(Spoiler Alert: They’re all from the ’90s)
What is it about sports movies? Yes, they are predictable – the gruff coach will turn warm and fuzzy, a montage of practices will be set to inspiring music, the underdog team will win the game in the last few seconds. Yes, they are full of bite-size lessons – winning isn’t everything (although the protagonist always does), there’s no “I” in “team,” it’s always possible to overcome adversity. Yes, they are corny and eye-roll-inducing and saturated with sappiness – but they are so dear to my heart. I can’t watch them without crying and feeling good about humankind. Because too often, life is unpredictable and scary and the good guys don’t win. Is it really so wrong that I like to spend two hours here and there basking in vicarious glory?
Furthermore, as I started making this list of the best sports movies, I realized all my favorites were from the 1990s. It doesn’t take a psychologist to see what’s going on here. These movies are the epitome of my childhood. I have distinct memories of going to The Movie Store (that was it’s official name, really) to pick out our VHS for the weekend (youngins, there was a time before DVDs and streaming, really). My sisters and I would usually squabble a bit but eventually we’d agree on a film; more often than not, it was one of the movies below. Often, we’d have a picnic dinner in front of the television – cheese and crackers, salami, grapes, cookies. We’d lounge on the floor, sweating because the air conditioning never seemed to work on that floor of the house and soon we’d be lost in the story unfolding before us. It didn’t matter that we’d watched this same film literally the week before. It was always magical.
Now it’s your turn. Get started on a sports movie marathon with the classics below. Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive – tell us your own favorites in the comments section!
“A League of Their Own”
If you’ve never seen “A League of Their Own,” stop whatever you’re doing and go watch it. You will laugh. You will cry (copiously, if you’re anything like me). You will see Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Hanks at their best (in my highly biased opinion). This film chronicles the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was formed during World War II, through the eyes of sisters Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller. Dottie is the better player, but Kit is the one who actually loves the game and their sibling rivalry provides much of the tension. Then there’s Jimmy Dugan, a washed-up baseball player and drunk, who reluctantly coaches the Rockford Peaches. His lines are some of the best in the film. The Peaches are by turns sweet, hilarious, mischievous and dramatic and their antics both on and off the field are never boring.
When you grow up in Portland, Ore. like I did, the legacy of Steve Prefontaine is everywhere. Prefontaine was a superstar distance runner from the tiny town of Coos Bay, Ore. who set records at the University of Oregon under coach Bill Bowerman, the cofounder of Nike. The annual Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field still attracts the top track-and-field athletes in the country. Get a sense of why Pre continues to inspire runners of all abilities today by watching this biopic starring Jared Leto, who expertly channels Pre’s confidence (some might say cockiness), aggressive running style and trademark mustache (which was actually on point in the 1970s).
This is a film that stands the test of time. “The Sandlot” tells the story of earnest Scotty Smalls, a new kid on the block, who wants desperately to fit in. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know anything about baseball – the poor guy doesn’t even know who Babe Ruth is – and baseball is the lingua de franca in his new hometown. While the other boys are initially scornful, Scotty finds an advocate in popular Benny Rodriguez and soon he’s part of the team. But then, things get complicated. Misunderstandings, slobbering dogs, scary neighbors and crazy inventions take center stage. There are s’mores, stolen kisses and ill-advised chews of tobacco before carnival rides. In many ways, this film is a love letter to the early 1960s, when it was okay to send your kid outside for an entire day of unsupervised shenanigans.
“The Mighty Ducks”
Before he was Pacey Witter, he was Charlie Conway. That’s right, I’m talking about Joshua Jackson’s star turn in “The Mighty Ducks,” a classic David vs. Goliath tale set on the bloodied ice rinks of Minnesota. After being arrested for driving drunk, Gordon Bombay (aka Emilio Estevez) is forced to coach a hockey team as part of his community service. Naturally, he’s assigned to a terrible team … but they have potential. If you can watch this film without singing “We Are the Champions” for the next five days running, I applaud you.
Lest you think ballroom dancing isn’t athletic, I urge you to watch the sweat flying off the actors in “Strictly Ballroom.” Lest you think a film about ballroom dancing might be boring, I invite you to consider the fact that this was Baz Luhrmann’s first film – yes, that’s the same Baz who did “Moulin Rouge,” “Romeo + Juliet” and “The Great Gatsby.” His signature razzle-dazzle and flair is fully on display in the unexpected love story between Scott, ballroom dancing’s favorite son who is chafing against tradition, and Fran, a clumsy amateur dancer who everyone treats like a doormat. If that doesn’t sell you, bear in mind that Australian accents are quite sexy. Oh, and it’s a mockumentary, so there’s that fun breaking of the fourth wall. Give it a shot. I think you’ll like it.
Ready for a sports movie marathon? Line up these picks from the ’90s and beyond:
- “Hoosiers” – Indiana high school basketball at its finest
- “The Natural” – Robert Redford as a baseball player who gets a second chance to prove himself
- “Remember the Titans” – Denzel Washington is the coach trying to racially integrate a high school football team
- “Cool Runnings” – the Jamaican bobsled team has got to be one of the most charming oxymorons of all time
- “Hoop Dreams” – a documentary about two Chicago high school basketball players trying to get to the NBA
- “Caddyshack” – golfing and gophers
- “We Are Marshall” – based on the true story of a community’s efforts to heal after Marshall University’s football team is killed in a deadly plane crash in 1970
- “Without Limits” – the other Prefontaine biopic
- “Bring It On” – #sorrynotsorry for mentioning this cheerleading gem
- “Rookie of the Year” – a Little Leaguer is called up to the Big Leagues
- “White Men Can’t Jump” – Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson scam the local basketball courts
- “Rudy” – my uncle, a high school football coach, would lose it if I didn’t include this film about one young man’s lifelong dream to play for Notre Dame
- “The Cutting Edge” – anyone else out there ever watch this admittedly silly film about an ice queen who falls in love with a hockey player when they are forced to figure skate together?
- “Bend It Like Beckham” – girl power on the soccer field
- “Love and Basketball” – can a teenage b-ball romance survive fame and adulthood?
- “Field of Dreams” – if you build it, they will come … baseball ghosts descend on a farm in Iowa
- “Jerry Maguire” – Tom Cruise tries to make it as a sports agent with demanding Cuba Gooding Jr. as his sole client