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Depends on What the Meaning of “Movie” Is

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Via a mailing list that I’m on, ESPN has a list of “The 25 Best Sports Movies” of the last 25 years. This is part of their 25th anniversary celebration, which features them making 25-element lists of all sorts of stupid things. I’m waiting for “The 25 Best Players to Wear #25,” and “The 25 Best ’25 Best’ Lists” (at which point the entire network will vanish into a giant singularity of self-reference, and we’ll start over with a channel that actually shows sports. But I digress…)

A couple of comments about their actual list. First of all, I was a little surprised at how many of these I haven’t seen. I mean, I like sports, and I like movies, so logically, you would think I’d’ve seen a lot of sports movies. But no– I’ve seen seven of the top ten on the expert’s pick list (Chariots of Fire, Seabiscuit, and Remember the Titans are the ones I haven’t seen), but only 12 of the top 25 (and I’m not sure I’ve actually watched enough of 61* and The Color of Money to count…). The other striking thing is that I really don’t have much interest in seeing the most of the other 13– Bend It Like Beckham (suggested alternate title: “Twenty Feet Over the Cross-Bar.” Sorry, English football fans…) is about the only one I have any interest in seeing.

Another interesting thing about the movies on the list is that several of them really aren’t sports movies, in the sense of movies that are fundamentally about the sport featured in them, as opposed to movies about something else that happen to involve sports. Jerry Maguire is probably the best example– it’s not a sports movie, it’s a romantic comedy with a few football scenes. Similarly, The Hurricane and Finding Forrester aren’t really sports movies (from what I know of them), while I have my doubts about The Color of Money and Searching for Bobby Fischer, as pool and chess aren’t Real Sports. (Yes, I know, ESPN televises billiards all the damn time. But if that’s the standard, why isn’t The Big Lebowski on the list? They show bowling on ESPN, too…)

My standards in this area are probably just higher than most people’s, though. I’m not sure I’d class Caddyshack as a sports movie, in the purest sense (it’s really a proto-American Pie with golf scenes).

That said, I don’t really have many complaints about the list. Raging Bull is probably a better movie than Hoosiers, but basketball is a better sport, and Hoosiers is more fundamentally about basketball (Raging Bull is a great movie about a boxer, but not really a movie about boxing), so it gets the nod. I’m only a little biased, here. After that, the movies that I’ve seen in the top ten are all better than the movies that I’ve seen in the bottom fifteen, so it’s fairly reasonable.

Notable omissions: He Got Game, Hoop Dreams (though including a documentary might be cheating). (I was going to mention Slap Shot, but it misses the 25-year window).

Acting note: This list confirms that Kevin Costner is really at his best when playing a sort of Everyman sports guy. I think he leads all actors, starring in three of the top fifteen. Tom Cruise is next, with two of the top eighteen.

Natural Law Note: A collection of writing about rugby that I once read offered the theory that the quality of literature about a particular sport is directly proportional to how much time is spent standing around doing nothing. You might take the ESPN list as evidence to support this theory, as there are only two basketball movies and two football movies on the list, compared to eight baseball movies. (Then again, there are only two about golf, so maybe the theory needs work…)

(Originally posted to Uncertain Principles.)

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About Chad Orzel