Creating a list of the greatest sports movies of all time is a difficult task. My personal complaint to most lists is that they are all the same. They all include classics like Bull Durham, Hoosiers, and The Natural. There is nothing wrong with this, but I decided to create a newer list of great sports movies. While those movies are great, it is widely accepted that they are in the upper echelon of sports movies. With that in mind, I set out to create a list of sports movies which includes some more recent masterpieces. Without further adieu, here is my list of the top 20 sports movies of the last 20 years.
20. He Got Game (1998) –Most sports movies focus so much on athletics that they fail to develop the plot, but this is not the case in He Got Game. It provides a jaded, yet potentially truthful, portrayal of recruiting in college athletics (e.g. sex, booze, and a threesome with two blondes) and also introduces you to Jesus Shuttlesworth’s fractured family, troubled past, and guilt-stricken father. If that’s not enough for you, consider this: in what other movie can you watch Ray Allen deliver an MTV-Award caliber performance? Yes, he was nominated as MTV’s breakthrough male actor in 1998… NICE.
19. Days of Thunder (1990) – Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Uncle Eddie from the Vacation movie series. That’s all I need… Days of Thunder could be labeled “Talladega Nights with drama instead of comedy,” as it featured a hot-headed lead driver, a skilled competitor, a domineering boss, and so many bumps that NASCAR nearly lost its mind. Not to mention that a 23 year old Nicole Kidman played a brain surgeon… (was “Brain Surgeon” some sort of Bachelor’s Degree in 1990?)
18. Tin Cup (1996) – Biggest knock on Tin Cup: it’s a chick flick first and sports movie second. While sports movies, just like movies in general, tend to introduce a love interest, Tin Cup spends too much lovey-dovey time between Robin Hood and that chick who was in the Lethal Weapon series. As everyone knows, however, the movie is made when he decides to go for the green (over and over and over). Fun fact (and this is via Wikipedia so take it for what its worth): Costner’s meltdown is based on a similar round by golf analyst David McCord. I wish I had the footage… I’m sure it’s priceless.
17. Baseketball (1998) – Let me say this first: anyone who immediately objects to Baseketball’s spot on this list needs to watch the movie again. After viewing the movie in light of modern American sports, you can then decide if Baseketball is a true slapstick comedy or a prophetic depiction of the course of professional sports. Consider this: Baseketball was released in 1998, which means it was probably written and developed around 1996-97. This was before the era of home run kings in baseball, before the Manny Ramirez blockbuster deal in Boston, before A-Rod became the “Quarter Billion Dollar Man,” before the San Francisco Giants’ home stadium had eight new names, before Mike Vick made $100 million in the NFL, and before NBA free agency turned into a proverbial “shuffle up and play.” Watch it again and appreciate the now-accurate digs at modern American sports. The introduction alone should make any true sports fan die laughing…
16. The Sandlot (1993) – I shouldn’t even have to defend this. Benny, Smalls, Yeah-Yeah, and that fat catcher can speak for themselves. I couldn’t find room for other young sports favorites like Little Giants and Rookie of the Year, you bet your ass I made room for The Sandlot. “Heroes get remembered, but Legends never die.”
15. Cinderella Man (2005) –This movie vaulted a seemingly average citizen, who had been forced to work manual labor jobs due to a broken hand, into the national spotlight by winning boxing’s Heavyweight Title. When the Great Depression was tearing apart the wills of millions of Americans, James Braddock offered a true and touching story of determination and success. That is what makes Cinderella Man a great movie.
14. The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) – Will Smith turns in an incredible performance in an otherwise underappreciated golf movie. Bagger Vance spans the entire spectrum of human emotion, including love, anger, fear, guilt, depression, success, failure, and redemption. Not much comedy to be found, but with such a powerful plot, not much was needed. Fun Fact: Will Smith’s voice for the character of Bagger Vance sounds eerily like Uncle Remus’ voice in the nearly-forgotten Disney classic Song of the South… Almost dead on.
13. A League of Their Own (1992) – Yes, it’s a movie about womens athletics, but A League of Their Own also stars Tom Hanks as a degenerate drunk of a baseball manager, which any baseball fan should love to be. At least the two female leads aren’t bad to look at. Geena Davis and Madonna had to good looking though, because the two male leads (Tom Hanks and Rosie O’Donnell) didn’t offer much sex appeal. Not to mention that this scene is PRICELESS:
12. 61* (2001) – My general intrigue with this movie is then-commissioner Ford Frick’s attempt to place an asterisk next to Roger Maris’ home run record. Frick’s initial complaint against Maris’ record was that he played more games than the original record holder, Babe Ruth. This is the same argument I made against Randy Moss breaking Jerry Rice’s single season touchdown record of 22 receiving TDs in 2007. What I was upset about is that Jerry Rice’s record was set in only 12 games! Yes, Moss’ accomplishment was great, but I believe that Rice’s 12TD in 22 games should be in the record book somewhere. That argument put aside, this movie is an excellent interpretation of the summer of 1961.
11. The Mighty Ducks (1992) – Quack, Quack, Quack… Gordon Bombay and crew deliver one of the most immature, entertaining, and legendary films in sports history. While this may not seem like a textbook “greatest movie,” its legacy is still alive today. The Mighty Ducks spawned two sequels, an animated television series, and even an NHL franchise! The Mighty Ducks stands as one of the most influential sports movies of all time, despite playing for a younger audience than most great sports movies. The Flying V, two eventual sequels, and anything that Goldberg (the comically overweight goalie) spat helped make this movie an instant classic.
