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Friday Night Fun: The Best Sports Movies

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Hi everyone. One of the things I love to do is read sports books (biographies, history, theory, etc), as well as watch sports movies. I'm introducing now a weekly series of stories focused on reviews of books I've read recently or movies that I've seen. Jump in with your comments and if you have a request let me know and I'll try to oblige.

Tonight's post is going to be about the greatest sports movies ever. This is a pretty broad genre covering a fair amount of time, so the discussion should be good. As a starting point I'm referencing the book The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies: Featuring the 100 Greatest Sports Films of All Time, written by Ray Didinger and Glen MacNow. It's available at for $13.57 for the paperback or $9.99 for the Kindle version (which is what I have).  

Up front the authors acknowledge that their list is subjective and open to debate. What I love about the book is that it's not just a listing of their favorite movies. They include plot summaries, interesting facts behind the scenes, interviews with cast members, and famous sports figures who list that movie as one of their favorites.  The paperback version is 352 pages, so it's a hefty book. It's one that's best served in small doses. I've not read it all yet--what I do is take 5-10 movies at a time. I'm around 75 now and still entertained which is saying quite a bit.

I think it's worth the price and worth your time.  Join me after the jump and we'll discuss their top 25 movies. 

1. Rocky

Everyone knows the plot. Smallt-time boxer gets a chance to fight the heavy-weight contender. What you might not know is that Sylvester Stallone wrote the script himself and refused to turn it over to the studio unless he could star in it. He gave it to them for free in return for a piece of the action.

smileyman's grade--5 stars. I sat down with mrs smileyman last month and watched this and even she enjoyed it (and it was her first time watching). The movie won an Oscar for Best Picture. 

2. Hoosiers

Based on a true story of an improbable championship team. If you haven't seen this yet you'd better go and watch it. When the movie was made no basketball movie had ever been successful. When Hoosiers was released it saw only mild success but has since become a classic.

smileyman's grade--5 stars. How can you not love the story of a team working together to overcome great odds? 

3. Raging Bull

Another boxing movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese it follows the life of Jake LaMotta, a middleweight boxing champion. Where Rocky is inspirational, Raging Bull is dark and depressing.

I haven't seen it (not my type of movie), so can't give it a grade.

4. The Natural

Robert Redford stars as a baseball player heading out to seek his fame and fortune. He is shot by a silver bullet. He eventually recovers but drops out of baseball for 16 years, making a comeback as a 40 year old. 

smileyman's grade--3 stars. Improbable set-up for a story that feels too fairy-tale like for me. Plus it's about baseball, not my favorite subject.

5. Bull Durham

Kevin Costner plays a veteran minor league catcher who is supposed to train a young hotshot pitcher (Tim Robbins). Susan Sarandon plays the groupie. The movie is as much about the relationship between the three of them as it is about the game itself. I think it does a great job of capturing the feel of a minor-league game.

smileyman's grade--4 stars. I really like this movie. Costner is in top form here, as is Tim Robbins. In my opinion this is Costner's best baseball movie

6. Slap Shot

Parody of a minor league hockey team's season. I haven't seen it so can't comment.

7. The Longest Yard

Ex NFL QB Paul Crewe is sentenced to 18 months in prison for joyriding in his girlfriend's car and evading police. While in prison the sadistic warden asks him to coach the inmates in a game against the guards and then threatens him if he doesn't throw it. 

smileyman's grade--4 stars. This is much better than the Adam Sandler remake.


8. The Hustler

"Fast" Eddie Nelson is a pool-hall hustler content with running small time scams until he gets into a marathon session with "Minnesota Fats" and loses. He has to rebuild his confidence before fighting back for a chance to beat "Fats" again.

smileyman's grade--4 stars. With Paule Newman and Jackie Gleason how can you not like it? Much better than the follow-up with Newman and Cruise The Color of Money.


9. Caddyshack

Bill Murray and Chevy Chase star in this classic golf movie that was mostly ad-libbed. Tiger Woods and and Phil Mickleson both regard it as their favorite sports movie. Caddyshack II was actually a pretty good sequel.

smileyman's grade--3


10. North Dallas Forty

Nick Nolte stars as star WR Phil Elliot. Unlike most sports movies this one doesn't follow the action on-field, instead it's an expose of life behind the scenes in NFL football, including the politics, the pain and struggles to move the day after a game as well as the lifestyles. The movie is based on a book by Cowboys receiver Pete Gent. The movie was blasted by the Cowboys organization when it was released.

smileyman's grade--4 stars. It's nice to see a sports movie that focuses on something different and gives a different perspective.


