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The Sports Movie Oscars

(Photo Courtesy/ Photofest)

In the sports calendar, the month of March means a lot of things. It’s jam-packed with the NCAA tournament, golf matches, Formula One races, spring training baseball, and regular-season hoops. Hockey, too. On top of that, combat sports like the UFC and WWE are preparing for their signature pay-per-view events. 

But with the NFL Combine over and still a week or two before the NCAA tournament starts, there may be a void in the programming schedule this weekend. Luckily, there is another significant, attention-grabbing event going on. The Academy Awards!

Alright, certainly, the Oscars aren’t what they used to be, and they might not grab your attention like a 320-pound lineman running the 40-yard dash, but like any awards ceremony, it’s got the baked-in appeal of seeing the best in their craft together at once. 

Okay, some of you might still be saying to yourself, “I’m still not interested because they don’t reward movies I care about.” Fair point. Knowing that a primarily sports-oriented audience would read this piece, the intention is not to persuade you of the wonder and glory of Hollywood’s biggest night. That is for the executives at ABC to worry about. No, the goal of this piece is to give back to you, the sports fan, who desperately awaited a pop-culture ceremony that pays attention to “The Mighty Ducksand the “Fever Pitchof the film world. Some of you might even be hard-core film-buffs who appreciate the story and craftsmanship that a well-executed sports genre movie can evoke. Hopefully, this attempt to recognize their excellence satisfies each of those tastes. 

(Disclaimer: This is not a definitive rankings list; however, it does aim to pinpoint the best of various sports genres. Some might disagree; that is welcomed.) 


Categories and Rubric

The beauty of creating your own awards ceremony is that you don’t have to follow any of the rules put in place in the real thing. For instance, the Sports Movie Oscars will include such honors as Best Sports Movie Moment, Best Professional Athlete Performance, Best Fictional Team Name in a Sports Movie, and much more! They will also include the flagship awards for Best Sports Movie (Best Picture) and Best Actor and Actress. 


Best Sports Movie

Rocky Balboa Rare SI Photos - Sports Illustrated

(Sports Illustrated/ Neil Leifer)

  • Caddyshack (1980)
  • Field of Dreams (1989)
  • Hoosiers (1986)
  • Moneyball (2011)
  • Raging Bull (1980)
  • Remember the Titans (2000)
  • Rocky (1976)
  • Slapshot (1977)
  • Hoop Dreams (1994)
  • Major League (1989)

There is no dancing around this one; the winner is “Rocky.” Is it my personal favorite? No. Is it a majority of people’s favorite? That depends on the person’s generation, but it might not be a consensus. However, is it the best sports movie? Unquestionably, Yes, it is. 

The power of “Rocky transcends sports. The film’s themes have taken on a life of their own. Take the city of Philadelphia, for example; they have adopted a fictional character as their mascot for the last 40-plus years. For a movie to have that much impact on a community is unthinkable. And for anyone who has visited Philadelphia, the legacy and personality of “Rocky” are now fully engrained in the city’s fabric. Sure, advancements have been made in camera technology to replicate the feeling of being in the ring. Just four years later, another nominee, “Raging Bull, arguably depicted it the best. But in “Rocky, the sentimentality of the story overwhelms us. As the no-name underdog, Balboa battling (and not winning) in the ring is unmatched in its significance to sports movies. 

Each of the ten films listed is worthy of in-depth discussion of their greatness. “Slapshot,” “Hoosiers,” and just below the cut, “The Longest Yard,” also share a role in laying the foundation for how to tell a sports story. In the same vein, “Hoop Dreams” was a groundbreaking documentary that looked at young African-American athletes’ grueling path to attempting to become professional basketball players. Lastly, “Moneyballhas pretty much set the standard for what a modern sports movie is. While that bar is a high one to reach, the exciting part is the evolution of our games, which has brought forth so many new, interesting stories to adapt for the screen.


Best Sports Movie Actor

  • Adam Sandler
  • Kevin Costner
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Tom Cruise
  • Will Ferrell

First, what a category! Not just because five generational actors inhabit the spots but also because the lineage of great actors in sports movies is dense. Picking just five was so challenging, and what was relied on was not only the quality of their portrayal but also quantity. Many other actors like Denzel Washington, Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, and Burt Reynolds have cases to be made, but the five listed rise above them all. 

