Everyone may have his or her own list of all-time favorites. Everyone knows what they like or don't like. There are film critics, individuals and even organizations like the American Film Institute, who put up lists of favorite or all-time greatest films.
I am going to attempt to do that here. In this series, I will list my top 50 greatest sports films. Some of you may disagree. Some may have a few of the same films on your list. But again, everyone is entitled to their opinion and these are the best films according to me. And of course, I'm not saying this is the definitive list. Again, everyone has different views and tastes. I do have an extensive background in theatre and knowledge and experience in screenwriting. So when I'm picking these films, it's also based on the storytelling, writing, cinematography and other elements of the film that go into my decision.
Sometimes it might be difficult to narrow lists down, especially lists like this one. There are a multitude of sports films. And there are many film I haven't seen yet, unfortunately. These are the ones I have seen.
These are the films that I enjoy and consider the best based on my experience with the film. I am going to start with 10 baseball films and continue with four more lists of 10. Some of the lists will cover more than one sport. But I will start with baseball, since it is spring and summer is around the corner. It is the time when baseball should be happening. Each of these films will be in alphabetical order and will just show what films I have picked for being among the greatest.
1. 42 (2013)
This film may not rank of some other lists, or maybe even be on some of your lists. It is an enjoyable film. It's the sort of biopic which evokes some powerful emotions at times and still tells a compelling story.
It dives into the turbulent events surrounding Jackie Robinson's time in baseball, while breaking the color barrier in 1947. I stand by the assertion that the film is special because of the story that involves civil rights in the stadium of baseball.
The acting and direction do just enough to move the story and portray the characters with the emotions and struggles felt at that time. That is why I like it and why I consider it one of the best.
2. A League of Their Own (1992)
During World War II, there was the creation of a professional baseball league for women, because many men went to fight in the war. This is one of those films that is enjoyable from start to finish.
Penny Marshall puts together a great film about relationships and struggles among the characters. Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell and the rest of the cast were perfect in their roles. The cast gave life to the characters and delivered heart and emotion. But remember, "There's no crying in baseball!"
3. Bull Durham (1988)
I chose this film because it is a good film and there is some baseball action throughout. It's also No. 5 on the American Film Institute's list of Top 10 sports films.
I suppose though, this film is more of a relationship movie that still centers around the game of baseball. It is about the relationship between the three main characters (played by Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon). Costner's character, an aging catcher, is supposed to mentor a new hot young pitcher (Robbins). Therefore, a sort of crazy love triangle emerges among these characters. However, at its heart, the film still knows and understands baseball, while using that as a backdrop for the relationship story that unfolds before our eyes.
4. Eight Men Out (1988)
This film is on my list because of the remarkable telling of the story. The film is an examination between sports (the game of baseball) and politics and economics.
It centers around the 1919 baseball scandal where eight members of the Chicago White Sox took money in exchange to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.
The result of the incident led to the ban of all eight men from baseball, including consideration for the Hall of Fame. It portrays an honest look at baseball during the early part of the century. Some critics have claimed the film doesn't do it justice, and the storytelling is mediocre at best. I for one found it interesting and it had me sustained throughout the film.
5. Field of Dreams (1989)
This is a great fantasy film revolving around faith and hope. Another Kevin Costner film, where he hears a voice to tell him, "If you build it, he will come." He is told to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa cornfield and some mysterious person will come.
It's something like Noah hearing God telling him to build an Ark. He didn't understand it, he just did it.
The film is filled with moments of anguish, wonder, excitement and bits of tender times with Ray Kinsella's (Costner) family. It leads up to a moment for Ray to see his dad again and play a little game of catch. It's that final heartfelt connection that makes it one of the reasons for this to be a top film for me.
6. Major League (1989)
There may be several sports movies that are truly billed as comedies. This is certainly one of them.
I'm sure many have seen this film at one point in time. Maybe even several times. What I like about this film is its various characters. There is a portrayal of varied, and at times interesting, characters.
This is one of Charlie Sheen's classic comedic roles as Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn. In the film, the story is sort of an underdog story, as the Cleveland Indians are failing and so the owner wants to move the franchise to a different city. The rag-tag team decides to motivate themselves to become better players and end up winning the division title. There is also some heart and emotion in this as well, which makes it one of the films on this list.
7. Moneyball (2011)
In this dramatic look at the "scientific business side" of baseball, you get a great cast, great characters and interesting story.
The film adaptation of Michael Lewis' book comes to life with brilliant writing by two accomplished writers – Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian. The movie is not filled with game after game moments, but just enough to develop the characters and story.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, who with the help of a young Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), is tasked with rebuilding a team by using metrics and numbers to analyze baseball players. The film delivers an emotional ride through its stats and figures rather than just watching guys hit a small white ball with a stick.
8. The Bad News Bears (1976)
When you look at underdog stories from the past 40 plus years, this film comes to mind. This of course is the original, not the 2005 remake with Billy Bob Thornton. To be honest, I never saw the remake. I'm sure it was delightful. I like Thornton as an actor.
But anyhow, the original from 1976 (I feel is one of the best sports comedies). This movie shows the bond young kids can get from baseball, or sports in general. The kids become inspired to win, from a coach who may not be the best role model. Walter Matthau plays the role very well in his Matthau way.
His performance alone could make this one of the top films. But, fortunately, that isn't the only reason why this film is on the list.
9. The Natural (1984)
The film is a "natural" to being not only a good film, but a good baseball film. All elements come together for a cinematic experience that depicts baseball in its finest form.
This film is more than just about baseball. It's underlying theme is that of redemption. Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs who is looking for a career in baseball. An unfortunate incident puts his playing days on hold, where he returns 16 years later to try out as rookie in his thirties. He seems to have a talent and is captured in a scene, where he runs to home plate with sparks flying from the lights.
He is redeemed and fulfills his dream.
Great performances and stunning cinematography make this a film on the list.
10. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
This movie comes in at No. 3 as one of the best sports movies, according to the American Film Institute.
The film is an amazing biopic about the life and career of one of the greatest New York Yankees to ever play the game, Lou Gehrig.
One of the finest actors of that period, Gary Cooper gives a stellar performance as the famous ball player. I enjoy biopics in general. In most cases, they bring the characters and environment to life, just as in the film 42. It is the emotional storytelling, as in this case, that I enjoy.
You will see some of that in some other films on this list.
When the disease ended his career, his final words touched the heart of millions, "People say that I've had a bad break. But today – today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."