The Sports Movie Hall of Fame

by Andrew Osborne

Last week, mixed martial arts got the Hollywood treatment with the release of Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior (starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton). Herein, we crown the all-time champs in other cinematic sporting events.

ROCKY (1976)
Sport:  Boxing
The simple primal drama of two men strategically beating the crap out of each other has inspired classics from Raging Bull to When We Were Kings.  But Sly Stallone’s endlessly quotable rags-to-redemption tale about a palooka’s shot at the big time was a much needed bicentennial boost for an on-the-ropes nation.  35 years and five sequels later, Rocky has gone the distance as a feel-good film for the ages.  Yo!  Adrian!
  Runners-up:  Raging Bull, When We Were Kings, The FighterThe Champ
BULL DURHAM (1988)
Sport:  Baseball
America’s Favorite Pastime is second only to boxing in terms of generating a deep bench of beloved cinematic depictions, from The Pride of the Yankees to A League of Their Own.  And while true bleacher creatures can argue over any aspect of their sport for hours, Ron Shelton’s baseball diamond love triangle about an aging pitcher, an eccentric fan and the egocentric young pitcher they mentor is clearly a first ballot Hall of Famer.
  Runners-up:  The Bad News Bears, A League of Their Own, Field of Dreams
HOOP DREAMS (1994)
Sport:  Basketball
Some may prefer the wholesome corn of Hoosiers, but this gritty chronicle of the divergent paths of two inner city teens is our top pick in the roundball category.  Not only does Steve James’ non-fiction masterpiece provide an affecting study of athletic aspiration, but its failure to score a Best Documentary nomination stirred a controversy that eventually transformed the Oscars.
  Runners-up:  Hoosiers, White Men Can’t Jump, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh
RUDY (1993)
Sport:  Football
Sure, Varsity Blues has the whipped cream bikini and Brian’s Song makes grown men cry just thinking about it, but c’mon…I’d totally get tackled by legions of passionate Rudy fans if I didn’t choose this story of a big-hearted hobbit (Sean Astin) determined to play for the Notre Dame varsity.  (Plus, the movie earns bonus points for bringing Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn together for the first time on the Hollywood gridiron.)
  Runners-up:  Brian’s Song, Jerry Maguire, The Longest Yard, Lucas
SLAP SHOT (1977)
Sport:  Hockey
To quote my wife, “What else is there?  The Mighty Ducks?”  Well, exactly…because while a few decent hockey films actually do exist (hello, Miracle!), Slap Shot is clearly a high stick above the rest.  Not only does the Paul Newman vehicle get the rowdy, brawling spirit of the sport exactly right, but like the team it depicts, it has a secret weapon:  the triple-threat mayhem of three Hanson brothers who’d rather bust teeth than tunes.
  Runners-up:  MiracleThe Rocket, and…okay, fine, The Mighty Ducks
CADDYSHACK (1980)
Sport:  Golf
The individual parts may be greater than the whole of this raucous ensemble comedy, but any one of those bits – the gopher dance, Bill Murray’s summit meeting with Chevy Chase, every Rodney Dangerfield one-liner, even the Baby Ruth in the swimming pool – is still way better than The Legend of Bagger Vance.
  Runners-up:  Happy Gilmore, The Caddy, Pat and Mike, Animal House
THE LORDS OF DOGTOWN (2005)
Sport:  Skateboarding
Long before Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke directed this birth-of-skateboarding biopic (which shares more than a little DNA with the 1986 cult classic Thrashin’ and the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys).  Not only does the film capture the Zen bliss of rolling around empty swimming pools with your brahs and the difficult intersection between lifestyle and career, but it also features one of Heath Ledger’s finest performances as the gruff board designer Skip Engblom.
  Runners-up:  Thrashin’, Dogtown and Z-Boys, Jackass, Back to the Future
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981)
Sport:  Skiing
It’s a little known scientific fact that all ski movies are terrible.  Downhill Racer is apparently the exception to the rule, but watching Robert Redford in the snow is too white for most people to see with the naked eye…and, yes, it’s downhill from there.  Even as a teenager I knew Hot Dog and Better Off Dead were sophomoric, which basically leaves a zillion Warren Miller ski porn movies with dirty-sounding titles like Steeper and Deeper.  Only James Bond films have consistently done the sport proud, and For Your Eyes Only arguably has the finest black diamond stunts of them all:  007 is chased by motorcycles down a bobsled track…on skis!!!
