Sports underdog movies are a guilty pleasure of mine. Seeing a rag tag team go from zero to hero really inspires me and, while I watch them, I feel like I can accomplish anything. They all follow pretty much the same storyline, so I don’t know why I’m so enticed by them. I am excluding movies such as Jerry Maguire and Moneyball (which I loved) because they’re less about the team coming together and more about the management and behind the scenes of the sports industry. Without further ado, here are my personal top ten sports underdog movies:
10. Hoosiers (1986)
A movie about a new coach coming to small town high school in Indiana and gets his team to the state finals. It’s pretty cliché: at first no one likes the coach, but then it turns out he’s bettering the players. But, most of these films are going to be victim of clichés. Not a fan of Hopper’s (Gene Hackman) love story arc and the team goes from okay to amazing rather easily with the introduction of Jimmy. However, there is a lovely subplot about a team member and his alcoholic dad.
9. The Blind Side (2009)
This might sound strange, but I thoroughly believe that Sandra Bullock is a better actress when she’s doing southern characters. The Blind Side and Infamous are my favourite performances of hers because I find that she can be so warm and inviting when she does a southern accent. Sandra Bullock steals this whole movie in her best role yet, however this film focuses a lot less on Mike’s (Quinton Aaron) transition from vulnerable orphan to football superstar and more on the white saviour aspect.
8. Bad News Bears (1976)
The story of a rough, bad-mouthing, no-hope little league team go from losers to champions in this old school classic. I love the vulgar and real portrayal of kids. Brilliant and naturalistic acting from all the kids, especially Tatum O’Neal (one of the best child actresses of all time) who plays the only girl on the team that’s also the most talented. It’s original for it’s time and very amusing.
7. Coach Carter (2005)
Based on the amazing real life story of a coach who returned to his old high school to turn around it’s basketball team, not just in terms of sport, but they had to keep their grades up, sit at the front of the class, wear a suit and tie to school, and refer to everyone as “sir”. It produced amazing results for the boys’ futures; every one of his team members graduated and many got scholarships. Clearly, it’s going to be a very uplifting and inspiring film. It’s not a story we’ve never seen before: at first no one likes the coach, but then it turns out he’s bettering the players. However, it’s the gravitas of how much he helps the players that puts this film much higher up than others that use this trope.
6. The Perfect Game (2009)
An amazing true story about these tiny boys in a poor, dusty town in Mexico who made their own little league team. They spoke no English, had never played on grass before, and ended becoming the first outside US team to win the Little League World Series in 1957. Also, their pitcher, Ángel Macías, threw the first, and so far only, perfect game in Little League World Series game history (meaning no opposing player reaches a base). I found this film deep into a late night Netflix scroll (sadly it’s no longer there) and was totally won over by it’s effortless sweetness.
5. Semi-Pro (2008)
I’ve always thought this was a very underrated and unknown Will Ferrell comedy film, Semi-Pro explores the basketball teams that had to get cut during the ABA-NBA merger of 1976. Flint Tropics is a fictional team in the American Basketball Association that is desperately trying to be one of the four teams that the NBA will accept (the teams not accepted will cease to exist). Chaos ensues in a last ditch effort to gain fans and actually become good at basketball. It’s more spoof-y than others on this list, but I still find it oddly uplifting and maybe I only think this film has been unfairly received because I love sports underdog movies, who knows?
4. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
I’d be surprised if anyone who owned a TV after 2004 hadn’t seen or heard of this movie; it’s on a lot. It’s a very enjoyable and quotable, dumb comedy. The team is made up of characters that are the definition of misfit and they all have moments to shine. This is my favourite Ben Stiller role/performance; he does stupid so well. In my family, this is now a classic watch. What I also love is how well the film does physical comedy. For some reason Justin Long getting hit with a dodgeball is funny EVERY time.
3. The Winning Season (2009)
Like with The Perfect Game, I have never met anyone who has heard of this film. This is probably due to the fact that I dig deep for my sports underdog movies. It follows the classic structure of grumpy coach whipping rookie kids into shape, which makes him become not grumpy. What the film does well is that it’s a very realistic approach to teenage girls; when they hang out it feels authentic and fun. I was already a fan of both Sam Rockwell and Emma Roberts and this film serves them well. There’s a sweet storyline about a girl discovering she might be gay whilst playing an important match. There aren’t exactly a plethora of films on women’s basketball, so I would recommend giving it a watch.
2. A League of Their Own (1992)
Based on the true story of the All-American Girls Baseball League that begun in 1943 to sub for the men at war, A League of Their Own is full of well-written jokes and great performances. It’s sassy, sentimental, funny, and feminist. I don’t think I could sell it more.
1. Whip It (2009)
For me, Whip It transcends this genre: it’s not only my favourite sports underdog movies, it’s one of favourite movies ever. Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut about the Austin roller derby scene is both gut-wrenching and heart-warming. I love that Barrymore took the sisterhood route, rather than a cynical one because you could easily judge this sport. Every female role is treated with respect and is well rounded, including the one’s who are acting more as villains to Bliss’ (Ellen Page) story. Main rival, Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) gives fighting talk and meanness, but turns out to be an honourable character who gets a scene showing that her motives are because winning this stupid sport means so much to her and she is worried about becoming past her prime. Bliss’ mother (Gay Harden) is domineering and disapproving, but we can see that she cares very much about her daughter and is just trying to do everything she can to secure a good future for her. The mother is rewarded in hearing that she’s her daughter’s biggest role model. These are just some examples of how Drew Barrymore gives her actresses these deserving roles and I love that my top three sports underdog movies are female-centric. I’ve watched this film a million times and, as soon as I finish it, I want to watch it a million more times. It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and an overall delight!
By: Freyja Pakarinen