For some reason, the question about which sports movies are the “best” or individual favorites has turned up in all sorts of places this week, I have no idea why. When it turned up during tonight’s Red Sox broadcast, I decided it was time to give my list.
(The Red Sox and Rays are tied in the 7th, 4-4.)
Most sports movies are ethics movies, and my favorite five all fit that description.
1. ” “Hoosiers“(1986) The Gene Hackman movie about a tiny Indiana town’s surprise victory in the state basketball tournament (the actual 1954 team is above), covers many ethics themes, including leadership, integrity, sacrifice , redemption, learning from past mistakes, and moral luck. The basketball games are surprisingly realistic, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score, evoking bouncing basketballs on a court, is one of my all-time favorites. Favorite ethics moment: after training the team to obey him without question, and teaching them to play as a team, not individuals, coach Hackman tells his players with one play left in the championship game that they will use their star, Jimmy, as a decoy, and let another player take the final, game deciding shot. After a long pause, Jimmy tells him, “I’ll make it.” And like all good leaders, Hackman knows when to trust his subordinates. He let’s Jimmy countermand his order, and Jimmy indeed wins the game.
2. “Rocky” (1976). A close second. Like many sports movies, this classic shows how actual victory isn’t always necessary for a competitor to triumph.
3. The Natural (1984) The film captures what is magical about baseball better than any other. It also embraces redemption, integrity, courage, hubris, and resisting corruption.
4. Breaking Away (1979) Yet another Indiana sports movie! Fathers and sons, overcoming adversity, ethics education, facing adversity.
5. The Bad New Bears (1976) Many classic moments overcome some questionable ones. Once again, the losers win. Walter Matthau’s decision to play all the scrubs so they get to experience the crucial game even though he wants desperately to win for his own redemption mirrors a plot turn in “Hoosiers.” Brandon Cruz’s definitive up-yours gesture to his unethical coach-father is both satisfying and dramatic, and like all great sports movies, the climactic final contest is perfectly scripted, directed and acted.
Honorable mention: “A League of Their Own,” “The Sandlot,” “Field of Dreams,” “Major League, “Rocky 3”
Amazing: all five of the top choices were made in a single ten year period.
The Red Sox won, 6-4.