It’s only natural that America’s national pastime has been the subject of countless films. People love baseball and they love movies, so the two go together better than Kevin Costner and well, baseball films. Hollywood has become as iconic for the game as peanuts and cracker jacks.
This weekend we get to see the story of one of the most notable figures in the history of the game. Now that 42 has hit theaters, we’ll be able to definitively say just where Jackie Robinson’s story ranks among the numerous baseball movies we’ve seen, but in the meantime, I’ve compiled this list of the top 10 baseball movies of all time.
The actual list begins on the next page, but before we begin, I had to include one honorable mention, which kicks things off below.
Honorable Mention: Rookie Of The Year
When making a list such as this, I realize there’s a vast difference between the movies that are simply my favorites and those that are actually “the greatest of all time.” Rookie Of The Year is a film that sadly gets lost in that differentiation. While it’s certainly not top 10, nor would it be the 11th, it feels almost sacrilegious to write about baseball movies without at least mentioning it.
Rookie Of The Year tells the tale of Chicago youth Henry Rowengartner, a hopelessly un-athletic boy, who realizes after recovering from a broken arm that his tendons have fused too tightly and he can now throw a baseball over 100 miles-per-hour. Funky Buttlovin is right. He gets his shot with the Cubs, but the big leagues isn’t a place made for a 12-year-old and he’s forced to balance friendships, romance, winning over Gary Busey, and the terrors of facing big league sluggers.
This film is hilarious and heartwarming (the latter phrase is one you’ll see many times throughout this article). Baseball, while played at the highest level by men, is a game for boys, so what better way to show that than to plant one in the big leagues. If you’re a Cubs fan or simply looking for a light-hearted baseball film, you can’t go wrong with Rookie Of The Year.Next
10. The Rookie
The story of an aging athlete may be overplayed in sports films, but the story of the athlete who never was, making his debut at an age when most of his peers are thinking about retiring is a story that’s fresh and unique and makes The Rookie one of the greatest sports stories of all time.
This would be a great movie even if it just showed Jimmy Morris coaching his high school team to success. The way he motivates his team and turns them around rivals the greatest films about coaches ever. But that’s not even half the story. It then turns to Morris fulfilling his own dreams, which makes the film all the more powerful.
Quaid turns in one of the best performances of his career here, staying totally believable as the man finally living out his childhood dreams. The interactions between him and his son are phenomenal, and the ones with his wife and father are no less powerful. The scenes of him actually on the mound conjure up images of some of the greatest relief pitchers of all time, and The Rookie stands out because of that.Previous Next
9. Major League
This star-studded rambunctious comedy is one of the most beloved sports films of all time. Released in 1989, Major League came to audiences at a time rich for baseball films, and was still able to stand out as one of the best sports comedies ever made.
It’s loved by critics and fans alike, and that’s due in no small part to all the memorable characters and the actors that play them. Everyone loves lovable losers (hence the whole lovable losers title) and these losers are the most lovable.
Charlie Sheen’s Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn is excellent, but he’s not the only one. From top to bottom the cast shines and hilarity ensues. Major League is one of the best sports comedies ever made.Previous Next
8. The Sandlot
There’s no shortage of films about kids and baseball, but the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is The Sandlot. The story of friendship and adventure for Scotty Smalls, a boy who previously had never had either, this is as iconic a portrayal of American adolescence as imaginable.
From playing ball by the light of fireworks to asking how he can have s’more of something if he hasn’t had any yet, the memorable images and scenes from this film will live on as a part of many lives for years to come.
Perhaps why The Sandlot has such a mass appeal is the fact that it’s so relatable to anyone growing up in America. Though they can appreciate the story, not everyone can relate to a film about a hall-of-fame outfielder or a slugger closing in on history, but everyone knows about the dreams of sharing in that greatness and long summer afternoons spent idolizing those heroes.
If you aren’t a fan of The Sandlot, all I can say is, you’re killing me smalls.Previous Next
7. The Pride Of The Yankees
Released a mere year after Yankee great Lou Gehrig died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, The Pride Of The Yankees is the oldest film on this list, and not only is it one of the best baseball films of all time, but one of the best movies made in the 1940s.
Gary Cooper delivers a phenomenal performance as Gehrig, chronicling the heartbreaking story of a great robbed from the game, and life, far before his prime. Babe Ruth, Mark Koenig and other Yankees players appeared in the film as themselves, making this a must-see for any fan of the game. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including best picture and best actor.
The famous speech that Cooper delivers at the end of the film is one of the greatest moments in baseball history, and in cinematic history as well. It’s one of many scenes in the long list of sports films that can bring a tear to the eye, but these tears may sting more than any others. The Pride Of The Yankees should hold a special place in the hearts of any fans of the game.Previous Next
6. Eight Men Out
Gambling and baseball have a thick history, too thick for some fans, and no incident is more storied than the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Eight Men Out tells the story of the ballplayers, businessmen, and bookies behind the scandal.
Almost every performance in this movie is spot on. There’s far too many that shine to be listed. Perhaps it’s John Sayles’ meticulous attention to the details of the time and the game that provide such a solid foundation for the actors to work with. The one man who shines above the rest though is John Cusack as conflicted third baseman Buck Weaver. Watching Cusack interact with his biggest fans, the kids, and give a full-blown effort while his teammates toss it in around him is to witness excellence in acting. The courtroom scene where he demands his innocence is heartbreaking, and the final scene of the film ought to spark a few tears in even the toughest of viewers.
