Sport in cinema: Three of the greatest sports films of all-time

Posted on 4 December 2017
By Carlton Whitfield
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Sports movies are one of the hardest genres to get right. If you make the movie too cheesy it comes across so badly to the modern audience that simply won’t accept it.

Charming efforts like Escape To Victory have a huge cult following but aren’t critically water-tight, and in recent years directors appear to be learning from the mistakes of those that have gone before them. So with this in mind, we have a look at three sports movies that went about things the right way.

Moneyball (2011)

One of the greatest sports movies ever made is a fitting tribute to one of sports greatest achievements. It was adapted from Michael Lewis’s book of the same name and follows the story of Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics.

The A’s are one of Baseball’s poorest teams and the film portrays the efforts of the team General Manager Billy Bean (Brad Pitt) as he goes about rebuilding his team on a shoe-string budget following the loss of three key players at the end of the previous season.

He meets a young man called Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who Bean makes his Assistant General Manager after being impressed with his deductions about baseball analytics.

The pair set about changing the conventions of baseball strategy by putting together a team of misfits that are undervalued by other teams for a whole host of superficial reasons and the result is a story that will live through the ages and one that changed baseball history forever.

The film achieves its success thanks to the strong performance of both Pitt and Hill and by not overly concentrating on the action on the field but by portraying the fascinating efforts of these two protagonists as they build the new team. This is a common theme with modern sports films, with producers more interested in the stories behind the success.

To put it into context the Oakland A’s are major long shots to even have a chance of winning the 2018 World Series for baseball fans betting in hard currency or on affiliate site, betting with bitcoin. The LA Dodgers, on the other hand, are 6.25 to win in 2018 due to their huge advantage in payroll. What the A’s achieved with Billy Bean, depicted in Moneyball, is truly remarkable and was recognised by Boston Redsox in 2002 when they offered Beane $12.2 million a year to be their GM.

Rocky (1976)

Simply a classic and despite some of its obvious cheese you can’t help but love this tale of working-class hero come good. The film follows the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as he goes from being a kind-hearted club fighter to heavyweight champion of the world.

The film is a rag to riches movie that captured the hearts of American audiences upon its release in 1976. It only cost $1m to make but made $225m at the box office. Stallone’s portrayal of the downtrodden Italian American in the poorest parts of Philadelphia is a perfect fit for the movie and the supporting cast play their part in making this film such a memorable and, in the end, successful franchise.

Invincible (2006)

Another rag to riches movie that follows the true story of NFL star Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) who became a star with the Philadelphia Eagles between 1976-78. The setting is Philadelphia in the 1970s which were going through some hard economic times during that era.

Vince Papale is one of those feeling the pinch and loses his job as a substitute teacher which in turn leads to his wife leaving him. Running parallel to Papale’s story is that of new Eagles coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) who is under massive pressure to deliver a winning team on the field.

He elects to offer open tryouts for player and Papale is the only one that makes it through after he impresses Vermeil. The fact that he makes the team offers his friends a ray of hope during the hard times that they are going through and the Eagles success under Vermeil and thanks to Papale is a triumph of sport for all fans.

The Philadelphia Eagles are 5.5 to win Super Bowl LII, but you would have had longer odds during the Vermeil era, which is why it is such a compelling story.
The ups and downs of sport give filmmakers a seemingly irresistible narrative to work with, and given the place that sports team such as the A’s, the Eagles and boxers have in the hearts of so many people, it allows for huge box office success. Indeed, the critical reception, when done well, can be enormous. Expect more film titles to feature famous sporting stories in the years to come.