The Mount Rushmore of Sports Movies

I’m one of the hosts of a podcast called Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider (I play “Snider”), where we periodically have our listeners choose their favorite movies of a particular genre, and then we crown the top four as the Mount Rushmore of that genre. Our most recent survey asked for the Mount Rushmore of sports movies, which is why you’re reading about it on Crooked Scoreboard. Bayer and I were surprised by one of the winners, but we believe in the democratic process, so we let it stand. Here’s what the Movie B.S. listeners came up with:

(Methodology: We asked listeners to submit their four favorites. Ranking didn’t matter. The winners were the four movies that were mentioned the most often.)

1) Field of Dreams (1989)

Director: Phil Alden Robinson

Stars: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones

Most famous line: “If you build it, he will come.”

It was no surprise at all that Field of Dreams–the quintessential male tearjerker and most Dad-approved movie we can think of–came in first place. Who doesn’t love a film about a guy who hears voices, sees ghosts, and sabotages his livelihood to turn his cornfield into a baseball diamond, all so he can reconnect with his dead father? Baseball, families, men doing reckless things that turn out to be visionary: is that not the American story in a nutshell? What’s more, the film’s signature line, “If you build it, he will come,” reflects the optimism and hope that have always defined America, making the film a perfect combination of sentiment and sports.

2) Rocky (1976)

Director: John G. Avildsen (Stallone directed the sequels)

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Carl Weathers, Talia Shire

Most famous line: “Yo, Adrian!”

Runner-up: “You’re gonna eat lightning, and you’re gonna crap thunder!”

Speaking of America, the film that won the Oscar for Best Picture in the country’s bicentennial year was a sports drama that encapsulated many people’s idea of the American Dream. Rocky Balboa was a classic underdog, a humble, uneducated goon who rose to fame and power the old-fashioned way: HARD WORK. No handouts in this life, son. You want to make it to the top? You gotta put in the time, punch that beef, chase those chickens. When Rocky (spoiler alert) loses the championship bout at the end, it reminds us that winning isn’t as important as doing your best — an ennobling principle that we could all stand to remember, especially on game days.

3) The Sandlot (1993)

Director: David Mickey Evans

Stars: A bunch of kids (and James Earl Jones again)

Most famous line: “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”

This is the one that surprised us. I mean … it’s fine, as far as movies aimed at preteen boys go. But more beloved than Hoosiers? Rudy? The Natural? Caddyshack? Major League? Come on! Nostalgia probably plays a part. The film itself is nostalgic, set in 1962, and in the summer, the most nostalgic time of year. Viewers who weren’t even alive in 1962 feel like they can relate to the simple, timeless story and the familiar characters. And so now, 23 years after the film, it’s nostalgia on top of nostalgia. (I was almost 19 when the movie came out–too old for it to appeal to me–so I never saw it until a few years ago. My reaction was quite different, I’m sure, from what it would have been if I’d seen it as a kid.) Anyway, we don’t agree, but it’s what our listeners voted for, so there you go.

4) The Karate Kid (1984)

Director: John G. Avildsen

Stars: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue

Most famous line: a tie between “Wax on, wax off”; “Sweep the leg!”; and “Get him a body bag!”

OK, now we’re talkin’. Eight years after Rocky, John G. Avildsen directed another underdog sports drama, this time about a new kid in a California town who’s taught to defend himself against bullies by a kindly Japanese mentor. At the time, it was the highest-grossing martial-arts movie in history; in terms of tickets sold, only The Karate Kid II and the first two Rush Hour movies have beaten it. It spawned three sequels and a remake (which wasn’t bad!), got a lot of kids interested in karate, and managed to stand out as a winner in a summer that also included Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Like Rocky, it has a theme that runs contrary to what you might expect for a sports movie: the most important thing is not to win but to conduct yourself with honor. The fact that Daniel wins is just icing on the cake.

(The next four top voter-getters were: Remember the Titans, Bull Durham, A League of Their Own, and Moneyball.)

***

Eric D. Snider is a film critic based in Portland, OR. You should follow him on Twitter.