Of course, D.B. Sweeney’s Shoeless Joe Jackson is going to be remembered as well. Jackson was the best player to be banned, and could be considered one of the most talented to ever play the game. The iconic line cried out by his biggest fan “Say it ain’t so, Joe” and Sweeney’s face as he hears it are forever etched in the memory of anyone who has seen the film.Previous Next
Perhaps the greatest baseball biopic set before the modern era, the HBO film 61* tells the thrilling story of the race between Mickey Mantel and Roger Maris to forever secure a place in baseball lore.
The story in itself is phenomenal. The fact that Maris was far from personable, but was up against his most beloved teammate and chasing the record of arguably the most iconic player in the game’s history (Babe Ruth) meant that Maris was absolutely loathed even by many of his own team’s fans. Ruth’s wife wasn’t quiet about her issues with the record chase, and she wasn’t the only one. The record was forever tainted by the extended season and earned an asterisk to make sure no one could forget that Maris wasn’t as good as Ruth.
Basically Maris had a ton going on, both in the eye of the public and internally. Barry Pepper portrays this so well that it feels like we’re watching Maris’ actual struggles. Disclaimer: I wasn’t alive in 1961 to see this first-hand, but from people who were, they say the film captures the atmosphere and the attitudes of the case extremely well. That earns 61* an un-asterisked spot as one of the greatest baseball movies ever made.Previous Next
4. Bull Durham
Baseball is unique from other major professional sports in that just because you’re a pro doesn’t mean that you’re living the easy life. For every guy in the majors, there are ten guys struggling in the minors, busing around the country, hoping to get that call saying it’s time to move up another rung on the ladder to the show. While many films have shown this, none does it better than Bull Durham.
Kevin Costner shines as a grizzled minor league catcher who takes a young pitcher under his wing. Many players have proclaimed that Bull Durham is the most accurate representation of what the minor leagues are actually like. That realism is probably a result of the fact that writer/director Ron Shelton spent a few years playing in the minors in the Baltimore Orioles organization.
The relationship between Costner and Susan Sarandon is almost more enjoyable than any of the on-the-field action we see. She’s awesome in her baseball groupie role, but still, it’s the game that propels the story forward and makes for one of the most heart-felt, hilarious, and authentic baseball films ever made.Previous Next
The most recent film on this list, Moneyball, captures the workings of an MLB front office better than any other movie. I’m certain Bennett Miller’s film will spawn a whole new generation of hopeful GMs.
This is an excellent example of a film adaptation that surpasses the book in every way possible. The Michael Lewis book is a great read, especially for devoted fans of the game, but the movie is just on a whole other level, and can appeal to everyone.
Brad Pitt absolutely shines as Billy Beane, the revolutionary who forever altered the way MLB scouting will be done, but it’s Jonah Hill who surprisingly steals the spotlight. I’ll admit, when I first heard that Hill was going to be in this film, I was very hesitant about seeing him in such a non-comedic role. I was wrong to feel that way, even for a second. Hill delivers the sort of performance that makes a career, and it the film is all the better for it.
Kerris Dorsey, who plays Bean’s daughter, rounds out the trifecta of performances in Moneyball that deserve a permanent place in sports movie history. She acts far beyond her years and provides a scathingly human side to Beane’s financial and managerial struggles. Her performance of The Show is chilling. The whole thing almost makes you want to be an A’s fan. Almost.Previous Next
2. Field Of Dreams
Choosing between Field Of Dreams and the next film was a daunting task. If you want to argue that Field Of Dreams is the greatest baseball film of all time, I won’t take any offense. It’s absolutely phenomenal. The fact it failed to win the Oscar in 1989 is one of the biggest Academy Awards snubs of all time. “If you build it they will come” is one of the most iconic lines in cinematic history. The “they” obviously referred to hugely devoted fans, critical acclaim, and respect as one of the greatest sports movies of all time. Basically everything except a tiny golden statue.
The premise sounds absolutely ridiculous. But it works. It works so well. I honestly can’t explain why other than it’s the magic of baseball. This film has an enduring and heartfelt quality that should appeal to far more than just fans of the game.
Kevin Costner is a baseball film great, and he shines the brightest in this role as Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his corn field. To say the first time Shoeless Joe and the rest of the Sox appear from the stalks and play ball is chilling, would be a major understatement.Previous Next
1. The Natural
Robert Redford’s performance as Roy Hobbs in The Natural is without a doubt the greatest thing we’ve seen in a baseball movie. Perhaps it’s just that it’s so believable that Redford really could be the greatest baseball player to ever live, perhaps it’s the phenomenal story written by Bernard Malamud, or maybe it’s just the fact that Barry Levinson directs this film perfectly, but regardless of the reason, The Natural is the greatest baseball film ever made.
No film has ever captured the spirit of the game this well, and no film ever will. From start to finish, it’s completely captivating, and is layered with excellent performances from not only Redford, but Robert Duvall, Glen Close and Kim Basinger as well.
Take out every other element, and Randy Newman’s score is still enough to give me goosebumps. And that final home-run that Hobbs hits, how I can I even begin to describe it? I can’t write anything else here that will properly convey how incredible this film is, so just watch the home-run scene below, and bask in the glory of the most memorable baseball scene of all time. Warning: It’s impossible to watch this scene without getting chills. Enjoy.
Well that’s our list of the 10 greatest Baseball Movies of all time. What do you think of the order? Is there something missing that you think should be added? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.Previous