The 50 greatest sports movies: part one

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In part one we're hotrodding with David Cronenberg, waxing both on and off with Ralph Macchio, rowing with Nicolas Cage and riding with David Essex, plus our writers get into a bit of a tiff over 'Happy Gilmore'

50. Happy Gilmore (1996)

Dir: Dennis DuganThe Marmite of sporting comediesThe case for The comedy sports movie is a surprisingly hard trick to pull off, perhaps because real sportsmen take themselves so very seriously. For every ‘Kingpin’ there’s a ‘Kicking and Screaming’, for every ‘Talladega Nights’ a ‘Semi-Pro’. But whatever the anti-Sandler brigade may have you believe, the reigning champion of sports-based slapstick remains this deliriously silly one-angry-man-against-the-system goofy golfing masterwork. The ‘plot’ is essentially a slender framework around which Sandler and his broad-based band of merry costars (Richard Kiel! Carl Weathers! Bob Barker! Ben Stiller!) create comic setpieces of ever-increasing absurdity. And whenever the sheer exuberance of the enterprise threatens to spill over into outright mugging, it’s reigned back to earth with a dynamite one-liner (‘You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?’) or a glimpse of classic Sandler rage, before such schtick became tiresome. Sandler may have made better movies after this (and many, many worse ones), but he would never again be this funny. TH
The case against From director Dennis Dugan, whose résumé contains such shelf-filler turds as ‘National Security’, ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’ and ‘Beverly Hills Ninja’, this so-called sporting comedy was the film that outed Adam Sandler as one of the lesser mainstream talents spewed forth from the Hollywood dream factory. Making ‘Baseketball’ look like ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’, it’s a film which, if you gaze beneath the reams of glossy machismo on screen, you can actually make out an image of the minds who concocted it: a mob of moneyed filmschool dropouts in Bermuda shorts and Ray Bans who’ve watched ‘Caddyshack’ too many times and are all propped around a table at Hooters yelping sentences that all start with ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if…’ at one another. Yet, I’ll be the first to admit that the world would be a worse-off place without it: how else would we be able to appreciate Sandler’s tour de force turn in ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ had he not spent his preceding career in mirth-neutral dreck such as this? DJWatch an epic 'Sandler-Rage' montage
Read the original Time Out review
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49. Silver Dream Racer (1980)

Dir: David Wickes

Essexual tensionSpare a thought for poor David Essex. Once he had it all: admiration, a brilliant career in music, movies and on the West End stage. Where did it all go wrong? Well to be honest, ‘Silver Dream Racer’ probably didn’t help: Essex’s first starring role in five years, it would also be his last. The story of a man, a machine and a dream, this is the motorbike racing movie par excellence, albeit filtered through a uniquely grimy, unappealing, early-Thatcherite suburban aesthetic: a film so workmanlike its director is even named after a DIY superstore. Also notable for being the final proper screen outing for doomed former national treasure Harry H Corbett, ‘Silver Dream Racer’ feels a little bit like where the ’70s went to die. THWatch the dreamy pop video for David Essex's 'Silver Dream Machine'Read the original Time Out review bang the drum 2.jpg

48. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

Dir: John D Hancock
The other use for man-size Kleenex…“I didn't cry when me own father was hung for stealing a pig, but I'll cry noo!” Groundskeeper Willie echoes the sentiments of many stouthearted men of a certain age when confronted with this maudlin drama in which Robert De Niro’s shy, sensitive, mentally defective hillbilly baseball catcher succumbs to terminal Hodgkin’s Disease. Though a commercial and critical home run at the time of its release, the years have not been kind to what now looks like a particularly flat ‘Disease of the Week’ movie. The baseball scenes themselves are secondary and none too convincing, with De Niro swinging a bat like a one-armed man waving a fire extinguisher at a chip-pan blaze. ALDWatch De Niro get ‘jiggy’ with it in 'Bang the Drum Slowly'

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47. Cool Runnings (1993)

Dir: Jon TurteltaubSeriously easygoingThere’s reggae, dreadlocks and good times aplenty in this rose-tinted tale of cultural and class upheaval that charts the exploits of the plucky Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics. The wonderfully named Irv Blitzer (John Candy) is the disgraced bobsled champ who turns coach to four disparate Jamaican youths in whom he sees a winning spirit and a chance to get stinking rich. The manner in which they get from the sun-bleached climes of their birthplace to the precipitous slopes of Calgary, Alberta conforms tightly to all the musty strictures of the underdog sports comedy, but the family-friendly, Disneyfied vibe still manages to warm all but the coldest of hearts. DJWatch a classic training montage from 'Cool Runnings'
Read the original Time Out review
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46. The Boy in Blue (1986)


