Gallery | Unconventional Underdog Sports Movies
- ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Movie’ (2004)
We have to begin with the comedy that acknowledges its own conformity to the underdog sports movie genre. This is also the movie that probably has the most ridiculously unconventional game in the bunch. Not that dodgeball isn’t a professional sport, but back when this Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller flick was being made, there was still no such thing as the National Dodgeball League. The whole idea of the elementary school gym-class staple being played by adults was taken to be a joke.
- ‘Over the Top’ (1987)
Yes, competitive arm wrestling exists in real life, as well. And while it’s been a part of popular culture for at least a half-century -- in spite of it being prominently featured in Snoopy comic strips -- its most mainstream place of notoriety is in this movie. Sylvester Stallone, who gave us one of the prime underdog sports movies of all time with “Rocky,” stars as a truckdriver with odds heavily against him in a championship tournament. But he has more than size on his side: he has the determination to make his estranged son proud of him.
- ‘Cool Runnings’ (1993)
Another premise that seemed too silly to be true was that of a Jamaican bobsled team. Not only that, but a Jamaican bobsled team competing in the Winter Olympics. The whole, ludicrous-sounding idea was even put as a question for the movie’s tagline. But this comedy starring John Candy and Doug E. Doug is actually based on a true story. It also pretty much put the sport of bobsleigh on the map for a lot of people who wouldn’t normally tune in to the Winter games.
- ‘Whip It’ (2009)
Growing in popularity in recent years, female flat-track roller derby had to get its first underdog sports movie eventually, and actress-turned-director Drew Barrymore was the one to bring it on. She also appears in the movie, which stars Ellen Page as a teen who finds her calling on a team of misfits who never win a match. While she helps them rise in the rankings, she also has personal problems to overcome, too.
- ‘Teen Wolf Too’ (1987)
Boxing is hardly an unconventional sport for the underdog genre. Just look at “Rocky” for one of the standards. But collegiate boxing isn’t so common. And with this “Teen Wolf,” sequel starring a young Jason Bateman, the little-followed sport is substituting for the original movie’s more relatable high school basketball element. Had this film been more successful, we figure the franchise would have had another new sport in each installment, for every newly introduced Howard cousin. It could have been like the “Air Bud” movies but ahead of their time.
- ‘One Crazy Summer’ (1986)
Sailing can be found at the center of more than a few movies, but this wacky comedy really brings the oddballs to the sport for a full-on regatta. Not only does most of the underdog team here not know how to sail, but their leader, played by John Cusack, even has a fear of boats and the water. Thankfully, you can mash-together a sailboat and a Ferrari and win the race by a long shot.
- ‘Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India’ (2001)
You don’t need to understand cricket to enjoy this humorous Oscar-nominated movie -- and you probably won’t understand it any better afterward, either. Aside from having a daunting length of 224 minutes, it’s a highly accessible and entertaining movie about a group of Indian villagers who challenge their British overlords to a game of cricket -- in spite of not knowing how to play the sport -- in order to pay less taxes if they win. Just pretend they’re playing baseball and it’s like a redo of “The Bad News Bears.”
- ‘Invictus’ (2009)
Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon both received Academy Award nominations for their performances in this movie involving another sport that’s totally alien to most Americans. The game is rugby, and this true story depicts South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup following the end of apartheid in the country. As the new guys, they were a kind of underdog. But more than just having to defeat the incumbent favorites, the Springboks were tasked with helping new president Nelson Mandela to inspire and unite a nation by going all the way.
- ‘Kingpin’ (1996)
There’s no drama in seeing the best at a sport continue to succeed. There is hilarious drama, however, in seeing the best at a sport lose the one part of his body that he needed to be the greatest. For Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson), that’s his bowling hand. But that can be replaced with a cartoonish prosthetic that not only keeps us laughing but also keeps him in the game all the way to the top.
- ‘Happy Gilmore’ (1996)
Golf isn’t too unconventional a sport for the movies, but this Adam Sandler comedy still can’t be denied as a totally unconventional sports film. The title character is a hockey player who heads to the links to win a cash prize for his needy grandmother. He pretty much turns the sport into a mockery while showcasing his improbable signature skill of applying a slapshot to a golf ball. His main underdog shortcoming, though, is that the mash-up move doesn’t work on the putting green.