And when I write “you,” I mean “me.”
While all the other kids are out scaring the neighbor’s dog and playing ding-dong-ditch—you know, getting things done—here are the sports movies that make you feel great, either because they’ll inspire you to rise above your station in life or because you’re not as big a loser as the jerks on screen.
The Rocky Series (1976 - ?)
For each mildly diverting Rocky movie (the original Rocky, the Mr. T-fest Rocky III), there’s a piece of serious dog shit such as all the rest (even Rocky IV, because FUCK YOU AND YOUR JINGOISM, STALLONE). Then there’s Rocky Balboa (2006), a surprisingly sweet and moving maybe-final chapter in a saga that wasn’t good enough to be a saga in the first place. “Maybe-final chapter”? Stallone has never had the first original idea, so why not revisit Rocky again with a new director?
Bring It On (2000)
Admit it: You saw this Kirsten Dunst-starring cheerleading movie when it was released in 2000 because you heard about the locker room scene. No matter; every body in this movie, male and female, is totally toned, so there’s something for everyone. Plus, it’s a not-bad story of racial tension and accepting your limitations. Ignore the direct-to-DVD sequels, enjoy the “you’re gonna pump our gas one day” taunts.
The Natural (1984)
This movie sucks. Like, really sucks. Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a callow jerk, Memo (Kim Basinger) is thinly drawn, and what does Iris (Glenn Close) see in this guy? Plus, any movie that has Wilford Brimley and uses him this little has problems. No film should be bound to its source material, but because the filmmakers insisted on changing the novel’s ending so dramatically—Hobbs loses, badly—perhaps they could have re-written the two hours that came before it so his character made sense. Worse, The Natural has the pacing of the final game of the season for two sub-.500 teams. Barf.
Now this is a sports movie. There are great lines, great explosions, Chevy Chase used to his best ability—a narcissistic buffoon—and, of course, the gopher. In fact, Caddyshack is so much fun, it’s hard to pick the best quotable moment. For my money, it’s this less-recited exchange.
Lou: What’s that sign say?
Caddy: “No bare feet.”
Lou: What’s that sign say?
Caddy: “No fighting.”
Lou: What’s it mean?
Caddy: No fighting.
Lou: You owe me one gumball machine.
I’m giggling thinking about it. RAT FARTS!
Major League (1989)
Unlike The Natural, this flick has players that resemble real people and the appropriate mix of sentiment and yuks. Plus, it’s the one movie in which Charlie Sheen doesn’t suck the life from each scene. Refresher: The new owner (Margaret Whitton) of the Cleveland Indians hates Cleveland and tries to sabotage the team in order to relocate it to Miami. When the team finds out, they use their hatred of her to bond and start winning games. Future stars Wesley Snipes and Dennis Haysbert appear in great supporting roles, and veteran James Gammon has the movie’s best line: “You may run like Mays but you hit like shit.”
This simple story has no frills, great acting, and takes its time getting from point A—the Hickory High School basketball team in tiny Hickory, Ind., and the new coach, Normal Dale (a wonderful Gene Hackman) are at bottom—to point B. In fact, not much happens in Hoosiers, and not much of what does happen is a big surprise, from the team’s eventual state championship to Dale’s relationship with Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey). Maybe I love it because I spent the first 14 years of my life in Indiana, or maybe it’s a great film. This is the movie that brought Dennis Hopper back.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
Is chess a sport? Depends on who’s asked. In any event, Searching for Bobby Fischer isn’t about chess as much as it is a father, Fred Waitzkin (Joe Mantegna), and his prodigy son, Josh (Max Pomeranc), who butt heads over what’s more important, their relationship or winning tournaments. For Josh, chess goes from being a fun thing to do in the park to being a drag. There are understated performances by Ben Kingsley as Josh’s coach and Laurence Fishburne, who takes the role of a sensitive drug dealer and makes him a full person, not just a caricature. Just try not to cry.
Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
I’ve seen this movie only once—the sport is soccer, and barf—but it’s stayed with me thanks to good performances by Parminder Nagra as Jess, the girl who wants to play soccer but is not allowed by her parents, Jonathan Rhys Myers as Joe, the coach, and Keira Knightley as Jules, Jess’ best friend and her equal on the pitch. The sports and family clichés are all there, but the performances, game footage, humor and pro-tolerance messages transcend all that. Plus, you really want these women to win, and they do.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
This isn’t a sports movie so much as a movie about people who hate themselves for one reason or another. And how will they transcend that self-hate? By winning a $50,000 prize in a Las Vegas dodgeball tournament, thereby saving their gym (owned by Vince Vaughn) and redeeming themselves. Plus, it has Ben Stiller in asshole mode, which, if you have to have Ben Stiller, is the best way to have him. Watch it on DVD and listen to the commentary; the director reveals that the movie originally ended with Vince Vaughn’s team losing until the studio nixed it. Alan Tudyk is a minor revelation as Steve the Pirate.
You’re Next (2013)
Technically, You’re Next isn’t a sports movie, unless you count escaping from home invaders as a sport. But not only will it get your heart racing faster than Insanity with Shaun T., it’s the best mainstream horror movie of the year and possibly of the last 10 years. What it lacks in originality it makes up for with a protagonist (Sharni Vinson) who’s tougher than the trio of hoodlums trying to kill everyone, and practical—that’s to say, not computer-generated—blood and gore. It’s in theaters, so get your dead ass off the couch and see it now.