Baseball is America’s National Pastime. But one could make the argument that going to the movies (or streaming them at home) is also pretty high on the list of stuff we like to do. Which makes baseball movies a big win-win endeavor. Not only that, but the history behind, passion for, and inspirational nature of baseball coincides pretty nicely with the stories and dreams of America itself.
Here we’ve chosen the 16 best baseball movies of all time. These are movies that use the sport of baseball to showcase all those things that make humanity great — perseverance, camaraderie, beating the odds, plus crass one-liners thrown in for fun. For some, baseball is the greatest sport. For some it’s almost a religion. And for anyone with a couple hours to spend, baseball is also a ticket to some truly great filmmaking.
“How can you not be romantic about baseball?”
Not every baseball movie earns six Oscar nominations. This one did. With a spot-on screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, plus stand-out performances by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, Moneyball tells the true story of the manager who put together a winning team for the Oakland A’s using stats instead of intuition to pick his players. It’s a feel-good underdog story that manages to make the business end of baseball, sabermetrics included, deeply fascinating.
Bull Durham (1988)
“Strikeouts are boring. Beside that, they’re fascist.”
Director Ron Shelton played in the Minors until he realized he wasn’t going to make it to the Majors — so he turned to filmmaking, writing and directing Bull Durham, which happens to be about a Minor league player who never makes it to the Big League. Kevin Costner plays the veteran MiLB player who is called on to mentor a hot-shot rookie headed for The Show. Both players begin relationships with Susan Sarandon’s Annie, a baseball groupie and quasi spiritual guide. It’s genuinely funny with enough romance and baseball to keep everyone happy.
Field Of Dreams (1989)
“If you build it, he will come.”
In 1919, eight White Sox players were accused of throwing the World Series and were banned from ever playing pro ball again. Kevin Costner — starring in a baseball movie just a year after Bull Durham — plays a farmer who hears voices compelling him to plow a section of his cornfield and turn it into a baseball diamond. When he does, the ghostly disgraced players show up, along with other souls for whom baseball has been the great constant. Eventually real live fans show up too — many of whom still make the trip out to that Iowa ball field.
The Natural (1984)
“People don’t start playing ball at your age, they retire!”
Some call it the best baseball movie ever made. Full of hope and second chances, The Natural stars Robert Redford as a man who once had a shot at the majors but lost it due to an encounter with a crazy (which happens to be based on an actual event). Now middle aged, he appears out of nowhere and lands a spot on the fictional New York Knights, dragging the failing team up to the World Series. Crowd-pleasing, inspirational, and an affirmation of the inspirational power of the game.
“You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back… and I’ll give you the guts.”
Any baseball fan worth his salt knows 42 was Jackie Robinson’s number — in 1997 MLB retired that number. Now no player wears 42, except when every player wears it on April 15th, the day Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers to end 80 years of segregation in baseball. The film stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as a Dodgers owner who signs the first black player in MLB history. The film is a powerful retelling of a major moment in American history, and the making of an enduring American hero.
Major League (1989)
“Free admission to anyone who was actually alive the last time the Indians won the pennant.”
No genre loves an underdog story quite like the sports film. In Major League, the ragtag team of terrible players is put together intentionally when the Indians’ owner decides to tank the season in order to move the team from Cleveland to Miami. When the players — Charlie Sheen’s erratic “Wild Thing” pitcher, Tom Berenger’s aging catcher with bad knees, Wesley Snipes’ player who runs fast but can’t hit — discover the plot, they decide to get it together and win the pennant just to prove they can. It’s a hilariously fun baseball movie, with a homerun performance by Bob Uecker as the team’s announcer.
Eight Men Out (1988)
“Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so.”
If you want to go a bit deeper than Kevin Costner’s retelling of the “Black Sox” scandal in Field of Dreams, check out this historical pic. When seven Chicago White Sox players are financially slighted by management despite their wins, they find themselves open to bribes from mobsters to throw the World Series. John Cusack stars as Buck Weaver, the third baseman who knew about the fix but insisted he played clean — but was banned for life anyway. Tragic and poignant, Eight Men Out is also a cool-looking period piece giving a window into how baseball was played a hundred years ago.
A League of Their Own (1992)
“There’s no crying in baseball!”
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was created when most able-bodied men were away fighting WWII. The movie follows a real AAGPBL team, the Rockford Peaches, but takes liberties creating the characters. It’s a movie you can’t help but root for, with Tom Hanks as the disinterested manager, Geena Davis as the star player, and Madonna, Lori Petty, and Rosie O’Donnell as memorable members of the ball club. It’s funny and touching, and shows you just what it’s like to play baseball in a skirt.
The Sandlot (1993)
“You’re killing me, Smalls!”
Baseball and nostalgia go together like ball and glove. About a group of boys playing in an empty California lot back in the 1960s, The Sandlot remembers what it was like to be a kid — in a time when kids were still told to “go play and be back before dinner.” With a Babe Ruth baseball, a villainous neighborhood dog, and an endearing group of friends, this cult classic is giddy fun with a fireworks-lit ball game that you can’t help but smile at the whole way through.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2013)
“There was no groomed image. There was just these furry, hairy, funny great bunch of guys.”
Not many films manage to net 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Cool Hand Luke, Terminator, Toy Story — they have perfect scores. So does this documentary about a Minor League team from Portland, Oregon. A team with no corporate sponsorship or major league affiliation, the Portland Mavericks held tryouts open to all, attracting hopefuls from around the country. The fans were rabid, the players were unkempt, and the team remains one of Minor League baseball’s inspirational success stories.
No No: A Dockumentary (2014)
“He done a lot of good things while he was doing the bad things.”
Try pitching a no-hitter. Then try doing it on acid. Dock Ellis, the pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates did just such a thing in 1970. The documentary of this outspoken, fearless player chronicles not just his baseball career, but also Dock’s civil rights leadership, as well as his substance addictions — which he overcame in the early 80s, spending his later years helping others get clean. Told with humor and an interesting blend of archival material and animation techniques, No No is a revealing look at the life of a baseball legend.
“Life gives you lots of opportunities. Baseball only gives you one.”
Baseball may be our national sport, but its massive popularity in other countries around the world can’t be denied. Our neighbors in the Carribean Sea, especially Cuba and the Dominican Republic, also call baseball their number one sport. Sugar tells the story of a young man playing in the Dominican Minors when he’s invited to try out for an American Minor League team. Partly the story of a player’s journey, it’s also a compelling immigrant story that foregoes the usual sports movie cliches about winning against the odds.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
“I woulda got them champagne but you don’t pay me enough to manage this team.”
This classic has been with us so long, the phrase Bad News Bears is now shorthand for a group of hopeless underdogs. Starring Walter Matthau at his grumpy-old-man best, the story follows a team of terrible little leaguers who are crass, funny, and unrepentantly adolescent. When a girl dares to join the team, they manage to get marginally better — but the best thing about the movie isn’t the underdogs finally making it, it’s the unvarnished take on scrappy kids being kids. The second best part is the cheap canned beers Matthau is always drinking.
Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
“Everybody knows everybody is dying. That’s why people are as good as they are. “
One of Robert De Nero’s earliest films has him playing a Minor League catcher who’s diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Knowing he won’t live through the season, his closest friend, the team’s catcher, makes sure his last season is a good one. Bang the Drum Slowly is to baseball what 1971’s Brian’s Song was to football, a sentimental story about friendship told through the lens of sport.
The Rookie (2002)
“You know what we get to do today? We get to play baseball.”
Based on a true story, The Rookie stars the always likable Dennis Quaid as a high school baseball coach who once had a dream of making it to The Show. When his team is flagging in its season, he makes a bet: if they make the state playoffs, he’ll try out for the Majors. They do and he does, shocking the scouts (and himself) with a 98 mph fastball. A never-too-late story that’s as smart as it is feel-good.
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns (1994)
“The game of ball is glorious” – Walt Whitman
For more than eighteen hours, Ken Burns’ documentary tells the story of baseball from its inception through the end of the last millennium (with the bonus, four-hour Tenth Inning expanding the story through 2010). Using archival photographs, newsreels, and drawings along with news stories and journal entries read by distinguished actors, this PBS documentary will fascinate any baseball fan, and even entice those with a passing interest in the game through its impressively absorbing storytelling.
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