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slides: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

Thursday, July 30, 2015

 

Watching “Southpaw” last weekend in the theater reminded me of two things: I am a sucker for a good sports movie and it’s harder than it looks to make that good sports movie.

“Southpaw” manages to get the clichés right about boxing – the higher that fighters rise, the farther they fall; the grizzled trainer who imparts his secrets to the fallen fighter, etc. – and the ring scenes with Jake Gyllenhaal are first-rate.

See Slideshow Below: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

But this week’s column is not about “Southpaw.” Instead, it’s about the best sports films of all time.

A long-time friend once mused when we were kids reveling in each week’s episode of “The White Shadow” whether it made more sense to cast athletes who could act a little or to cast actors who could play a little. Good question then, and now.

The answer is that the best sports films must be both semi-plausible in their athletic scenes and as moving as any other drama in the non-athletic scenes. 

In the interest of providing an indoors option this sweltering weekend, below is my list of top dozen sports films to watch in the comfort of an air-conditioned home when temperatures approach 100 degrees. This list does not include documentaries, which with ESPN’s “30 for 30” series and other ambitious efforts in recent years, are in a class of their own.

Also, this top-12 is limited to films I have seen (in other words, sorry the fates have conspired to prevent me from seeing “Brian’s Song”) and is obviously totally subjective (in other words, sorry “Field Of Dreams” fans but I kept nodding off throughout). See the slideshow below for my 12 picks. 

 

Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films. 

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#12 Rollerball

Some of the non-athletic scenes in this dystopian classic show their age, but Rollerball is a strangely prescient film that anticipated both the corporatization of sport and fans’ limitless taste for violence. Bonus points for the ominous intro music.

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#11 A League of Their Own

A comedy that looks back to the antithesis of corporate sport – a women’s baseball league during World War II with many memorable lines to choose from (e.g.,”There’s no crying in baseball.”)

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#10 Remember The Titans

Yes, filmmakers took liberties with some of the facts dealing with the integration of a high school football team in Virginia. But there’s a reason football teams often screen this film on the eve of big games. It’s a damn inspirational tale.

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#9 The Natural

This film has grown on me over time. Originally, it seemed slow and schmaltzy. Now, it seems well-paced and charming. Then and now, the re-created scenes of pre-World War II ballparks arrive like perfectly preserved postcards from the past.  

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#8 The Longest Yard

Not the remake with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. But the hilarious original with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert as a wonderfully villainous warden who pits the guards against the inmates in a grudge football game that includes former Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke and other ex-football players like Sonny Sixkiller and Joe Kapp, both stalwart Pac-8 quarterbacks long, long ago.  

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#7 Slap Shot

The Hanson brothers. Enough said.

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#6 Rocky

Often imitated, but never replicated. The definitive underdog boxing story featuring Sylvester Stallone before he became a self-caricature in multiple sequels. Impossible to hear the theme song without being motivated to get off the couch.

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#5 Seabiscuit

A fantastic book as well as a great movie. Like “The Natural,” Seabiscuit captures its Depression-era setting for modern-day viewers taken back to an era when horse racing actually meant something in America. 

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#4 Requiem for a Heavywei

A too often-forgotten film these days but a wonderful boxing drama that shows the sport’s underside with memorable  performances by Mickey Rooney, Jackie Gleason and Anthony Quinn.

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#3 Hoosiers

Want to know something about small-town America in the 1950s and about Indiana basketball? This hoops movie does all of that with a healthy dose of redemption throughout. 

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#2 Bull Durham

There’s a pretty good case to be made this movie played a huge part in the rebirth and re-marketing of minor league baseball. As written by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton, there are many great scenes to choose from but this one is a favorite. 

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#1 Raging Bull

A rags-to-riches-to-rags story of boxer Jake LaMotta meets the actor born to play him, Robert De Niro. Not a false moment in this black-and-white powerhouse.

 
 

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