Sports Movie or Nah?
In most cases there is a pretty clear distinction between a sports movie and a movie that has sports in it. Friday Night Lights is a sports movie about a football team, whereas A River Runs Through It is a melodrama about a family that has some fly fishing in it.
That being said, it’s not always that clear cut. There are a number of cross-genre films that straddle the line between sports movie and romantic comedy. Or sports movie and thriller. Or sports movie and a very misguided attempt at comedy.
They're the films that make us ask ourselves: Sports movie or Nah?
Well, take this journey with me and wonder no more.
Movie, Year Released: Point Break, 1991
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, Lori Petty
Synopsis: “An FBI agent goes undercover to catch a gang of bank robbers who may be surfers.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Sports movie. This one rarely makes lists of sports movies, but surfing is as essential to Point Break as boxing is to the Rocky films. People seem to think it’s a standard cops-and-robbers film, but Bodhi and Johnny Utah would say otherwise.
Movie, Year Released: Gladiator, 2000
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
Synopsis: “When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an emperor’s corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! Obviously the gladiator stuff was pretty integral, but this movie is all about political intrigue and revenge.
All the Right Moves
Movie, Year Released: All the Right Moves, 1983
Starring: Tom Cruise, Lea Thompson, Craig T. Nelson
Synopsis: “A high school footballer desperate for a scholarship and his headstrong coach clash in a dying Pennsylvania steel town.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Sports movie. This is a pretty standard coming-of-age teen drama, with a dash of romance and a healthy heaping of football.
Sugar & Spice
Movie, Year Released: Sugar & Spice
Starring: Marley Shelton, Mena Suvari, James Marsden
Synopsis: "A popular high school cheerleader becomes pregnant with the star quarterback’s child, only to find herself turning to crime to support the lifestyle she wants to live."
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! Cheerleading is a major part of the movie, but ultimately this is a story about teenage pregnancy and lots of other terrible decisions (like bank robbery) with a ridiculously happy ending. Rush Limbaugh would disapprove.
Movie, Year Released: The Fan, 1996
Starring: Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin
Synopsis: “An all-star baseball player becomes the unhealthy focus of a down-on-his-luck salesman.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Sports movie. This is just barely a sports movie. Obviously the whole thing revolves around the sport of baseball, a player and an obsessed fan, but this type of movie has been done countless times and it’s been more successful without the sports focus. (See: Fatal Attraction, The Bodyguard, Single White Female)
Movie, Year Released: Swimfan, 2002
Starring: Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen
Synopsis: “A high school senior with a promising swimming career has a one-night stand with consequences.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! In same same vein as The Fan, except the “sport” featured is high school swimming. This is just a throwaway teen thriller.
Movie, Year Released: Mortal Kombat, 1995
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, Linden Ashby
Synopsis: “Three unknowing martial artists are summoned to a mysterious island to compete in a tournament whose outcome will decide the fate of the world.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Could go either way. There’s plenty of martial arts on display because it’s based on a video game about martial arts, but it’s also one of the most stupidly ridiculous movies ever. I lean sports movie though, just because what the heck else would it be?
Movie, Year Released: The Ringer, 2005
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Katherine Heigl
Synopsis: “A young guy's only option to erase a really bad debt is to rig the Special Olympics by posing as a contestant.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! Although this ill-conceived Johnny Knoxville vehicle is more of a sports movie than a comedy (mostly because it’s not funny), it just not fair to sports to classify it as such.
Movie, Year Released: Summer Catch, 2001
Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Jessica Biel
Synopsis: “A rich girl whose family summers on Cape Cod has a romance with a local poor boy who hopes to become a major league baseball player.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! Not a sports movie and not a particularly compelling romance or comedy, Summer Catch is basically 108 minutes for people to shake their heads about in disbelief that Jessica Biel’s character is actually interested in Freddie Prince Jr.’s character.
Movie, Year Released: The Hunger Games, 2012
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Synopsis: “Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister's place in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death in which two teenagers from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to compete.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! Humans may be the most dangerous game, but we’ve gone to a very bad place (societally speaking) if we ever classify that as a sport. For the time being, it's still just called murder.
