Starting with numbers 16-25, I will now attempt to rank the greatest sports movies of all time. Go ahead, start throwing your stones at me now. This isn’t (as with most lists of this nature) supposed to be an end all be all final list for all the world to use. These are simply my favorites, because with all movies, who we are and where we are in life has a lot to do with how enjoyable we find them. So take it as you will, complain, agree, whatever, I just wanted to do it.
25. Rocky Balboa – The first of three Rocky films to grace this list, the latest tale of Philadelphia brain cells disappearing among tremendous, jaw-slackening right hooks was the first ‘Rocky’ that felt like the first ‘Rocky’ since the 1977 Best Picture winner: the first ‘Rocky’. Sylvester Stallone’s tear jerking scene to open the movie, along with the call backs to the beloved series during and leading up to the final fight, make this movie a fitting climax to a the story of the greatest working man hero Hollywood has ever witnessed.
24. Baseketball – Some seriously funny comedy isn’t what makes this movie a great sports film. And the two (male) creators of South Park tongue kissing isn’t what makes it easier, although the Malaka-Laka Balance Board of Trust will always be one of the most spiritual places I can imagine. Compared to the other supremely athletic games the rest of these movies are based on, Squeak (you know, the little bitch) sums up the beauty of ‘Baseketball’ when he tells his arguing amigos, “Don’t you see what we have here? A game where guys with bad backs and bad knees can… get together and compete on the same field as guys that are all goosed up on steroids. But more than anything, isn’t this game about gettin’ together with your friends and just havin’ a good time?”
23. Speed Racer – a fictional sport, or at least a fictional, fantasticalized (yeah, that’s a word) version of a real sport, ‘Speed Racer’ highlights the jumping-around, mace-swinging, turbo-to-the-max races that all of us imagined while rolling Hot Wheels off the sides of the couch in the living room as kids. The acting is surprisingly on point for a ridiculous kids movie of this nature, with John Goodman leading the charge with a tremendous performance that is both viscerally real and cartoonish at the same time. As fun and visually stimulating as this movie is, you still really care about each and every race, from start to heart-bursting finish. The final race, especially, in one I dare you to look away from anytime it’s on, because I never can.
22. Any Given Sunday – I know many of you are crying that this movie should be way higher on this list. Others are probably arguing that it shouldn’t be on this race at all. Bill Bellamy’s performance not withstanding, it’s Al Pacino’s “we fight for that inch” speech that places ‘Any Given Sunday’ on this list. A standard for sports movies, the uplifting speech has been done before, it’ll be done many times in the future, but this is one of the best. It’s a speech that applies to life, and those are the speeches that resonate with an audience long after the final credits roll. After Pacino, the next best actor in this film is L.T. (no, not LaDainian Tomlinson, there’s only one L.T.), his appearance and performance in the movie give the football on the screen a legitimacy that’s hard to come by with actors only.
21. Mighty Ducks – I couldn’t possibly make this list without this movie, although, I’ve often thought how one of my beloved childhood movies, one that my parents would play for me over and over, days at a time, one that every other kid in my neighborhood could quote almost verbatim, began with Emilio Estevez driving through town tossing empty beer bottles out of the window of his car. That said, ‘Mighty Ducks’ has a great message at its heart, that as long as you try your best, that’s always enough. Paralleling Coach Gordan Bombay’s (Estevez’s) nurturing relationship with his young protégé, Charlie, is Bombay’s own memory of letting down his own coach of the rival Hawks (a coach and team they end up playing against, of course). Although it’s a standard story arc with a predictable ending, the ‘Goonies’ type atmosphere added to the competitiveness of peewee hockey make this movie enjoyable at any age.
20. Space Jam – Another kids movie, ‘Space Jam’ merges the fantastical ‘Looney Tunes’ realm with the very real Michael Jordan craze of the 90’s. The playfully terrible acting attempts by Charles Barkely, Patrick Ewing, Mugsy Bogues, Shawn Bradley and Larry Johnson aside (is Charles Barkely the shooting guard in that lineup?), Bill Murray is the one who ends up making this movie great, as he stands in for the everyman who dreams about one day looking hopefully not abysmal playing alongside the greatest NBA All Star in history. Bugs, Babs, Daffy and the Tasmanian Devil link up with the former Chicago Bull and ‘Caddyshack’ veteran to vanquish the awesome looking aliens (empowered with the above NBA players’ skills, heights and muscles) in order to play a basketball game that somehow saves the world (I don’t remember how, it really doesn’t matter). What matters is the fun we have in getting there, and this movie delivers fun by the bucketload.
19. Rookie of the Year – For any kid, the prospect of growing up and joining the adult world both can’t come soon enough and is also absolutely terrifying. How else are you supposed to imagine working alongside adults then as the short, scrawny person you are that somehow magically has the skills and talent to work among the big dogs? And that is exactly what ‘Rookie of the Year’ hits upon. Thomas Ian Nicholas (you also know him from ‘A Kid in King Arthur’s Court’, oh wait, no you don’t, but he’s also in the American Pie franchise) plays a kid that gains the ability to pitch in the Majors through falling on his arm (kids, don’t break your arm in hopes of gaining majestic pitching speed!). What sets this movie apart is the way it transitions from a feel good, quirky comedy to a dark, dystopian look at adult life and the ways in which work and greed can destroy friendships, family relationships and your belief in yourself.
18. Real Steel – Ok, so it’s not exactly boxing, and the “athletes” aren’t exactly people, but this movie has all the makings of a great sports movie: the underdog with a heart of gold, an intense tournament with no chance of winning, and a father-son dynamic that’s as complicated as it is fun. Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a promoter/trainer/controller of robots in the ‘Rock ‘em Sock ‘em’ based Robot Fighting League. His 11-year-old son comes into the picture just as the chips are down for the old grump. Life on the road, the unsteadiness of his profession, and the thrill of the sport serve to lead the father and son down a path of love, hate, then love, then hate, etc. until the movie’s dramatic finish.
17. Rocky IV – Another ‘Rocky’ gracing this list, this fourth installment of the franchise is pure, unadulterated Cold War propaganda. The Russian Ivan Drago stands tall over the American underdog, Rocky, pumped full of illegal steroids by his crew of immoral doctors and trainers. Rocky lifts nets full of boulders and whatever else he can find in the backwater barn the Soviets house him in awaiting his fight. The quintessential-est of the 80’s montages appears in this movie, pitting Rocky’s training against Drago’s, culminating in Rocky ditching his Soviet escort to run up the side of a snow covered mountain for no other reason than to prove to God and himself that he can. That’s inspiring, that’s American, that’s a sports movie.
16. Remember the Titans – Racism, tackled in this movie, isn’t a necessary component of a great sports movie. What ‘Remember the Titans’ does is give us a compelling tale of the way things used to be (and still are, depending on how you talk to) and how a small group of people can overcome years of racist dogma under the right circumstances. It’s a tale that gives us hope, hope that someday the weights of America’s sordid past will be not even a memory. Denzel Washington and Will Patton are dynamite on the screen, especially in any scene they’re in together. Furthermore, this movie also gave us a young, beyond adorable Hayden Panattiere, who plays Patton’s daughter and the biggest football fan I’ve ever seen.
The rest of the list will be coming shortly, but I thought I’d give you guys a little teaser so you can get a jump on how much you vehemently disagree with everything I have to say about this list.
Also, here’s a list of movies that would probably make the list, but, sadly, I have yet to see them: Varsity Blues, Bull Durham, Chariots of Fire, The Replacements, Moneyball