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Criticism: Top 10 sports movies of all time

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Photo by Creative Commons

“Rocky IV” premiered Nov. 21 1985. 

Sports movies have always been very special to me, in large part because of my dad. I remember him constantly watching Rocky marathons on TV, and that was my entrance into the genre. Since then, I’ve watched a lot of them and thought I should list my favorites.
Here are my personal picks for the 10 best sports movies of all time and other honorable mentions. 
Honorable Mentions:
“The Way Back,” 2020

The first of three Gavin O’Connor-directed movies on this list, “The Way Back” follows Ben Affleck’s Jack Cunningham as he coaches a high school basketball team while dealing with alcoholism. This movie is pretty depressing, but features some great basketball and a great Affleck performance. The most interesting part of the movie is it doesn’t have the stereotypical sports movie ending. “The Way Back” is a good sports movie hurt by the fact it unfortunately came out in March 2020. 
“Rocky IV,” 1985

The only reason Rocky IV didn’t make the list is because it is one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen. 
Here’s some of the most egregious things that happen in this movie:

  1. Rocky ends the Cold War behind one of the worst speeches in human history.

  2. At the height of the Cold War, the Russian crowd started cheering for Rocky.

  3. Russian government officials also cheer for Rocky.

  4. Apollo does a musical number with James Brown before getting literally killed by Ivan Drago.

  5. The final fight does not follow the basic rules of boxing.

  6. The size difference between Drago and Rocky is absurd. Drago is 6-foot-5 and Rocky is 5-foot-10. I love Rocky, but there is no way he should have a shot at winning. 

  7. Rocky climbs a mountain at the height of Russian winter while wearing just a leather jacket. 

  8. There are two separate training montages in a 10-minute span sandwiched between a brief reconciliation conversation between Rocky and his wife, Adrian. I really enjoy a good montage, but Rocky IV overuses them.

In spite of all of the movie’s flaws, I still really enjoy it. The soundtrack is great, particularly “No Easy Way Out,” which is featured in a montage while Rocky is driving. Also, the recently released director’s cut by Slyvester Stallone adds more substance to the film. However, I’m still deciding whether that is actually a good thing.
“42,” 2013

On a more serious note, “42” tells the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. The late Chadwick Boseman is amazing as Robinson. While “42” is not the best movie on this list, it is undoubtedly the most important due to the subject matter. That alone makes it deserving of being an honorable mention. It’s just not a movie I find myself wanting to watch as much as some others on this list, but it is still a great movie. 
Top 10:
10. “Remember the Titans,” 2000

Even though I have some issues with the movie, I can’t deny “Remember the Titans” is deserving of having a spot on this list. Denzel Washington as the head coach is great. Washington’s performance has some great dramatic and comedic moments, and it really seems like he is a high school football coach. I just think the movie being made by Disney really holds the film back from what it could have been. The plot, the integration of a high school football team, is very important, but “Remember the Titans” takes far too many liberties for a film supposedly based on a true story. However, the movie does have some iconic sports movie moments and features good performances all around. 
9. “Raging Bull,” 1980

A sports movie that does not focus on the sport itself, but on the real demons of Robert De Niro’s Jake LaMotta, “Raging Bull” is a brutal and depressing movie. Director Martin Scorcese doesn’t glorify boxing at all and produces a movie opposite Rocky. Surprisingly, the most violent and scariest scenes in the film are the ones which take place outside of the boxing ring. De Niro is despicable to all of the people who love him and it is a testament to De Niro’s ability as an actor that I kind of start to feel sorry for him. De Niro’s performance in this film is the best performance I’ve seen in a sports movie. The physical transformation he undergoes for some parts of this movie is staggering. On a brighter note, it was the first collaboration between Scorcese, De Niro and Joe Pesci and led to classics such as Goodfellas, Casino and the Irishman.
8. “The Color of Money,” 1986

“The Color of Money” is just a great time. Scorcese returns again to make a sports movie, but this time it’s a lot more fun to watch. The movie is really just two hours of Paul Newman and Tom Cruise playing pool. Cruise is out of his mind in this movie. The “Werewolves of London” scene specifically has some of the craziest acting I may have ever seen. Newman’s performance is great and was deserving of finally winning his Academy Award for best actor. 
7. “Rocky,” 1976

This is the template for the modern sports movie. What holds “Rocky” back is the pacing. It really has two great scenes: the training montage and the final fight versus Apollo Creed. However, those two scenes are great alongside a truly iconic score from Bill Conti. I actually prefer the “Going the Distance” song during the fight as opposed to the classic “Gonna Fly Now.” While Rocky definitely shouldn’t have won the Best Picture Oscar over “Taxi Driver,” it truly is one of the best underdog stories ever made and a classic in the sports movie genre.
6. “Miracle,” 2004

“Miracle” puts to screen one of the greatest moments in American sports history. What’s so great about the movie is director Gavin O’Connor put an emphasis on making the hockey scenes as realistic as possible. He accomplished this by getting actual college hockey players to play as members of the 1980 U.S. Men’s National Team. The players also hold their own on the acting front. Kurt Russell as head coach Herb Brooks is the heart of the movie. He disappears into the role as Brooks and genuinely comes off as a hockey coach from Minnesota. The movie also does a great job highlighting how improbable it was for the Americans to defeat the Russians in 1980. Getting to see Al Michaels return to commentate the “miracle on ice” lends the pivotal scene an air of authenticity a movie about one of the greatest upsets in sports history deserves. 
5. “Hoosiers,” 1986

Jimmy Chitwood has to be the Michael Jordan of sports movie athletes. The guy only missed about three shots in the entire movie and single handedly won his team the climatic game. Seriously though, Hoosiers is just a great basketball movie with a legendary actor, Gene Hackman, as the head coach. It’s really difficult to mess that up. The basketball in this movie is great because they used actual basketball players. The movie is dated, but it should be since its set in 1950s Indiana.

4. “Warrior,” 2011

Gavin O’Connor really knows how to direct a sports movie. “Warrior” follows two estranged brothers, played by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, competing in an MMA tournament. The MMA in this movie is excellent. Surprisingly, the quiet scenes in the movie involving the two brothers and their alcoholic father, played by Nick Nolte, are genuinely great and add real substance to the film. It’s a great underdog story in line with “Rocky,” and has a lot of heart. Warrior is truly one of the best sports movies in the last decade.
3. “Rocky III,” 1982

What a movie. Is it ridiculous? Yes. Is that to the movie’s detriment? Absolutely not. “Rocky III” is my favorite Rocky movie. It has a lot of stereotypical 1980s montages, but I think it has just the right amount. As a plot point, Mickey dying is very effective and Apollo training Rocky was a great way to change the dynamic between the former opponents. I also think this is Talia Shire’s best performance as Adrian, but still doesn’t make up for how bad she is in the Godfather. Clubber Lang is a great villain and the final fight, while ridiculous, is still awesome. Also, seeing Tony Burton jumping over the ropes at the end of the movie is ridiculous and gets me every time.
2. “Moneyball,” 2011

“Moneyball” is more of a drama set in the sports world. Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane is going against conventional wisdom in Major League Baseball with the help of Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand to build the small-market Oakland Athletics into a contender. The movie’s script is great. The best parts of Moneyball are when Pitt is arguing with the various scouts and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Art Howe on how to run the team. Pitt is great as Beane and was more deserving of an Oscar in 2012 than Jean Dujardin in “The Artist” (Seriously, has anyone actually watched that movie?). The movie could have just been Pitt on the phone negotiating trades for two hours and would have still warranted a mention on this list. 
1. “Creed,” 2015

One of my favorite movies of all time. “Creed” had the difficult task of modernizing “Rocky,” and director Ryan Coogler knocked it out of the park. It’s evident that Coogler had a lot of love for the franchise. The fight scenes in this movie are a lot more realistic than in the “Rocky” franchise. Specifically, Creed’s shot in the single-take fight against Leo Sporino is my favorite scene in any sports movie, and I still have no idea how they made it look so realistic. Michael B. Jordan does a great job of taking over as the main character under the tutelage of Rocky. The best part of this movie is Stallone’s incredible performance as Rocky, and it’s a crime he didn’t win an Oscar for his efforts. It’s right behind De Niro in Raging Bull in terms of performances in a sports movie. Creed is an instant classic and the pinnacle of sports movies.

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