Dir: Charles Jarrott
Not the Cannon and Ball classicBack in the days when Nicolas Cage was known as Nicolas Coppola and teeth straightening had not yet become de rigueur within the Hollywood firmament, the madman actor-cum-property magnate starred in the only sculling movie on this (or any) list. The time: c1870. The place: Toronto. Cage plays Ned Hanlan, a silver-tongued bounder with a ripped bod who decides to put the kibosh on his illegal hooch racket and heed the call of the river. Leaving no sporting underdog cliché unsoiled, this is what some may call Merchant Ivory-lite, with its stirring synth soundtrack and affirmation that there ain’t a street punk in the world who couldn’t be tamed by turning his attentions to a sport of gentlemen. What more should we have expected from the director of ‘Condorman’? DJWatch the trailer to 'The Boy in Blue' wsc.jpg

45. When Saturday Comes (1996)

Dir: Maria GieseSee what you can do
To anyone furious that ‘This Sporting Life’ didn’t make our top 50, listen up: that movie was made by a bunch of clever-clever London intellectuals, starred an Irish boozehound with a wandering accent and painted a painful, patronizing portrait of Northern working class life. ‘When Saturday Comes’, for all its faults, is the real deal. Or at least, real-ish: it may have been written and directed by a Yank (and a woman, no less), but at least it had a proper slice of Yorkshire beef in the lead. Sean Bean plays anti-authoritarian brewery monkey, Jimmy, whose modest prayers are answered when he gets to play for Sheffield United. The film shows absolutely no understanding or respect for the hard realities of football, and is all the better for it: this is basically ‘Rocky’ in a flat cap and nobbly boots, and you can’t say fairer than that. THWatch a news report on 'When Saturday Comes's 'premiere' Read the original Time Out review
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44. Kingpin (1996)

Dir: Peter & Bobby FarrellyGutterball humourBack in the days when the Farrelly brothers were a comedic force to be reckoned with, ‘Kingpin’ was the movie that proved ‘Dumb & Dumber’ was not just a flash in the toilet pan. Possibly the best (only?) movie to be made exclusively about the cloak-and-dagger world of professional bowling, it benefits from an unlikely chemistry between the central pairing of Woody Harrelson as a fallen pro looking for full-frame redemption and Randy Quaid as an Amish naif desperately seeking a windfall to save his family farm. But, it’s Bill Murray’s supporting turn as wig-flapping showpony Ernie ‘Big Ern’ McCracken that tips this one over into the annals of sporting greatness. DJWatch some McCracken madness from 'Kingpin' Read the original Time Out review
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43. The Karate Kid (1984)

Dir: John G AvildsenWaxing lyricalRemember when we all wanted to be Ralph Macchio? With his pudgy, unformed face and meaty Italian sneer, this was a sporting hero we could all somehow relate to. He got beat up in school, went to the prom dressed in a shower curtain and his only friend was an elderly Japanese car enthusiast, yet he still managed to get the girl, beat the baddies and, in the sequel, run in slow motion along a beach to the strains of Peter Cetera’s ‘Glory of Love’. Much has been made of the fact that Avildsen’s movie is basically a glossy junior version of his earlier Oscar-winner ‘Rocky’, but that’s a simplification: for one thing, there’s no way Sly could have dated Elizabeth Shue without raising a few eyebrows. And he totally would have swept the leg. THWatch the video for Joe Esposito's 'You're the Best Around' from 'The Karate Kid' Read the original Time Out review
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42. The Sandlot (1993)

Dir: David M EvansIs that your sister out there in left field, naked?Sound off: Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez? Here! Hamilton ‘Ham’ Porter? Here! Michael ‘Squints’ Palledorous? Here! Alan ‘Yeah-Yeah’ McClennan? Here! Tommy ‘Repeat’ Timmons? Here! Scotty Smalls? Here! The team are ready and the bases are loaded for a film so flag-wavingly American it makes mom’s apple pie taste as sweet as the contents of a French septic tank. Essentially the ‘Stand By Me’ it’s okay to like, ‘The Sandlot’ is about a group of apple-cheeked young ’uns who live to play baseball, but must alter their diamond-shaped reality when faced with the perennial childhood ordeal of retrieving their ball from a neighbour’s garden. Their pubescent dilemma is highlighted by the big bastard killer mutt who lives on the other side of the fence and wants nothing more than to grind them down, digest their innocence and shit them out into pot-ash. Fin. DJWatch a behind-the-scenes featurette of 'The Sandlot' Read the original Time Out review

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41. Fast Company (1979)

Dir: David CronenbergChassis horrorOkay, so it goes: sexually voracious turd-monsters, girl with a disease-spreading penis under her arm, drag racing, woman gives birth to murderous hate dwarves… wait, back up a second. Yes, between the grotesque socio-splat of ‘Shivers’ and ‘Rabid’ and the Freudian gloop of ‘The Brood’, David Cronenberg took the time to indulge his secret passion: motor racing. ‘Fast Company’ is no masterpiece, but it is a solidly built, smooth-running slice of late ’70s carsploitation, directed with Crazy Dave’s customary precision and featuring a cast of stock smalltown slobs fighting, living and loving on and off the track. Cronenberg would return to machine-head mode two decades later with ‘Crash’, but this time the result wasn’t quite so blue collar. THWatch the trailer to 'Fast Company' Read the original Time Out review See 40 through to 31

Author: Adam Lee Davies, Tom Huddleston & David Jenkins


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