Last year, shortly after I started writing for Midwest Sports Fans, I wrote a fun little post called “The 10 Most Unrealistic Sports Scenes in Movie History.”
It struck a chord with many readers (there are something like 395 comments on the article, most of them criticizing me for my omission of the Rocky movies and my inclusion of the Karate Kid crane kick, but many others mentioning great ones I left out), so I decided to revisit the union between sports and cinema.
With Moneyball nominated for 6 Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Actor for Brad Pitt), this is a perfect time to take a look at the sports scenes in movies that were done remarkably well.
Related: the 10 most memorable March Madness moments of all-time. These weren’t movie scenes, but they could have been…
Best Scenes In Movie History Ground Rules
As always, there are some rules here:
- Repeat from my previous post: I have not seen every sports movie ever made. I’ve seen a bunch, and what follows is my list. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments below.
- The scenes I am choosing do not necessarily have to come from great movies, they only need to be great scenes. For example, few would argue that Rocky IV was a great movie, but many would argue that the training montage is fantastic.
- Not all of these scenes will feature actual athletic competition being portrayed on film. The best thing about sports movies – to me, anyway – is the feeling they elicit. I want to feel moved and inspired when I watch a sports movie. This list is built with that as its prevailing theme.
- Documentaries are not eligible. If they were, I would probably just put a whole bunch of clips from Hoop Dreams and videos of the 1980’s Miami Hurricanes celebrating on here.
- “Best” and “Unrealistic” scenes can sometimes share the same space. It would be easy to argue, based on my previous post, that I shouldn’t allow scenes that aren’t very authentic to be included in this list. Again, this list is based on scenes that move and inspire.
Last time, many readers did a phenomenal job of adding to my list. I’m sure I’ll miss some this time, too, and my hope is that you all will give your personal favorites proper representation in the comments below.
On to the list:
10. Major League – Jake Taylor’s Called Shot
Major League is a sports comedy classic, and for the most part, the baseball action is halfway decent (though the same can’t be said for the sequel). My selection is for the climactic swinging bunt of journeyman backstop Jake Taylor that clinched the pennant for the downtrodden Cleveland Indians.
My favorite parts about this scene are the first baseman’s reaction to the safe call, which looks exactly how I would expect a real first baseman to react, and of course Bob Uecker’s exuberance. Any time you combine an underdog winning with a tyrannical villain getting their comeuppance, you’re sure to have struck gold.
9. He Got Game – One on One
This is one of my favorite basketball scenes ever.
Whether truth or an apocryphal story I’m not sure, but it has been said that Spike Lee wanted Jesus to win the game 11-0, only once they started playing, Denzel scored first. Lee then told them to play it out, which actually makes sense while watching the scene. Allen repeating “lucky” as Denzel banks in jumpers certainly feels authentic, and Denzel looks sufficiently worn out by the end.
Of course, the key to this scene is the story that surrounds it. There are some truly poignant moments in this movie, and Spike does a great job of using basketball as the common ground between a father seeking redemption and a son hardened by the absence of his father.
8. Miracle – U.S.A. Defeats U.S.S.R.
It’s hard to feel more patriotic as an American than when watching the U.S.A. defeat the U.S.S.R. in the 1980 Olympics.
Al Michaels’ brilliant “Do you believe in miracles” call has earned its place among the most iconic sports calls ever, and deservedly so.
The movie version did an admirable job depicting the game and the underdog spirit that the Americans possessed. The pregame speech was in strong consideration for this spot. Plus, Kurt Russell starred as U.S. coach Herb Brooks, and Kurt Russell stars in my favorite movie of all time – Big Trouble in Little China.
7. Remember the Titans – Coach Yoast
Another Denzel movie, but this time the focus is on assistant coach Yoast, who is mostly a complete bastard but comes through in this scene with a great motivational speech that inspires his defense to go out and level the offense repeatedly.
Plus, how can you pass on the namesake scene of the movie?
I especially love the part when Opie from Sons of Anarchy (Ryan Hurst) walks to the opposing sideline and just points at the evil coach of the other team while staring intensely directly into his eyes. Even without the long hair, motorcycle and automatic weapons Hurst still cuts an imposing figure.
6. Without Limits – Pre’s Last Race
Steve Prefontaine was killed in a car accident at age 24, so America was robbed of perhaps its greatest long distance runner up to that point. “Pre” had a distinct style of running – “frontrunning,” specifically, in which he would attempt to maintain maximum speed start to finish rather than pace himself – and his legacy lives on in his attitude toward competition.
Prefontaine believed that winning without giving all you had wasn’t winning at all, that the idea of competition was to push oneself to the limits of human ability. Prefontaine inspired millions of people to take up running, and his style, attitude, and story resonate still today.
This scene captures all of that and more. Billy Crudup played Prefontaine exceptionally well in my opinion (and Russell in Almost Famous, too. Why isn’t Billy Crudup a bigger name?).
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine