5:25 PM PDT 7/10/2012 by Kelly Payton, Austin Siegemund-Broka
The best baseball movies have not only connected with emotional home runs and hilarious one-liners, but have also brought phrases like "if you build it, he will come" and "there's no crying in baseball" into the pop culture pantheon. From "Field of Dreams" to "Moneyball," THR takes a fond look back at the films that best celebrate America's favorite pastime.
After the original Broadway production netted seven Tonys in 1956, its director also helmed this film adaptation of the musical, in which a middle-aged baseball fan leases his soul to the devil in order to become a star player capable of defeating the Evil Empire. Both versions included its most famous tune, "What Lola Wants," a Broadway favorite. A new adaptation, with Bandslam director Todd Graff at the helm, is in development.
Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
Get your tissues ready, because there’s gonna be some waterworks. This classic tearjerker stars Robert De Niro as the young catcher Bruce Pearson who is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Bruce becomes unlikely friends with teammate Henry Wiggen (Michael Moriarty) and the team bands together to support Bruce. Happy ending this is not, but it's an emotional drama worth seeing.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Not to be confused with the not-so-great 2005 version, the 1979’s Bad News Bears hit the ball out of the park with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100 percent among top critics. Although the classic is rated PG, the film is frequently described as rude and profane, but is still an overall honest movie. This underdog story about an ex-major league baseball player/professional pool cleaner becoming a little league coach may have sparked the children’s baseball movie trend — but who's complaning?
The Natural (1984)
Adapted from the first novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Bernard Malamud, this Robert Redford-starrer initially received mixed reviews, but has since been called possibly the greatest baseball movie ever made. The film follows phenomenon ballplayer Roy Hobbs, who was shot by a mysterious woman when he was 19 and aims, at 35, to become one of the greatest players of all time. It was nominated for four Academy Awards.
Bull Durham (1988)
Kevin Costner hits a home run once again with this romantic baseball dramedy. Bull Durham received a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100 percent by top critics saying Costner was “at his funniest and most charismatic” in the film. The movie follows Crash Davis (Costner) as a Minor Leaguer for the Durham Bulls who becomes the mentor for the not-so-bright pitcher Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). The pair enters a love triangle (or diamond) with Annie (Susan Sarandon) who is known for “scoring” with a new player each season.
Eight Men Out (1988)
Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, Christopher Lloyd and John Cusack starred in this 1988 dramatization of the Black Sox scandal, in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were banned from baseball for deliberately having the team lose the 1919 World Series. Writer-director John Sayles helmed the film, an adaptation of a 1963 book on the scandal, and critics say that while the film is a must-see for baseball enthusiasts, it might be lost on non-fans. Sheen, meanwhile, a baseball nut himself -- he played in high school -- would star in baseball comedy Major League the following year and its sequel in 1994.
Field of Dreams (1989)
“If you build it, he will come” may be one of the most famous quotes in baseball movie history. After hearing voices, farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is driven to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield for the 1919 Black Sox. And come, they did. Director Phil Alden Robinson’s emotional classic and not-so-scary ghost story has often been voted the top baseball movie in online polls. Make sure to bring your tissues when watching this, however—it’s known to be a tearjerker.
Major League (1989)
This is the only film in director David S. Ward’s trilogy that received a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The comedy is often described as predictable and formulaic, offering the audience few surprises, but is funny regardless and has some decent sport action scenes. The film stars Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen and Corbin Bernsen as the terrible players hired to the Cleveland Indians in order for Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) to gain control of the team.
A League of Their Own (1992)
You won’t find the normally sympathetic Tom Hanks in this movie when he belts “There’s no crying in baseball!” as the has-been coach of the all girls Chicago team. The movie is chock-full of girl power, exploring the creation of the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League in 1943. Geena Davis and Lori Petter star as two talented sisters trying out for Jimmy Dugan’s (Hanks) team alongside Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Megan Cavanagh.
The Sandlot (1993)
“You’re killing me, Smalls!” This classic film about kids just being kids follows Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) as the new kid on the block who wants to try out for the pickup baseball team in the neighborhood—you guessed it— sandlot. Roger Ebert describes The Sandlot as a film “that allows its kids to be kids” making it one of the most popular all-ages baseball films today.