Let’s start with Stallone, who revolutionized the sports underdog story as Rocky Balboa. Indeed, that is enough alone to win the award, but what hurts his resume is that his other sports roles pale in comparison. That has to be considered when deciding this award. The same line of thinking applies to Tom Cruise. His four sports movie roles have varying degrees of acclaim. As the titular “Jerry Maguire” and young hotshot Vincent in “The Color of Money,” Cruise showcases nuances that other actors could easily dismiss. But those qualities don’t land as noticeably in “All The Right Movesas a football player or in “Days of Thunderas a NASCAR driver. 

That leaves Adam Sandler, Kevin Costner, and Will Ferrell. Beginning with Ferrell, his roles are pound for pound the best. Although each has different believability levels (there is no way he is an elite figure skater), the dedication to each character is beyond admirable. He slightly edges out Sandler for the number two spot because Ferrell has superior, memorable sports characters. Ricky Bobby, Jackie Moon, and Chazz Michael Michaels have legendary status. Even though Sandler’s Happy Gilmore is a two-sport athlete, the versatility across Ferrell’s body of work cannot be ignored. 

Finally, we arrive at Kevin Costner. Some of you probably disagree, but Costner is the godfather of sports movies. He has almost touched every major sport in his roles. Not to mention, his durability as a sports movie figure is unprecedented. Costner delivers his best performances in baseball, and his passion as a sports fan shows through from “Bull Durhamall the way until “For The Love of The Game.” Although he is busy making Westerns, maybe there is one more sports movie we can hold out for. 


Best Sports Movie Actress

Major League (1989)

(Photo/ Mirage Entertainment)

  • Brigitte Nielsen
  • Geena Davis 
  • Hilary Swank
  • Rene Russo
  • Sanaa Lathan

To properly discuss this category, let’s address the elephant in the room. In the history of Hollywood, roles for actresses have been, for lack of a better word, stunted. That is even more apparent in the sports movie genre. Typically, the female roles are subjected to being wives, girlfriends, or other love interests. Often, they are used as a metaphor for what is standing in the way between the sports hero and their goal. While we don’t need to prosecute the gender norms in movies, it’s good to be aware of those circumstances when looking at something as trivial as a sports movie Oscars. For one, it reveals the lack of imagination on the part of creators in crafting stories for female athletes. More importantly, it identifies the work still to be done in the real world of women’s athletics to change its perception to audiences. 

That being said, the five women listed above broke through in various ways, delivering impactful performances. Hilary Swank carried the Academy Award-winning boxing film “Million Dollar Babywith an impressive display of strength and dedication that is then ripped away. Power and strength are common themes in all these roles. Sanaa Lathan’s portrayal in “Love & Basketball and Geena Davis’s in “A League of Their Ownboth show what it is like to try and operate situationally in male-dominated spaces. 

My favorite would be Brigitte Nielsen’s in “Rocky IV as Ludmilla Drago. She shares the villain role with her husband Ivan, but in many ways, Ludmilla represents the primary danger of those who operate behind the scenes as handlers and spokespeople. In any case, the winner is Rene Russo. Most well-known as Lynne in “Major League,” Russo has appeared in other sports films like “Two For The Money” and “Tin Cup.” Even though I panned the love-interest stereotype in sports movies earlier, Russo showed more agency in her decision-making. Once again, she also benefits from consistency, too, which earns her the crown. 


Best Athlete Performance In a Sports Movie

  • Carl Weathers
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Mr. T
  • Ray Allen 
  • Lawerence Taylor

Even though each of these men had varying degrees of professional success, everyone has put forth a memorable on-screen performance in their own right. While Lawerence Taylor might have the weakest filmography here, he still deserves to be recognized for his work in “Any Given Sunday.” The Hall-of-Famer portrays a violent linebacker for the fictional Miami Sharks, whose repeated concussions threaten his longevity. On the end of the athlete spectrum is Mr.T, well-known as an entertainer but has more or less played himself in everything he appeared in. That is besides “Rocky III“. As Clubber Lang, Mr. T portrayed arguably the most aggressive villain in the Rocky franchise. T’s presence lifts the stakes of the rivalry in what could have been just another Rocky movie.

Oddly enough, two members of the 2008 Boston Celtics have earned spots in this category. Each performance, Ray Allen’s in “He Got Gameand Kevin Garnett’s in “Uncut Gems shows the skill each has as an actor. Allen’s Jesus Shuttlesworth has to grow from a prodigal basketball player into a man in the face of external pressures from those close to him, and the 1-on-1 scene against his dad epitomizes that transformation. On the surface, Garnett’s challenge was more straightforward: play himself. However, he didn’t stop there much like in his basketball career. KG brought an intensity he perfected on the court to authentically supercharge the film’s energy by using him as a sort of chaos agent. 

