I love sports and I even love a lot of the sports movies from over the years. It was no surprise to me when I started listing the movies to find that so many of the Essential Sports movies for me are baseball related. It did however, surprise me a great deal to find so many football movies and so few basketball related films. As always, this is my list and the movies are the ones that I enjoy. And it is best to suspend the search for facts when they are supposed to be historically based (even as I complain about how some facts don’t line up as they should).
If for no other reason than the opening monologue, I’m going to start with Bull Durham. After all, I’m a life long Cincinnati Reds fan so:
But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake?
Bang the Drum Slowly is an excellent film. If you’ve never seen it, you should watch it to see Robert DeNiro before he became ROBERT DENIRO! The Natural goes a bit into the mysticism sometimes but is fun. Field of Dreams goes a bit over the edge sometimes as well, but once again, it can make a lot of sense to most anyone who ever loved playing the game. Kevin Costner gets his third baseball film with For Love of the Game although this is where my knowledge of baseball sometimes gets in the way of enjoying the film. In the film, Vin Scully plays himself as the play-by-play. Toward the end he references calling the Don Larsen perfect game in the ’57 World Series and the script implies that was the last previous perfect game he had called. Yet, I have a book that includes the complete transcript of Scully calling the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in ’65 (scroll down here a couple clicks) because it was so literate.
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings has a great cast as does A League of Their Own. The first of the Major League films is probably the best of the three although as a baseball fan, I will watch Major League II and Major League (Back to the Minors) if there’s nothing else on at all. Mr. Baseball (Tom Selleck) is a fun watch with the culture clash of a US players in the Japanese leagues.
Eight Men Out offers a reasonable version of the story of the 1919 World Series and the Chicago “Black Sox” (whose personas figured prominently in Field of Dreams of course). The Pride of St Louis is a bio-pic on the life of Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean. A Winner Never Quits is a TV movie based on the life and career of Pete Gray, a one armed man who made it to the Major Leagues.
As I mentioned above, there are almost as many football movies on my list as there are baseball movies. The Longest Yard has to start the list. And no, not the version with Adam Sandler. Semi-Tough and North Dallas Forty pair up fairly well with the ’70s ‘anti-hero‘ themes. Necessary Roughness has a far better cast than it deserves but has some fun moments.
Paper Lion with Alan Alda is the story of writer George Plimpton “trying out” as quarterback for the Detroit Lions. Brian’s Song is the story of the friendship between Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo of the Chicago Bears before Piccolo dies of cancer. We Are Marshall is the story of the plane crash that killed the Marshall University football team in 1970 and the re-building of the football team from those ashes. Invincible (Mark Wahlberg) is the story of a bartender who winds up playing for the Philadelphia Iggles.
Even though I love basketball (though not nearly as much as I love baseball), there are only two basketball movies I watch over and over; Hoosiers and White Men Can’t Jump. I’m sure Glory Road is a wonderful movie but I’m a Kentucky fan and don’t need the reminder.
For a variety of reasons, I rarely watch boxing anymore yet there are a few boxing movies that I do watch. The Greatest with Muhammad Ali as himself, Raging Bull with DeNiro as Jake LaMotta, Somebody Up There Likes Me with Paul Newman as Rocky Graziano, and The Great White Hope with James Earl Jones.
The Hustler with Paul Newman should probably resonate with most anyone who ever spent any time in a small town pool hall (yes, I lost a few dollars in that fashion over the years). Downhill Racer might have been made in ’69 but in some respects might have been a prequel biography for Bode Miller. Cool Runnings is a fun watch as well.
Other posts in this series are Essential Movies, Westerns, Historical Settings (pre-1500), Historical Settings (post 1500), Sword and Sorcery, Science Fiction, War Movies, Crime and Punishment, and Music, Song and Dance – and Elvis.
And because I can: