It’s World Series Week! And while the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros are going at it, why not keep baseball mania going with a baseball-themed movie or two? Even though a number of sports films have been nominated by the Motion Picture Academy, only three baseball films have actually been nominated for Best Picture — “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942), “Field of Dreams” (1989), and “Moneyball” (2011).
Despite their lack of Oscar love, there’s a lot of entertainment in this collection of a dozen baseball movies — from kids enjoying the love of the game for the first time, to women on the mound and at the plate, from baseball history from its darkest moment (“Eight Men Out”) to its proudest (“42”) to the sheer joy of the game itself (“Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams”). Stars of our chosen films include Kevin Costner (twice!), Brad Pitt, Robert Redford, Walter Matthau, Geena Davis, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, and Gary Cooper.
So get a comfortable seat, pop open a cold one, and let’s play ball! Tour our fun photo gallery above of the 12 best baseball movies of all time.
12. BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY (1973)
Director: John D. Hancock. Writer: Mark Harris.
Starring Robert DeNiro, Michael Moriarty, Vincent Gardenia.
Very much in the tradition of sports weepies, Hancock’s film pairs two over unlikely teammates — star pitcher Henry (Michael Moriarty) who once wrote a book and whom his team desperately want to re-sign, and his catcher Bruce (Robert DeNiro), who’s not that great a player, not that smart and is secretly dying from Hodgkin’s Disease. Today, “Bang the Drum Slowly” is largely remembered for two elements — the film beautifully captures the bond that can come between two teammates, and it marks a breakthrough film for the then little-known DeNiro, who, two months later, would have an even bigger critical triumph in Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.”
11. THE SANDLOT (1993)
Director: David Mickey Evans. Writers: David Mickey Evans, Robert Gunter.
Starring Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna.
You may notice as you review these top dozen baseball films that most of them take place in the major leagues, largely because that’s where the stakes may be considered highest. But there’s still drama where those major leaguers first got their start, and we’ve got a couple of films on this list that reflect that. “The Sandlot” depicts baseball on the sandlot, where a group of kids in 1962 regularly play and too often hit balls over a neighbor’s fence, where “The Beast,” a ferocious dog with a legendary taste for baseball players awaited. It’s a simple story, but one with enormous resonance, displaying just how much the game means to young kids.
10. THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942)
Director: Sam Wood. Writers: Jo Swirling, Herman Mankiewicz.
Starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Babe Ruth, Walter Brennan.
Decades of baseball films have passed, but “The Pride of the Yankees” is still talked about with reverence among baseball fans of a certain age. A tribute to Lou Gehrig, the legendary first baseman for the New York Yankees who played in 2,130 consecutive games but died at age 37 of amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS, now commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease), the film opened a year after Gehrig died and used several of his actual Yankee teammates, including Babe Ruth, who had a rather substantial part. “The Pride of the Yankees” was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Gary Cooper as Gehrig.
9. EIGHT MEN OUT (1988)
Writer/Director: John Sayles.
Starring John Cusack, Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, David Strathairn.
Most of the films on this list emphasize the sunny side of the game, but John Sayles’ “Eight Men Out” examines the darker side of baseball history. In 1919, eight members of the Chicago White Sox, who despite their obvious skill on the field were not properly compensated by their owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James), were approached by gamblers to offer them more money to throw the World Series than they would have gotten had they won. Sayles takes almost a documentary-like approach to the historical drama, which impressed critics, as they were wowed by the film’s strong performances across the board.
8. MAJOR LEAGUE (1988)
Writer/Director: David S. Ward.
Starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Margaret Whitton, Corbin Bernsen.
David S. Ward’s film believably created a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians, both on and off the field. When a female owner (Margaret Whitton) of the team takes over and is given the opportunity to move the team to a more profit-generating place as Miami if attendance drops to a non-sustainable level, she obliges by firing the Indians’ stars and filling the roster with over-the-hill baseball hacks. But to her surprise, the makeshift team that she has assembled to facilitate the deal include both hacks and inexperienced newbies begin to win not only Cleveland’s games but also Cleveland fans’ hearts, as the city begins to root on their heroes as they never have before. A great baseball fantasy.
7. 42 (2013)
Writer/Director: Brain Helgeland.
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Alan Tudyk, Christopher Meloni.
Brian Helgeland’s “42” is a major player in the historical baseball genre as it details just how major league baseball legend Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) broke into the bigs thanks to the intervention of crusty Brooklyn Dodgers’ executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, in a great change-of-pace role). Among friendly crowds in Brooklyn, the fact that Robinson was black caused some stir but because he was a Dodger helped him get by there. But not so much on the road in Philadelphia, where he has to go up against racist Phillies manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), whose outrageous prejudice forces Phillies owners to pose Chapman and Chapman is a smiley photo. Great stuff.
