By Kyle Lovern
January 22, 2014
My favorite sports movies
Kyle’s Korner ….
Like most red-blooded Americans I like to watch a good movie. However, they don’t seem to make as many good ones like they used to.
Or maybe it is just because I’ve gotten older – and I hope wiser and more mature.
As I was channel surfing the other night, I came upon the movie “Remember the Titans” starring Denzil Washington. It is a true story of a high school football team in Virginia in the early 1970s during the early years of segregation. I won’t bore you with the details; many of you have probably already watched it, but it is a great movie.
It got me to thinking about other sports related movies.
So I thought perhaps it would make a good column to write about my favorite sports movies over the years. Here are my top selections.
1. Hoosiers. This is another true story brought to cinema about a high school basketball team from Indiana in the 1950s. So many of us can relate to playing at small schools and in the old, comfortable gymnasiums. Those days are now gone, but I’m sure many can relate to this film. It starred Gene Hackman as the coach and Barbara Hershey as his love interest. The movie takes you through the season – the trial and tribulations – and how this team made it to the state championship game.
2. Field of Dreams. This is a baseball movie starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. It is a fantasy movie, but a feel-good flick that has a supernatural plot. The 1989 American fantasy-drama film also starred Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster in his final film. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. While walking in his cornfield, novice farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice that whispers, “If you build it, he will come”, and sees a baseball diamond. His wife, Annie, is skeptical, but she allows him to plow under his corn to build the field. It has a lot of plots and twists, but in the end Costner’s character Ray Kinsella is reunited with his late father for a game of catch.
3. Bull Durham is a 1988 American romantic comedy sports film. It is based upon the minor league experiences of the players and fans of the Durham Bulls, a minor league baseball team in Durham, North Carolina. The film stars Kevin Costner again as “Crash” Davis, a veteran catcher brought in to teach rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, about the game in preparation for reaching the Major Leagues. Baseball groupie Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, romances Nuke but finds herself increasingly attracted to Crash. I was never lucky enough to play minor league baseball, but I’m pretty sure this is close to real life.
4. Rocky. This is an all-time favorite made back in 1976. Starring Sylvester Stallone, it’s a rags to riches story of Rocky Balboa, an uneducated but kind-hearted debt collector for a loan shark in the city of Philadelphia. Rocky starts out as a club fighter who later gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship. It also stars Talia Shire as Adrian, Burt Young as Adrian’s brother Paulie, Burgess Meredith as Rocky’s trainer Mickey Goldmill, and Carl Weathers as the champion, Apollo Creed.
5. Rudy. This is a 1993 football movie based on another true story. It is an account of the life of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who entertained dreams of playing football at his beloved University of Notre Dame. Fighting nearly insurmountable obstacles, he eventually got to dress in one game and saw action on the field. The movie is inspirational and heart-warming. It always brings a tear to my eye. It stars Sean Astin in the title role, along with Ned Beatty and Charles S. Dutton. (My wife Vicki laughs about how many times I have watched this movie, along with others on my list.)
6. The Natural. This is a based on a 1952 novel about baseball written by Bernard Malamud. The book follows Roy Hobbs, a baseball prodigy whose career is sidetracked when he is shot by a woman whose motivation remains mysterious. It stars Robert Redford as Hobbs. Most of the story involves Hobbs and his attempts to return to baseball later in life, when he plays for the fictional New York Knights with his legendary bat “Wonderboy”.
7. The Bad News Bears. This is another baseball movie released in 1976 as a comedy, but it has true to life depictions of coaching Little League baseball. It stars Walter Matthau and a young Tatum O’Neal. Mathhau plays Morris Buttermaker, an alcoholic who cleans swimming pools for a living. He is a former minor-league baseball player recruited by an attorney who filed a lawsuit against a competitive Southern California Little League. His son is on the team and the roster included the least athletically skilled kids. The Bears and Buttermaker recruit the best player in the area, who also happens to be a cigarette-smoking, dirt bike-riding troublemaker. But, they eventually make it to the championship game.
8. Raging Bull. This is another brutal boxing movie released in 1980. It is a biographical drama from Jake LaMotta’s memoir Raging Bull: My Story. It stars Robert De Niro as LaMotta, an Italian American middleweight boxer who’s self-destructive and obsessive rage and animalistic appetite destroyed his relationship with his wife and family. The film also stars Joe Pesci as Joey, La Motta’s well-intentioned brother and manager who tries to help Jake battle his inner demons.
9. A League of Their Own. This is another baseball movie that came out back in 1992. A comedy-drama film that tells a fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The film stars Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty and Madonna. When World War II threatens to shut down Major League Baseball, candy magnate and Chicago Cubs owner Walter Harvey creates a women’s league to make money. Hanks character Jimmy Dugan manages the “Peaches.” He is a former marquee Cubs slugger who lost his career due to alcohol. Drunk and self-pitying, he neglects managerial chores. Dottie acts as captain-manager until Jimmy wakes from his stupor and begins to give and earn her respect and the team’s. This film had one of my all-time favorite lines from a movie. “There’s no crying in baseball.”
10. Brian’s Song. This is a 1971 ABC television “Movie of the Week” that recounts the details of the life of Brian Piccolo, played by James Caan, a Wake Forest University football player stricken with terminal cancer after turning pro. Through his friendship with Chicago Bears running back teammate and future Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, played by Billy Dee Williams, who helps him through the difficult struggle. The movie is based on Sayers’ account of his friendship with Piccolo and coping with Piccolo’s illness.
11. Heaven Can Wait. The version of this film with Warren Beatty from 1978 makes my list, although actually it comes in as my 11th choice. But this is a heartwarming tale also, directed by Beatty and Buck Henry. Beatty plays Joe Pendleton, a backup quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. When he is riding a bicycle through a tunnel in Los Angeles he collides with a truck. An over-anxious guardian angel (Henry), on his first assignment, plucks Joe out of his body early in the mistaken belief that his death is imminent, and Pendleton arrives in the afterlife. Once there, he refuses to believe that his time was up, and upon investigation, the mysterious Mr. Jordan (James Mason) discovers that he is right; he was not destined to die until much later - (2025 to be exact). The plot continues and has a happy ending.
12. Pride of the Yankees. This old black and white classic stars the great Gary Cooper as the legendary Lou Gherig. The plot follows Gherig’s life from a youngster, the son of immigrants, to his rise as a Yankee slugger and his retirement and death to a horrible disease that now dons his name.
There are several other sports movies that I have enjoyed that I’ll give a strong honorable mention to. Rocky II and III were great sequels to the first movie. After that, they went downhill. Major League was a good comedy-drama movie about major league baseball. Although I’m not much of a hockey fan, I liked Miracle, which was based on the USA’s gold medal team in the 1980 Olympics.
Seabiscuit was another good movie, based on a true story. It’s a horse racing movie, and I’m not much of a fan of that genre of sports. But, it was an entertaining movie.
Million Dollar Baby, the recent boxing movie starring Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank was a good movie.
Eight Men Out, another baseball movie based on the Chicago “Blacksox” gambling scandal released in 1988 is another good one for nostalgia and baseball fans.
The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg, is another boxing movie based on the true story of Boston fighter Micky Ward. That is also a recent movie released in 2010.
Friday Night Lights, based on a high school football team in Texas starring Billy Bob Thornton is a solid sports movie. This one was from 2004 and led to a TV show.
North Dallas Forty, starring Nick Nolte and Mac Davis is a good sports movie that I think many forget about. It is about the rigors of professional football. It came out back in 1979.
Slap Shot, which starred the great Paul Newman, is another hockey movie. Whether you like hockey or not, you might really enjoy this flick which came out back in 1977.
Karate Kid, starring Ralph Maccio and Pat Morita, is a martial arts movie. It was released back in 1984 and had a couple of sequels.
More recently, The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke was a good “sports” movie, although I don’t consider this form of wrestling a true sport. It is more for entertainment value. But, Rourke is great as a down and out former wrestler which also stars Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.
Damn Yankees is a movie I remember watching as a kid. Now, I’m not much on musicals, but since I loved baseball growing up. I enjoyed this movie. Damn Yankees is a 1958 musical film involving the New York Yankees and Washington Senators baseball teams. The film is based on the 1955 Broadway musical of the same name. Tab Hunter plays the starring role of Joe Hardy. He plays Joe Boyd, a middle-aged fan of the fruitless Washington Senators baseball team. He ends up selling his soul to the devil and becomes a baseball player that helps the Senators win, but then he regrets his decision.
I’ve left out many sports movies and I’m sure many of you have a favorite that I left off my list.
It’s interesting when you think about how many movies are based on sports.
I’m sure there will be others in the future, but these are just a few of the great ones that I have watched on numerous occasions over the years.
(Kyle Lovern is the sports editor for the Williamson Daily News. Comments or story ideas can be sent to or firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 304-235-4242, ext. 33 or Twitter@KyleLovern.)