We’d love to take ourselves out to the ball game and buy some peanuts and crackerjacks, but we truly don’t know if we’ll ever get back. So let’s root for the end of this pandemic and the day we can hit the stands and watch one of America’s greatest pastimes with our own eyes.
In the meantime, why not celebrate our favorite baseball movies, the best sports film genre by a country mile (boxing about 14 GB)? We cover all the classics, though you might disagree with the order. True fans have almost certainly seem ‘em all, but some are as undervalued as the guys on Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics rosters.
Read our list, and share your favorites.
15. Rookie of the Year (1993)
Thomas Ian Nicholas stars as Henry Rowengartner, a middle-schooler who breaks his arm and is blessed with the gift of a fireball fastball before his hometown Chicago Cubs learn of it and recruit him for the bullpen. Perfect concept for a family sports flick (with some surprisingly mature content, it has a ton of heart and fun characters, notably Daniel Stern’s hilarious assistant coach and Gary Busey as Henry’s grizzled mentor.
14. The Natural (1984)
Barry Levinson’s magical adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel of the same name serves as an ideal vehicle for star Robert Redford as “natural” baseball talent Roy Hobbs, an unknown who comes out of nowhere to become a legendary baseball player with almost divine talent. Features several iconic sports movie moments (and music).
13. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
Deemed a “spiritual sequel” to his own “Dazed and Confused,” Richard Linklater’s fond look back at his own playing days follows a group of college baseball players as they navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood. At first, you might wonder how you can root for a bunch of jocks who have it made in all walks of life as soon as they walk on campus, but Linklater gives them so much charm and personality, you can’t it. And when they finally get to baseball practice, it really hits a streak.
12. The Sandlot (1993)
In the summer of 1962, a new kid in town is taken under the wing of a young baseball prodigy and his rowdy team, resulting in many adventures. This fantastic family comedy the story of every little American boy or girl who grew up in a time without cell phones or all-access to video games, a time when you had to go outside and get into trouble on a baseball field or in someone’s back yard that was off limits. Anyone can identify with Smalls, Ham, Squints and Benny, who just wanted to spend their summer days eating hot dogs, swimming in the community pool and smacking line drives on a makeshift baseball diamond. It also preaches the inclusive nature of a game like baseball, where everyone has to start somewhere no matter the limitations of our skill, athletic or social.
11. Cobb (1994)
A reporter (Robert Wuhl) hired to write the biography of Ty Cobb (a wild Tommy Lee Jones) discovers just how dark the baseball legend’s real story is. Brash and profane, this portrait of a man who lives on and even struggles with his own greatness comes from “Bull Durham” writer/director (and former ballplayer) Ron Shelton, taking a look at one of baseball’s most celebrated and troubled figures through the eyes of a sports writer.
10. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
The story of the life and career of famed baseball player Lou Gehrig, perfectly played by American screen legend Gary Cooper. A heartwarming biopic that gives Gehrig a well-deserved, reverent treatment, with Cooper nailing the climactic speech: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” Oh, and Babe Ruth plays himself!
9. Fever Pitch (2005)
Does this really count as a “baseball movie?” The Farrelly brothers’ sweet romantic comedy about a Boston Red Sox superfan (based on Nick Hornby’s book about Arsenal Football Club) whose obsession threatens his relationship checks enough boxes, but really survives on the chemistry of leads Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. Not as much about the action on the diamond, but a charming look at the lengths fandom can take people.
8. Bull Durham (1988)
Ron Shelton’s romantic comedy film stars Kevin Costner as “Crash” Davis, a veteran catcher brought in to teach rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) about the game, as baseball groupie Annie (Susan Sarandon) romances Nuke but finds herself increasingly attracted to Crash. Easily a member of the baseball movie hall of fame, it beautifully captures the minor league experience and sentiment for the game no matter how cynical one might get about the world outside of it. One of Costner’s finest performances as the grizzled vet behind the plate.
7. Eight Men Out (1988)
John Sayles’ excellent take on the Black Sox scandal when the underpaid Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series. All-star roster of actors includes John Cusack, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, David Strathairn and D.B. Sweeney as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
6. Field of Dreams (1989)
Hearing voices, an Iowa corn farmer (Kevin Costner) interprets them as a command to build a baseball diamond in his fields. Once he does, and the 1919 Chicago White Sox appear out of thin air. An overdose in baseball and cinematic nostalgia, Phil Alden Robinson’s fable just makes you feel good. Costner knocks it out of the park once again in a genre for which he was clearly born. “You wanna have a catch?” [Cue the sobbing grown men…]
5. Little Big League (1994)
An underrated gem, this stars Luke Edwards as a preteen whose grandfather and owner of the Minnesota Twins (Jason Robards) leaves him the team in his will before the boy and baseball savant chooses to manage the team himself. Sounds like a gimmick, but this has a lot of reverence for the game and plenty of good-natured humor to spare. Gets baseball on a level usually reserved for more “grown-up” treatments, but Edwards’ convincing performance helps cynics appreciate the beauty of the sport, something pro ballplayers might forget they have the privilege to do for a living.
4. The Bad News Bears (1976)
An American pastime since the 18th century, baseball remains a dominant sports presence in the U.S., but we can all feel it fading a little. That said, fewer movies rekindle memories of spending summers playing little league baseball than this comedy about a washed-up ex-pro coaching a team of potty-mouthed misfits against all odds. Plenty of American kids still wander through this right of passage, even when they’d rather not, and the film even teaches kids that they can’t depend on every adult and sometimes have to figure out things on their own. From a child’s point of view, quite possibly the greatest baseball movie ever made and easily one of the funniest.
3. Major League (1989)
Perhaps the total package when it comes to baseball movies, this highly profane but charming comedy has humor, hilarious characters and an authenticity that paid immense respect to the game. Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, James Gammon, Bob Uecker (so good) and Corbin Bernsen and several others tell a true underdog tale, as the lowly Cleveland Indians play their way out of being sold by their greedy owner. And those opening credits with Randy Newman’s “Burn On” are a knockout.
2. Moneyball (2011)
Director Bennett Miller’s outstanding Oscar-nominated adaptation of Michael Lewis’ famous book about sabermetrics and how Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt, in a career-best performance) fielded a competitive team with almost no money compared to his major league counterparts during the 2002 season. Gets better with every swing.
1. A League of Their Own (1992)
Penny Marshall’s deeply heartfelt portrait of the inaugural season of women’s major league baseball is as great an example of pure American entertainment out there, cementing itself as a 1990s classic that helps us understand that it doesn’t matter whose swinging the bats, men or women, the game remains pure either way. Thrilling game sequences, a terrific ensemble cast led by Geena Davis, Lori Petty and Madonna, plus an all-timer performance from Tom Hanks as their hapless sot of a manager. Just a perfect movie.