…but don’t worry, your regularly scheduled rant will return in this slot soon enough. For now, we’ll return to those halcyon days of yesteryear in 10th grade English: choose a subject, then compare and contrast, Mr. Vandenberg. Today we’ll learn why baseball movies totally rule, and football movies are the worst.
Baseball is a far different sport than football, as George Carlin famously described in his classic routine. Baseball, played at its own pace, encourages talk and reflection. Football, governed by the ever-ticking clock, is best discussed and digested after the game. In my mind, films about the sports reflect this aspect as well. Of course there are exceptions, as we’ll see. But baseball films tend to be more personal, deeper and richer than football films. I’ll rank my favorites from 20 through 11, comparing the baseball movie to its football counterpart. I made the cutoff at twenty because frankly, there aren’t a lot of great football movies. This forced me to leave out some pretty good baseball flicks like The Sandlot, Alibi Ike, It Happens Every Spring, Angels in the Outfield, and Ed. Yeah, just seeing if you were paying attention with Ed.
I haven’t matched films for similar themes, although in some cases they do match up well; this is simply my personal ranking of the movies. I’m including the Rotten Tomato score, or in the case of older films the IMDB user rating, scaled to match the 0-100 scale.
20. The Jackie Robinson Story, 1950, 63. Not a great film, but it’s pretty awesome to see one of the all-time greats portraying himself, even a deeply sanitized retelling of his struggles. The story is better told in the terrific 42.
20. Everybody’s All-American, 1988, 30. A college star fades, and finds that life sucks. Dennis Quaid is good, at least.
19. The Life and Time of Hank Greenberg, 2000, 97. This documentary shows that Greenberg had his own battles to be accepted in baseball. The lesson of America: don’t be different.
19. All the Right Moves, 1983, 53. Tom Cruise does good work as an angsty high school football star.
18. Fear Strikes Out, 1957, 82. Tony Perkins is terrible as a ballplayer, but exceptional portraying the emotional battles of Red Sox star Jimmy Piersall.
18. Varsity Blues, 1999, 40. A CW take on high school football, years before the CW began.
17. Ballplayer: Pelotero, 2012, 88. Great documentary that focuses on two kids in the Dominican Republic and the signing process in the MLB. By the way, Dominican means Shortstop in Spanish.
17. The Replacements, 2000, 41. Coach Gene Hackman turns to a bunch of scrubs when the real players go out on strike. Keanu Reeves proves to be a baller.
16. 61*, 2001, 80. This HBO feature follows Maris and Mantle in their chase of Ruth’s single season record. Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane shine in their respective roles. Thank you, Billy Crystal! Yep, that Billy Crystal, who not only produced the film, he directed it as well.
16. Knute Rockne, All American, 1940, 68. Pat O’Brien plays the legendary Notre Dame coach, and Ronald Reagan impersonates George Gipp. You know, win one for the Gipper? Yeah, we got eight years of him because of this movie.
15. Major League, 1989, 82. C’mon, you know this movie. I’ll say, “Just a bit outside”, and leave it at that.
15. Any Given Sunday, 1999, 51. Al Pacino is loud, Cameron Diaz is mean, and Dennis Quaid (again) plays ball. At least Quaid and Jamie Foxx looked like they could play.
14. The Rookie, 2002, 83. Damn, that Quaid guy sure likes sports roles. Here, he plays high school coach Jim Morris, who at the age of 35 regained his fastball and played two years in the bigs. Yes, it’s a true story. Amazing.
14. Invincible, 2006, 71. Another “old guy makes it” story, in this case with Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale, who debuted with Philadelphia Eagles at the age of 30. Oddly enough, this is the only film at which Dick Vermeil never cried.
13. The Stratton Story, 1949, 83. Jimmy Stewart plays pitcher Monty Stratton, who managed to get back to the minors after losing his leg in a hunting accident. The film won the Oscar for best screenplay.
13. The Blind Side, 2009, 66. Another real-life story, about the journey of Michael Oher, who came from a tough background to a career in the NFL. Naturally, the white lady won the Oscar. Yep, I went there.
12. Moneyball, 2011, 94. A great look at the mechanics of how teams are assembled, and sabermetrics. Yes, I am a geek. Oh yeah, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill rock this flick.
12. Undefeated, 2011, 96. This story of a small-town, resource poor team that won it all won the Oscar for best documentary. No flippant comment; this is a great movie.
11. Bang The Drum Slowly, 1973, 88. Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarity are terrific in this story about a not-too-bright catcher and the world-wise pitcher who takes him under his wing.
11. Semi-Tough, 1977, 80. Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, and Jill Clayburgh are at their peak in this funny, sexy look at two football pros, their mutual girlfriend, and the weirdness that was the 70s.
The average Rotten Tomato score for the baseball flicks is 84. For the football movies, it’s 59.6. While these are my personal rankings, the overall scores for baseball compared to football changes little including the top ten. So those rankings may be biased, but they’re not my bias. And we haven’t even gotten to my personal top ten movies – sure, there are some great football flicks, but nothing that stands up to the best of baseball.
So maybe football movies aren’t the worst, unless they’re football movies with Adam Sandler. For once I’m in the majority – football movies aren’t as good as baseball movies. The worst critic’s consensus score was 63 for The Jackie Robinson Story; all other baseball-themed films scored at least 76. There are twelve football movies that scored under 76, five under 50. Baseball just lends itself to storytelling better than football. Add a great cinematic team, and baseball is magical in a way that football just can’t reach.
I may be in the minority, but I’d rather watch a replay of Game One of the ’88 World Series than Super Bowl 50 live. Or even It Happens Every Spring.