Best Sports Movie Secret Weapons
How many of the greatest, most memorable moments in sports involved a last second, miraculous comeback? The answer is most.
And, if it wasn't a comeback, then history was made on a play—on a few seconds of improbable action.
A Hail Mary somehow finding itself in the hands of a wideout collapsing in the end zone; sinking a half-court shot at the buzzer; penalty shots to decide a soccer game; and the vaunted run-off. I'm talking about Jeff Hostetler leading the Giants to a shocking one-point win over the Bills in XXV.
For the best movies of the sports cinema canon, the magic happens when a film emulates life's penchant for being stranger than fiction. Who wants to watch the undermanned, strife-ridden prep football team get waxed by the regional powerhouse?
And when reality needs to take a walk, what better movie convention is there than the secret weapon? It's what the audience wants...and what it needs.
These are the best sports movies secret weapons.
In The Waterboy mild mannered weirdo Bobby Boucher, who serves as the water boy for his university's football team, is transformed into one of the most feared linebackers in college ball. Because that's totally reasonable.
The South Central Louisiana State Mud Dogs had good old fashion mommy issues to thank for their secret weapon.
Coach Klein encourages the impressionable Boucher to fight back against those who have pushed him down in his life, chief among them being his Mama. It's a good thing he worked through his pain via football, rather than homicidal rage.
A Teenage Wolf
In Teen Wolf average high school student Scott Howard is sick of being average. He's no good at sports and his girl is dating a complete jagweed from a rival high school.
Then, as if God himself had been following his plight, Howard finds out that the werewolf gene—which often skips a generation—runs in his family.
He finds out after he turns into a werewolf. Nice parenting.
Initially Howard thinks it's a nightmare, but soon realizes that werewolves are actually really great at high school basketball. Bing bang boom, he's a superstar jock and the most popular kid ever.
A Tall African
If only winning at college basketball was as easy in real life as it was for Kevin Bacon in The Air Up There. Bacon plays an assistant coach named Jimmy Dolan who is desperate for a game changing recruit for his school.
He stumbles across a home video of a potential prospect from Africa, because apparently colleges recruit in much the same way as The Amazing Race. Dolan decides to hop a plane to Africa in hopes of convincing Saleh to abandon his village and playing basketball in the U.S.
The movie is more a fish out of water story about coach Dolan in Africa, but eventually he is able to recruit Saleh. Certainly giving the viewer the impression that he goes on to be an effective secret weapon for the school.
The Knuckle Puck
In D2: The Mighty Ducks they bring in a number of ringers to supplement a relatively lacking Ducks team chosen to represent the U.S. at the Junior Goodwill Games. Most of them are brought in through traditional means, scouted by someone and introduced by an awkward man in a suit.
The team only met Russ Tyler because he went out of his way to come to the games and mock them. Eventually he invites them down to his 'hood to play some real puck, which is when they're introduced to his famous knuckle puck.
Naturally Tyler is added to the roster and helps lift the team over Russia, clearing the way for a rematch with evil Iceland. It's less effective against Iceland, but they never would've made it to the championship game without the knuckle puck.
In Like Mike Lil' Bow Wow plays Calvin Cambridge, a kid in an orphanage who loves basketball and finds a pair of old sneakers at the Salvation Army that supposedly once belonged to Michael Jordan.
Some a-hole bully steals Calvin's shoes and throws them over a power line and when he goes to retrieve them, he's shocked by lightning. That, combined with the magic shoes, gives him superstar basketball abilities.
The kids at he orphanage are gifted a few tickets to an NBA game and Calvin is chosen to participate in a half-time contest. He totally shows up their star player and ultimately ends up finding a place on the roster. Maybe the Bobcats should call him?
Ultimately it turns out the shoes weren't magic, because Calvin could still perform even once they were ruined. But they had magical qualities to him, which is all that mattered!
A Kid in Drag
In Ladybugs Rodney Dangerfield gets no respect as Chester Lee, an aging schlub so desperate for a promotion that he agrees to coach his boss' daughter's pathetic soccer team.
Because losing wouldn't really bolster his chances for a promotion, Chester decides to recruit his girlfriend's son Matthew to play for the team. In drag.
And somehow nobody seems to notice the teenage boy in a wig who transforms the the loser Ladybugs into a juggernaut. Matthew also manages to pick up Kimberly, the boss' daughter in the process.
In Major League pitching ace Ricky Vaughn is one of the misfits signed by the Indians, in hopes the team will be bad enough to allow the owner to squirm out of her lease in Cleveland and move the Indians to Miami.
Wild Thing had the special sauce that only he can bring to a fastball, something that he picked up at the California Penal League, no doubt.
Mysteriously Tightened Tendons
In Rookie of the Year young Henry Rowengartner breaks his arm clumsily trying to catch a fly ball for his little league baseball team—it's no big loss for them, as he's not exactly a standout star.
