At a time when many people are sequestered at home and running out of Netflix options and at a time when sports reporters are trying to find stories to write about, here’s a top-ten list of my favorite sports-related movies that might help resolve both issues.
This is not an attempt to label these as the best sports movies of all time (I haven’t seen anywhere close to enough movies in this genre to make that comparison), but rather ones that made me laugh, cry or think the most or made me tune in time after time to the point where I could recite all the dialogue before it happened.
You may agree with some and disagree with others, but that’s the point of a list.
This is a documentary and not a movie, but Muhammad Ali and Don King are every bit as theatrical as any Hollywood actor. The 84-minute film revolves around the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between Ali and George Foreman, in which challenger Ali dethrones champion Foreman with his rope-a-dope strategy and earns the eternal love of the Zaire crowd chanting “Ali boma ye.”
This refers to the 1974 version with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert and not the Adam Sandler remake. Sure, the plot is formulaic, with Reynolds’ character earning redemption by quarterbacking the prisoners past the guards, but the laughs are nonstop in scenes with prisoner Richard “I think I broke his freakin’ neck” Kiel and when former Green Bay Packers star Ray Nitschke takes the brunt of the prisoners’ punishment.
What isn’t funny about an alcoholic bowler with a prosthetic hand (Woody Harrelson) teaming up with an Amish prodigy (Randy Quaid) to try and defeat professional bowling’s most eccentric personality with the worst combover in history (Bill Murray)? It may not convince anyone to watch real bowling on TV, but the Farrelly brothers’ 1996 farce provides several gut-busting laughs.
Another documentary, filmmakers follow inner-city Chicago high school basketball players Arthur Agee and William Gates as they attend a predominantly white high school and get recruited by colleges. It offers a raw look at not only the competitive world of prep basketball but also delves into the world of poverty and race that takes on more significance than a fictional Hollywood version could deliver.
Based on the greatest single sporting moment in U.S. history, there is little suspense in how the movie turns out. But since several of the characters are Minnesotans and it served as inspiration during a certain teenager’s life, this film makes the list. Though Kurt Russell comes off a little too Fargoesque as Herb Brooks, he’s a big upgrade over Karl Malden in the original 1981 version, and hey, the U.S. beats the Soviets so all is good.
Though not even the best of the “Rocky” series — the original tops that list — the addition of new characters Clubber Lang (Mr. T) and Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan), plus far better boxing scenes than the unreal bouts in “Rocky II” and “Rocky IV,” help make this 1982 movie the most entertaining episode of the series.
I challenge anyone who has seen this 1971 tale of the friendship between Chicago Bears teammates Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan) to not tear up when Piccolo finds out he has cancer and Sayers’ subsequent response. While set in the backdrop of the civil rights era, the black-and-white aspect becomes moot due to the power of teammates’ bonds.
If a movie on the 20th viewing can still bring about a chuckle, it’s going to make the list. Director and comedian Harold Ramis adapts characters tailor-made for Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase in this farcical 1980 comedy. Forget the plotline, from a hilarity standpoint, this Cinderella story “is in da hole.”
Released during my own Little League days in 1976, the Bears team was the ultimate motley crew with an alcoholic manager (Walter Matthau), a girl pitcher (Tatum O’Neal), a cigarette-smoking rebel, a cursing shortstop and the kid who never plays (could have been but was not based upon my own playing days). If you were a pre-teen, this movie stuck with you the rest of your life.
The ultimate 1970s cult classic, the story of the Charlestown Chiefs minor-league hockey team is pure fiction but its use of vulgarity and violence is wholeheartedly believable. Paul Newman’s aging, foul-mouthed character is a break from his normal roles and other characters from the Hanson brothers (two of whom are from Virginia) to “Killer” Carlson and Ogie Ogilthorpe are unforgettable.
Rick Weegman is a sports reporter for the News Tribune. Write to him at email@example.com.