CATEGORIES Features
The Blind SideInspirational sports stories have always been a popular subject for movies, but there's a special subset of this genre – true life underdog stories – that can be the most awe-inspiring of all. The latest such film, 'The Blind Side,' is the tale of Michael Oher, the formerly homeless son of a crack addict who overcomes seemingly impossible odds to play for the NFL. (He was the Baltimore Ravens' first-round draft pick this year).

Narrowing this field down to the 10 greatest films is no easy feat, and obviously open to argument, but we gave it a go. Just about all of them are guaranteed to choke up even the most hard-boiled jock.
the blind sideInspirational sports stories have always been a popular subject for movies, but there's a special subset of this genre – true life underdog stories – that can be the most awe-inspiring of all. The latest such film, 'The Blind Side,' is the tale of Michael Oher, the formerly homeless son of a crack addict who overcomes seemingly impossible odds to play for the NFL. (He was the Baltimore Ravens' first-round draft pick this year).

Narrowing this field down to the 10 greatest films is no easy feat, and obviously open to argument, but we gave it a go. Just about all of them are guaranteed to choke up even the most hard-boiled jock.


hoosiers 1. 'Hoosiers' (1986) Very loosely based on a real 1950s Indiana high school basketball team, this is the rousing saga of a dispirited small-town team brought to the state championship by a coach with a scandalous past (Gene Hackman) aided by a local b-ball loving drunk (Dennis Hopper). Hackman's complex portrayal constitutes one of the best roles of his career, which is really saying something.


rudy

2. 'Rudy' (1993) The same writing/directing team behind 'Hoosiers' brought us the story of Rudy Ruettiger Jr. (Sean Astin), who dreams of playing football for Notre Dame, despite mediocre athletic skills, poor grades, a scrawny, "5-foot-nothin' " frame and the scorn of almost everyone he knows. Though riddled with clichés, 'Rudy' works, due in no small part to Astin's low-key performance as the little guy with a big heart, not unlike a hobbit really.


miracle3. 'Miracle' (2004) had all the elements of a surefire winner -- almost unfathomable odds; a quirky, tenacious coach, and national pride – and it didn't fail to deliver. The story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team's victory over the powerful machine that was the Soviet Union (at the height of its world domination of the sport) is mainly about coach Herb Brooks, played beautifully by Kurt Russell. What is it about portraying coaches under pressure that brings out the best in actors?


cinderella man4. 'Cinderella Man' (2005) The rags-to-riches story of boxer Jim Braddock was brought to life by director Ron Howard and his second-time around ('A Beautiful Mind') star, Russell Crowe. The scrappy Aussie is totally believable as good-guy-fallen-on-hard-times Braddock, making it easy to get swept up in the story's big emotions. Another big plus: Paul Giamatti as Braddock's loyal manager Joe Gould.


the jackie robinson story5. 'The Jackie Robinson Story' (1950) The ultimate underdog story of the first African-American to play major league baseball comes via this vintage biopic, starring Jackie as himself. Yes, the story is oversimplified and the characters may lack depth – and Robinson is a better slugger than actor -- but the man and his story are so iconic in the annals of sports legends, it has to be included. (There's apparently a modern biopic in the works, but until that's released, this will do.)


the rookie6. 'The Rookie' (2002) The story of former minor-league pitcher and aging high school baseball coach Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid) who gets the once-per-lifetime opportunity to try out for the majors is more subtle and atmospheric than most movies of this genre. That's its major strength and Quaid is solid as its life-weary hero.


friday night lights7. 'Seabiscuit' (2003) is not only the story of an underdog horse (!) -- who overcomes laziness and crooked legs to become a champion, thus raising the spirits of a Depression-ravaged country -- but of his grief-humbled owner (Jeff Bridges), unorthodox cowboy trainer (Chris Cooper) and disheartened jockey (Tobey Maguire). Old-fashioned and respectful (perhaps to a fault), 'Seabiscuit' nonetheless delivers, via excellent performances and a climactic race sequence.


friday night lights8. 'Friday Night Lights' (2004) The movie that spawned the beloved TV series chronicles the 1988 season of a high school football team from Odessa, Texas, led by beleaguered coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton, who's, of course, excellent). The film works on several levels; it focuses on the town's football obsession and the enormous pressures put on Gaines and his struggling team members, but also includes a nail-bitingly tense climax on the field.


a league of their own9. 'A League of Their Own' (1992) Though generally lighthearted and comedic, Penny Marshall's movie about the All-American Girls Baseball League, formed in 1943 to replace men at war, also played hardball. Jeering fans, a boozy manager (Tom Hanks), and a rivalry between a talented catcher (Geena Davis) and her less gifted pitcher sibling (Lori Petty) all made 'A League' much more than a zany romp.


remember the titans10. 'Remember the Titans'(2000) The story of the desegregation of a Virginia high school football team in 1971 isn't subtle (Jerry Bruckheimer produced) but it repeatedly packs an emotional punch. While scenes of players discovering racial harmony may seem a bit pat, the rocky relationship between new coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and his white assistant (Will Patton) is handled nicely; it's the heart of the movie.


OK, that's ten feature films. But one documentary deserves a major shout-out:

hoop dreams'Hoop Dreams' (1994) This astonishingly deep and compelling film follows two gifted young basketball players from Chicago's poorer neighborhoods as they pursue their dream of pro basketball fame. There are giddy highs, devastating lows, and perhaps the most honest depiction of inner city life to ever hit the screen. One of the most emotionally involving sports films ever.


Honorable mentions:
'Invincible,' the story of a 30-year-old bartender (Mark Wahlberg) who overcomes huge obstacles to play for the Philadelphia Eagles; 'Murderball,' the doc about quadraplegic athletes who play wheelchair rugby in the Paralympics; and 'When We Were Kings,' which chronicles the1974 championship bout between champ George Foreman and underdog contender Mohammed Ali.