AFI Top 10 sports movies

Ever since AFI (America Film Institute) came out with its AFI top 100, top 10 in 10 different genres, it has been irking me to no end to not see some very good movies that deserve to be in that list. I finally decided to address the Top 10 Sports movies in this post. Here’s the AFI list:

10. Jerry Maguire – It is a joke that this movie is in this list. Not a bad movie, but top 10 all time!? “Show me the money” you say, give me a break. Definitely out from my list.

9. National Velvet – Micky Rooney, Liz Taylor (young) horse racing yarn. Again, not a bad movie, but sorry, doesn’t make my cut.

8. Breaking Away – Bike race with Dennis Christopher and Dennis Quaid, a good movie, but just misses my cut.

7. Caddyshack – You can make a case for this to get into the top 10 of the Comedy genre too – remains.

6. The Hustler – Top notch flick with stellar performance from Newman – remains.

5. Bull Durham – Another classic, absolutely belongs here.

4. Hoosiers – Definitely, yes.

3. The Pride of the Yankees – Sentimental favorite, but misses my cut.

2. Rocky – It would be sacrilegious if it didn’t make it, we might as well ignore the genre.

1. Raging Bull – Scorsese – De Niro – Jake La Matta. It belongs in this list, but not my #1.

So, after some review, here are my top 10 sports movies


10. The Longest Yard (1974): How can you not have a single Football movie in American Film Institute’s top 10 sports movies when Football is America’s passion?
I am not even going to acknowledge the concoction that is the new Adam Sandler remake in order to give the original (1974) and the best its due respect. This movie was one of a kind when it was released with immense success and has had as much of an impact as any other movie on this genre.

..an underrated classic.

..an underrated classic.

Burt Reynolds plays Paul Crewe, a dishonored quarterback put in jail, who is forced to put together a group of convicts to play a game of football against the guards and eventually redeems himself by doing the right thing at the end. If that reads like a story of many sports movies you are familiar with, they were all made after The Longest Yard and copied its theme. BTW.. that Soccer movie “Victory” with Stallone and Pele’s bicycle kick, was made 7 years after the Longest Yard and is essentially a soccer version of the same story, just to add some perspective on the relevance of this movie in this list. Reynolds was at the height of his fame when this was made and I am not sure if people remember that he was an all conference halfback at Florida State University and would have played in the pros if not for a knee injury and a car accident that sidelined him and made him into a big time 70s hero. So, it was not some wannabe hack that was gathering those convicts to play that game. 35 years later, it is still hard to find a better Football movie.


9. Major League (1989): If AFI can pick Caddyshack to make their top 10, I am

..still the funniest

..still the funniest

perplexed as to how Major League couldn’t make it. My suspicion is they were trying to squeeze as many different sports as they can into the top 10 and not necessarily picking the best top 10 in the genre. If they did, you can’t ignore this movie. Perhaps.. not perhaps.. definitely the most hilarious baseball movie ever made and one of the most quotable sports movies of all time. Whether its Willie Mays Haze (Wesley Snipes, early in his career) “Willie Mays Hayes. I hit like Mays, and I run like Hayes.” or Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen and his deadpan one-liners) revealing that he played in “The California penal..” league or such priceless play-by-play lines from Harry Doyle (Bob Yucker) as “Low, and he walks the bases loaded on 12 straight pitches. How can these guys lay off pitches that close?”, it is a modern classic that belongs in the top 10.


8. Slap shot (1977): If you combine the charm of a minor league operation typified in

.. a cult classic

.. a cult classic

Bull Durham and throw in the colorful characters of Major league and make a movie on Ice Hockey, you get Slap shot – only Slap shot was made in 1977, a dozen years before the creation of either of those movies.
Newman plays player/coach Reggie Dunlap of Charlestown Chiefs of the Federal League, where hard times that fall upon the town make it apparent that his team will be folding at the end of the season. To instill a sense of belief and desire to win and hoping a potential winning season might spark a sale of the team, Dunlap makes up a false story of an outside interest in purchasing the team that his players buy into. As the Hanson brothers, three new players hired to play on his team, turn to their violent ways, Dunlap watches as the team start attracting huge crowds and heavy following as they keep winning with their fighting ways.

Only reason this movie doesn’t have as much fanfare and following worldwide is because hockey isn’t popular enough beyond the Canadian borders, but that can’t hide how good a movie this is. It is a true classic that made the Hanson brothers cult heroes of the Hockey world.


7. Caddyshack (1980): In many ways Caddyshack is the movie that made golf cool.

..made Golf cool and funny

..made Golf cool and funny

Lets face it, it was a monumental achievement to pick up what is essentially a prissy sport; many debate if it should even be called a sport where as recently as a few days ago a 60 year old guy just missed winning the British Open, one of its majors, and make as funny a movie as Caddyshack. The story revolves around Danny Noonam (Michael O’Keefe), one of the youngsters working as a caddy at a country club. An assortment of quirky characters, members of the country club such as Ty Webb (Chevy Chase and his deadpan delivery), Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield and his utter irreverence to the Golf etiquette), Judge Smails (Ted Knight and his prudish ways), and the course curator Carl Spackler (Bill Murray and his battles with the course gophers) make for a hilarious romp. Over the years, it has evolved into a cult classic and a quotable quote machine for golf.


