We selected 16 Hall of Fame baseball movies, you voted, and here are the results!
1. BULL DURHAM
Sex in the locker room and drunks “raining out” the field in the middle of the night. Minor league baseball at its best! This is what launched Kevin Costner as the king of sports movies, playing lifetime minor leaguer Crash Davis, who gets sent down to the bus leagues to babysit rising star Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh. Full of humor, great quotes (“From what I hear, you couldn’t hit water if you fell out of a fucking boat.”), and a tangled love story, this flick has something for everyone. Best of all, the baseball being played on camera was taken very seriously, and it comes through brilliantly, unlike in other sports movies (we’re looking at you, Major League). One of the great sports movies of all time and a true American classic.
Larry: [The pitching coach jogs out to the mound to break up a players’ conference] Excuse me, but what the hell’s going on out here?
Crash Davis: Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live … is it a live rooster? We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose’s glove, and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. Is that about right? We’re dealing with a lot of shit.
Larry: Okay, well, uh … candlesticks always make a nice gift, and, uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. OK, let’s get two! Go get ’em.
Most of the movies on this list are older and have already stood the test of time, but we believe Moneyball will soon be joining the list of greatest baseball movies of all time. It’s a funny, smart, soulful and touching portrait of the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who was forced to reinvent the Oakland Athletics on a tight budget and challenge old-school traditions. And while they downplay the accuracy of the details of this film and Michael Lewis’ book that led to it (even though he was actually there while it happened), the sabermetrics system that Beane used has changed the game forever. And it’s also safe to say that even though it makes good-guy manager Art Howe look like a buffoon, Moneyball is worthy of all its praise.
Billy Beane: How can you not get romantic about baseball?
3. THE SANDLOT
In a classic American coming-of-age story, Scotty Smalls moves to a new town and has no friends. Because he’s a nerd. And doesn’t know who Babe Ruth is. Needing a ninth player to fill up his ragtag team, however, local legend and future major leaguer Benny Rodriguez takes him under his wing, and suddenly Smalls gains acceptance while building a relationship with his new stepdad. Proof baseball cures all problems. Add in the lifeguard sham, the Beast, and a killer cameo by James Earl Jones (“You’re not in trouble. You’re dead where you stand.”), and you have a fun watch that’ll make any baseball fan remember what it was like to be a kid.
Ham Porter: You’re killing me, Smalls!
4. THE NATURAL
When a sports movie has a predictable Hollywood ending, most of the time it’s going to be of the cheesy variety, but in The Natural, it’s just awesome. Yes, yes, you have great actors working off a great script, but there’s something much more than that at work in this classic. There is just something about that Roy Hobbs, who was certainly going to be the greatest there ever was, being annihilated by life, only to reappear years later and get a taste of his destiny—if only briefly. (Perhaps, though, it appeals to us subliminally, as Robert Redford was 48 when he made the movie, and maybe without knowing it, the movie gives those older than 30 working desk jobs the sliver of hope that the Red Sox or Cubs could still call us up one day.)
Roy Hobbs: I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.
Iris Gaines: And then?
Roy Hobbs: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would’ve looked and they would’ve said, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.”
This moving portrait of Jackie Robinson, played with warmth and gentleness by Chadwick Boseman (now Black Panther in the Marvel universe), is a traditional biopic, but, for baseball fans, this is an absolute treat. Watching Robinson’s courage and restraint while facing unabashed racism is inspiring, as is his rise through the leagues. The ever-gruff Harrison Ford as MLB exec Branch Rickey is also fun to watch; this may be his best character ever … joking, we’re joking.
Leo Durocher: I don’t care if he is yellow or black or has stripes like a zebra! If Robinson can help us win, and everything I have seen says he can, then he is going to play on this ballclub! Like it, lump it, make your minds up to it because he’s comin’!
6. MAJOR LEAGUE
When a former showgirl inherits the Cleveland Indians, she realizes she can move the team to Miami if attendance tanks, so she sets out to put together the worst roster she can. She gathers a loveable collection of has-beens and never-wases—including staff ace Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, who had previously been pitching in the California penal league—that to her chagrin go from worst to first. The quote-filled movie introduced us to baseball’s mainstay, “Juuuuuust a bit outside,” now required by law to be said every time a pitch goes to the backstop. Weirdly, Cleveland, the town known for painfully suffering with its real-life losing ballclub for 40 years, embraced this fictional team, and then five years later enjoyed a run of six divisional championships in seven years with a team that looked oddly similar to the one on screen.