  Runners-up:  Downhill Racer, Hot Dog, The Spy Who Loved MeBetter Off Dead
PERSONAL BEST (1982)
Sport:  Track & Field
Chariots of Fire had the great Vangelis soundtrack (and the even greater SCTV parody, Chariots of Eggs).  However, Robert Towne’s low-key story about athletes preparing for the (ultimately U.S. boycotted) 1980 Olympics scores for its naturalistic depiction of the personalities and politics of modern day competitors.  (And, sure, okay:  the hot lesbian sex between lovers and teammates played by Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly is a definite plus.)
  Runners-up:  Chariots of Fire, The Jesse Owens Story, Prefontaine, Meatballs
ENTER THE DRAGON (1973)
Sport:  Martial Arts
There are so many martial arts movies – heck, there are so many Karate Kid movies – that picking a winner in this category was especially difficult.  But it’s hard to ignore the fists of fury that started it all:  Bruce Lee kicked off the kung-fu craze in the U.S. and Enter the Dragon (released days after the star’s death) is his most iconic film.  Not only was the production selected for the National Film Registry, but the story features the classic mirror room battle and other great island-of-evil combat sequences (including stunt work by Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan).
  Runners-up:  The Karate Kid (both versions), Shaolin Soccer, Mortal Kombat
GREGORY’S GIRL (1981)
Sport:  Soccer
Americans care about soccer movies about as much as they care about soccer.  In other words, not so much.  So it’s no surprise the winner in this category is a shaggy-dog import from across the pond – Scotland, to be specific – about a teenage girl who wins a spot on her school’s “football” team (along with the heart of a sweet-natured teammate).  Gooooal!!!
  Runners-up:  Bend It Like Beckham, Victory, The Damned United, Once in a Lifetime
BRING IT ON (2000)
Sport:  Competitive Cheerleading
If you went to Peyton Reed’s comedy just for the sexy girls in cheerleader outfits – uh, not that there’s anything wrong with that – you may have been pleasantly surprised by the clever script and its positive portrayal of “sweater monkeys” as dedicated, hard-working athletes.  Sure, the franchise eventually went into sequel overkill, but the original did the spirit stick proud.
  Runners-up:  None
COOL RUNNINGS (1993)
Sport:  Bobsledding
This charming sleeper hit features all the traditional sports movie clichés – underdog misfits learning the value of teamwork, a cranky has-been coach searching for redemption – and makes them as fresh as the Wailing Souls cover of “Wild Wild Life” on the reggae-themed soundtrack.  Credit the true-ish tale of Jamaica’s unlikely pursuit of gold in the 1988 Winter Olympics and John Candy’s last great onscreen role for a sports film as refreshing as a cool Alberta breeze.
  Runners-up:  None
THE KING OF KONG (2007)
Sport:  Competitive Video Gaming
There’s usually nothing less interesting than watching other people play video games, but this documentary by director Seth Gordon gets you rooting for unemployed family man Steve Wiebe, a likeable sad sack seeking a tiny measure of personal fulfillment (and Guiness Book immortality) by racking up history’s highest score on the world’s hardest video game: Donkey Kong.
  Runners-up:  Wargames, The Last Starfighter, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

(Or click here for the Nerve edit, angry Nerve commenter comments and pictures!)
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3 Responses to “The Sports Movie Hall of Fame”


  1. 1 adam September 12, 2011 at 9:10 am

    fun list! but no gleaming the cube?! for shame! other omissions: north Dallas 40,major league, necessary roughness, the program, the replacements, tin cup, ski patrol, Aspen extreme, best of the best, bloodsport… yeah admittedly some of those are fucking horrible. still, gimme trumpet riffs and stadium lights and I get all gooey inside.


  1. 1 The Sports Movie Hall of Fame ? Screengrab In Exile « hutcherjosh Trackback on September 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm
  2. 2 The Sports Movie Hall of Fame ? Screengrab In Exile | Watch Tv Shows Episodes Online Free Megavideo Trackback on September 19, 2011 at 7:39 am

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