…but I still think baseball movies are better than football movies, for the same reason the game is better. As I wrote in the first installment of this monologue/diatribe. The very thing that defines football, its speed, is the same thing that typically – please note I said typically – holds it back from being as good a subject as baseball. Baseball, by its very nature, allows time for introspection. This is a gross simplification, but at it’s core, football is action, baseball is drama. Yes, football can be dramatic and baseball has plenty of action, I get it. But I stand by the overall premise.
So as before, 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. The following are from number ten, up to my all-time favorite baseball and football movies.
10. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, 1976, 87. Let’s just start with James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor. Billy Dee is a fictional Satchel Paige, Mr. Jones a stand-in for Josh Gibson, and Richard is -well, Richard is Richard, in this great look at barnstorming team of ex-Negro League . A very, very funny movie that still manages to take a serious look at the awful state of segregation.
10. Rudy, 1993, 84. Yeah, a lot of people are really pissed right now. First, this idiot says baseball movies are better, and now he’s saying Rudy is just tenth!?! I’m outta here! That’s okay, maybe we’ll see you another time, like when I explain why Star Wars isn’t as great as everyone thinks it is. Anyway, as for Rudy, I like it a lot. I just like nine other football flicks more.
9. Damn Yankees, 1958, 76. The only musical on either list, it’s all about the wish fulfillment of a broken-own old guy who sells his soul to lead the Yankees to the pennant. No, it isn’t the Alex Rodriguez story, but it does feature Ray Walston as the Devil, and man, he is so, so bad. By which I mean good. And as the poster says…
9. Friday Night Lights, 2004, 81. This look at big-time football in small-town Texas was the basis for the even more popular TV series. Awfully good, but only the third-best high school football movie.
8. A League of Their Own. You can tell the competition is heating up when I have to list this flick all the way down at eighth. Lori Petty is at her best, Geena Davis is great, and Tom Hanks merely turns in about his eighth-best performance – which is just terrific. Like Bingo Long, it’s a very funny movie that manages to take a serious look at the obstacles faced by a minority – this time, women in sports.
8. Radio, 2003, 36. The movie about the challenged kid that’s adopted by his high school team. Let me just say that the aggregate rating of 36 is insane. I can understand it might not be your kind of movie, or your favorite, but to say it’s bad is ridiculous. Ed Harris is excellent as always, and Cuba Gooding Jr. again proves he is one of the most under-utilized actors today. If you don’t cry during this movie, never come back to this site again.
7. The Pride of the Yankees, 1942, 92. And if you don’t cry during this movie, just leave the damn planet. I can’t even write any more without Niagra Falls hitting me…
7. We Are Marshall, 2006, 49. Again, lots of tears, and how the hell did so many critics get this wrong? This is as good a time as any to mention that it was very, very difficult to rank the Lou Gehrig bio-pic so low, but there are just so many damn good baseball flicks, they can’t all be number one. On the other hand, I really didn’t have to struggle with the number one football flick until it got to the top three.
6. The Bad News Bears, 1976, 96. The third highest-rated baseball film on Rotten Tomatoes, and damn, is it good. Tatum O’Neal is just as good here as she was in her Oscar turn in Paper Moon, and Walter Matthau is at the height of his curmudgeonly powers. And was any 14 year old ever as badass as Kelly Leak? Thank you, Jackie Earle Haley.
6. North Dallas Forty, 1979, 85. Amazingly, there was less profanity in this gritty film about pro football than there was in the movie about Little Leaguers. Nick Nolte and Mac Davis play the stars of drug, sex, and booze fueled team in Texas. Yes, kiddies, it was in fact based on the Dallas Cowboys, based on a book by a former Cowboys wide receiver. I have to say, if they had cast an actual actor in the role of the QB, instead of first-time actor and hot-at-the-time country singer Mac Davis, this could have been the best football flick ever. Like, Burt Reynolds…who will pop up later.
5. 42, 2013, 79. Of the two Jackie Robinson movies, the one not starring the Hall of Famer is by far the better. Two reasons; first, in 1950 they chose not to portray anything close to the abuse Robinson endured. Second,- well, let’s just say I’ll take Jackie on the diamond, but on the screen, it’s gotta be Chadwick Boseman. And for the 315 million of you that never saw Get On Up, the biopic of James Brown…you are missing Boseman in an even better performance.