Scout 1: [Looking over a list of players the new owner wants] I’ve never heard of half of these guys, and the ones I do know are way past their prime.
Charlie Donovan: Most of these guys never had a prime.
Scout 2: This guy here is dead!
Owner Rachel Phelps: Cross him off, then!
7. FIELD OF DREAMS
Thanks to Goodfellas, we probably like Ray Liotta more than is healthy, but Shoeless Joe Jackson he was not. Liotta batted right and threw left. That’s fine if you’re playing Rickey Henderson, but Shoeless Joe threw right and batted left. For some reason, this unrealistic detail is more distracting than the part where the guy plows his crop under so he can watch turn-of-the-century, baseball-playing ghosts walk around his corn. Still, if you can get past the backward Joe part, the twists and mysteries of the movie give it huge marks the first time you watch it as we all try to figure out what “If you build it, he will come” means (Subsequent viewings, personally, have always diminished it for whatever reason). Also, huge props to any movie that throws out the names Joe Jackson, Mel Ott, and Carl Hubbell for a new generation.
Ray Kinsella: [Joe asks Ray if he’ll pitch to him] Don’t we need a catcher?
Shoeless Joe Jackson: Not if you get it near the plate we don’t.
8. A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
This is everything you could want in a baseball movie. It has funny moments from beginning to end, is endlessly quotable, and has good play on the field. Best of all, it is a very accurate account of what happened during World War II, when baseball owners started a women’s professional league to keep interest in the sport as many of Major League Baseball’s top stars were called to serve in the military. Geena Davis and Lori Petty add drama as the dueling sisters, and Tom Hanks is brilliant as the washed-up, alcoholic manager. Heck, even Madonna gives a good acting performance. Who knew?
Jimmy Dugan: Start using your head. That’s the lump that’s three feet above your ass. [Evelyn starts to cry] Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!
Doris Murphy: Why don’t you give her a break, Jimmy …
Jimmy Dugan: Oh, you zip it, Doris! Rogers Hornsby was my manager, and he called me a talking pile of pigshit. And that was when my parents drove all the way down from Michigan to see me play the game. And did I cry?
Evelyn Gardner: No, no, no.
Jimmy Dugan: Yeah! NO. And do you know why?
Evelyn Gardner: No …
Jimmy Dugan: Because there’s no crying in baseball. THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL! No crying!
9. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
A movie about an awkward kid, Henry Rowengartner (or Rulenfurter or Runamucker), who breaks his arm slipping on a baseball and, upon healing, can suddenly outpitch any player in the majors doesn’t sound like a movie that belongs among the baseball classics. Maybe it doesn’t, but it’s still a classic in its own campy, silly way. Sure, the movie is silly and contrived, but watching Gary Busey play washed-up Cubs pitcher Chet Steadman is a treat (because his mustache is insane).
Phil Brickman: [mentoring Henry] The key to being a big league pitcher is the three R’s: readiness, recuperation, and conditioning! You see, after the game, a lot of guys like to ice up their arm. Still, other fellas think that heat is the way to go. But I have discovered the secret, Henry: hot ice! That’s right, hot ice. I heat up … the ice cubes! It’s the best of both worlds!
10. THE ROOKIE
A typical cheesy Disney movie about an impossible boyhood dream coming true that is about as plausible as flying carpets and singing mermaids. Except it really happened, which turns it from cheesy to freakin’ awesome! Jim Morris lived baseball in his youth but had his promising career derailed by arm injuries. Twelve years later, now a high school science teacher and baseball coach in Texas, at an age where even the best players start thinking about retirement, his arm came back better than ever, and he made the most improbable of runs through the minors and actually pitched 21 games in the majors. Dennis Quaid and Rachel Griffiths play Jim and Lorri Morris and kill it with their performances. (I was going to say they “knock it out of the park,” but besides being a tired cliché, Morris was a pitcher, so … out of the park would be bad.)
Sanchez: So, Riv, what was it like watching the Babe play?
Jimmy: You sure you wanna start this?
Sanchez: How many fans did you lose when they raised ticket prices to 50 cents?
Jimmy: Almost as many as we lose when you pitch!
11. BREWSTER’S MILLIONS
Anyone who has seen this movie has tried to figure out how they would spend $1 million in a day. Every day. For a month. And not have anything to show for it. (Remember, this would be much harder to do in 1985 than now.) That was the proposition for aging minor league pitcher Montgomery Brewster, who, should he accomplish it, would inherit $300 million from his great-uncle. Richard Pryor and John Candy (the most unlikely battery in baseball history) running around New York dropping wads of cash … what’s not to love? The baseball didn’t look great, but the unique premise (that really gets you thinking) more than makes up for it.
