The best and worst sport movies

Ben Falk
UK Movies Contributor
There have been some awful sport movies, and some brilliant ones too. (Universal Pictures/Entertainment Film)

Sports movies are notoriously hard to pull off, so we’re choosing the best and worst cinematic efforts in various athletic disciplines.

Do you agree? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Football films

Best: Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001)

Mike Bassett watches the clock (Entertainment Film).

Ricky Tomlinson is absolutely hilarious as the eponymous gaffer in this underrated mockumentary about an outsider who falls into the top managerial role in the country and finds himself totally out of his depth.

Whether it’s losing his rag in the dressing room, accidentally picking players named after his brand of cigarettes, or shedding his kit in front of Pelé, he may be an idiot, but you are desperate for Mike – and his boys – to succeed.

Worst: Yesterday’s Hero (1979)

Adam Faith and Ian McShane in Yesterday’s Hero (Columbia Pictures).

Everyone loves Ian McShane, but not even he can save this tale of a washed-up, alcoholic player trying to make it back to the big leagues.

Written by Jackie Collins (?!), it also features appearances by The Princess Bride hero Cary Elwes and American sitcom star Suzanne Somers.

The finale features McShane and his motley team facing off against Leicester Forest. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

Motor racing films

Best: Rush (2013)

Formula 1 rivals Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl face-off (Universal Pictures).

Chris Hemsworth is at his most dashing opposite Daniel Brühl playing Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda respectively in this 1970s-set drama.

The film is as much about the pair’s off-screen love-hate relationship, as well as dealing with Lauda’s disfiguring crash, but director Ron Howard keeps it intimate – so much so that sometimes it’s like you can smell the burning rubber.

Worst: Days of Thunder (1990)

Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder (Paramount Pictures).

Tom Cruise plays a guy called Cole Trickle. If that alone doesn’t put you off (it should), then the sheer epic stupidity of this NASCAR-centric faux pas will. Robert Duvall phones in his Obi-Wan character and the hero manages to have almost zero chemistry with love interest Nicole Kidman, surprising considering the pair fell in love on set. Plus the racing is all flash and no grit.

It was a particular disappointment as Cruise was coming off the double whammy of Rain Man (for which he should have won the Oscar) and Born on the Fourth of July (for which he was nominated and lost).

Baseball films

Best: The Natural (1984)

Robert Redford plays ball in The Natural (TriStar Pictures).

It’s Randy Newman’s oft-copied score which truly makes this elegiac story of a baseball prodigy who gets a second shot such a winner, helped by star Robert Redford’s quietly heroic turn as Roy Hobbs.

Hobbs is a young genius who suffers a tragedy and re-emerges years later to help a ramshackle team led by Wilford Brimley’s gruff manager to an unexpected title.

We dare you not to shed a tear at the climax.

Worst: Ed (1996)

What on Earth was Matt Le Blanc thinking? Yes, we know you want to get into films, Matt, but you were at the height of your Friends fame – why would you sign up to play a vacant young pitcher who becomes best friends with a minor league team’s best new player, who just happens to be a chimpanzee? Plus Le Blanc’s character’s nickname is Deuce, which seems unfortunate.

Trivia note: Ed is actually a female gymnast wearing a brilliantly-constructed monkey suit. Seriously.

Rugby films

Best: This Sporting Life (1963)

We know they’re arm-wrestling, but this is a rugby movie, we promise (General Film Distributors).

This bleak, bitter film stars Richard Harris (who was nominated for an Oscar) as a rugby league player in Wakefield.

Brutal and pointed, it’s the debut of director Lindsay Anderson (the iconoclast behind movies like ‘…if’) and the result is innovative, relentless and reeks of authencity.

Worst: Sye (2004)

This one’s definitely about rugby (Sri Bharath Enterprises).

It’s a Bollywood film about rugby?! Need we say more?

American Football films

Best: Friday Night Lights (2004)

Billy Bob Thornton inspires his players (Universal Pictures).

It subsequently became a brilliant TV series and started out as an excellent book, but the movie version is also a fantastic insight into the phenomenal pressure put on the shoulders of Texan high school players by the local community where opportunity is scarce and money even scarcer.