Movie, Year Released: Fever Pitch, 2005
Starring: Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore
Synopsis: “Lindsay is stuck in the middle of her relationship with Ben and his passion for the Boston Red Sox.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Sports movie. Considering the movie takes place during the Red Sox historic World Series run in 2004, the team is as much the star of this film than either of its leads.
Movie, Year Released: Gone Fishin’, 1997
Starring: Joe Pesci, Danny Glover, Rosanna Arquette
Synopsis: “Two fishing fanatics get in trouble when their fishing boat gets stolen while on a trip.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! Considering this is a movie about “two fishing fanatics,” there isn’t much actual fishing. It’s basically 97 minutes of wacky Joe Pesci and Danny Glover chase scenes.
Love & Basketball
Movie, Year Released: Love & Basketball, 2000
Starring: Omar Epps, Sanaa Lathan
Synopsis: “In 1981 in L.A., Monica moves in next door to Quincy. They're 11, and both want to play in the NBA, just like Quincy's dad. Their love-hate relationship lasts into high school,” but eventually they lose the hate.
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Sports movie. This one is definitely a romance, but basketball is just as vital to the story as the relationship between Monica and Quincy—the movie wouldn’t exist without either.
Movie, Year Released: School Ties, 1992
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon, Chris O’Donnell, Ben Affleck, Amy Locane
Synopsis: “A Jewish boy goes to an elite prep school in the 1950s and hides his religion until a jealous bigot forces it out in the open.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! Although much of the movie is very football focused, the underlying anti-Semitic threat is ultimately what defines the film. Calling it a sports movie would trivialize the film.
Movie, Year Released: Teen Wolf, 1985
Starring: Michael J. Fox
Synopsis: “A struggling high school student with problems discovers that his family has an unusual pedigree when he finds himself turning into a werewolf.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Sports movie. Although it’s an “ugly duckling” teen coming-of-age story at its core, so many of Teen Wolf’s vital plot points are basketball focused that it definitely qualifies as a sports movie.
Movie, Year Released: Snake Eyes, 1998
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, Carla Gugino
Synopsis: “A shady police detective finds himself in the middle of a murder conspiracy at an important boxing match in an Atlantic City casino.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! Boxing is just the backdrop for a classically overwrought conspiracy “thriller.”
Movie, Year Released: Jackass: The Movie (2002), Jackass Number Two (2006), Jackass 3D (2010)
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Ryan Dunn
Synopsis: “Johnny Knoxville and his band of maniacs perform a variety of stunts and gross-out gags on the big screen for the first time.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Sports movie. Without a traditional plot, the Jackass movies are basically just an extension of the MTV show that popularized Knoxville and Co. The stunts showcased may not be traditional “sports,” but the vast majority of them have a sporting element to them—endurance (usually of pain) being the key.
Movie, Year Released: The Big Lebowski, 1998
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore
Synopsis: “The ‘Dude’ Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! Bowling may be the thread that connects the protagonists in the movie, but the bowling alley acts as more of a home base for the characters, rather than an absolutely integral plot point within the film.
Movie, Year Released: Kingpin, 1996
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Bill Murray
Synopsis: “A star bowler whose career was prematurely ‘cut off’ hopes to ride a new prodigy to success and riches.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Sports movie. In Kingpin bowling isn’t simply a backdrop to a budding relationship between a washed-up former bowler and a guileless Amish lug—the whole movie is actually about bowling. Now whether or not bowling is actually a sport is debatable, but it’s on ESPN sometimes…so whatever.
The Cowboy Way
Movie, Year Released: The Cowboy Way, 1994
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kiefer Sutherland, Dylan McDermott
Synopsis: “Two buddies and championship rodeo partners travel to New York to find their missing friend, Nacho Salazar, after he disappears after traveling to New York City.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: NAH! There’s a healthy bit of rodeo shenanigans in The Cowboy Way, but not nearly enough to qualify as a sports movie. It’s your classic fish(ies) out of water tale that's heavy on the horses.
Movie, Year Released: Caddyshack, 1980
Starring: Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield,
Synopsis: “An exclusive golf course has to deal with a brash new member and a destructive dancing gopher.”
Sports Movie or Nah? The Verdict: Sports movie. The whole movie takes place at, on, or in the general vicinity of a golf course. It’s among Slap Shot and Talladega Nights as one of the funniest sports movies ever.