I love sports movies and I love ranking things. So in the spirit of Oscar-month, I thought I'd rank the best sports movies ever - and by "the best" sports movies ever, I really mean "the best/my favorite" sports movies ever. Listing a top 25 is almost impossible, so I broke it into categories: Football, Baseball, Basketball, Boxing and Other. I excluded Hockey as a separate category because Slapshot and Miracle are the clear 1 and 2, with everything else falling far behind. I'm also not counting documentaries. If I did, these lists would be littered with ESPN's 30 for 30's and HBO's sports docs. I'm looking strictly at theatrical releases. I welcome your comments! First up (as if I'd have it any other way), is Football...
The "You're 5 Foot Nothin', 100 and Nothin', and Have Barely a Speck of Athletic Ability" Category (Football)
1. Rudy (1993) -- If you don't get moved by Rudy, you don't have a soul. I don't care if the actual Rudy milked his story for every dime he could later in life, and I also don't care that Joe Montana (who played on Rudy's final Notre Dame team) said they carried him off the field as joke. It's still the best.
2. Jerry Maguire (1996)
3. Lucas (1986) -- This is one of the most underrated movies of the '80's. Classic '80's actors: Corey Haim, Charlie Sheen, Winona Ryder, Kerri Green, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Jeremy Piven (with less hair then he has now). Classic '80's storyline: nerdy kid is bullied by jocks, but ends up showing everyone the true meaning of success. Classic '80's scene: every character in the movie gathers in the same hallway of their high school at the same time and breaks into a slow clap (scroll to the 13:00 minute mark of the video for this scene). Amazing.
4. Remember the Titans (2000) -- A great movie with a greater soundtrack.
5. Brian's Song (1971)
Honorable Mention: Any Given Sunday (1999), Friday Night Lights (2004), North Dallas Forty (1979), Varsity Blues (1999)
Worst Ever: The Blind Side (2009) -- I'm sure this will be an unpopular pick with you readers, but I don't care. This movie is more overrated than Rob Ryan. I don't understand how Sandra Bullock's performance was critically acclaimed, and I think the real Michael Oher could of done a better job than the actor who played him.
The "No One's Called Me Moonlight Graham in Fifty Years" Category (Baseball)
1A. Field of Dreams (1989) -- If and when I have a son, I'm going to make him watch Field of Dreams with his father. I will then proceed to weep uncontrollably as I watch them watch this final scene.
1B. Bull Durham (1988) -- This movie has everything: good baseball scenes, great lines, and a love triangle involving a gorgeous Kevin Costner. My favorite thing about the movie is that it centers around a minor league team, not a major league team. The struggle to get to "The Show" creates a relatable dynamic between the characters and the viewer. Perfect movie.
3. The Natural (1984) -- Filmed in Buffalo, NY (Go Bills!!!), The Natural combines beautiful cinematography with great costumes and scenery from one of my favorite historical periods - the 1920's and 30's.
4. Major League (1989)
5. The Bad News Bears (1976) -- I almost called a three-way tie here with The Sandlot and A League of Their Own, but I give Buttermaker and company the edge. How could I not love a movie that features a girl showing the boys how it's done!
Honorable Mention: The Sandlot (1993), A League of Their Own (1992), Eight Men Out (1988), Moneyball (2011), 42 (2013) - the trailer alone puts it on the list!
Worst Ever: Air Bud, Seventh Inning Fetch (2002) -- This is not joke. It's an actual movie. Granted, I have never seen it, but the title itself earns it the spot.
The "Didn't Know They Grew 'Em So Small on the Farm" Category (Basketball)
1. Hoosiers (1986) -- This is my easiest number one pick of any five. Based on the real-life story of the Milan Indians, who improbably won the Indiana state basketball championship in 1954, Hoosiers is a flat out great sports story. Yes, it's about basketball, but really it's about teamwork, redemption, and the love of sport, and uses basketball as the vehicle to tell those stories. Plus, it has the coolest character name in any movie for any sport: Jimmy Chitwood.
2. White Men Can't Jump (1992) -- Everything you ever wanted to know about this movie is right here.
3. Basketball Diaries (1995)
4. Above the Rim (1994) -- This is not a movie that automatically comes to mind when ranking sports films. It only comes up in conversation (19 years after it was released) when someone rehashes the life of Tupac Shakur. Nonetheless, I like it. Where White Men Can't Jump is a comedic look at the game from a west coast playground perspective, Above the Rim is a gritty look at east coast urban street ball. Plus, it has a great soundtrack for anyone who's into early '90's hip hop.
