#1 61* 2001
Baseball fans would no doubt know all about the 1961 race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris as they closed on Babe Ruth’s record of scoring 60 home runs in a single season. Most sports films struggle to find actors who are athletic enough to convincingly portray super-stars, but this picture is an exception – probably the exception. Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane are fantastic as Maris and Mantle respectively. This is easily the best ‘sports’ movie I have ever seen.
#2 SEABISCUIT 2003
Well, a few liberties are taken with the facts here, but as a biopic of a horse it’s pretty good. The press painted the mighty War Admiral as some kind of giant-sized ‘spoiled brat’ that had achieved fame easily. Sea biscuit, on the other hand according to the scribes, was a ‘little battler’, a working man’s hero up against an over-privileged imposter! That both nags were about fifteen hands high got lost in the hyperbole. But if you like a David v Goliath tale this one is right up your alley. Oh yes, Chris Cooper is the trainer of Sea biscuit. How can he lose?
#3 EIGHT MEN OUT 1988
The great Chicago White Sox baseball team of 1919 threw the World Series for money and got found out. As baseball movies go this is one of the better ones and it sticks to the facts, which makes for a pleasant change. Even though a jury found the players innocent, Baseball Commissioner Landis banned eight of them for life. Serves them right, too.
#4 REMEMBER THE TITANS 2000
The Titans were a heck of a football team. In fact, they won all the time and by enormous margins. They were so good that the makers of this entertaining picture had to invent a few things just to make the story less predictable. So, what you see is largely fictitious, but good viewing all the same.
#5 42: THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY 2013
It took a considerable amount of courage in 1945 for Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager, to sign black baseball player Jackie Robinson to play for his minor league team the Montreal Royals. It took plenty of courage from Robinson, too, and even more courage two years later when he became the first black man to play major league baseball at the Dodgers. This movie is mainly about how he handled the racial abuse from fans and players alike.
#6 PHAR LAP 1983
Australia’s greatest race horse was born in New Zealand. His outstanding achievements in Australia around the time of the Great Depression are legendary and this movie captures that extremely well. Tom Burlinson does a great job playing Phar Lap’s naïve young ‘strapper’ Tommy Woodcock. One of Australia’s better movies.
#7 CINDERELLA MAN 2005
Boxing pictures tend to be very similar to one another, but not this one. Whether it is Ron Howard’s direction or Russell Crowe’s acting – or both – Cinderella Man transcends other films of the genre. It is inspiring, moving and, above all, honest.
#8 CHARIOTS OF FIRE 1981
I am still not sure how this movie won the Best Picture Oscar in its year. It has some delightful moments to be sure, but it really is a lightweight picture. Every now and then this happens in Hollywood (Slumdog Millionaire, Marty, The Hurt Locker), and no-one really knows why. Still, it is good enough to make this list, so that’s something I suppose.
#9 COOL RUNNINGS 1993
Another lightweight, but at least this one did not win Best Picture. It is good fun though. How could a movie about Jamaica’s first Olympic Bobsled Team not be fun? It has Disney written all over it, but as nice clean fun it works well.
#10 BOBBY JONES: STROKE OF GENIUS 2004
There have been a lot of movies about golfers and most of them are pretty ordinary. This one is, however, a cut above all the others, because it is about one of the truly great sportsmen of history. Jones was scrupulously fair, utterly honest, an exquisite player, and yet he never turned pro, remaining an amateur his entire career. And then suddenly he retired – at 28!