In honor of Moneyball's success, as well as the stirring 2011 Major League Baseball playoffs, Movie Fanatic has decided to anoint the Top 10 Baseball Movies of all Time. Many times, the drama on the field of the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series provide drama Hollywood could never recreate, but here still are pieces of celluloid that capture the power and prominence baseball has over our culture.
10. Field of Dreams
Kevin Costner clearly has a passion for baseball given the films he’s made -- Field of Dreams, For the Love of the Game and Bull Durham -- but his focus on the past in Field of Dreams is what makes it so endearing. So few times in current society do we pay respect to the past. Field of Dreams isn’t simply a reminder of the greatness of baseball’s past, it reminds us that the lives we’re living are thanks to the foundation that our past has provided.
9. Eight Men Out
The difference between right and wrong sometimes is a little clearer than others. For the 1919 Chicago White Sox, it was downright blurry. Eight Men Out chronicles the “Black Sox” as they took their astounding season and headed into the World Series. Instead of giving their all, as they say in boxing, they took a dive. The title arrives from John Cusack’s character, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and reflects how amongst a team of nine who were bribed, he was the one that was in it to win it.
8. Major League
A 1999 comedy classic, regardless of its characters being baseball players. The Cleveland Indians are a hapless bunch who are put together with an owner setting her sights on moving the team to Florida if they lose enough games. The owner has given her gruff manager (a stellar Charles Cyphers) a team full of ex-cons (Charlie Sheen), Voo-Doo believers (Dennis Haysbert) and a prima donna who thinks he is destined for the Hall of Fame (Corbin Bernsen). There’s one problem in the owner’s destruction plans: This team of misfits comes together and shocks the world.
7. Bad News Bears
Although the 2005 take on this flick starring Billy Bob Thornton is stellar, the original 1976 Walter Matthau starring comedy is equal parts love letter to baseball, comedy, kids’ movie and all around classic. Bad News Bears takes audiences inside the competitive world of Little League Baseball. A ragtag group of kids come together under the unlikely leadership of Matthau’s Buttermaker and triumph on many levels.
6. A League of Their Own
“There’s no crying in baseball,” Tom Hanks said at his shrillingly screaming best. During the height of World War II, Major League Baseball suffered a shortage of talent. Ballplayers, including Ted Williams, gave up their formative baseball years to fight for freedom. Filling that absence at the time was a women’s baseball league. A League of Their Own showcases one team’s incredible true story of how the women of America stepped up to form A League of Their Own. The film serves as one of the only roles that Madonna knocked out of the park. Sorry, Madge, but it’s true. Rosie O’Donnell and Geena Davis lead a stellar cast that not only brings a true tale to life, but also has its own kind of cheer in your seat charm.
5. The Natural
Robert Redford was at his dreamy best in The Natural as an early 20th century ballplayer who found himself on the field of dreams later in life than he expected. Based on the brilliant book by Bernard Malamud and directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Main, Diner), the film manages to transport its audience to the baseball world of another day and illustrate that no matter the decade, the passion for the game and for those who play it is always ripe for some of the most amazing true and fictional stories in storytelling history.
4. Bang the Drum Slowly
Robert De Niro stars in a baseball movie? You bet! In Bang the Drum Slowly, he plays a catcher for a talented pitcher who is fighting a terminal illness over the course of a baseball season. The film is based on the 1956 book by Mark Harris, and it's astounding as executed by director John D. Hancock. At the time, De Niro was a little known actor while the star was Michael Moriarty. Hancock’s portrayal of a man stricken with Hodgkin’s Disease is the stuff of legend. The fact that he fights through the season without the team’s knowledge is a study in integrity and fortitude.
The best baseball movie in recent years is also one of the best baseball movies of all time. At its core is a tale of undervalued souls gathered under a radical idea that when you put together a team of experts at one thing individually, with nine players working every baseball game, therein lies a high probability that that specialized team will score. And by scoring, we mean win. In Moneyball, Brad Pitt is pure baseball in his portrayal of the Oakland A’s Billy Beane. When he says, “I’ve been in this game a long time,” his baseball history is worn in his eyes, on his forehead and in his lips that deliver that line. What that A’s team did is unmatched in history and on screen, and as shot by director Bennett Miller, non-baseball fans will emerge from the theater ready to give the game its due.
2. Bull Durham
Although a baseball movie about a Carolina minor league baseball team with dueling parallel characters, each moving in the opposite direction as the other, Bull Durham takes audiences on the journey of Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy. Annie is a baseball lifer who embodies every living and breathing fan of America’s pastime. Big money hadn’t yet taken over Major League Baseball like it does today and this 1988 classic shows how Tim Robbins’ Nuke LaLoosh, under the tutelage of Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis, has the power to become a major league star while still remaining humble. Bull Durham is also one of the best baseball movies because it interweaves a love story between Crash and Annie that simmers for 90 minutes -- while giving audiences a show-stopping baseball film on the field -- before it explodes into full-fledged passionate love. Home run indeed.
1. The Pride of the Yankees
Gary Cooper is Lou Gehrig and in The Pride of the Yankees, he goes from New York Yankees phenom to one of the saddest physical degenerative stories told on screen. Cooper may be thought of as one of the greatest movie stars of history due to his collective work. Yet, it is his turn in The Pride of Yankees that takes what could have solely been an astounding true story about a baseball player and makes it into one of the more compelling human interest stories in Hollywood history. Prior to Cal Ripken, no one had played so many games in a row without injury. In Cooper’s hands, Gehrig’s health never diminishes his drive to conquer, whether on the baseball field or as he fights a disease that will come to bear his name. That final speech in Yankees stadium where Gehrig proclaims, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” is not only one of baseball movies’ most iconic lines, delivered by Cooper, it is of the most legendary in the world of cinema… period.