Rookie of the Year (1993)
The zany family comedy centers around a 12-year-old who is given incredible pitching powers after an accident and signed to the Chicago Cubs. With the help of his teammates, he must learn to control his arm and play baseball like a pro. A high point is Gary Busey, who portrays an eccentric, aging Cubs pitcher; the young hurler is played by Thomas Ian Nicholas, who now stars in the American Pie franchise.
Tommy Lee Jones stars as the foul-mouthed, racist, violent baseball legend Ty Cobb in this biopic -- and the actor broke his ankle during production practicing Cobb's famous slide. But the film, moderately critically praised, is really the story of sportswriter Al Stump, who goes to visit an aging Cobb and compile a biography on him, and some critics have cited a lack of actual baseball in the movie.
For Love of the Game (1999)
Based on the Michael Shaara novel, Kevin Costner plays Billy, the star pitcher of the Detroit Tigers who struggles balancing his professional and personal lives. The Tigers are about to be sold and his girlfriend Jane (Kelly Preston) is planning on leaving him. The film about keeping your eye on the ball also stars John C. Reilly as Gus Osinski—Billy’s friend and Tiger’s catcher.
Hard Ball (2001)
Keanu Reeves toplines the urban dramedy, playing a gambler who agrees to coach a Little League team in a Chicago housing project to repay a debt -- and, sure enough, becomes attached to his young ballplayers. It did modestly at the box office and earned a mere 38% Rotten Tomatoes score -- but its soundtrack, which included the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., R. Kelly, and Lil Wayne, reached #55 on the Billboard 200.
The Rookie (2002)
The Dennis Quaid-starrer is based on the true story of Jim Morris, a high school teacher and baseball coach who, at 35, tried out and eventually signed to pitch in the major leagues. Rookie was critically and commercially successful, and director John Lee Hancock found a home run in his next sports film, the 2009 Best Picture nominee The Blind Side. As for the real Morris, he first pitched for the Rays in 1999, fulfilling a childhood dream, but was afflicted by arm problems from a previous injury and threw his last game in 2000.
Up for Grabs (2004)
Director Michael Wranovics’ documentary won the Los Angeles Film Festival Audience award and is seen as one of the best sports documentaries. The comedic film follows the case of Barry Bonds’ “stolen” 73rd home run of the year ball. In the dispute, spectator Patrick Hayashi walked away with the ball as fan Alex Papov claimed he caught the ball that was ultimately swiped away from his by excitable fans. Papov did what any dedicated fan would do and took the dispute to court over the ball that values about one million dollars.
Fever Pitch (2005)
The Farrelly Brothers' romantic comedy was one of Jimmy Fallon's most successful film roles, with Fallon as a Red Sox nut who must reconcile his love of the game with his girlfriend's (Drew Barrymore) disinterest in it. But Fever wasn't originally a baseball story -- its source material, Nick Hornby's autobiographical book, is about balancing romance with a love of soccer.
Off the Black (2006)
The small-scale drama, which premiered at Sundance, finds its characters dealing with the curve balls life throws: Nick Nolte plays an alcoholic high school baseball umpire who becomes friends with a player (Trevor Morgan) although the umpire's calls cost the player an important game, and Timothy Sutton appears as the player's deadbeat father. Nolte's performance was almost universally critically praised, but some questioned first-time director James Ponsoldt's treatment of themes like loneliness and relationships.
Mr. 3000 (2004)
47-year-old Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) proves that you’re never to old to go out to the ball game—or be a part of it. This heartwarming over-the-hill comedy follows retired Milwaukee Brewers player who believes made his 3,000th base hit, until he discovers the error in the math—three hits in his career have been disqualified. The out-of-shape player goes back to the team with as determination to complete his goal as a soon-to-be major leaguer.
This based-on-a-true-story film stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s who is on a mission to reinvent the ways players are bought in baseball. On a shoestring budget, Billy transforms his team with help Ivy League grad Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to create a misfit group of talented, yet flawed, players. This revolutionary baseball dramedy challenges old school baseball procedures and is hope for anyone out to stick it to the man.
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