Game Ever Played, I had an easier time believing that Shia LeBouf was a stock broker in Money Never Sleeps than him as a golfer in this waste of a great story about Francis Ouimet’s improbable victory in the 1913 U.S. Open.

Approach Shots: Dead Solid Perfect, another early HBO movie starring Dennis Quaid looks at the real life of a professional golfer.

Golf Movie I’d make: Any Given Monday, the story of Rocco Mediate overcoming back troubles to go toe-to-toe with the world’s number one with the U.S. Open on the line in and 18 hole playoff.

3. Football

Over the past 30 years football's meteoric rise to the status of America's game hasn't gone unnoticed as “title town” has given way to “tinsel town.” Some of the best football movies have been made during this time of growth. In fact, some of the best sports movies in the last 30 years have been football movies, proving that Football will soon overtake Baseball as America's favorite sports genre.

Touchdowns: Brian’s Song, based on the true story of the friendship between Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo and Piccolo’s untimely death. Rudy, a heartwarming true story of a young undersized player who, despite a lack talent and a case of dyslexia, was able to overcome it all to play two plays for the Fightin’ Irish. Remember the Titans, Denzel Washington coaches a team of football players who must overcome racism to win the Virginia state title over their more racist counterparts.  Necessary Roughness, a college football movie that breaks all of the rules and remains the funniest football movie ever made.  The Longest Yard (Original with Burt Reynolds), a story about a has-been quarterback who goes to prison and discovers his inner con as he tries to stick it to the guards by playing hard nose football.

Personal Fouls: Two for the Money, A former college quarterback with a knack for picking games rises and falls in the fast paced world professional football prognostication.  The Program, The only bonus to this movie is that it has inspired many people who enjoyed it to go lay down in traffic. Airbud: Golden Receiver, a Golden Retriever who can catch passes? This is a tad unrealistic. How is he going to catch passes when he lacks opposable thumbs…Oh in his mouth? Okay, that might work.  The Last Boy Scout, The previews for this movie were pretty awesome: a mascot riding a horse around the Los Angeles Coliseum in the rain with Bruce Willis and Damon Waynes, however the movie failed to live up to the trailer. 

Extra Points: Leatherheads, Rick Reilly wrote a classic about the early days of professional football that was not widely accepted by audiences or critics but remains a funny movie with a great story. It stars George Clooney and John Kasrermeck, Kasinski, Karesmencksi ... Jim from The Office.

Football Movie I’d make: Striking Distance II: River of Fire, as the Steelers prepare for an AFC Championship game, Hines Ward is taken captive by an ex-firefighter who was long-thought dead, goes rouge and has been terrorizing Pittsburgh by setting fire to buildings along the three rivers until Detective Tom Hardy arrives to save the day and the Steelers Super Bowl Dreams.

2. Baseball

Baseball is a longtime favorite subject for Hollywood because of its status as the national pastime. The sport, ruined by money, steroids and Bud Selig, is waning in popularity among a younger generation and Hollywood is taking notice. One only has to look at the struggles of getting Moneyball made, to realize that the era of big baseball movies will soon be over.  While the hall of fame career of baseball movies seems to be coming to an end like the plot of many baseball movies, maybe it’s got one more perfect game left in that hand of some aging right hander.

Homeruns: Bull Durham, possibly the most perfect sports movie ever made, the story of Crash, Nuke, and Annie’s trials and tribulations in the Carolina League resonates with all movies goers; The Natural, the feel good story about a young man from Iowa who, after impregnating his girlfriend, gives into the temptations of Barbra Hershey who turns out to be a serial killer targeting promising athletes only to comeback years later and lead a team of rag-tag ball players on the take to the pennant.   Field of Dreams, a touching tale of an ex-hippie turned farmer who started hearing voices and plowed his cornfields to build a baseball field so he could be reunited with his father. The Bad News Bears, Walter Matthau and the future ex Mrs. John McEnroe star in this not-P.C. comedy about youth baseball. The Sandlot, is a great family comedy about kids baseball and giant dog.  The Pride of the Yankees or the Lou Gehrig story, and Major League round out a solid collection of baseball movies.

Strikeouts: Mr. 3000, someone at a studio thought to themselves, "Bernie Mac and baseball? This can’t miss." Well it did. Summer Catch, A movie about the Cape Cod summer league is a great idea. Putting Freddy Prince, Jr. and Jessica Beil in it was a terrible idea.  The Fan, my only theory about this is that DeNiro was having some major money problems when he got approached with this one and Major League III: Back to the Minors, the first sequel was serviceable but you knew this one was going to be the black eye to the franchise when it starred Scott Bakula; I wanted to take a Quantum Leap off a bridge after this movie.

AAA Baseball: Comrades of Summer, Joe Mantegna heads to Soviet Union to coach the Russian Olympic baseball team in the HBO Original movie from 1992.

Baseball Movie I’d like to write: The Federal Street Boys. One night sitting in a bar near PNC, a group of friends are drunkenly discussing moves they would make if they were in running the Pittsburgh Pirates when the Pirates new owner Mario Lemieux hears the fans suggestions. Lemieux then offers them the job of running the team collectively and the Pirates win the World Series in true worst-to-first fashion.

1. Boxing

The only sports movie to ever garner the Oscar© for Best Pictures was a boxing movie. John Avildsen’s 1976 classic about an underdog from South Philly who was given his shot spawned one of the most successful movie franchises in history.  Boxing and Hollywood have had a long and storied history together because the natural tendencies of the sport are very human: 1 on 1, champion vs. challenger, rich vs. poor; and let’s be honest, we like watching people beat the crap out of one another. 

Boxing movies that knock us off our feet: Rocky (and II, III, IV and Balboa), the classic story that is all sports movies; The Boxer, Daniel Day Lewis tries to mend a torn Belfast through Boxing.  Million Dollar Baby, Hillary Swank’s most feminine role since 90210.  Several true stories come to mind such has The Hurricane, Ali, and Somebody Up There Likes Me, but the movie that stands out the most is Cinderella Man; I first watched this movie with a friend of mine who is 6’9” 250lbs and he was bawling at the end.  The Great White Hype, the best look at race in boxing you could make with Peter Berg, Corbin Bernsen and Cheech Marin. Raging Bull, Peschi and DeNiro before Goodfellas with better chemistry.

Throw in the towel on these ones: Annapolis, Let’s just hope the other Whalberg’s boxing movie doesn’t end up at the bottom of the .99 box at Target like his brother Donnie’s did; Rocky V, a young chubby Eric Connolly makes a pre-Entourage appearance making it the only movie he did worse than The Beverly Hillbillies.

Middleweight contender for the heavyweight crown: The Hammer, a semi-autobiographical movie written and staring Adam Corolla.  This movie is starting to pop up on Comedy Central and should be a must watch for any sports movie fan.

Boxing movie I’d like to make: Blow, the rise and fall of Andrew Golata set against the Polish Solidarity movement.

I am certain that I have missed discussing some great sports movies and you may not agree with my decisions, but that is what makes sports and movies a perfect combination. We can disagree but at the end of the day none of it really matters.  I look forward to hearing your suggestions on how to reorder the list or other movies you love or hate in these genres.