The US has two big obsessions: sports and movies, and the combination of the two has produced a huge variety of sports movies. The very best sports movies combine the fascination of sports with elements of humor, drama or suspense, which can lead to some spectacular successes.
While movies such as Raging Bull, Field of Dreams and The Natural have earned critical and box office success, there are many more sports movies that deserve more acclaim than they have received. Here are four of the best underrated American sports movies.
Little Big League (1994)
Little Big League often gets lost in the conversation about great baseball movies, mainly because it is up against such strong opposition. The movie also perhaps suffers in that it is a kid-friendly production, which may be off-putting for some hardcore sports fans, but if you’re a baseball fan and you’ve never seen this movie, you should give it a try.
The story is based on Billy Heywood, a 12-year-old middle schooler who unexpectedly becomes owner of the Minnesota Twins following the death of his grandfather. It is a scenario that should immediately grab the interest of anyone who enjoys fantasy sports or computer sports management games.
Heywood soon has a falling out with the team manager, so he fires him and takes over in the dugout. His task is made more complicated by the fact that one of the players has taken a romantic interest in his widowed mother, much to Heywood’s disgust. What follows is a charming sports tale that doesn’t overdo the sentimentality, featuring a number of cameos from real major league players, mostly playing themselves.
Getting a sports biography movie accurate can be tough to do right. As well as the challenges of having to make an actor resemble a well-known sports star, there is the thorny problem of how much fact-bending can be done to make the movie watchable yet still remain faithful to the reality.
It helps if the lead actor immerses himself in the role. Just as Robert De Niro did for Raging Bull, Will Smith immersed himself in the persona of Muhammad Ali, pretty much nailing Ali’s speech pattern and attitude. This strong performance won Smith a Best Actor Oscar, but the film itself was not given as much love as it deserves. The dramatic events of Ali’s life made for an ideal plot, but the movie was also lifted by a host of supporting actors including Jon Voight, Jamie Foxx and the real-life boxer James Toney, who took on the role of Joe Frazier.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Many sports fans dismiss Silver Linings Playbook without ever having seen it, probably due to the fact that it has often been marketed as a rom-com. In reality though, underneath the romantic entanglements and larger narrative surrounding how mental health is viewed in the United States, this is a great movie about the allure of sports betting and its pitfalls.
What begins as a subplot but ultimately drives the film along, is Pat Senior’s (Robert De Niro’s character) disastrous bet on a Philadelphia Eagles game. This is followed by a parlay bet that if the Eagles win and his son (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) score 5/10 in their dance competition, he will win back double his money. For those new to the world of sportsbetting, a parlay bet, according to Ioana Romanasu, author at WSN.com, is one where a single bet links together a number of other bets and it is only possible to win if all of the wagers are winners. With double the sports (yes, dancing is definitely a sport!) this is definitely a classic American sports movie worth watching. Romanasu goes on to say that Pointsbet is one of many options in the US that has a lot of parlay bets amongst many other types of bets in America.
Perhaps it is inevitable that a movie based on an extremely successful book would remain a little in the shadow of the original work, but Moneyball remains an overlooked classic.
One of the great aspects of the movie is that a narrative built essentially around the kind of statistics that only baseball fans and bettors appreciate is turned into a gripping, entertaining and occasionally humorous story. Brad Pitt is in excellent form as general manager Billy Beane, as is Jonah Hill, who stars as Peter Brand, the sports analyst who helps Beane to generate a revolution, turning the no-hopers Oakland As into a major force in MLB by taking a completely different approach to recruitment and team selection.
Chris Pratt is a love him or hate him kind of actor, but he is excellent as Scott Hatteburg, the catcher whose career is rejuvenated. There is also a powerful cameo from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the reluctant team manager. The tone throughout is just right and this movie does an excellent job of capturing the magic and the hardships of modern baseball.