5. Paper Lion, 1968, 63. I probably have this rated higher than any other list you could find, but it’s my list, dammit. Alan Alda is perfect as Sports Illustrated writer George Plimpton, who actually did attend a tryout with the Detroit Lions. Plimpton’s son has stated that his father handled the pressure with more grace than was portrayed in the film, but, come on, it’s funnier to see Alda scream at Alex Karras than just shrug it off.
4. Eight Men Out, 1988, 85. A terrific film about the Black Sox scandal, with a terrific cast, highlighted by John Kusack as Buck Weaver, and the film’s director John Sayles in the important supporting role of journalist Ring Lardner, who broke the story. Sayles bears a remarkable resemblance to the writer. Pop quiz: Which is the director, and which the journalist? Careful now… The answer, later.
4. Jerry Maguire, 1996, 85. Much like The Blind Side, football serves as more of a backdrop than the driving force of the film. Take out football, and The Blind Side is still a great drama about a family adopting a kid who needed a chance. Take out football, and Jerry Maguire still needs Dorothy to complete him. I just don’t know where Rod Tidwell is gonna get his quan. Cuba Gooding Jr. was great in the role, of course, but thank God he won the Oscar, or we would have never seen one of the best acceptance speeches ever. Yes, it’s a damn shame #OscarsSoWhite this year. More on that another time.
3. Bull Durham, 1988, 97. Tied for the top rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I have at times said this is my favorite baseball movie of all time. And if I were to revisit in another five ears (or maybe five weeks), it may be again. Because “I believe in the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball”…and all the rest of it. Yes sir, Crash Davis. Yes sir.
3. Brian’s Song, 1971, 91. THE male tearjerker movie. The football version of Bang The Drum Slowly – except that this was based on fact, of course. Billy Dee Williams scores again as Gale Sayers, and James Caan gave probably his best performance as the doomed Brian Piccolo.
2. The Natural, 1984, 81. This too has taken the top spot for me at times. While some criticize what they see as the bastardization of Bernard Malamud’s dark theme of the pursuit of fame, I say – screw you. It’s Robert Redford. I’ll take the climax of the falling sparks reflected in Wilford Brimley’s glasses any day over the downbeat ending, thank you. Absolutely the most beautifully filmed sequence in any sports movie, maybe any movie. Thank you, Caleb Deschanel, one of the greatest cinematographers ever.
2. Remember The Titans, 2000, 73. Hopefully, every high school football team views this at least once before their season opener. Denzel Washington is – he’s Denzel, okay? It’s a bit redundant to say he’s great. Will Patton really shines in this for me, though. Denzel is amazing reading his grocery list, I’m sure. I love his performance, but Patton was just as good, and to me, had the more difficult role as well, as the character that had to change more. Great, great movie.
1. Field of Dreams, 1989, 86. Dennis Schwartz. Ralph Novak. Michael Wilmington. Dessen Thomson. Rita Kempley. Robin Clifford. David Sterrit. Peter Travers. Richard Corliss. These are the nine critics who thought the sublime treatment of fathers, sons, baseball and yes, dreams, was “gooey..” “hard to swallow” “mush”, and “the male weepie at its worst”. Gee, sorry none of you ever had fathers or dreams. Art is subjective, of course, and I’m really not calling any critic out for their opinion, especially not Sterrit, Travers or Corliss. But, come on. Even if 90 percent of the movie was crap, it would still make my top ten for two scenes alone. James Earl Jones’ great soliloquy on baseball..”The one constant through the years”, and the amazing presence of Burt Lancaster. Burt Lancaster, and that twinkle in his eye as he says, “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes…”
1. The Longest Yard, 1974, 81. Please, for the love of all that is holy, please note this is the original, not the remake that somehow asked you to believe Adam Sandler was not only funny, but a pro quarterback. Burt Reynolds is at his best, blending the hard edges of roles like Lewis in Deliverance with the wise-cracking sardonic wit from, well, The Tonight Show. Burt’s a funny guy. Anyway, the football scenes between the prisoners and the guards are great, and the grim battle of will between Eddie Albert’s corrupt Warden Hazen and Burt’s just-doesn’t-give-a-damn Paul “Wrecking” Crewe give the film the heft it needs to have something more at stake than just a game. It’s easily my favorite football movie…
…and I may be in the minority, but it still wouldn’t crack my top five sports movies. Football movies just aren’t that great. Oh, and John Sayles is in the color photo. Double reverse psychology for the win!