Eventually Henry gets his cast off and the doctor realizes there may have been a bit of a glitch in his recovery. Particularly after his nose is potentially broken by his patient's newfound arm velocity.
Whatever though, medicine's failure is the Cubs gain. Henry is signed by the hapless Chicago Cubs to be one of (what seems to be) just two pitchers on their roster. Who else, right?
In the end it all works out for everyone. The Cubs get a much needed boost until Henry's superpowers are lost as a most inopportune time and Henry is able to function in a normal human environment when he goes back to school.
In The Replacements the NFL is forced to bring in…replacements…for striking players. The whole movie is basically anti-union propaganda.
Former Ohio State star quarterback Shane Falco is brought in from his job as a housekeeper (but on boats) to play for the Sentinels, giving him the opportunity to right the wrongs of his choke-filled past.
The scabs got a second chance at glory and the NFL season was saved, lining the pockets of their billionaire owners once again. Everyone wins!
Except the scabs, who were immediately kicked to the curb.
The Karate Kid was both a quintessentially 80's movie—with it's high drama pop and over-the-top martial arts antagonists—as well as a classic fish-out-of-water coming of age teenage drama. The formula made it a hit and instant classic from the era.
Daniel LaRusso is a high school senior who's life is turned upside down when he moves from New Jersey to a neighborhood outside of Los Angeles with his mother. Like all of us, Daniel finds himself targeted by a tall, blond and preppy black belt and his thug bros from the Cobra Kai Dojo.
Daniel takes on a martial arts mentor in his apartment handyman, Mr. Myagi, who emigrated to the United States from China. Daniel gets sucked in to a promise to compete in the regional karate tournament and has to overcome the superior strength and skills of his opponents with gumption and moxy.
In the end—staggered by a blow to knee—LaRusso fells his tormentor Johnny Lawrence in the most improbable fashion. He kicks him in the face via 'The Crane'; a move that symbolized the effort and pain Daniel invested in his transformation.
In Field of Dreams crazy person Ray Kinsella mortgages his family's farm, not to mention their entire future, to build a baseball field in place of the money-making crops that usually grew on the farm.
Kinsella builds the field on the advice of the disembodied voice of Shoeless Joe Jackson, a dead baseball player who was beloved by his father.
Everything falls apart for Kinsella throughout the movie, with his family being understandably enraged by his extremely irresponsible decisions. Of course it all works out in the end.
A whole team of dead baseball players shows up to play ball and then people from all over the country travel to to watch them play ball. How that's a longterm moneymaker for the Kinsella family is anybody's guess.
In Slap Shot the Chiefs are a hockey team dramatically declining in popularity in a tragically declining factory town. An announcement that spells doom for 10,000 local workers is made and Reggie Dunlop, the Chiefs' old man player/coach, becomes quite concerned about the team's future.
And understandably so. Who wants to spend his or her unemployment check on tickets to see a perennial loser of a hockey team? Nobody, that's who.
That's exactly why Dunlop decides to sign the notorious Hanson Brothers. The troglodytic trio is brought in to help combat sagging attendance with their violent antics, which are not only entertaining, but actually help the Chiefs win too.
Naturally the Chiefs win the championship and they all lived happily ever after.
The Flying V
In The Mighty Ducks the upstart ducks have a secret weapon that is damn near guaranteed to level their opponents.
The Flying V: 60 percent of the time, it works every time.
The Flying V is the teamwork formation thought up by coach Gordon Bombay, which utilizes every player on the ice.
And stuns the opposition isn't submission. Blizow.
In Happy Gilmore it becomes very apparent to comically villainous nemesis Shooter McGavin that Happy Gilmore is an obvious threat to everything he holds dear. As a wannabe hockey player who is most famous for taking of his skate and trying to stab someone.
Happy isn't exactly your typical PGA pro and Shooter is every terrible stereotype of people who can afford to play golf all wrapped into one.
Which is why he bribes desperate fanboy Donald with promise of a delicious Red Lobster dinner, in hopes that Happy will have a freakout epic enough to get him kicked off the tour. Happy does have a freakout, so it almost works. But ultimately it's Shooter who loses in the end.
A Good Psych-out
In BASEketball Joe Cooper and Doug Remer invent a combination of baseball and basketball, which allows them to as lazy as humanly possible while still competing athletically.
One of the advantages that their made-up game allows them is the ability to use psyche-outs to…well…psyche-out the competition. Well, that and not having to move outside of the rudimentary movements demanded by H.O.R.S.E.
The psyche-out allows BASEketball teams to throw off the opposition by saying (or doing) something surprisingly horrible—assuming they're doing it right. And Coop and Remer are almost always doing ti right.