11. Field of Dreams

"If you build it, he will come". Two images are iconic in this movie for me. One is the baseball players disappearing into the corn fields, and the other is the line of cars stretching for miles at the end. The movie spent $25,000 to keep the corn field watered since Iowa was going through a drought at the time. Peter King's favorite sports movie

smileyman's grade--4 stars


12. Million Dollar Baby

Clint Eastwood stars (and directs) this boxing movie. Hillary Swank is an up and coming boxer who wants to go to the big times. She eventually wears down Eastwood and convinces him to train her and he does. What keeps this movie from devolving into treacle is the incredible performances from Eastwood and Swank (and Morgan Freeman), and the ending. In my opinion Clint Eastwood has turned into one of the finest directors working in the movie business today.

smileyman's grade--5 stars. This movie had an incredible emotional impact on me.

13. The Pride of the Yankees

The story of Lou Gehrig as he falls ill and dies from ALS. The movie was released just one year after Gehrig's death.

I must confess to having never seen this


14. Hoop Dreams

A documentary about two high school basketball stars. The filmmakers followed two players from their Jr High days and watched them as they were recruited by top prep schools. We see the highs and the lows. It's an incredible documentary that treats it's subjects with respect. 

smileyman's grade--5 stars. Absolutely a must see to get a glimpse into what goes on in basketball recruiting. 

15. Brian's Song

The story of the friendship between Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. Piccolo would die of cancer but their friendship would remain tight to the end and Sayers would use Piccolo as inspiration on and off the field. Larry Csonka sites ths as one of his favorite movies.

smileyman's grade--5 stars. If you're not tearing up by the end of this one you have no heart.


16. Miracle

"Do you believe in Miracles?" Al Michaels asked in 1980 when the men's US hockey team beat the invincible Russians. Miracle is the story of that team and their coach. There are no surprises in the plot and all of the devices are familiar to us, but the story is so powerful that we can't help but enjoy the ride. 

smileyman's grade--4 stars


17. Chariots of Fire

Who knew that racing could be so exciting? Charles Abraham and Eric Liddell are two runners vying to reach and compete in the Olympics. Even though the movie is very cheesy at time (almost all the running scenes are filmed in slow motion), it's still a great story and the camera direction and script gives it an almost documentary feel

smileyman's grade-4 stars


18. Body and Soul

Another boxing movie, this one intent on exposing the underbelly of the sport and it's connections to organized crime and gambling. 


19. Remember the Titans

One of my favorite football movies. In the newly integrated T.C. Williams highschool a black coach must keep his team from tearing each other apart while attempting to win state. Anquan Boldin's favorite sports movie.

smileyman's grade--5 stars, even if it is a bit ridiculous at times.


20. Breaking Away

A coming-of-age story disguised as a movie about bicycling. This was Dennis Quaid's breaking out movie.

I haven't sen this so can't give it a grade.


21. When We Were Kings

Documentary of Ali's fight against Foreman in Zaire, Africa. Powerful story and worth your time.

smileyman's grade--4 stars


22. A League of Their Own

Tom Hanks coaches a league of women baseball players.

smileyman's grade--3 stars. Tom Hanks is great in all his movies but the storyline on this one didn't appeal to me.


23. Friday Night Lights

In Texas football is king, especially so in small town Texas. Friday Night Lights follows the 1988 Permian High School Panthers as they make a bid towards a state championship. The movie is more than football, it's also about the hopes and dreams of a small town.

smileyman's grade--5 stars. Much better than the TV series that followed. 


24. The Wrestler

Follows a washed up pro wrestler as he tries to get back into the circuit again.

Haven't seen it but love the Bruce Springsteen song he wrote for the movie. 


25. The Set-Up

A washed up boxer goes for glory one more time. Unbeknownst to him his manager has taken money from a gambler to throw the fight. 


What are some movies that you think should be in the top 25? For me the glaring mistake is not including Rudy in the top 25. Heck I'd have to include it in the top 10 if I was doing the list. Are there any other glaring mistakes that should be rectified? What's your top 5 or top 10 list?