5. Teen Wolf (1985) -- I'm a child of the '80's (if you couldn't tell).
Honorable Mention: Blue Chips (1994), He Got Game (1998)
Worst Ever: Juwanna Mann (2002) -- If you haven't seen this, consider yourself lucky - although I don't know how you haven't. It seems like one of TBS's go-to movies (which also includes Hitch, Failure to Launch and Wedding Crashers) and is always on when you're flipping channels on a lonely Saturday night.
** As a side note, basketball movies blew up in the '90's. From the dawn of cinema until 1991, I've counted 5 major motion pictures that used basketball as the main storyline. Since 1991, there have been 39! Not consequently, '91 was the year Michael Jordan won his first title. Jordan's influence on sport and culture is practically unquantifiable.
The "This is Yours, This is Fuckin' Yours" Category (Boxing)
1. The Fighter (2010) -- It may seem like blasphemy to not have Rocky or Raging Bull in the top spot, seeing as how Rocky won Best Picture in 1976 and Raging Bull is 4th on AFI's list of 100 Years/100 Movies, but I'm a big fan of The Fighter. Christian Bale is unreal as Dicky Eklund, the crack-addict half-brother of professional boxer Mickey Ward, played by Marky Mark. His performance (for which he won an Oscar) is reason alone to have this #1, but besides the great acting, I love how they filmed the fight scenes as though you were watching the real thing. Check out this clip to see what I mean.
2. Rocky (1976) -- A must in this spot.
3. Raging Bull (1980) -- See above.
4. Million Dollar Baby (2004) -- This movie is crazy sad. Beautiful, poignant, tough, but sad. Which made me realize, there are no "comedy" boxing movies. Try to think of one. Seriously. You can't, can you? I guess it's hard to make jokes out of people punching each other, but ultimately it makes my boxing top 5 pretty intense.
5. Ali (2001)
Honorable Mention: The Hurricane (1999), Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985)
Worst Ever: Rocky V (1990) -- Stallone just didn't know when to call it quits. He's quoted as saying that he made the 5th Rocky installment (and the 6th years later) out of greed. Not entirely surprising, seeing as how the whole movie seems mailed in. Something you may not have known: the film was set to end with Rocky dying, but Stallone made a last minute decision to save him. Wrong call, Sly.
The "I Carried a Watermelon" Category (Other)
1. Dirty Dancing (1987) -- Yes, I'm being serious. Remember, it's Football CHIK, not Football DUDE. Many would consider dancing a sport and I'm no different (plus, it's one of my favorite movies so I needed to get it in here somehow).
2. Kingpin (1996) -- Hands down the funniest movie on the list. Where some comedies seem dated only a few years after they're released, Kingpin holds up 17 years later. Bill Murray is hysterical as Ernie McCracken, even though you despise him for the full 2 hours. Big props to the Farrelly Brothers, who consistently use sports or sports figures as a storyline or character in their movies (think Cam Neely, Roger Clemens and Brett Fav-ra).
3. The Karate Kid (1984) -- Love the tournament montage scene with Joe Esposito's, "You're the Best" playing in the background. Watch the clip and enjoy.
4. Seabiscuit (2003)
5. Tin Cup (1996) -- Kevin Costner makes the list again, but this time as a golfer. What I love about this movie, similar to The Fighter, is how the U.S. Open scenes are set to the backdrop of Jim Nantz giving true to life calls. It makes the whole experience of watching the movie that much more real.
Honorable Mention: Win Win (2011), The Wrestler (2008), Breaking Away (1979), Days of Thunder (1990), Rad (1986), Caddyshack (1980) - What can I say? I'm not the biggest fan. It's definitely a funny movie with memorable lines, but it doesn't crack the top 5 for me. Dare I say it's overrated? Gasp!
Worst Ever: Rollerball (2002) -- There are definitely a lot of contenders for this spot - Blades of Glory comes to mind almost immediately - but in the end, Rollerball wins out. Roger Ebert described it as, "an incoherent mess, a jumble of footage in search of a plot, meaning, rhythm and sense." CinemaBlend.com said, "it's truly rare that [a] film can so completely and wholeheartedly deliver absolutely nothing on every possible level," and called the star of the movie, Chris Klein, "painfully talentless." But my favorite quote comes William Harrison, the author of the original Rollerball book the movie is based on: "I've never watched the 2002 incarnation of Rollerball, and have no interest in it." Enough said.