10. The Big Lebowski
I can already hear you saying, “What? That’s not a sports movie!” My only response is straight from the Dude: “Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” It’s a revisionist Western, an inversion of the classic Raymond Chandler whodunnits, a humorous rejoinder against all -isms, but it’s also, never forget, the greatest bowling movie that’s ever graced the silver screen (Editor’s Note: Uh, Kingpin?). As in most great sports films, the game itself becomes a metaphor for life. In this case, the, perhaps meaningless, repetition of tossing a ball down a lane only to have it pop back out so you can do it all over again is the ultimate existential embodiment of the constant human drama we partake in on a daily basis. And like the Dude, we must learn to “abide.”
9. The Bad News Bears
It’d be wrong to have a list of sports movies that didn’t include any film focusing on kids as athletes. After all, that’s how most of us became our most intimate with sports: as kids playing in little league and peewees and the like. Bad News Bears is the perfect kids sports movie; it’s made for adults just as much as it is for children. It’s rude, vulgar, and cynical, but it also has a perfect beating heart. It’s sort of Walter Matthau’s aura personified in a sports film. We put so much on kids to win win win, but really, what could be more important than coming together as a team, proving you're better than anyone gave you credit for, and then, win or lose, enjoying yourself with a beer-spraying celebration at the end?
8. Bull Durham
Sports announcer Bob Costas is the guy who pinned down what makes Bull Durham such a wonderful and unique sports movie: “It captures the romance of baseball without the violin strings.” So many sports films up to that point either went for juvenile yucks or inspirational tears, and so most sports films, and baseball films especially, weren’t seen as viable prospects for big studios. This film changed that, as it was both a commercial and critical success. It paved the way for a new kind of sports film, one that found a middle ground between the humor and the drama, one that understood that sports are always a combination of these two human elements.
7. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Despite what Ricky says, just because Talladega Nights isn’t first doesn’t mean it’s last. You can argue whether or not you think NASCAR is a sport all you like, that’s not going to change the fact that it’s a hell of a damn movie. Ricky Bobby’s saga is a tale of redemption as old as time itself; like a great Phoenix rising from both literal and figurative ashes, Ricky triumphs over his fears of crashing, bests his arch nemesis, and wins the girl of his dreams in the process. In addition to getting funnier and funnier every time you watch it, Talladega Nights’ incredible cast and hilarious dedication to NASCAR realism lands it on this list with a hefty dose of “Shake n Bake.”
6. Any Given Sunday
There are few sports speeches that can compete with Al Pacino’s in Any Given Sunday: “Life is just a game of inches.” You can say sports are about all sorts of things, but no matter if it’s about becoming a champion and winning glory or proving your worth and growing as a person, Oliver Stone’s film is right: you do it “inch by inch, play by play.” That’s nothing new, of course. Sports films are known to use that inspirational vein, but they rarely do so while being this epic. The movie is big and mythic in a way only a filmmaker like Stone knows how to be. Lots of football films came close to making this list, but this one inevitably stands in for them all: “Either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That's football guys. That's all it is.”
5. Major League
Packed with incredible one-liners and legendarily memorable characters, it was impossible not to add this one to the list. Sure, it’s a classic underdog story packed with human emotion but what makes it great is that it’s all balanced out by being incredibly hilarious. The hapless Indians (still more or less true today) take it all the way to the big show with nothing but guts, a naked cutout of the owner, Young Wesley Snipes, and a little bit of voodoo. Sure, I could make the very obvious (and terrible) Charlie Sheen “winning”/Wild Thing joke here, but I won’t. I’ll just leave you with some inspiration from the man himself, Indians announcer Larry Doyle, “JUUST a bit outside.”
4. Field of Dreams
Field of Dreams is a sports movie for people with dads who love baseball; it doesn’t, in fact, actually matter if you yourself love baseball. The film is about our relationships with our fathers, our hope to deal with things left unresolved, and our faith in ourselves and our dreams. Is it idealistic? Yes. Is it romantic? Of course. Sentimental even? Sure. In some corners, the film has even earned the nickname “Field of Corn”--and not for the yellow vegetable Kevin Costner’s protagonist plows to make room for the baseball diamond. But try not to be moved during that final moment of a father and son playing catch. Your eyes will well up with tears because the film’s been designed just for that purpose. If you watch it, the feels will come. Let them.
Like most great sports films, Hoosiers is a classic David and Goliath story. It’s about underdogs proving their worth. It doesn’t do anything to depart from this standard Hollywood story arc, but what it does do is perfect the formula. It marries multiple underdog narratives seamlessly. Each of its characters--Gene Hackman’s Dale, Barbara Hershey’s Myra, Dennis Hopper’s Shooter, and of course the team itself--proves themselves with heart and dedication. Even if you can see all their comebacks coming from a mile away, the way each character is painted to perfection keeps you not only engaged in the story but invested in each win.
Some of these sports flicks can feel a little “inside baseball” for non-sports fans, but Caddyshack, like its super-high offspring The Big Lebowski, is a sports film for everyone. Its plot is ridiculous, its jokes are silly, and its scenes feel like one Saturday Night Live skit after another. And you know what? It’s awesome. Do you really need a coherent plot or believable characters in your sports movie? I sure don’t. Not when the results are this hilarious. The film isn’t just one of the alltime best sports movies, but one of the all-time best comedies. Yet amongst all the praise you can heap upon Caddyshack, maybe the biggest compliment you can give it is in saying that it’s the best movie to feature Bill Murray messing with a rodent that’s not from Punxsutawney.
1. Raging Bull
In March 1977, at the 49th Academy Awards, Rocky k.o.’d the competition (including the phenomenal Taxi Driver, arguably director Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece) to take home the Oscar for Best Picture. Raging Bull has always felt like Scorsese’s bitter rebuttal. It’s one of the few sports movies that doesn’t seem to have any love for the sport it showcases. Scorsese had said: “I don’t like boxing...It was something I couldn’t, wouldn’t grasp.” And yet despite this dislike of the brutal sport, Scorsese found in the story of Jake LaMotta a universal parable: “the ring becomes an allegory for life.” Scorsese doesn’t portray the sport with the feel-good, all-American sheen of the innumerable Rockys, but instead shadowboxes in noirish black and white. His shooting in the ring is disorienting, claustrophobic, savage even. Rocky looks as tame and playful as a Rock Em Sock Em Robot by comparison. By the end, we feel as Scorsese always had, that boxing is the most brutal sport. Well, except for life.