- Friday Night Lights (2004)
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Garrett Hedlund
Peter Berg’s unflinching vision of a high-school football team in Odessa, Texas is an intense, heavy-handed experience. Football for these kids is not a game, but a meal-ticket out of their broken homes, a vehicle to get to college and in general, a symbol of hope to live a better life. Segregation, poverty, racism and abuse all run rampant in a film still focused on sports. It’s like Varsity Blues, but good.
- Happy Gilmore (1996)
Starring: Adam Sandler, Christopher McDonald
Perhaps the most quotable movie of all time, Adam Sandler’s hilarious portrayal of a hockey player-turned golfer still has people on tee-boxes everywhere taking a running start to hit their first drive of the day. The number of times I’ve personally blown the smoke away from the gun that is my thumb and index finger only to whisper “shoota” after sinking a putt (or doing anything mildly successful in my life) sits securely in the hundreds. “It’s all in the hips; the price is wrong bitch; you will not make this putt, ya jackass; Grizzly Adams did have a beard” are all Gilmore gems that have me laughing even as I write this. Combine the amazing dialogue with cameos from Lee Trevino and Bob Barker, a soundtrack featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Glitter, House of Pain and Carl Weathers, one of the best movie villains of all time (Shooter McGavin) and Adam Sandler at his peak of relevance, and you’ve got a winning recipe for the eighth best sports flick of our generation.
- Kingpin (1996)
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid
I know, bowling is not a sport, right? Wrong! Bowling is on ESPN, the players are referred to as athletes and thus, it is a sport. Not to mention, the Farrelly brothers’ film deals with this exact issue — are bowlers athletes? You have to watch the film to ultimately find out the answer, but the story of an Amish farmhand discovered by an ex-bowling champion turned raging alcoholic will have you in tears. Funny tears. The Farrellys are also responsible for movies like Me Myself and Irene, There’s Something about Mary and, of course, Dumb and Dumber. The performances are comically masterful and the jokes as well as the writing are the same. Perhaps most important, Bill Murray is perfect playing Big Ernie McCracken, one of the dirtiest roles in one of the dirtiest, crudest movies ever made about sports. Sorry, bowling.
- The Mighty Ducks series (1992, ’94, ’96)
Starring: duh, Gordon Bombay!
Of course the Ducks are on this list, I just hope some of you can forgive me for having them as high as number six. But the fact remains, these are kids’ movies. The character development is strong of course, but the motifs, not so much. I kid, of course. The “classic-ness” of these movies to our generation cannot be underestimated. Charlie, Averman, Banks (that cake-eater) and even Goldberg taught us not only how to play hockey, but how to live life.
In the second installment when the Ducks merge their team with the best from around the U.S., many of us young viewers got our first look at corporate greed and the business of sports when Hendrix Hockey put Gordon Bombay, a junior coach, up in a ridiculous mansion in Beverly Hills. Realism was not compromised in these films, I know.
And of course in the third film, Bombay made only a cameo as he handed the Ducks over to Coach O’Reily. The team was now through puberty which was the most exciting part of this film, but JV-Varsity Showdown was nothing short of climactic. Not to mention, this movie had an actual NHL franchise named after it.
- Remember the Titans (2000)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Will Patton
Honestly, you just have to watch it. The story of a school overcoming racial segregation in 1960s Virginia is magically directed by Boaz Yakin and features amazing characters, a perfect soundtrack and it may have made me cry. Enough said?
- Tin Cup (1996)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Rene Russo
Golf films are unique from other sports films in the sense that they usually only deal with one central character as opposed to an entire team, which often results in a character driven, personal movie, and Tin Cup is exactly that. Washed-up driving range pro Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy has never fully succeeded as a professional golfer for the same reasons he has never found love or happiness in his personal life. One day, he meets the amazing yet unavailable woman who helps him realize this. Even though many find it sappy, it is never corny. It is honest and sad, just like the fact that Kevin Costner is awesome in it.
- The Wrestler (2008)
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marissa Tomei
The Wrestler is one of the best sports films ever made almost solely based on its originality. Darren Aronofsky’s documentary-style directing, the subject-matter of amateur wrestling in community clubs and legion halls, and the creative choice of Mickey Rourke to play the leading dude, Randy Ram, were all profound risks that paid off wonderfully onscreen. Both Rourke and Marissa Tomei received Oscar nominations for their performances. The Wrestler’s disturbing vision of a man struggling to make ends meet financially, physically and emotionally resonates long afterward.
- Any Given Sunday (1999)
Starring: Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx
Out of all of the movies on this list, Any Given Sunday is the most about sports. Of course secondary storylines loom deep but Oliver Stone’s masterpiece is, in a nutshell, life in the NFL. I am indeed biased towards this movie because I am a huge NFL fan, so having it at number two might not surprise you. This is a culturally important movie that exposed one of America’s most prized organizations for what it is: a business. A business that has problems just like any other — problems of infidelity, problems with substance abuse, greed, power — you know, the usual. The camera work, and just as impressively, the sound techniques employed during the actual football scenes are breathtaking. Surround sound is a must for this one, as you can literally feel your bones crunch with the men on the field. Any Given Sunday is the sports flick equivalent of Gladiator, a three-hour epic about a republic in crisis and the men fighting for their lives to save it. It pumps me up just thinking about it.
- Space Jam (1996)
Starring: Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny