And after all, isn't nostalgia a key element of sports movies? "Field of Dreams" makes this explicit -- we long for the sports heroes of our childhood, for a supposed long-gone golden age of our preferred sport, as a way of connecting with our past and bridging the generational divide that separates us as adults from our parents. Sports movies offer more than just the drama of winners and losers, or the journey from dream to achievement, or the wish-fulfillment of the underdog that most of us identify with when we compete in real life. They're about the creation of a pure and ideal world, one where character and effort are rewarded with glory.
That's one side of sports movies, at least, the victorious side. But the best sports movies are also about loss and failure, about the all-too-human foibles that often keep us from winning or, even more cynically, are rewarded anyway in a corrupt world that values the appearance of sportsmanship over the reality that nice guys don't always finish first, and that all that physical exertion sometimes takes a brutal toll outside the arena. Kevin Costner is capable of embodying both sides of the equation -- the earnest striver of "Field of Dreams" and the world-weary cynic of "Bull Durham." He plays both sides in "Draft Day," making a case that he still deserves a place in the sports movie hall of fame.
To celebrate, we've curated a list of the 101 greatest sports movies of all time. Here are winners and losers, bullies and underdogs, virtuous sportsmen and corrupt fixers, brave heroes and macho thugs. Here are Costner, Nick Nolte, Paul Newman, and yes, Will Ferrell, some of the greatest sports-movie stars of all time. And here, inevitably, are arguments over the ranking order and the inclusions and omissions (what, no Warren Miller hot-dog skiing movies?). And that's OK, because, like a pop-up caught by Costner, arguments are what make ballgames, too.
101. "The Waterboy "(1998). Adam Sandler as the dumbest/fastest college football player since Forrest Gump. Also, the most well-hydrated.
100. "Leatherheads" (2008). It's a fluffy lark about the early days of pro football, but a rascally George Clooney and a lunkish John Krasinski are both kind of a hoot.
99. "Varsity Blues" (1999). This Texas football drama is no "Friday Night Lights," but it's a sentimental favorite among a certain age group. Everyone, chime in with James Van Der Beek: "Ah don't want yer lahf!"
98. "Redbelt" (2008). David Mamet finds a new arena for his machismo in this mixed martial arts drama, and Chiwetel Ejiofor learns some skills that you wish he could have deployed in "12 Years a Slave."
97. "Glory Road" (2006). Racial integration hits college basketball in this matter-of-fact period drama.
96. "Kicking and Screaming" (2005). Will Ferrell's first sports comedy, in which he plays a pee-wee soccer coach who decides having fun is more important than winning; somehow, we doubt his co-star, legendary Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, would agree.
95. "Wimbledon" (2004). Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst find romance on the tennis court; insert "love" joke here.
94. "Girlfight" (2000). Michelle Rodriguez made her reputation as an athletic tough-gal with this underrated boxing drama.
93. "Blades of Glory" (2007). Will Ferrell and Jon Heder send up the campiness of figure skating by becoming the first all-male skating duo; props to Craig T. Nelson for keeping a straight face as their ambitious coach.
92. "Green Street Hooligans" (2005). Elijah Wood, of all people, along with his fellow yobs, shows the dark side of soccer fandom.
91. "Jim Thorpe, All-American" (1951). Burt Lancaster gets an early showcase for his muscular style of acting in this biopic of the multi-talented 1912 Olympian.
90. "Coach Carter" (2005). Samuel L. Jackson reads the riot act, as only he can, to student-athletes whose poor grades have made them ineligible to play.
89. "Invincible" (2006). As a gifted amateur drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, Mark Wahlberg does for football what he did for heavy metal in "Rock Star."
88. "The Mighty Ducks" (1992). Sure, it's just "The Bad News Bears" with hockey sticks instead of baseball bats, but you can't deny the film's influence on a generation of fans.
87. "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (1956). A young Paul Newman glistens in this biopic of boxer Rocky Graziano.
86. "Invictus" (2009). Clint Eastwood's South African history lesson is not just a chance for Morgan Freeman to shine as Nelson Mandela; it's also a gripping rugby drama.
85. "Golden Boy" (1939). This classic Clifford Odets boxing drama made a star out of William Holden.
84. "A Knight's Tale" (2001). Brian Helgeland's tongue-in-cheek jousting pic nimbly transports modern sports-movie clichés (including use of sports-arena anthems like Queen's "We Will Rock You") back 650 years.
83. "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1962). Rugged, sad-eyed Anthony Quinn is ideal as the past-his-prime boxer in Rod Serling's drama.
82. " Lords of Dogtown" (2005). Pretty much the definitive skateboarding movie.
81. "Cinderella Man" (2005). Ron Howard's biopic of Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) owes a huge debt to "Seabiscuit" for the way it yanks on the heartstrings, but what works, works.