6. A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)
Director: Penny Marshall. Writers: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel.
Starring Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Hanks, Garry Marshall.
Penny Marshall offered moviegoers a look back into 1943, when most of the able-bodied male baseball players were fighting in the war but the need for baseball entertainment was greater than ever. Enter the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League where women could gather and keep the spirit of the game alive. Candy magnate and Cubs owner Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) bankrolls a crew to make a women’s league happen and in their search they find the extremely talented catcher Dottie Hinson (Genna Davis) and her less talented sister Kit, as well as taxi dancer “All the Way” Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and her best friend bouncer Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell). Plus their over-the-hill coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), who spouted the iconic line, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
5. THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976)
Director: Michael Ritchie. Writer: Bill Lancaster.
Starring Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Chris Barnes, Vic Morrow, Jackie Earle Haley.
So as to give all kids a chance, no matter their lack of skill, to play baseball, a new team is formed to accommodate them, and alcoholic ex-minor league player Morris Buttermaker (Oscar winner Walter Matthau) is given the job as coach. To Buttermaker’s dismay, most of his recruits are truly washouts and get creamed by an overly-aggressive rival coach Roy Turner (Vic Morrow). After a few more defeats, Buttermaker decides to bring in some ringers — a smart-mouthed pitcher (Oscar winner Tatum O’Neal) and a top athlete/pre-teen loan shark (Jackie Earle Haley). Ritchie has made his reputation as a sharp-eyed satirist, and his comedic take on the politics of Little League still holds up 40 years later.
4. THE NATURAL (1984)
Director: Barry Levinson. Writers: Roger Towne, Phil Dusenberry.
Starring Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger.
Barry Levinson’s film of Bernard Malamud’s novel just oozes nostalgia for another time, when aspiring baseball player Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) could just be called “a natural” and is brought up to the big leagues as a “middle-aged rookie.” In managing his career, there’s a whole lot of chicanery, as you might expect, but when a woman dressed in white stands up alone as Roy come to bat, he buckles down and hits a home run. The woman, Iris (Glenn Close), whom Roy had romanced now becomes a part of his life once more, all orchestrated by the now-iconic score by Randy Newman.
3. MONEYBALL (2011)
Director: Bennett Miller. Writers: Steven Zallian, Aaron Sorkin.
Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
“Moneyball” is that rare bird among baseball films, as it is based on a non-fiction economics tome but is turned by its writrsr and director into a riveting fictional story about the game and how it can be scientifically manipulated to produce its most desired result. Unlike the other films on this list that tend to emphasize the romanticism of the game, “Moneyball” breaks the business down to its dollars and cents, i.e. which costly veteran players can we jettison so that we can use that money to buy players with more promise at a cheaper price to endure the viability of the franchise. Fortunately, to soften the blow, we have actors the likes of Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman and especially Jonah Hill who received his first Oscar nomination for this performance.
2. BULL DURHAM (1988)
Writer/Director: Ron Shelton.
Starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Robert Wuhl.
The American baseball romantic comedy. Many has tried it but none has come close to approaching the perfection of Ron Shelton’s “Bull Durham.” Set in the world of minor-league ball, veteran catcher “Crash” David (Kevin Costner) is sent down to the single-A Durham Bulls for the purpose of shaping up the promising but erratic pitching style of Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). Also following the Bulls is baseball groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), who belongs to the Church of Baseball and makes it her mission each season to bed down with a new member of the team. Crash gracefully passes, explaining that he’s too much of a veteran to “try out” for anything anymore. So “Nuke” it is, but Annie finds that she still has a flame for both men. Many critics consider Shelton’s Oscar-nominated script to be one of the best sports screenplays ever written.
1. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)
Writer/Director: Phil Alden Robinson.
Starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster.
The power of a father and son simply playing a game of catch. That’s what’s at the emotional core of Phil Alden Robinson beloved baseball fantasy that focuses on Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) who is still troubled by his relationship with his late father, troubles that Ray wishes he could now undo. While walking through his cornfield one night, Ray hears a voice saying the now-iconic line “If you build it, he will come,” and Ray sees a vision of a baseball diamond where his cornfield now stands. With the skeptical help of his wife Annie (Amy Madigan), Ray builds that field, risking his family’s livelihood in the process. But one night, the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) of the 1919 Black Sox scandal (see our #9 film, “Eight Men Out”) and more do come, including the one man whom Ray wants to impress most.