Ranking the 10 Best Sports Movies of the Summer

Chelena GoldmanContributor IMay 16, 2012

Ranking the 10 Best Sports Movies of the Summer

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    There are those movies where you can be standing around the corner, not even watching the TV screen, and you can identify that film the second you hear the opening music.

    In the house I grew up in, that movie was The Sandlot.

    Today it doesn’t matter if it’s the start of the spring or the dead of winter: I hear the opening piano score as a grown-up Scott Smalls walks down the hallway towards his announcer booth, and I’m jettisoned to any given day in mid-August when it was 100-degrees in the shade and my brothers and I was settling down for a movie after a long day in the backyard pool.

    And it didn’t matter how many times my family watched that film, The Sandlot never got old. It never lost its charm.

    Because, hey, summer sports movies just don’t lose their je ne sais quoi.

    Now it’s always hard to rank sports movies, because there’s always at least one reader out there who thinks you’re crazy for ranking such-and-such a movie higher than another, or not including another movie at all, and so on and so on.

    Here’s a look at ranking 10 of the best summer sports movies.


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10. Major League

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    Underdog stories are a bit of a staple in sports cinema. And no summer sports movie brings together a more eclectic group of misfits than Major League.

    The movie in a nutshell: New Cleveland Indians owner Rachel Phelps tries her hardest to assemble the worst franchise possible in order to move the team to Miami for her own personal benefit. The hodge-podge team starts winning games, and Phelps, in the end, doesn’t gain from her evil ways.

    It’s fun to see Charlie Sheen play a blind-as-a-bat, busted out jail bird years prior to his highly-publicized issues with the law. And to watch Dennis Haysbert’s character take ballplayer superstition to a whole new level with lighting incense and praying to voodoo dolls in his locker.

    And while we’re on the subject of underdog stories...


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9. Bad News Bears

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    We aren’t talking about the remake with Billy Bob Thornton that came out a couple years back.

    We’re talking about the original Bad News Bears from 1976 with Walter Matthau, who was a grumpy old man before there was Grumpy Old Men.

    Matthau plays ex-pro Morris Buttermaker, who finds himself coaching a team of ragamuffin kids who can’t even field a ball and, of course, have to play against a bunch of well put-together little league competitors.

    So the crude-talking Matthau brings in an equally-mouthy Tatum O’Neil to help the team pull itself together enough to compete against their clean cut arch rival—aptly dubbed the Yankees—in the final game of the movie.


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8. Caddyshack

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    Movie-watchers either love this movie or can’t stand the thought of it.

    But a film where the plot—kids working as caddies as their summer job—is completely over-shadowed by the key players—Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield—makes for the ultimate mindless summer movie.

    You might not learn much about golf from this movie, but that’s okay.

    This movie is less about golf mechanics and more about Murray shooting guns down gophers holes and Dangerfield blaring Journey tunes out on the fairway.


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7. Tin Cup

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    We have the first Kevin Costner sports movie on the list!

    Costner plays a has-been gold pro who decides to try his chops at the US Open to defeat his nemesis—played by Don Johnson, sans his white Miami-Vice-era blazer—and win over his lady love, pretty Rene Russo.

    Again, you won’t learn anything new or significant about golf from this film. But it will certainly make you want to hit the driving range.


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6. Dogtown and Z-Boys

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    What is probably the most underrated and niche film on the list, sports doc Dogtown and Z-Boys gives a Behind-The-Music-esque treatment to the true story of three skateboards phenoms who rose to fame and fell prey to the spoils of success.

    Directed by former Z-Boy Stacy Peralta, the film gives a first-hand view with footage of the 1970s Zephyr Skate Team, including Tony Alva, Jim Muir and Peralta himself. The immersion into the Southern California subculture and its pretty weather make for an ideal summer sports film.

    Plus, you can’t go wrong with a documentary narrated by Sean Penn, with commentary from Henry Rollins.


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5. The Sandlot

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    As previously mentioned, it’s difficult to put a top-ranked movie list together, because there’s always at least one reader out there who doesn’t agree with how said list pans out.

    Case in point: I’m always the reader in disbelief when a list of top sports movies excludes The Sandlot.

    The story about a ragtag group of baseball-obsessed middle school boys and the shenanigans they get into in the summer of 1962 never loses its appeal.

    And that soundtrack...

    There isn’t an instance that I hear Ray Charles’s rendition of “America the Beautiful” and  don’t think of the Fourth of July scene with every kid playing under the fireworks.

    There isn’t an instance that I hear The Champs' “Tequila” and don’t remember the whole team getting sick on the roller-coaster.

    And there certainly isn’t an instance when I hear Booker T. and the MG’s “Green Onions” and don’t instantly imagine the line: “You play ball like a GIRL!!!”


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4. A League of Their Own

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    Maybe it’s because I’m a sports nut, but this is quite possibly my favorite sporty “chic flick.” And as far as summer movies go, this movie is the best bet.

    Against a World War II backdrop, A League Of Their Own features a bushel of ladies on the home front take on the country’s favorite pastime and play for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

    Geena Davis plays the reluctant heroine and best player on the team. Lori Petty plays the feisty pitcher who wants out of her big sister’s shadow. Rosie O’Donnell plays the muscle, and Madonna plays the man-eater.

    And Tom Hanks plays their baseball-god-turned-alcoholic coach who notoriously proclaims: “There’s no crying in baseball!!”



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3. The Natural

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    While it’s probably the heaviest of the movies on this list, The Natural still leaves you with warmth in your heart and a happy ending.

    Robert Redford is an absolute heartbreaker as Roy Hobbs, a starry-eyed farm boy who has to overcome distractions from crazy women and become a 35-year-old rookie on the New York Knights' 1939 roster and live his dream as a professional baseball player.

    Look for the symbolism in the wardrobes of the women that Hobbs encounters throughout the movie. His childhood sweetheart—played by Glenn Close—is always dressed in white, while psychopaths played by Barbara Hershey and Kim Basinger are always clad in black.


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2. Bull Durham

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    This isn’t just one of the best summer sports movies—Bull Durham is one of the best sports movies, period.

    All the raunchy humor and locker room clichés set around one minor league baseball field.

    The characters are perfect: The cocky major-league prospect; the smart, disgruntled veteran; and the smokin’ team groupie who gets caught between the two of them.

    Half of Kevin Costner’s lines in the movie are beyond quotable, and his character’s “I believe in...” speech has to have female movie-watchers'—not just Susan Sarandon’s—knees buckling.

    To top it off, Costner and Tim Robbins have great on-screen chemistry, right down to when they fight on the team bus.


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1. Field of Dreams

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    No sports film has inspired more parodies or made grown men cry more than Field of Dreams.

    Based on W.P. Kinsella’s book “Shoeless Joe,” Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella talks to the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, risks losing his land to build a baseball diamond in the middle of nowhere, and gives a reclusive old J.D. Salinger-like writer the chance to go to baseball heaven.

    But what makes this film the best summer sports movie is its mix of baseball, fantasy, good acting, and the underlying theme of the father-son bond over America’s favorite pastime.

    Costner’s Kinsella is likeable, James Earl Jones’ writer character is loveable, and Ray Liotta—playing Shoeless Joe—is in a character as far removed from Henry Hill in “Goodfellas” as they come.

    No summer movie collection is complete without Field of Dreams.

    Or at least three or four parodies of: “If you build it, he will come.”


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