Spiking the Cinematic Ball: Ten Overlooked Sports Films and Five That Should be Forgotten
"Let's play ball!" That's a phrase many sports fans think of at the start of a baseball game, or at least think while they watch ESPN. In terms of sports movies, the same rule also applies when it comes to associating your favorite sports movies with the standard movie plotline of a hero overcoming extreme obstacles. Sometimes certain movies do better than others (Rudy and Field of Dreams) due to timing and simple plot circumstances.
For one reason of another, not every sports films is given their proper due in theatres or on DVD. Occasionally, it takes a village to find a diamond in the rough on Netflix or on television. Here are a list of ten films that are most definitely worthy at least one viewing and a handful that are best to be left sight unseen. Read on to decide for yourself what's worth watching and what isn't.
Le Mans (1971)- This movie was star Steve McQueen's passion project about a race car driver who returns to a race after a tragic accident last year left another driver dead. He returns to the race to start over and runs into his past headlong. What made audiences overlook this movie the first time was the fact that it focused on the racing scenes more than the actual plot itself. There were long stretches of time when there was hardly any conversation at all. The real jewel was the racing scenes which seemed to have been done with painstaking detail while the rest was simply secondary due to a lack of a polished script. Watch it if you're a racing fan or a Steve McQueen fan.
Bad News Bears (1976)- Walter Matthau plays a drunken Baseball coach of a kid's team that doesn't have to much of a hope of winning. It was bascially Matthau playing a sloppier version of his Odd Couple character with a winsome performance by Tatum O'Neal as his daughter. The dreadful Billy Bob Thornton remake won't even be mentioned in the same breath, which attempted to capitalize on the original and failed miserably.
Happy Gilmore (1996)- An Adam Sandler comedy about golf that took a backseat to Sandler's crazy comedy. A poor man's Tin Cup in terms of golf scenes. Even though the sports scene were hard to believe, the movie was still enjoyable nonetheless based on Sandler's lovable charm and a decent supporting cast to boot.
Mystery Alaska (1999)- A small town group of misfits turn into a hockey team with the misguided notion that they'll win against a more experienced team. The film featured an early Russell Crowe before he became an Oscar winner and a tabloid favorite. He portrayed a small town man who dreamt of greater things before he realized his greatest accomplishment was his family. Watch this film for some great comedic and sports moments about underdogs working to achieve greatness no matter what.
A Gentleman's Game (2002)- This Game was a golf version of The Karate Kid with Gary Sinise as the sage instructor and Mason Gamble as the ingenue. Instead of Sinise divulging platitudes, he allowed his instructor to give into his sarcastic impulses as he loosened his defenses around Gamble. They built a friendship that happened by accident and would likely change them both for the better. The movie had some flaws in the plot about class differences and some bad behavior, but they can be ignored based on the rapport between Gamble and Sinise.
The World's Fastest Indian (2005)- Anthony Hopkins played a man who traveled a great distance to break a racing record. He made some friends along the way and revealed parts of his character that he never recognized before. Fastest is a memorable film to watch because it sometimes takes brains and brawn to win a competition. This film is often overlooked because Hopkins is remembered more for his villain roles than in films like this one. Rent this and enjoy.
Believe in Me (2006)- An uplifting story about a 1960s girls basketball coach (Jeffrey Donovan) who wanted to coach the boys team and soon fell in love with the job. The girls became his unofficial daughters and they loved him just as much. The movie had the girls and the coach fighting to be taken seriously throughout the whole film, which caused the audience to be invested in the team. When they reached the finals, you couldn't help but root for them to win. Watch it and believe in winning no matter what.
The Express (2008)- Based on a true story about Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) a college football star, who died young due to a life threatening illness, paved the way for other African American athletes in the sport. Dennis Quaid costarred as a conventional coach who became Davis' biggest supporter. This film is memorable because of how the two men were impacted socially due to their common interest in winning the game. Watch this and learn about a player that only sports afficionados are familiar with.
Invictus (2009)- A Clint Eastwood directed film based on a true story with Morgan Freeman in an award worthy performance as Nelson Mandela. What made the movie work was the chemistry between Matt Damon and Freeman as they served as mentee and mentor to each other. Sadly, this movie was mostly left under the radar due to it being released in a busy Christmas/Oscar season. It would've been better served released at a different time when audiences could've appreciated it better.
Secretariat (2010)- Diane Lane as a headstrong horse owner who overcomes the odds to win the Triple Crown. What made this film worth watching was Lane's performance as a strong woman who could be a housewife and a businesswoman at the same time. She was a feminist and didn't even know it. Secretariat also showcased Lane's relationship with her character's father and her enduring love for him. The movie was overlooked at the time because the movie tended to focus on Lane's family drama than the race itself.
Should Be Forgotten
Youngblood (1986)- Rob Lowe as a good boy hockey player? Not believable in the slightest when his most popular film roles involved him playing an arrogant playboy (Class and St. Elmo's Fire). It was nice to see Patrick Swayze pop up as his friend/fellow player. The movie would've been better served if the roles were reversed because Swayze would've been more convincing as the lead character.
Johnny Be Good (1988)- It's about a talented footbal player (Anthony Michael Hall) being wooed by numerous college campuses into playing for their teams. Some of the behavior was outlandish, but possibly believable from past stories of such behavior. Sadly, the movie failed because no one was able to buy Anthony Michael Hall's transformation from nerd to jock overnight. If it was better cast, the movie could've potentially succeeded instead of becoming a forgettable failure.
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)- The trio of Robert Redford, Matt Damon and Will Smith couldn't save this film from being a dull clunker from start to finish. It had the potential to be a golf version of A River Runs Through It but the end result was more of a philosophical head scratcher than a clear movie. Rent A River Runs Through It instead for better results.
Summer Catch (2001)- This Catch should be thrown back in the water for good. There's not even much baseball activity going on. The story is about a group of minor league ballplayers, but it soons desolves into a subpar romance between a poor boy (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and a rich girl (Jessica Biel). Watch Bull Durham instead if you want to see Minor League Baseball and laughs..
Against the Current (2010)- Well, technically this isn't truly a sports film but it does follow the plot of the main character trying to overcome some large obstacles. Depressed widower Paul (Joseph Fiennes) decides to swim 150 miles in two weeks back to New York City. He had no training and an ulterior motive to kill himself at the end. It's that depressing subplot that ultimately wrecks the movie and makes it something worth forgetting once it's over.
In conclusion, not every sports movie follows the standard hero overcomes all odds plot. Sometimes the game itself takes a backseat to a generic romantic subplot (Summer Catch) or some family drama that's ruins the movie as a whole (American Flyers). The worst case would be when a sports film has all the elements of a great film and simply doesn't deliver (Any Given Sunday). In the end, the choice is yours about what movie is worth watching even if it looks like a train wreck in the previews.