(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
When I heard last year that The Longest Yard was being remade with Adam Sandler in the lead role of Paul Crewe, I made an oath to punch out the first Hollywood executive I saw.
I’m still waiting for that meeting, and seeing the 2005 version of one of the most classic sports movies ever made is hovering between cleaning out the litter box and getting a colonoscopy on my to-do list.
There was no reason to greenlight that project, especially with Sandler playing a character that Burt Reynolds made iconic. Sandler as an ex-NFL quarterback is like casting me as Celie in The Color Purple.
Certain movies and songs don’t need updating (look no further than the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ cover by some Swedish band with violins from the ’80s). So as a lover of both sports and movies, I decided to give you fair readers my top 10 sports movies of all time, which could also double as a top 10 list of sports moves that should never be remade.
Now there are some flicks that I’ve never seen which could alter this list someday: Brian’s Song, Miracle, When We Were Kings, Requiem for a Heavyweight and Hoop Dreams come to mind. But for now, these are my ten.
10.) Friday Night Lights, 2004 – Adapted from the controversial bestseller by Buzz Bissinger, Lights takes an in-depth, unwavering view of big-time football in a small Texas town. The realistic portrayal of parents and the entire community of Odessa combined with a not-so-predictable ending overcomes the stylized football scenes to make this the best high school football movie since Tom Cruise’s All the Right Moves.
9.) Bang the Drum Slowly, 1973 – Launched the career of the then relatively unknown Robert DeNiro, who played the character of Bruce Pearson, a slow-witted and possibly terminally ill bullpen catcher for the New York Yankees. The relationships between the players are the focus here, and how teammates with nothing in common can learn to look inside the hearts of one another.
8.) Eight Men Out, 1988 – Excellent movie that shines some light on the infamous 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal. It is interesting to see some of the possible motivations behind throwing the World Series (mainly the tight-fisted Sox owner Charles Comiskey), but the real drama is watching ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson, played by D.B. Sweeney, taking the fall for something he had no part in.
7.) Major League, 1989 – This movie is great on so many levels. The first comedy on the list is a fast-paced, hilarious look at a fictional season in which the Cleveland Indians turn it around despite themselves. Willie Mays Hayes, Charlie Sheen’s ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn and Bob Uecker’s “Just a bit outside” have become part of the pop culture lexicon. It also spawned two forgettable sequels.
6.) Bull Durham, 1988 – Third straight late 80s baseball movie on the list (soon to be joined by a fourth), Bull Durham works because of Kevin Costner. His portrayal of world-weary catcher Crash Davis was probably one of his best, and it didn’t hurt that he had future husband and wife Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon working with him. Great inside look at what it means to toil in the minors.
5.) The Sandlot, 1993 – Me and my buddy Jay were in our early twenties when we saw this movie about kids in the 50s playing baseball, and we were almost asked to leave the theater we were laughing so hard. Not only is it a nice morality play on friendship, overcoming fears and working as a team, but quotes like “You’re killing me Smalls”, “The Colossus of Clout”, and “You play ball like a girl” still make me break into hysterics.
4.) The Longest Yard, 1974 – The aforementioned impetus of this column, Yard sent fun and football to prison. By the time Reynolds gets his team of convicts together to take on the guards, the viewer’s anticipation of the game is like the feeling you get right before the Super Bowl. And the ending has to be one of the coolest, most ambiguous scenes ever filmed.
3.) North Dallas Forty, 1979 – Also adapted from a controversial best-seller, North Dallas Forty takes an unflinching look at just how far gridiron warriors go off the field, and the lengths they will travel to get back on it. Former Cowboy Peter Gent helmed the novel and the screenplay, and it’s not so hard to tell that Gent was clandestinely sticking it to Tex Schramm and Tom Landry.
2.) Field of Dreams, 1989 – For someone that doesn’t care for baseball, I sure like a lot of baseball movies, don’t I? Field of Dreams is, at its core, a film about fathers and sons. Baseball, mysticism, the Black Sox, ‘Moonlight’ Graham, and Iowa corn fields are also major players, but when Costner’s Ray Kinsella asks his dad for that long-delayed game of catch, it’s time to break out the Kleenex.
1.) Rocky, 1976 – America loves underdogs, and there was none bigger than this bicentennial dog written and expertly played by Sylvester Stallone. Most people forget that Balboa doesn’t even get a win until Rocky II, his goal against Apollo was to just go the distance. It’s a love story, a boxing movie, a lesson about inward and outward humility, and realizing your dreams. When he wails for Adrian at the end of the movie, you feel as emotionally and physically spent as Rock, and almost as happy.
There are a number of movies I left out – The Natural, On the Waterfront, Blue Chips (because, of course, it starred Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway), tons of others – but these 10 I could watch over and over again, which is the truest test.
Now I’m interested in your top 10. If this means you’ll have to set aside some time for movie watching, well, you can thank me later.