With playoffs getting underway in hockey and basketball, let’s turn our attention to sports movies. First of all, why the heck is it so hard to make a good movie about such a dominant part of culture? Sports movies are almost uniformly awful and the most acclaimed ones are about boxing (which I’ve excluded because then the whole list would be boxing movies) or things that are “games” rather than “sports” like poker or pool (so no Hustler or Rounders). I want to keep it to team sports. For that reason I also excluded Jerry Maguire because I don’t think of it as a sports movie so much I do a relationship movie. You could argue either way, but very little of the movie takes place on-the-field.
Once you cut these, your applicant pool shrinks considerably (and predominantly to baseball movies). Why? Because it is incredibly hard to simulate what athletes can do. Teaching actors to realistically emulate something that requires a lifetime of discipline and training crops up in all kinds of films, but in sports, it’s REALLY hard to cheat with camera tricks. The camera cuts will give away stand-ins or if all you’re showing is hands and feet; people know the actors aren’t doing squat when it comes to the sports. The best sports movies find ways around that. They either make the movie about the ethereal qualities of the game so much that you don’t care about on-the-field action (Bull Durham or Field of Dreams) or they do something amazingly clever like hiring a whole team of hockey players and teaching them how to act and surrounding them with professional actors (Miracle).
Sports movies are hard to do, but when they’re done right, they remind us why sports matter. Sport brings together, sport binds, sport unites, sport marks time and place, sport teaches, sport lifts the spirit and sport devastates the soul. These are my favorite five sports films:
1. Rudy (1993)
2. Miracle (2004)
3. Field of Dreams (1989)
4. Remember the Titans (2000)
5. Moneyball (2011)
Honorable Mention: Bull Durham, Bend it Like Beckham, The Natural, Friday Night Lights and 42.