Sandlot

A scene from "The Sandlot." 

Film and sports have gone hand in hand in the U.S. since “The Pride of the Yankees” was released in 1942. Since then, we’ve witnessed heart-wrenching, emotional stories like “Million Dollar Baby” and unforgettable comedies like “Talladega Nights.”

With all the sports movies that have been released over the last 80 years, it’s difficult to narrow down the 10 best. However, when we measure using the number of Academy Awards won, nominations received, movie critic scores and overall audience scores, the 10 best sports movies become more clear.

For a movie to qualify as a sports film on this list, the plot and overall flow of the film needs to be associated with a specific sport. Basically, the conflict, climax and resolution all have to be related to a sport or sports. 

10. Caddyshack (1980)

From Bill Murray’s constant war with a golf course gopher to Rodney Dangerfield’s erratic behavior, this comedic masterpiece revolves around the one sport people can play for life: golf. Despite not winning any Academy Awards and having an average movie critic score, this film has a passionate fan base and is still considered to be one of the funniest movies ever made. For those reasons, it would seem unfair not to include it in our top ten.

9. The Sandlot (1993)

With a few memorable quotes like, “You’re killin’ me smalls!” and “You play ball like a girl,” “The Sandlot” is unquestionably one of the most idolized sports movies of all time. The sport of baseball originated as America’s past-time and there are almost no other baseball movies that can match the legacy left by this film. For many kids who grew up in the 1990s, this has to be near the top of their childhood favorites.

8. Miracle (2004)

In 1980, the U.S. Ice Hockey team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in modern sports by defeating the Soviet Union in the Olympics. The U.S. victory was so improbable that the game was quickly coined the ‘Miracle on Ice.’ In 2004, Disney created a film about it starring Kurt Russell. While the movie itself isn’t the most spectacular one on this list, it includes arguably the most legendary pre-game speech of all time. Due to its epic conclusion and the fact that many consider the real event to be the greatest underdog story of all time, this film easily cracks the top ten.

7. Remember the Titans (2000)

It’s hard to ignore a movie that not only provides a memorable performance from Denzell Washington, but it also exposes racial divisions in schools and in public during the 1960s. The message behind this film is that through football, T.C. Williams was able to unite its student union and the town’s people despite the racial boundaries that existed at the time. 

6. Rudy (1993)

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? “Rudy,” based on a true story, is a film dedicated to the dream that a young man can walk on and play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The movie has a number of emotional ups and downs and an unforgettable conclusion that may leave some audience members in tears. What makes this movie special is how it highlights the skill of perseverance. Even though Rudy was undersized, inexperienced and doubted every step of the way, he never gave up on his dream.

5. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

“Million Dollar Baby” is nothing short of another Clint Eastwood masterpiece. The movie revolves around an old, washed up boxing coach who attempts to help a dirt poor woman fulfill her dream of becoming a professional boxer. The coach, Frankie Dunn, has always refused to coach a female fighter. However when a young woman named Maggie starts to train at his gym, he notices that she has the determination and mental toughness to become a champion. 

It takes weeks of convincing but eventually Frankie decides that she’s worth his time and begins shaping her boxing career. As Maggie’s career starts to take off, she and Frankie begin to develop an almost father/daughter like relationship. After Maggie suffers an unfortunate incident inside the ring, Frankie is forced to make a moral decision that will affect her life.  

The film provides life lessons about morality and shows how two people who live life very differently can form an unbreakable bond. By winning four Academy Awards, including one for best picture, this film unquestionably shows that it’s one of the most iconic sports movies ever made.

4. Hoosiers (1986)

This classic basketball movie checks off every category that needs to be included in a memorable sports film: it introduces a new coach who demands that his players meet his high standards, it has a memorable, motivational pregame speech and it follows a team that embodies the underdog mentality. Based on a true story about a small Indiana high school basketball team that won the state championship, the impact of the film was so immense that its legacy is preserved in the U.S National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

3. Field of Dreams (1989)

Since its release in 1989, “Field of Dreams” has been immortalized by movie critics and sports fans alike. Through baseball, this film has brought fathers and sons everywhere a little closer together for years. When you have a movie that pays tribute to baseball legends, shows the logistics of building a baseball diamond and has a star-studded cast, the film will inevitably become a classic.

The movie starts out on a farm in the middle of Iowa where we meet Ray Kinsella, a devoted baseball fan. One day when he’s walking through his cornfield, he hears a voice telling him that if he builds ‘it’, ‘he’ will come. After hearing the voice, he sees the great Shoeless Joe Jackson in the field before he disappears into the many rows of corn. Ray sees this as a mission to build a baseball diamond for Jackson and does so, even with heavy skepticism from his wife. 

After building the diamond and watching Shoeless Joe Jackson and his teammates play on the field, Ray realizes that he is not done. He spends the rest of the movie on a mission to find the deeper meaning behind the voices he’s been hearing and the real reason he felt obligated to build a baseball diamond on his property. 

2. Raging Bull (1980)

When Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese team up for a film, like they have many times, it almost always results in a picture for the ages. “Raging Bull” is no exception. This riveting film goes in-depth about the life of a boxer both inside and outside the ring. The film provides audiences with captivating storytelling and, ultimately, a realistic version of how boxers struggle when it’s time to hang up the gloves.

  1. Rocky (1976) 

Arguably the most inspirational movie of all time, Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” sits at the top of the list. Not only is it an underdog story for the ages and responsible for producing some of the most motivational music ever recorded, but it racked up the two most important Academy Awards; best picture and best director.

The movie starts out in Philadelphia and right away we’re introduced to Rocky Balboa, a former small time boxer who works on the streets as a loan shark collector. With Heavyweight Champion boxer Apollo Creed in town looking for a new opponent in his upcoming title defense, he ends up selecting Rocky for the fight on New Year’s day in front of thousands of Philadelphians. 

At first, Rocky is enthralled by the opportunity, but his own personal struggles that have derailed him throughout his life almost prevent him from stepping into the ring.  Through intense, unorthodox training methods, sheer relentlessness, and support from his girlfriend Adrian and her brother Paulie, Rocky enters the fight with Apollo having just one goal in mind; going all fifteen rounds with the most intimidating fighter in the world.

There are more and more movies coming out today that try to incorporate sports into their plot. As time progresses, this list may be changed, but as of now, these are some of the best sports films ever made.

Contact Ian Sadler at sadlerik@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.