The heavyweight (no pun intended) in this category includes another member of the Rocky family, Carl Weathers. Weathers, a veteran actor, passed away last month, but in remembrance of his career, the world was again reminded of the beautiful complexity of Apollo Creed’s character. Longevity is a factor here, too. Weathers is featured in the first four films and is constantly mentioned throughout the Creed franchise. Even more than the Rocky character, Apollo Creed is the realest fictional boxer there has ever been. 


Best Sports Movie Moment 

Field of Dreams: Inspired by 1989 film, Major League Baseball makes Iowa debut - Goldstream News Gazette

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • “People Will Come”- Field of Dreams
  • Roy Hobbs Home Run- The Natural
  • Scott Hatteberg Home Run- Moneyball
  • Jake vs Jesus Shuttlesworth 1-on-1- He Got Game
  • Mighty Ducks Quack- The Mighty Ducks
  • No Crying in Baseball- A League of Their Own
  • ‘Wild Thing’ Walk Out- Major League
  • Herb Brooks Team USA Speech- Miracle
  • Rocky’s Training Montage w/Apollo Creed – Rocky III
  • “Rudy” Chant- Rudy

There is probably no need to include ten nominees here, but it’s the sports Oscars; let’s live a little! That said, we don’t need to touch on all of these. A personal anecdote of mine is that I tear up every time during the Scott Hatteberg walk-off home run in “Moneyball.” I think it perfectly encapsulates how sports can make a person feel a cauldron of emotions in a matter of seconds. Lastly, the fact that those feelings can be translated from a real-life moment that can be found on YouTube to a semi-recreation starring Chris Pratt and Philip Seymour-Hoffman is the power of cinema.  

Since a selection has to be made, it should probably be between the ‘people will come’ scene in Field of Dreams” and the “Rocky III” training montage. The iconography of both these scenes is unimaginable. Consider that the first training montage spawned a number-hit song that is relied upon today as a motivational tool or that the whole concept of a “training montage” is perfected in this scene. Rocky and Apollo have been against each other for years, but the blossoming of their friendship is witnessed in this scene. 

Ultimately, though, it goes to the Field of Dreams.” In a way, it functions as a comic book-style reveal for the collection of past greats. More so, the sequence focuses on the sentimentality of the nation’s pastime. ‘Baseball has marked the time,’ Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) says at one point. That statement is profound for a number of reasons, but in the simplest terms, it’s a belief that the past and present can be bridged together by something like a makeshift baseball field. Brownie points to the MLB, too, for partially recreating this moment in a real baseball game. 


Best Fictional Team Name 

  • Milwaukee Beers- BASEketball
  • Flint Tropics- Semi-Pro
  • Globo Gym Purple Cobras- Semi-Pro
  • Maine Androids- Any Given Sunday
  • Gotham Rogues- The Dark Knight Rises
  • South Central Louisiana State University Mud Dogs- The Waterboy
  • Long Island Ducks- Slapshot

The final award is admittedly a goofy one. For one thing, the amount of time spent looking for fictional team names in movies took way too long. Second, a vast majority of the pool of names are non-sensical. For instance, how does one decide between Troop 417 from “Dodgeballor The Lone Star State Unbeatables in “The Comebacks“? That being said, there are some promising names that would make sense in real life if the opportunity ever arose to name a franchise. Therefore, this list is a mix of some of the hilarious and some of the practical. 

We won’t go through all of them, but here’s a particular shoutout to the Maine Androids. As a native Mainer, it was shocking to see a professional football team housed in Maine in the “Any Given Sundayuniverse. Staying on the goofy end, the South Central Louisiana State University Mud Dogs and Globo Gym Purple Cobras always make me chuckle when I hear them uttered. 

On the serious side, the Gotham Rogues and Long Island Ducks are great names to keep in the bank for a rainy day. My research did indicate that a minor league baseball team has taken the Long Island Ducks name, so these have already paid off. The obvious winner is the Flint Tropics. “Semi-Prowas able to blend real ABA franchises with the fictional Tropics seamlessly in an era-appropriate way. At its core, though, the name is flat-out hilarious. A tropical Flint, Michigan, is as unbelievable as a jazzy Salt Lake City, Utah. The name gets extra points because it has a good brand presence, too. People seriously buy Flint Tropics merchandise. 


Matt Strout is an Editor for the Back Sports Page. He studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May 2022. While there, he wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96.

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