Special Articles

The Best 50 Sports Movies Ever

on

It’s very tough to rank any kind of movies, a completely subjective exercise. There are still some sports flicks out there I haven’t seen, including the recently released “Cinderella Man” and “Glory Road,” which I’ve heard good things about. You may deem some others more worthy of inclusion; however you probably can’t go wrong with almost any of these selections, for sheer entertainment value. With that caveat, here they are:

1) Hoosiers – Gene Hackman as “Norman Dale,” a driven, small-town Indiana high school basketball coach, attempting to overcome a checkered past. It’s one of Hackman’s finest performances. Barbara Hershey was also wonderful as a school teacher and love interest for Hackman. Dennis Hopper plays “Shooter”, an alcoholic drifter, helped along with getting his life back in order by the coach. The supporting role revived his then floundering film career in the mid-1980’s.

2) Slap Shot – the wonderfully irreverent and, although somewhat over-the-top, surprisingly realistic portrayal of minor league pro hockey in the mid 1970’s. Paul Newman was brilliant as the player-coach of the Charlestown Chiefs, loosely based upon the real life American Hockey League Johnstown Jets, where the movie was filmed in Pennsylvania’s west central hills. The Hanson Brothers, real life minor league players who played themselves in the movie, became cult figures and remain so to this day.

3) Caddyshack – A wonderful and hilarious look at the game of golf through the eyes of a caddy, played by Micheal O’Keefe, and a groundskeeper of limited intellect, played by Bill Murray. Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight round out the tremendously talented comedic cast.

4) Remember the Titans – a poignant and topical look at the 1971 T.C. Williams High School football team from Alexandria, Virginia, which won the Virginia state championship and finished second in the mythical high school national championship poll. The movie portrays the issues of race relations and school integration in the largely still segregated South of that era. Denzel Washington and Will Patton play the leads.

5) The Hustler – an early 1960’s classic starring the late Jackie Gleason as the legendary pool hustler “Minnesota Fats,” and Paul Newman as the young, up-and-coming challenger, “Eddie Felson.”

6) The Longest Yard – only the original version made in 1974 with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert, not the regrettable remake by Adam Sandler recently foisted upon an unsuspecting public.

7) Seabiscuit – a cinematic masterpiece, beautifully filmed and starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Toby Maguire as the owner, trainer and jockey of the little but big-hearted race horse, which captured the hearts and dreams of an entire nation during the 1930’s depression in America.

8) Major League – an uproariously funny, though fictitious look inside the day-to-day zany antics and superstitions of the then long-suffering Cleveland Indians of the late 1980’s, starring Tom Beringer, Rene Russo, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, and the unforgettable performance of Bob Uecker, as the play-by-play announcer, “Harry Doyle.”

9) Bull Durham – Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are well-cast in this humorous look at a minor league baseball team.

10) The Natural – Robert Redford plays a mysterious character who makes a successful return to baseball after suffering a serious gunshot wound many years earlier. Glenn Close plays opposite Redford.

11) Rocky – only the original, with Sylvester Stallone as “Rocky Balboa,” a Philadelphia street fighter who parlays a lot of hard work and guts into a prize fighting championship as America’s favorite underdog. Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith and Burt Young give great performances.

12) Million Dollar Baby – Clint Eastwood plays an aging boxing trainer who reluctantly takes on a middle-aged but fledgling female fighter, played well by Hilary Swank, in a role very close to her roots, as a girl from a rural, poverty-stricken background.

13) Raging Bull – the life of prize fighter Jake LaMotta is chronicled, starring Robert DeNiro. The film remains very true to the story, with little sugar-coating, and was one of acclaimed director Martin Scorcese’s early triumphs in filmmaking.

14) 61 – an HBO movie directed by Billy Crystal, it remarkably brings to life again the riveting battle between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris to break Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record during the 1961 New York Yankees season. The wonderful ensemble cast is headed by Thomas Jane as Mantle and Barry Pepper as Maris.

15) Victory – Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone star in this improbable story of an Allied prison camp soccer team put together to face a German team in Paris during World War II. Max Von Sydow gives a memorable performance as the commandant of a German prisoner of war camp. Brazilian soccer hero Pele also stars as a player for the Allies.

16) The Bad News Bears – Walter Matthau plays his usual curmudgeonly role, this time as an alcoholic and reluctant manager of a boy’s little league baseball team in Southern California. Tatum O’Neal won acclaim for her role as a pitcher and the only female on the team.

17) The Pride of the Yankees – the story of legendary Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig, who held the record for most consecutive games played (2,130) until it was broken by Baltimore Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. in the mid-1990’s. Gary Cooper plays the role of Gehrig. The movie is a bit sappy, but so are most 1940’s-era films.

18) Tin Cup – Kevin Costner stars as “Roy McAvoy,” a ner’-do-well golfer whiling away his days on an armadillo-infested, West Texas driving range, giving golf lessons. He improbably qualifies for the U.S. Open with the help of Rene Russo, who plays a local psychologist. She helps Costner’s character improve his mental outlook on the game, preparing him for a miraculous run at the tournament title.