The young cast, including Lucas Black and Garrett Hedlund, are almost documentary-level natural, while the final game is heartbreakingly real.

The whole thing is rounded off by a brilliant Billy Bob Thornton as the laconic, put-upon coach.

Worst: The Longest Yard remake (2005)

Adam Sandler inspires his players (Paramount Pictures).

Burt Reynolds’ 1974 original about a disgraced pro who’s sent to prison and leads a team full of inmates against the cruel guards was great.

This, with Adam Sandler as the Reynolds character (Burt is back as the coach), isn’t. That’s mainly because it is silly Sandler rather than oddball, slightly scary Sandler – unfortunate considering the first movie had some darkness to it.

Reynolds won a Razzie for his performance second time around. Oops.

Golf films

Best: Tin Cup (1996)

Kevin Costner gets ready to golf (Warner Brothers).

Kevin Costner is one of the few leading men who actually looks like he can play sports on-screen and that’s partly why his portrayal of a proud but down-on-his-luck golf pro is so effective.

Plus the finale isn’t quite what you expect it to be, yet still manages to work.

Worst: The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)

Directed by Robert Redford at his most treacly, this 1930s-set mystical nonsense features Will Smith as Matt Damon’s angelic caddy and Charlize Theron in another thankless early love interest role.

Primarily, it seems to be saying that you can cure acute PTSD by finding your perfect golf swing – not even a cast of this skill can pull that kind of thing off.

Boxing films

Best: Rocky (1976)

This undated publicity image originally released by United Artists shows Sylvester Stallone posing in character as Rocky Balboa in the boxing film, Rocky. (AP Photo/United Artists)

Pretty much the definition of the perfect sports movie, Stallone’s defining role has everything – love, sacrifice, a crotchety coach.

Yes, the fourth film is fun and more emotionally manipulative, but the Drago fight – two men smashing each other in the face for 12 rounds without getting knocked out – is absurd. The original has more nuance and that’s why it’s the best.

Worst: Rocky V (1990)

Of the whole franchise, this one felt most like a “paying off the private jet” decision. Boring and solipsistic – as well finally proving that Paulie is, like, the worst – it’s also super-depressing as Rocky’s accountant loses all his client’s money and the champ is told he’s suffering from brain damage.

There’s an annoying pseudo-Don King character and unlike the franchise’s normally-stirring finales, this ends in a ridiculous streetfight. Perhaps the original ending, which saw Rocky die in Adrian’s arms at the climax, would have been a better choice.

Ice hockey films

Best: The Mighty Ducks (1992)

A bunch of misfit kids, a reluctant coach (Emilio Estevez), a brilliant title.

This has all the best ingredients of a sports movie and a kids pic, plus it’s got Joshua Jackson out of ‘Dawson’s Creek’ (who can actually play ice hockey well) scoring the winning goal.

It spawned an increasingly dull franchise, but the original is still the greatest.

Worst: MVP: Most Valuable Primate (2000)

What is it with sports owners in movies hiring apes for their team?!

Everything about this film is stupid, even if, terrifyingly, it sparked a trilogy.

Nevertheless, kudos to Bernie, Louie and Mack – the chimps who shared the lead role. You still skate better than Rob Lowe does in Youngblood, another cheesy ice hockey flick from 1986.

Basketball films

Best: Hoosiers (1986)

HOOSIERS, Gene Hackman (left), 1986, (c) Orion/courtesy Everett Collection

This ticks all the boxes for a brilliant sports movie – coach with a dodgy past trying to make things right, a drunken assistant also trying to prove everyone wrong and a small team with no chance, but a lot of heart.

It helps that Gene Hackman and Dennis Hooper play the boss and his second-in-command magnificently and director David Anspaugh knows his way around a sporting finale, having made the widely-lauded and equally tear-jerking gridiron film, ‘Rudy’.

Worst: Juwanna Mann (2002)

Clearly there wasn’t a female executive in the room when this tasteless comedy was pitched, otherwise it would have been flatly rejected.

A bad boy baller gets thrown out of the league and dresses up as a woman to play in the WNBA (or the WUBA here, since they clearly didn’t have the real league onside). It’s not funny, it’s not clever and it’s packed full of mansplaining.