In Defense of Sports Movies
by Lucas Trevor
Iowa, the late 80s. America’s father Kevin Costner builds a baseball diamond in his cornfields because a voice in his head told him to. Suddenly, Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), his father’s favorite player, and a member of the blacklisted 1919 Chicago White Sox walks out and takes batting practice. As Costner throws and Liotta hits, the long-dead baseball legend, Shoeless Joe, talks about the smell of his baseball mitt, his greedy owner, and how not being able to play is like having part of him amputated.
I cry every time. My dad cries every time. The fact of the matter is, Field of Dreams will make you cry.
In the runup to the Oscars this year - the weird, hostless, indecisive 91st Oscars - I would like to argue in defense of sports movies. The broad and underrated genre. Between Rocky and Rocky IV, Caddyshack and Raging Bull, we will find the sports movie for you, probably.
(Also spoiler alert for pretty much every sports movie.)
The Nostalgic Ones
The Sandlot, The Mighty Ducks, Space Jam
These movies will likely only be good if you first saw them when you were like 8. With that being said, Space Jam is the single greatest film ever made and is available right now to stream on Hulu. It features Michael Jordan slow-mo dunking, Bill Murray free-associating on his ability to play in the NBA, and Danny Devito (Frank Reynolds) playing a weird cigar smoking space mobster. Also, an underrated child actor performance from Brandon Hammond as 10-year-old Michael Jordan, and Charles Barkley given extended screen time. As for the other two films mentioned, The Mighty Ducks is only bearable if you like hockey, and the plot of The Sandlot makes no sense.
Rating: Sandlot (6/10), The Mighty Ducks (4/10), Space Jam (10/10) (a perfect film)
The Really Good Boxing Movies
Rocky, Creed, Raging Bull
Rocky won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Editing at the 1977 Oscars. It’s an incredibly well structured, well written (by Sylvester Stallone), and well acted movie featuring an uplifting story and a near-perfect final match. As for Creed, it’s the best entry in the Rocky franchise since the original and is the second of three pairings of Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler (go watch Fruitvale Station and cry). Also, Tessa Thompson is in it, and she’s incredible in everything. Then there’s Raging Bull, a deep look into the abusive tendencies of a professional boxer, and his inability to truly leave the ring. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro (who won an Oscar for it), it is an intense and deeply unnerving movie.
Rating: Rocky (9/10), Creed (8/10), Raging Bull (9/10)
The Ones That Really Love America (and also hate the Soviets)
Rocky IV, Miracle, Top Gun
If the first Rocky is a grounded, gritty, Dark Knight-type movie, Rocky IV is like Furious 7 (the seventh Fast and the Furious movie). Rocky IV features a montage of Rocky preparing in the mountains of Krasnogorsk, Russia, and his opponent Ivan Drago working out in a poorly lit, high-tech training facility. The film’s thesis is that by defeating Drago and defending Apollo Creed’s honor, Rocky ends the Cold War, destroys the Berlin Wall, and beats communism once and for all. Conversely, Miracle takes the approach that the 1980 US hockey team were the ones that beat communism. Basically, the hard nose, no-nonsense approach of the US team’s head coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) created the economic instability that convinced Gorbachev to tear down that wall. I also added in Top Gun because of the shirtless volleyball.
Rating: Rocky IV (7/10), Miracle (5/10), Top Gun (6/10)
The Underrated Ones
Victory, Invictus, A League of Their Own
In the long history of sports movies, certain films rise to the top. These ones however, despite their quality and rewatchability, have unfortunately been forgotten in time. Watch all of them. Get them on Blu-Ray if you can. I’m not gonna actually look up where these movies are available to stream, but do that. Victory stars the greatest soccer player ever, Pele, and works as both an motivational story of athletic success, and an anti-fascist protest piece. Also, Sylvester Stallone is in it. What you need to take away from this article is that Sylvester Stallone has never made a bad movie. Invictus tells the story of the South African men's rugby team and how they basically single-handedly ended apartheid. It has shades of the movies mentioned above, but also includes the single best speech in movie history. Finally, A League of Their Own tells the story of the all-female baseball league that was created during World War 2. It’s an incredible movie. It has Geena Davis. It has Tom Hanks. It has Rosie O'donnell and Madonna. It’s just a really good movie that dives into deeper topics, and asks more interesting questions then will a team win or will the runner beat their time. Also, the ending will likely bring you to tears, just like Field of Dreams
Rating: Victory (8/10), Invictus (8/10), A League of Their Own (9/10)
The Weird Comedies Your Dad Likes
Major League, Slap Shot, The Bad News Bears, Caddyshack
The films mentioned above were released in 1989, 77, 76, and 80, respectively. They are all deeply problematic and have jokes centered around bigoted characters being bigots. With that being said, your dad thinks they’re funny, and that white boy who went to private school likes to quote all of them so... who’s to say?
Rating: Major League (sexist), Slap Shot (homophobic), The Bad News Bears (makes light of alcoholism and child abuse), Caddyshack (is only really funny if you’re in a frat, excuse me... fraternity)
Kevin Costner Sports Movies
Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Draft Day, For Love of The Game, McFarland USA, American Flyers, The Hurt Business, Chasing Dreams
I don’t really have much to say on this one, he’s been in nine sports movies. No one should be in nine sports movies. At a certain point, like, stop. Also, I paid real money to see Draft Day in a real theater. I will never get that money back. I will never get that time back. I’m not mad, just disappointed.
I’ve skipped a couple of classics like Rudy (overrated), The Natural (one good scene), and Remember the Titans (unfortunately never seen it), but that covers your basic sports movies. Also, 30 for 30’s but those are boring and about real people. Watch fake sports. It goes faster and is more fun.