19) Days of Thunder – a compelling look inside big time NASCAR racing, with Tom Cruise as “Cole Trickle,” a renegade, out-of-control stock car driver. Robert Duvall is great as Trickle’s mechanic and pit crew supervisor. Nicole Kidman plays a doctor who treats the driver and later becomes romantically involved with him.

20) Chariots of Fire – a well-made film which tells the story of British long distance Olympic runners during the 1920’s.

21) Rudy – Sean Astin stars as Daniel Ruettiger, a walk-on football player at Notre Dame, who overcomes great odds to play in one game.

22) A League of Their Own – Penny and Garry Marshalls’ wonderful piece about the women’s professional baseball league of the 1940’s during World War II. Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and David Straithairn head an all-star cast.

23) Eight Men Out – the story of the Black Sox Scandal during the 1919 World Series, starring John Cusack.

24) Brian’s Song – A gut-wrenching tear-jerker about Brian Piccolo, the Chicago Bear’s fullback who died of cancer during his playing career. James Caan plays the lead role.

25) The Color of Money – Paul Newman reprises the role of “Eddie Felson” he played in “The Hustler” (see No. 5 above). He plays a mentor to “Vince” (Tom Cruise), who’s an up-and-coming pool hall hustler. Newman won a long overdue Academy Award for Best Actor due to his performance in this 1986 release.

26) Hoop Dreams – a docudrama exploring the world of big time high school basketball recruits.

27) Field of Dreams – a fantasy about an Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner, who builds a baseball diamond in the middle of a corn field, which attracts old-time players to come back and play.

28) Everybody’s All American – loosely based on the career of LSU’s Heisman trophy winning running back Billy Cannon of the late 1950’s, director Taylor Hackford’s fictional view of the trials and tribulations of a college and pro football hero. It stars Dennis Quaid and Jessica Lange.

29) The Cutting Edge – a portrayal of the behind-the-scenes effort which goes into training for and performing as a pair’s figure skating team. The movie stars D.B. Sweeney and Moira Kelly.

30) Jerry Maguire – Tom Cruise plays a sports agent with a conscience. Cuba Gooding, Jr. steals the movie as the hilarious “Rod Tidwell,” who becomes Maguire’s only client for an entire football season.

31) The Sandlot – a nostalgic look at a kid’s impromptu sandlot baseball team, set in early 1960’s Southern California.

32) Varsity Blues – a surprisingly realistic glimpse inside the world of modern-day, small-town, Texas high school football. They used high school players to film the football scenes, with great-looking realism. Jon Voight stars as the coach of the team.

33) Wind – co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola, the movie was shot primarily in Newport, Rhode Island, and recounts the struggles of an America’s Cup racing team to win back the cup from the Australians. Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey star as the brains behind designing, building and skippering the boat.

34) Bang The Drum Slowly – an early 1970’s movie about a New York Yankees’ catcher (played by Robert DeNiro), who plays with a terminal illness.

35) North Dallas Forty – Nick Nolte stars in this dark look at the ugly, business side of pro football.

36) Semi-Tough – Dan Jenkin’s best-selling novel about the zany characters who play pro football is brought to life on the big screen. Burt Reynolds plays the lead.

37) The Best of Times – Robin Williams and Kurt Russell star in this unique comedy, as two former high school footballers who organize a rematch of their 1972 championship game against Bakersfield (Calif.) High.

38) Paper Lion – George Plimpton’s best selling book about his experiences as a journalist participating in an early 1960’s training camp with the Detroit Lions is brought to the big screen. Alan Alda plays the role of Plimpton. Alex Karras, John Gordy and the rest of the Lions team also star in the movie.

39) Wildcats – Goldie Hawn stars in this comedy, as the coach of a Chicago high school football team in the ghetto. The character “Finch” steals the movie, as a grossly overweight player, who will only do things for money.

40) Phar Lap – an obscure but well-made film about a champion Australian race horse.

41) Heart Like a Wheel – Bonnie Bedalia stars as Shirley Muldowney, in a biography of her life and career as the first ever female drag racer.

42) Casey’s Shadow – Walter Matthau plays an irascible, poverty-stricken, Cajun quarter horse trainer in this late 1970’s film.

43) Ice Castles – Robby Benson and Lynn Holly Johnson in a poignant portrayal of the life of a figure skater, who becomes blind after a training accident, but continues to compete.

44) The Endless Summer – an excellent 1960’s documentary flick about surfing.

45) Fear Strikes Out – the story of Jimmy Piersall, a Boston Red Sox outfielder who overcame a history of mental problems to have a baseball career.

46) The Program – James Caan stars as the coach of a major college football program, in a movie which exposes some of the ills of major college sports.

47) The Other Side of the Mountain – the story of Jill Kinmont, a 1950’s American Olympic skier, who suffered an accident which paralyzed her for life.

48) Breaking Away – a film about the “Little 500,” a long-distance bicycle race held each year in Bloomington, on the campus of Indiana University.

49) Youngblood – a film starring Rob Lowe and Cynthia Gibb, about a Canadian minor league hockey player.

50) Blue Chips – Nick Nolte stars in this film about a major college basketball coach who gets caught up in the “win at all costs” syndrome.

Now you may head to your favorite local video store and enjoy any one or more of these films.