6. Raging Bull (1980): I am not such a big fan of Martin Scorsese. He might be a great

.. De Niro at his best

.. De Niro at his best

director, his film-making style just doesn’t appeal to me as much as it does to most. Raging Bull is an excellent movie though. Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci are absolutely brilliant as Jake La Motta and his brother.
Scorsese’s portrays the life of a boxer whose only form of expression is violence and rage, and the same elements that make him successful within the rink take over his personal life and destroy his marriage, his relationship with his brother, and slowly but surely ruin his career.

With DeNiro at the height of his cinematic greatness, and Pesci’s virtuoso performance as his brother, this is the second best boxing movie ever made in my book.


5. The Hustler (1961): One of Paul Newman’s best performances, this movie is all

.. pool house brilliance

.. pool house brilliance

about the unscrupulous and untrustworthy pool sharks and pool hustlers with brilliant black and white cinematography depicting the dark, shady, smoke-filled urban rooms with pool tables and the subculture of its players.

Newman shines as an ambitious, arrogant, young, talented, cynical, restless and disillusioned player seeking a shot at proving himself to be the best by beating Minnesota Fats, played by Jackie Gleason. A true classic!


4. Bull Durham (1988): A very popular and pleasing choice in this list, with Kevin

..monor league charm

..monor league charm

Costner playing an aging catcher on his way out, Tim Robbins a young, emerging, talented pitcher destined for stardom, and Susan Sarandon the muse that enlivens the minor league operations of Durham Bulls, this movie provides great comedy, captures the charm of minor league baseball, the apprenticeship of a youngster with counseling from a veteran, and a love story with a heart-warming ending. No wonder its appeal is broader than just the sports genre.


3. Hoosiers (1986): If you are wondering why this movie is rated so high.. a) I am a big

.. still the best Basketball movie ever

.. still the best Basketball movie ever

fan of Gene Hackman and b) I am a sucker for the whole underdog-winning-against-the-odds sentiment of which there has never been a basketball movie made before and after this one that captured this feeling any better. Small town Indiana, where basketball is religion and the farmlands are studded with make-shift hoops with kids practicing shooting in the twilight dusk, is captured to perfection, as the movie follows the main character of Normal Dale (Hackman), an outsider who walks into town, preaches tough love and transforms an underdog high school team into champions. Whats not to like about it? There have been many imitators since, but this one stands out atop!


2. Rocky (1976): This movie needs no introduction…. Sylvester “Sly” Stallone’s once-

.. inspirational!

.. inspirational underdog story!

in-a-lifetime achievement as Rocky Balboa, the ultimate underdog Philadelphia boxer who wants to “go the distance” in a one time shot at the heavy weight championship. The screenplay, the music, and the performances are outstanding making Rocky an iconic figure in American movie history. It is no exaggeration that a whole generation of Americans grew up with Rocky as an inspirational figure and what baffles me more than anything else is how great a job Stallone did as a screen writer for this movie and how he could have made so many crappy movies since? Regardless, there will never be another Rocky and no matter how many more crappier movies Stallone continues to make, he will forever be remembered fondly as that guy jogging through the morning mist on the steps of Philadelphia Museum of Arts with the “Gonna fly now” training montage in pursuit of his goal, which is bound to give you goosebumps even after watching it a zillion times.


1. Field of Dreams (1989): I can understand if many don’t have this rated this high. I

..baseball and cornfield.. awe and wonder

..baseball in cornfield.. awe and wonder

would vehemently disagree with them, but I can understand, and I might be prejudiced because Field of Dreams blew me away when I watched it for the first time and left an indelible print of baseball and American Midwest in my mind. It is a personal choice, but hey.. it is my list! Now, AFI can choose to categorize this under “Fantasy”, but I place it under the sports genre. Granted, the movie is not centered around a sporting event or is about more than just baseball, but baseball is at the heart and center of it all and I refuse to take it out of this genre. “If you build it, he will come”.. when Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), an Iowa corn-growing farmer, hears these words in his corn fields, he construes them to be a message to him to build a baseball diamond in his field, and when he gets another message to bring Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) there, he sets out to convince the 1960s author and civil rights activist and bring him over to his corn fields in Iowa – all out of the blue without completely comprehending why. The movie is filled with a sense of awe and wonder, all centered around baseball, the bond between parents and offspring, a willingness to pursue your dreams and if you don’t know the story upfront, a sense of anticipation of what might happen without completely knowing why, all in a baseball diamond, in the middle of an expansive corn field somewhere in the plains of Iowa.  My all-time favorite!


Honorable mentions that missed my cut: The Natural, Brian’s Song, Breaking away, Seabiscuit, The Pride of the Yankees, Remember the Titans.

More later with the top 10 from other genres.

Advertisements