80. "Kingpin" (1996). Besides being a showcase for the grimy comedy talents of Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, and Bill Murray, the Farrelly Brothers' film is the best bowling movie ever made.
79. "Horse Feathers" (1932). One of the funniest football films ever, with the Marx Brothers trying to fix a college game.
78. "Shaolin Soccer" (2001). Stephen Chow's comedy has the grace of a ballet and the exuberance of a musical.
77. "Love & Basketball" (2000). Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan make hoops sexy.
76. "Blue Chips" (1994). William Friedkin's underrated college basketball movie features a fine Nick Nolte as a coach weary of the compromises he's forced to make as a recruiter; bonus points for casting Shaq in a role that's not too big of a stretch.
75. "Champion" (1949). Kirk Douglas earned an Oscar nod as an unscrupulous boxer willing to trample anyone in his rush toward the championship.
74. "Any Given Sunday" (1999). Oliver Stone brings his customary lack of subtlety to his portrait of big-money pro-football, featuring coach Al Pacino doing his yelling thing and Jamie Foxx as a wily young player.
73. "Grand Prix" (1966). Car-chase master John Frankenheimer ("Ronin") proved his early chops with this look at the international racing circuit.
72. "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" (2004). This spoof, in which Vince Vaughn and a cast of misfits earn a shot at glory via the cruel gym-class game, pelts sports-movie clichés with satirical salvos and is mostly on-target.
71. "Knute Rockne All American" (1940). The biopic of the Notre Dame football coach contains the most famous motivational speech in any sports movie. Win one for the Gipper!
70. "The Champ" (1979). Yes, it's a remake of the classic 1930s boxing weepie with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper, but Jon Voight and Ricky Schroder are better actors. The finale is the saddest scene ever; science proves it.
69. "Fear Strikes Out" (1957). Pre-"Psycho" Anthony Perkins is aptly disturbed in his searing performance as tormented real-life Red Sox star Jimmy Pearsall.
68. "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" (1976). Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, and James Earl Jones lead a strong team of barnstormers in the waning days of segregated baseball.
67. "Blue Crush" (2002). Kate Bosworth and Michelle Rodriguez acquit themselves in this light drama about women surfers, but the real prize here goes to some of the most breathtaking surfing footage ever filmed.
66. "Personal Best" (1982). Mariel Hemingway goes for the gold in Robert Towne's track-and-field drama, which doubles as a sensitive lesbian love story.
65. "The Rookie" (2002). Dennis Quaid milks smiles and tears as Jim Morris, a real-life "Natural" who got a belated second shot at major league fame.
64. "Win Win" (2011). Paul Giamatti is at his cranky best as a wrestling coach who schemes to recruit a ringer.
63. "All The Right Moves" (1983). Long before "Friday Night Lights" was this small-town drama starring a surprisingly effective Tom Cruise as a reluctant football hero in a burg that has nothing left to root for.
62. "The Endless Summer" (1966). Bruce Brown's legendary documentary did as much as the Beach Boys to turn surfing from a fad into a way of life.
61. " Le Mans" (1971). Steve McQueen's documentary-like account of the French cross-country car race is about as lifelike a portrait of the sport as we're likely to get.
60. " Victory" (1981). John Huston made this World War II whopper that mixes "The Great Escape" with "The Longest Yard" in a Nazis-vs.-POWs soccer game. A rare chance, though, to see soccer titan Pelé on screen.
69. "The Set-Up" (1949). Robert Ryan ponders whether or not to take a dive in this seediest of all boxing dramas.
58. "Big Fan" (2009). Comedian Patton Oswalt shines in a surprising dramatic turn as a schlub who takes his obsession with the New York Giants too far.
57. "The Freshman" (1925). In this silent comedy, daredevil Harold Lloyd shines as a would-be college gridiron hero, leading to a climactic sequence that's one of the funniest football games ever filmed.
56. "Pumping Iron" (1977). This famous bodybuilding documentary made stars of Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
55. "Warrior" (2011). This little-seen drama of two brothers-turned-mixed martial arts rivals (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) deserves a bigger audience.
54. "Fat City" (1972). John Huston's overlooked gem is one of the grimiest boxing movies ever made, featuring a young Jeff Bridges and a down-and-out Stacy Keach as the veteran who sees Bridges as his ticket to glory.
53. "Moneyball" (2011). Who knew you could make a compelling movie about sabermetrics? Well, Brad Pitt did.
52. "Body and Soul" (1947). Real-life ex-boxer John Garfield shines as a fighter who loses sight of what's important as he punches his way to the top.
51. "The Fighter" (2010). Mark Wahlberg deserves credit for his lived-in performance as real-life boxer Micky Ward, but Oscar-winner Christian Bale steals the movie as his older brother, Dicky Eklund, a fighter already put through the wringer.
50. "Friday Night Lights" (2004). Not as deep a dive as the TV series into the vicarious role high school football plays in the lives of small, economically-depressed communities, but you get the idea.
49. "Rush" (2013). Ron Howard's vivid, based-in-fact Formula One drama was overlooked last fall but is likely to grow in stature as audiences discover it.
48. "Mystery, Alaska (1999). This underdog hockey tale starring Russell Crowe offers few surprises but hits all the right notes.
47. "Happy Gilmore" (1996). As a hockey player-turned-golfer, Adam Sandler gives you two sports comedies in one.
46. "Cool Runnings" (1993). How can you not love a sports movie that stars roly-poly John Candy, or that tells the more-or-less true story of the Jamaican Olympic bobsled team?
45. "The Sandlot" (1993). For fans of a certain age, this is the definitive kid-baseball movie.
44. "Bang the Drum Slowly" (1973). A pre-fame Robert De Niro is a dying ballplayer in this baseball answer to "Brian's Song."
43. "Major League" (1989). Who's the MVP in this shaggy comedy about a team of big-league misfits – real-life high school baseball star Charlie Sheen? A charismatic young Wesley Snipes? We'll go with exasperated announcer (and monument to baseball mediocrity) Bob Uecker.
42. "42" (2013). This account of Jackie Robinson's rookie major league year is pretty much by-the-numbers, but Chadwick Boseman proves a star-in-the-making as the historic Dodger.
41. "Tin Cup" (1996). Kevin Costner reteams with "Bull Durham" filmmaker Ron Shelton for this comedy about a golfer who'd rather make an impressive shot than win the tournament.
40. "The Wrestler" (2008). Wrestling's answer to "Requiem for a Heavyweight," this drama about a battered grappler (played by the battered Mickey Rourke) striving for a comeback that could kill him provided a much less lethal comeback for Rourke himself.
39. "Senna" (2010). This was one of the first documentaries to make vivid use of 3D, but even if you're watching in 2D, the auto racing footage is something else.
38. "He Got Game" (1998). Denzel Washington and real-life hoops great Ray Allen star in Spike Lee's father-son basketball drama.
37. "Damn Yankees" (1958). The only musical on this list, and a comic reminder of how far some fans might go to see their team win.
36. "Bend It Like Beckham" (2002). The movie that made Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra famous is also a wonderful culture-clash comedy about women, soccer, and expanding expectations.
35. "Ali" (2001). Will Smith, who famously rapped about getting beaten in the ring by Mike Tyson, didn't seem like the ideal star to play Muhammad Ali, but damned if he doesn't capture a measure of The Greatest's swagger and poetry.
34. "The Hurricane" (1999). It's like a movie version of the Bob Dylan song, with Denzel Washington at his seething best as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the boxer wrongly convicted of murder who fights a more existential bout for his own acquittal and his own soul.
33. "Murderball" (2005). This documentary about paraplegic wheelchair rugby players is as brutally physical and exhilarating as any fictional sports drama.
32. "Remember the Titans" (2000). Further proof that sports builds the character not just of athletes but of whole communities comes in this account of high school football coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), who did his part for civil rights by integrating a small-town team.
31. "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006). Will Ferrell's parody of "Days of Thunder" and other auto racing movies is his funniest and best sports comedy.
30. "The Hustler" (1961). Cocky Paul Newman learns some hard life lessons before becoming enough of a Zen master to play a grudge match against Jackie Gleason in an epic billiards battle.
29. "Heaven Can Wait" (1978). In this superior remake of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," a reincarnated Warren Beatty gets a second chance at quarterback glory, but he discovers some new priorities along the way.
28. "61*" (2001). Billy Crystal, of all people, directed this thoughtful drama about Roger Maris' (Barry Pepper) 1961 race to break Babe Ruth's single-season home run record, and the psychic toll it took on him.
27. "The Bad News Bears" (1976). The sequels and the 2005 remake aren't bad, but for grubby, grass-stained authenticity, stick with the original Walter Matthau version of this comedy about a curmudgeonly coach and his foul-mouthed Little Leaguers.
26. "The Longest Yard" (1974). Forget the Adam Sandler remake and stick with this original Burt Reynolds bruiser about a guards-vs.-convicts football game.
25. "White Men Can't Jump" (1992). Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes show real teamwork as playground basketball hustlers in Ron Shelton's comedy.
24. "The Pride of the Yankees" (1942). We dare you not to cry when Yankee stalwart Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper), felled by his namesake disease, delivers his retirement speech.
23. "Seabiscuit" (2003). Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper, and that magical horse complement each other brilliantly in this true-life drama about the Depression-era racehorse that captured the imagination of even working-class Joes.
22. "Jerry Maguire" (1996). Beyond the romance, the Cameron Crowe catchphrases ("Show me the money!"), and Tom Cruise's pained grin, there's a trenchant look at the harsh realities of the industry of professional sports.
21. "Million Dollar Baby" (2004). Oscars went to Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, and filmmaker/star Clint Eastwood for this unsparing boxing drama with a famous late-act right hook that knocks viewers out of their comfort zone.
20. "Brian's Song" (1971). James Caan and Billy Dee Williams star as real-life Chicago Bears teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers, whose unlikely friendship is tested by Piccolo's cancer. A classic male weepie of the highest order.
19. "When We Were Kings" (1996). Leon Gast's documentary about the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" brings colorfully to life one of the most historic contests in 20th-century sports.
18. "Rudy" (1993). Maybe an even more effective tear-jerker than "Brian's Song," thanks to Sean Astin's performance as the real-life tackling dummy who made the Notre Dame squad due to sheer refusal to give up on his impossible dream.
17. "The Natural (1984). Director Barry Levinson whiffs on the gloomy ending of Bernard Malamud's original story, but his more uplifting version of the mythic tale of an aging slugger (Robert Redford) with a magical bat who gets a second shot at redemptive glory is certainly a crowd-pleaser.
16. "Slap Shot" (1977). Paul Newman manages not to lose any teeth from that famous grin while starring in the dirtiest and funniest hockey film of all time.
15. "Caddyshack" (1980). The ultimate golf comedy, with Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Chevy Chase, and Bill Murray all playing at the top of their game.
14. "North Dallas Forty" (1979). One of the first exposés of pro football, this one still offers a scary (and sometimes weirdly funny) look at the prescription drug abuse necessary to keep pigskin pros playing on the gridiron. Nick Nolte is at his shaggy best as a player who becomes an unlikely crusader.
13. "National Velvet" (1944). Elizabeth Taylor became a star at 12 as the young rider in this still-beloved equestrian drama.
12. "Miracle" (2004). A thoroughly square drama that nonetheless recaptures the excitement of the enormous upset victory of the U.S. Olympic hockey team over the Soviets in 1980.
11. "The Karate Kid" (1984). Forget Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan; for many of us, this will always be the story of Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), and of life lessons learned that go well beyond the dojo.
10. "Chariots of Fire" (1981). Hugh Hudson's drama of the British track squad at the 1924 Olympics is pretty much the definitive movie about the quest for Olympic gold, and Vangelis' famous theme song is pretty much the definitive soundtrack to every runner's dreams.
9. "Eight Men Out" (1988). John Sayles' account of the 1919 Black Sox scandal is a reminder that the good old days were anything but.
8. "Hoop Dreams" (1994). Steve James' epic documentary tracing the high school careers of two talented Chicago youths hoping to break out of poverty and into the NBA is about more than basketball; it's about an America where the odds are still stacked against young black men, for whom even exceptional character and hard work offer no guarantees offer no guarantees of opportunity.
7. "Breaking Away" (1979). Town vs. Gown is dramatized as never before (or since) in this slice-of-life dramedy, which also happens to be the best movie ever made about bicycle racing.
6. "Hoosiers" (1986). Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, and a team full of unknown kids raise the nostalgic drama of small-town basketball underdogs to its Platonic ideal form.
5. "A League of Their Own" (1992). Penny Marshall's comedy inspired by the real-life exploits of the women ballplayers who kept the sport alive during World War II also happens to be the best movie yet about women in sports -- why they play, and why they sometimes walk away from playing.
4. "Rocky" (1976). Art and life came together for underdog Sylvester Stallone, the actor who wrote himself the role of a lifetime and pounded raw beef all the way to a Best Picture Oscar and a lifetime of superstardom. Of course, that superstardom made him less believable as an underdog in the five "Rocky" sequels, but the original film retains its scruffy palooka charm after nearly 40 years.
3. "Field of Dreams" (1989). Once again, Kevin Costner explores the mysteries of baseball, plowing under a cornfield and kidnapping a reclusive literary giant in the process, and he discovers the redemptive power of a simple game of catch, bringing a tear to the eye of every grown man watching who couldn't talk with his own father about anything but sports.
2. "Raging Bull" (1980). Martin Scorsese's portrait of Jake La Motta (an Oscar-winning Robert De Niro) is generally considered the best film of the 1980s and the best boxing movie ever. Certainly it's the most beautifully shot boxing movie -- and the most unsparing about how the violence of the sport sometimes spills out of the ring.
1. "Bull Durham" (1988). Stumbling blindly through Ron Shelton's comedy about sex and minor-league baseball, Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins approach a zen understanding of why we love such a frustrating game, even after we're forced to grow up and embrace more mature pleasures.
Photo courtesy Universal