The best sports movies ... ever

point counterpoint

point

There is only one place to start with this topic: Slapshot. This 1970s cult favourite has one of the most memorable casts of characters in all of film, and it goes well beyond the famous Hanson brothers.

This film takes the most bush-league professional hockey that the U.S—note, not Canada—has to offer and turns it into an almost surreal portrayal of the seedier side of hockey. It is, quite simply, one of the funniest things ever filmed. I’d love to add some quotations here to illustrate why, but there’s simply nothing worth noting that’s decent enough to print.

So you’re not going to watch Slapshot with your kids, or even with your little brother. The answer to this problem? D2: Mighty Ducks. The second installment of the notorious Disney trilogy falls into the “so bad it’s a classic” category.

I stopped to ask myself a few minutes ago whether this is actually a good movie, but when I thought of how many times I have happily interrupted my day to watch it on some obscure channel I didn’t know I had, I realized it must be. Matchups against Team Iceland, who illustrate a whole host of Russian hockey stereotypes, are magnificent. Also worth watching is the ridiculous contest against Trinidad and Tobago.

Bottom line: plenty of Emilio Estevez—a player who stops and takes a slapshot on the last attempt in a shootout—and the only hockey movie where a player is lassoed on the ice. Pure gold.

If you’re looking for something more serious, turn to football. Take Any Given Sunday for instance. This film has some fantastic in-game footage, shows nicely that pro sports are played as much off the field as they are on it, and even has some Oliver Stone sensationalism for good measure.

If nothing else, though, this movie is worth watching for Al Pacino’s playoff pre-game speech. I’ve seen it dozens of times, and I still get the shivers: “You find out life’s this game of inches ... so is football.”

Also great is The Program. This 1993 college football story is, again, more about what happens behind the scenes. There’s a talented quarterback struggling to deal with the enormous pressures he faces, a player who battles a problem with steroid use, and a whole lot of early-’90s-belly-exposing-jersey football goodness. What it lacks in realism, it more than makes up for in entertainment.

Good sports movies are hard to come by, but at least I can watch gems like these over and over until the next one comes along. I’d also like to give honourable mention to Cool Runnings, Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own, and Basketball.

--James Bradshaw

counterpoint

My list begins with the obscure 1986 hockey flick Youngblood. This is the type of movie that is sold for $3.99 at Jim’s Gas Stop. It is a film that can only be found playing on the 13-inch TV screens of Greyhound buses traveling to arenas across our hockey nation. Youngblood is a great movie not because of its storyline or cinematography—it’s great because it spits on their irrelevance to the gritty reality of hockey.

The central character, Rob Lowe, straps on his skates and bravely journeys from the U.S. to the city of Hamilton to pursue his dream of making it to the NHL. There he encounters the ugly, politically incorrect and violent world of Canadian hockey.

Lowe’s character is a slick-skating goal scorer, but he soon realizes that in order to succeed outside of his fairy-tale world of finesse-first American hockey, he will have to learn how to play physical—and even fight.

The plot is, of course, ridiculously predictable. Newcomer Lowe is first at odds with the established team star, played by Patrick Swayze, but after much male-bonding and post-practice showers, they become incredibly close. You’d be surprised, though, how true to life this formula is, and that’s precisely why Youngblood—the only movie about hockey that is actually set in Canada—has been elevated to cult-like status by puck-loving males everywhere. That, and Keanu Reeves’ ridiculous portrayal of a French-Canadian goalie.

Second on my list is the basketball classic Hoosiers. The movie is set in an Indiana town and employs every cliché, from the unskilled-but-tenacious misfit to the mysterious-but-unbelievably talented hometown hero. Gene Hackman plays that coach with a jaded past, looking to start again.

After all, they were just a small-town team with big-time dreams. It was a flawless formula that spelled instant classic.

In my indisputable opinion, however, the greatest sports movie ever made is Rudy. Many will roll their eyes and claim that they despise the little-engine-that-could feel-good flick. But they’re lying—everyone loves Rudy.

All Rudy ever wanted to do was play for Notre Dame. Despite the odds against him, Rudy bleeds blue and gold, defying the doubts of his family. He loses everything, but he never gives up. You’re just jealous because you probably did.

There is no greater moment in the history of film than when Rudy flies out onto the field of an erupting Notre Dame Stadium to live his dream for one fleeting moment. Need I remind you just how short he was?

Admit it. You slow-clapped too.

--Dan Robson

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.