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The American Film Institute defines “sports movies” as a genre of films with protagonists who play athletics or other games of competition. The best sports movies take the simple stakes of sports – win or lose – and uses them to remind us of the power and will of the human spirit.
1. Raging Bull
An almost great film, this dramatization of middleweight boxing champion Jake La Motta features brilliant performances by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty. What prevents this movie from being truly great is the pretentious over direction by overrated hack Martin Scorcese, who has admitted to abusing cocaine during the production of this movie and seems intent to recycle all the boxing camera tricks from Rocky II the year before. AFI previously recognized this movie as #24 on its 100 Years…100 Movies list, #51 on its 100 Years…100 Thrills and #4 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.
One of the Moose’s all time favorite movies of any genre, Rocky is the classic story of the underdog. This movie works on so many levels as it touches upon the redemptive power of love, the nobody that becomes somebody and the American Dream. Forget all the sequels that have cheapened the brand and go back to the heart stirring original about the Everyman who just wants to go the distance. If this movie doesn’t move you, no movie will. AFI has honored this movie as #78 on its 100 Years…100 Movies list, #52 on its 100 Years…100 Thrills, #7 on its 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains, #58 on its 100 Years…100 Songs, #80 on its 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes, #4 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers and #57 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.
This acclaimed baseball flick starring Gary Cooper deals with baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig and how his life was tragically cut short when he was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). AFI has recognized this movie as #25 on its 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains list, #38 on its 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes and #22 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers list.
This rousing and iconic basketball film about a small-town Indiana high school that wins the state championship was hailed by the readers of USA Today newspaper as the best sports movie of all time. AFI has honored this movie as #13 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers list.
5. Bull Durham
Based on writer/director Ron Shelton’s own experiences playing in minor league baseball, this movie was ranked by Sports Illustrated as the #1 Greatest Sports Movie of all time. Not too shabby. AFI has previously recognized this funny movie as #97 on its 100 Years…100 Laughs list.
6. The Hustler
You’ll be hard pressed to a movie today as engaging as this drama about small time pool hustler “Fast Eddie” Felson looking to take down legendary pool player “Minnesota Fats”, or one with as good a cast as this one which includes Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott and Paul Newman. This is a story about what it means to be human. Shame on AFI for never previously recognizing this classic.
This wacky golf comedy received a mostly negative reception at its time of release. It has since gone on to become a major cult classic and many of the movie’s quotes have entered the pop culture. And how could you not watch the antics of Bill Murray in this film and not laugh. AFI previously recognized this movie as #71 on its 100 Years…100 Laughs list and #92 on its 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.
A movie about a horse racing little girl who rides her horse to victory in the Grand National steeplechase. Even with notable stars Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and Angela Lansbury but this movie lacks any lasting resonance and has no business belonging on this list. AFI did, however, previously recognize this movie as #24 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers list.
10. Jerry Maguire
Only Cameron Crowe’s could come up with a moving story about a sports agent who decides that money is empty and that personal relationships is the key to a successful life and career. Everyone remembers the boisterous performance of Cuba Gooding Jr.’ and the line “Show me the money”, but this movie is greater than the sum of its parts in spite a predictable performance by Tom Cruise. When the Moose was in film school, I read the script and thought it was brilliant and sublime. Upon hearing the news that Tom Cruise had been cast in the title role, the Moose joked with some friends about how Tom Cruise would play the part… arching his eyebrows here for dramatic effect, smiling here because he doesn’t know what else to do and he knows that he can get by on his “charm”, pausing here because he thinks it would be dramatic and great “acting”, etc. When the movie came out, my friend called me up and told me that I was spot on in my breakdown of Mr. Cruise’s performance. Even Tom Cruise couldn’t torpedo this strong movie, though he comes close. AFI previously recognized this movie as #100 on its 100 Years…100 Passions list and #25 and #52 on its 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.
While the most popular sports in America are team sports (football, baseball, basketball), it is no surprise that the majority of the movies on this list are individual sports. The stakes are that much higher when the only person you can rely on is yourself.
Though the Moose hates to empirically rate movies, I would not hesitate to name Rocky as the best sports film of all time followed by the remaining nine in no particular order. Although its set up almost like a B-movie, Rocky tackles so many themes that you always get something new each time you watch it. For the rest of the list, the Moose would get rid of Raging Bull, The Pride of the Yankees, Caddyshack, Breaking Away, National Velvet and Jerry Maguire and replace them with Million Dollar Baby, The Harder They Fall, The Set-Up, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Champion, and Rudy. I realize that five out of the six movies that the Moose has chosen are boxing films, but that is only because boxing is the most cinematic of sports as it condenses all the drama and conflict of life down to two gladiators in the middle of the square jungle.Buy the Moose a cup of coffee.