Manager Charley Pegler: [Upon watching his players screw up a simple toss around the infield] Great! That’s great! Tinker to Evers to shit!
12. FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
Certainly more on the chick-flick side for all the feelings and emotion-y stuff that gets rolled in, but hey, you’ve got Kevin Costner on the mound replaying his relationship with Kelly Preston (may we say, looking her finest) as his career is ending, and he just happens to be throwing a perfect game. It’s a solid mix of behind-the-scenes baseball and story. The film gets extra street cred, though, just for having Vin Scully’s silky smooth brilliance narrating us through the baseball parts. (And for the unfamiliar—if any such poor souls exist—the perfect timing/narration by Vin had nothing to do with Hollywood magic. He could make ordering soup sound amazing.)
Jane Aubrey: You ever gotten your heart broken?
Billy Chapel: Yeah. When we lost the pennant in ’87.
13. BAD NEWS BEARS
We’re talking the original here, although Billy Bob Thornton’s 2005 remake does have a few funny moments. No, we’re talking Walter Matthau at his finest, playing the grumpy, beer-swilling, ex-minor leaguer Morris Buttermaker, who gets roped into coaching all the defective Little Leaguers no one else wanted. Say what you will, but there’s something beguiling about watching a guy drink beer as he drives little kids around in his Cadillac convertible and hearing 11-year-olds curse and hurl racial slurs. If they tried to film it today with the original script, Hollywood would implode. And then be lit on fire. And then be thrown into the ocean—which would of course kill seals, but it’d have to happen based on some of the things Tanner says!
Tanner Boyle: Hey, Yankees … you can take your apology and your trophy and shove ’em straight up your ass!
14. EIGHT MEN OUT
The 1919 Black Sox scandal almost ended baseball, and this is as great a look of the true history of it as you’ll find. One of the best teams to have ever been assembled to that point, those Chicago White Sox lost the World Series because notoriously cheap owner Charles Comiskey wouldn’t give his players a fair wage, leaving them open to gamblers who took advantage of their bitterness. An absolute all-star cast brings the individual characters—all of whom were so different and got involved for various reasons—to life. From the field to the hotels to the courtroom, it’s a fascinating look at how one of the biggest scandals in sports history went down, how Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis came to power as commissioner of baseball, and how everyone except the top criminals lost.
Chick Gandil: You go back to Boston and turn 70 grand at the drop of a hat? I find that hard to believe.
Sport Sullivan: You say you can find seven men on the best club that ever took the field willin’ to throw the World Series? I find that hard to believe.
Chick Gandil: You never played for Charlie Comiskey.
15. PRIDE OF THE YANKEES
This unapologetically sappy tale of New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig’s heroic rise and tragic fall is eloquently told and forever immortalized by Gary Cooper’s performance. Unlike most stories that use mythology to build standards no one could possibly live up to, Gehrig did in every single way. On the field he was Babe Ruth’s equal, off the field he was a saint, and he had movie star looks. The fact that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—robbed one of history’s most physically gifted athletes, and one of America’s greatest sports heroes, of his strength is indeed on par with any Greek tragedy. The Iron Horse would die less than two years after his diagnosis at the age of 37.
Lou Gehrig: Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
16. BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY
Most baseball fans are at least familiar with the title, but if you go in thinking about the lighthearted baseball movies we are now accustomed to and think, “Robert De Niro in a baseball move? Awesome!” Bang the Drum Slowly will rip you to shreds. It’s is a touching melodrama about a hayseed catcher, Bruce Pearson (De Niro), whom no one likes, except pitcher Henry Wiggen, who has a soft spot for him. The rub is that Pearson is dying from Hodgkin’s disease, and beside those two, we viewers are the only ones who know, making the way he is treated all the more difficult to watch. Not one you’ll be clamoring for every weekend, but well worth the time at least once.
Dutch Schnell: [taking Piney’s revolver in the locker room] Piney, I hear you have bullets with it too.
Piney Woods: Yes, sir. They’re in the gun.
Dutch Schnell: Why the hell didn’t you tell me?
Piney Woods: I didn’t think it’d go off. I’m always very careful.
Dutch Schnell: That’s what everybody says. That’s why the hospital’s full of babies.
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