10. Blue Chips (1994) – Something deep inside of every reader was hoping that Shaquille O’Neal showed up at least once on this list. This movie potentially mirrors a number of mediocre NCAA basketball teams in the country. When a team isn’t winning, the head coach is feeling pressure from the school, the fans, and the media. When the coach is feeling pressure, he tries to find any way to let his team win. Some coaches respond to this pressure positively, by practicing harder, modifying game plans, and spurring their players on to victory. Some coaches, however, cut corners by choosing the “win by any means necessary” plan. This movie interests me because it reveals a lot of underhand deals in NCAA basketball recruiting. While I know that this is a movie, where events are exaggerated, I am always curious of how many dirty deeds are done each day just to “win by any means necessary.”
9. Varsity Blues (1999) – Varsity Blues is one of the most surprisingly powerful sports movies in history. Many movies err by adding too much or too little sports action, but Varsity Blues introduces unique characters, creates conflict, and addresses the pressures of star athletes all while providing a good amount of football action. Racism, drinking, sex, drugs, peer pressure, intimidation, and vindication all combine to make Varsity Blues one of the best sports movies of the last twenty years. If you have written Varsity Blues off as a “teen movie” or discarded it because it is an MTV film, you need to see it before you judge it.
8. White Men Can’t Jump (1992) –Other than an unsightly and unsoundly Rosie Perez appearance, White Men Can’t Jump holds all the characteristics of a great sports comedy. It’s a clever con: Wesley Snipes challenges a couple of guys to two on two with any partner they choose. All the black players assume the goofily-dressed Woody Harrelson can’t ball, so they pick him to play with Snipes. Result? Snipes and Harrelson take a couple hundred and head to the liquor store… Nice. Best Moment: Harrelson draining a half-court hook shot… that cat can play ball.
7. Remember the Titans (2000) – Yes, the movie which inspired our blog name is undoubtedly one of the greatest sports movies of the last two decades. The only detriment to Remember the Titans is that it sparked a slew of similar movies in different sports. Glory Road told the story of black players struggling to gain equality in basketball, Pride showed black swimmers trying to gain equality in the swimming pool, and The Express again focused on black football players (for a great article on this phenomenon click here). While it is a Disney joint (which takes away some of its street cred), it is still a great movie, and easily one of the top 10 of the last 20 years.
6. Happy Gilmore (1996) – This movie has so many priceless scenes, quotes, gestures, and anecdotes that one paragraph can’t do it justice. Hollywood has made a killing by mocking the uptight world of golf (including good movies like Caddyshack and disasters like Who’s Your Caddy?), and this movie used that mockery perfectly. The writers only plugged in a few stereotypical golf jokes, opting instead to focus on the uproarious nature of Happy Gilmore, his hockey-fueled past of violence, and his frequent mishaps with golf clubs and fake hands. Absolute comic brilliance. If you don’t believe me now, then watch the following. This is what sports comedies should be:
5. Jerry Maguire (1996) –Powerful plot lines, intense character relationships, and emotional peaks and valleys lead drama films to success. Unlike a sports comedy, dramas do not have a punch-line to fall back on. Instead, they have to appease the audience with an in-depth story, which drags the viewer so far into the movie that they can’t wait for the next scene. With powerful acting and memorable lines, Jerry Maguire’s star power lifts it to this rank. Who can forget lines like “Who’s comin’ with me?” “Show me the money!” and “You had me at hello.” Unforgettable lines that cement Jerry Maguire’s place as one of the greatest sports films in recent history.
4. Major League (1992) – Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are to see Wesley Snipes in two of the top eight movies on this list. The Cleveland Indians owner tries to hire the worst team money can’t buy, but instead recruits Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, and Wesley Snipes— NICE! Take your pick of things to love: Charlie Sheen’s glasses, Wesley Snipes’ speed, Rene Russo’s hair, or even Corbin Bernsen just being a colossal bag of douche over at third base. Any way you slice it, Major League is easily one of the funniest sports movies of all time.
3. Rounders (1998) – Yes, I know that poker is technically not a sport. However, based on ESPN2’s recent love affair with all types of competitive poker, I find it fitting to place Rounders on this list. In 1998, poker had not hit it big-time yet. Of course the game was played, but unlike today, 97% of America had not watched a game of poker on ESPN. Rounders changed all that. It made poker sexy instead of sinful, and created an aura around poker which made it secretive enough to be desirable. Most of all, I like the tag line associated with this movie, which I have taken to heart as a personal credo: Trust everyone… But always cut the cards.
2. Field of Dreams (1989) – If you rank it number two, they will come. Or so I hope. You think I was surprised when I put Wesley Snipes on here twice? Think about my reaction when I realized that that guy who starred in Waterworld made this list twice… Field of Dreams lets the viewer escape to a world where sports fantasies are possible. It is a true sports epic, with an open-ended conclusion which leaves the viewer to determine the fate of Costner’s baseball field. The only drawback to the movie, in my opinion, is seeing Moonlight Graham walk off the diamond every time I watch the movie. This movie has transcended sports movies and become part of American film history. Like Kevin Costner believed: If you build it, they will come.
1. Rudy (1993) – This list culminates in arguably the greatest “feel-good” sports movie of all-time. Rudy addresses both personal hardships and self doubt. The lead character has to face criticism from family, peers, coaches, and even teammates, but perseveres through it all to reach his goal. Everybody wants to reach their dreams, and in Rudy the viewer takes part in the one of the greatest accomplishments in sports history: a 5’ 7” walk-on player suiting up for the Fighting Irish, recording a sack on the field, and being carried out of Notre Dame Stadium on the shoulders of his teammates. This movie achieves true greatness.
Read and react with what you believe should and shouldn’t be on this list.