Everyone has a soft spot for a great sports movie. We all love seeing the story of a rise and fall, or a triumphant comeback. It seems like every year there is at least one sports movie hovering around Oscar considerations, whether it’s based on a true story like last year’s King Richard (about the Williams family), or something entirely fictional like Rocky. Many of the most famous and most acclaimed sports movies have been focused on boxing, like Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby, The Fighter, and the aforementioned Rocky franchise. It can often seem like other sports movies get lost in the shuffle.
But even though the sport seems to have fallen out of favour with Hollywood in recent years, baseball has a long history of classic movies. Indeed, the earliest one on record was a documentary short about a game that was made all the way back in 1898 (that’s The Ball Game for anyone who is interested, and it is free to watch online!). So, let’s acknowledge some of the best movies about baseball that the silver screen has given us.
The Natural (1994)
Based on the novel by Bernard Malamud, The Natural is a heart-warming underdog tale starring the legendary Robert Redford. It’s the story of a middle-aged man who seems to come from nowhere to help a struggling team to victory, all with the help of a bat he made from a tree that had been hit by lightning (memorably spoofed in The Simpsons). What the team doesn’t know is that Roy could have had a very different career trajectory if it weren’t for a strange and violent incident in his past. Now, it is worth noting that this is a very sentimental movie, but it is carried by the wonderful performances from the cast (including Glenn Close, Robert Duvall and Wilford Brimley) and Barry Levinson’s smart direction. It’s heart-warming, if not exactly a nuts and bolts look at the game.
If you are looking for something a little more grounded and truer to life, then Bennett Miller’s Moneyball may be more your speed. It’s based on the true story of the Oakland Athletics and how they used sabermetrics and advanced data to build a successful team instead of going for flashy, high-profile players. Written by heavyweights Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), the film finds a way to make a story about numbers gripping and emotional. It helps that the cast is so good (Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman…), of course, and fans of the sport will also enjoy the way it shows the tougher side of the game. A scene in which the management needs to let a player know he is being traded is particularly good.
Eight Men Out (1988)
John Sayles’ film about one of the most ignominious events in baseball history is a must watch for anyone interested in the sport. It’s the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, eight of whom became known as the Black Sox after they were caught fixing games for money. Again, the ensemble cast is wonderful as we see the tough spot each of the players is put in as the financial temptation and peer pressure becomes too great to resist. The moment when a child fan cries “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” to the tragic Shoeless Joe Jackson is absolutely heart-breaking. Of course, these days gambling is an even bigger part of the sport, and you are not going to be short on options if you want to place a bet on a game of any sort after watching this. While you probably won’t get anyone asking you to throw a baseball game, secure internet betting is very important to protect you from cybercrime. It’s always better to be careful and risk as little as possible.
Bull Durham (1989)
Every sports fan knows that luck and superstition is a massive part of any player’s preparation, and the hilarious Bull Durham has a fantastic spin on the way that both players and fans can turn their love of the game into a religion. Set in the minor leagues, it’s the story of a team that’s blessed with a groupie (Susan Sarandon) who picks a new player to inspire in her own particular way to help them understand the religion of baseball. This year, she’s going with rookie Nuke Laloosh, but are she and veteran Crash Davis denying how they feel about each other? It won’t teach you anything new about baseball history, but it is a warm and affectionate look at how baseball comes as a way of life for people.
A League Of Their Own (1992)
This classic has recently been retold in an Amazon Prime series, but there is something very special about this 90s original. It’s inspired by the true story of how the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was founded in 1943, when most of the men who would have been playing had been enlisted. The all-star cast includes Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Lori Petty, and Tom Hanks as the coach who utters the immortal line “There’s no crying in baseball!” The series goes deeper into the history and what life was really like for these ground-breaking women, but the movie is a feel-good staple expertly directed by Penny Marshall.
Before he was Black Panther, the late, great Chadwick Boseman starred as baseball icon and trailblazer Jackie Robinson in this biopic. Long-time baseball fans will know that Jackie Robinson was the first African American player to break the baseball colour line and play in Major League Baseball. The film tells the story of how he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and their owner Branch Rickey (played by a growling but supportive Harrison Ford), and how his actions and his incredible talent changed the league forever. There are several different TV movies about Robinson’s life, and there are a lot of documentaries which go into the story in greater depth, but this is well worth watching for Boseman’s superb performance as he finds the man beneath the icon.