Sports movies are so beloved because Hollywood has an unparalleled talent to capture the drama, poetry and beauty all sports fans know. Perhaps more than any other sport, the film industry has found an exceptional abundance of this charm in baseball. You may ask: How would a relatively slower-paced game present a greater amount of drama compared to quick-tempo games such as basketball? Perhaps it is due to baseball’s history of representing common folks that it so widely continues to capture popularity on the big screen.
We take a look at seven of the most popular baseball movies of the 1980s and 1990s. Be warned, the movies’ plots are discussed, so it is recommended to watch the films.
7.) “Eight Men Out” (1988)
Featuring a star cast that included John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, Michael Rooker and other well-knowns actors, “Eight Men Out” followed the story of the infamous “Black Sox” scandal of the 1919 World Series that shook and nearly derailed baseball. Fed up with owner Charles Comiskey’s greed, members of the Chicago White Sox, heavily favored in the World Series, fell in with gamblers to intentionally lose the series. With baseball legends like “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and “Buck” Weaver, the film is also a period piece, including music and ambiance of a ragtime nature when ballplayers traveled by train and sat in restaurants among fans. In particular, Weaver’s (Cusack) interaction with local street kids before or after ballgames paints a nostalgic portrait of the type of average Joes ballplayers used to be.
6.) “Bull Durham” (1988)
When fans think of baseball movies, many tend to think exclusively about the major leagues without paying due attention to the vast minor league farm systems that act as the foundation. “Bull Durham” follows two players, veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) and up-and-coming pitching prospect Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), with the Single-A Durham Bulls. With the vast majority of professional baseball players dwelling in the minors throughout their careers, it is of particular interest to watch and appreciate Costner’s portrayal of a veteran catcher who spent a total of 21 days in the majors. While mentoring the younger LaLoosh, Davis must battle the negativity associated with a type of “love-and-lost” relationship between the game and himself. Additionally, the character of Annie Savaoy, played by Susan Sarandon, portrays both the way in which fans have a relation with the game, as well as the growing, or maturing, of those who follow the game.
5.) “Major League” (1989)
While most people look at “Major League” and see little beyond a comedy, baseball fans have a uniquely powerful connection to the film. This may be due in part to the fact that “Major League” follows a team of misfits and oddballs who can’t catch a break — the very classic appeal of the game of baseball. Once again, Charlie Sheen stars in this baseball movie, alongside Tom Berenger, James Gammon, Wesley Snipes and Dennis Haysbert. In the beginning of the film, the Cleveland Indians, condemned by an ambitiously greedy owner, are thrown together to represent one of the most mismatched and dysfunctional squads the diamond has ever known. Among the small groups of fans loyal to the team from the get-go is a small group of die-hards who, no matter the team’s record or lack of excitement, cheer from the cheap seats. While the team improves, they are hit with a further demoralization with the knowledge that, regardless of the prospective success of their record, they will all be terminated after the season. Knowing they have nothing to lose, the team plays unprecedentedly well and reaches a tie for the lead in the American League East. They beat the New York Yankees and win the division in the film’s final moments. The appeal here is that the team, throughout its surprising season, was deprived the current luxuries that today represent the major-market, billion-dollar business that is Major League Baseball. After losing their plane, as well as other luxuries, they continued to improve, proving that the game is won through will and having fun, rather than the exclusives of material reward so commonly associated with the game today. Also worthy of note, the same loyal fans that had been in the cheap seats since the beginning remained in those same bleachers throughout the clinching of the AL East in a testament to true fanhood.
4.) “A League of Their Own” (1992)
Deviating from the traditional film about players in the majors or their minor league affiliates, “A League of Their Own” tells the story of two sisters who join the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II. When the war threatened to close the majors, many owners took part in kick-starting a women’s league. Upon tryouts for the league, the intense competitive nature of sport is revealed to the audience, just as it is in any game featuring men, as we feel the pain of players who don’t make the cut. Washed up and heavily drinking former slugger Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, inherits a manager’s position with the Rockford Peaches and immediately takes the job for a joke, as do many spectators. The ladies of the Rockford Peaches are forced to juggle the animosity toward their gender, the emotional toil of their husbands fighting and dying in the battlefields of WWII, and take charge of their own team’s management when Dugan shows up drunk more often than not. Eventually, Dugan comes to find that the team is his redemption of sorts from his fall from grace, and he ends up investing in the team and his players emotionally. Ultimately, the audience finds itself invested as well, and an intense championship game, which pits sister against sister, remains one of the most suspenseful games ever to be featured in a baseball film. Additionally, if you didn’t feel the heartstrings tug a bit in the film’s final scene, you may be made of stone.
3.) “The Natural” (1984)
One of the most classic baseball films ever produced, “The Natural” presents a number of themes concentrated on in other films and melds them into one. Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs, a natural talent who after striking out the league’s best hitter at a local carnival is sure to rise to fame and fortune in the majors. After falling victim to an attempted murder, Hobbs sees all his aspirations disappear. Years later, a middle-aged Hobbs joins the New York Knights, who were intentionally put together using no-names and washed up players by their owner in order to win the manager’s minor share of the team, based on a wager. Hobbs shows the classic, natural love of the game by refusing to take bribes by the owner to throw the game, representing the opposing decision of the “Black Sox” scandal. Later on, he learns the true potential of his talent, even after splitting his bat, Wonderboy, on a foul ball. Hobbs’ talent parallels his morality throughout the film. Both are natural and void of the corruption that continues to plague the game in reality.
2.) “The Sandlot” (1993)
If you grew up in the 1990s, there is a fair chance you grew up quoting this cult classic. A mix between a comedy and a coming-of-age film, “The Sandlot” follows timid new kid on the block Scotty Smalls as he struggles to fit in with a group of suburban boys who play baseball. After absolutely humiliating himself the first time he encounters the team, local baseball standout Benny Rodriguez looks beyond his lack of skill and takes him under his wing. After finding his baseball talent and self-confidence, thanks to Benny, Smalls is accepted by the team. He learns of an immense dog that lives over the left field fence, dubbed “the beast,” that becomes the film’s embodiment of an antagonist. The true antagonist, however, is fear; primarily of the question of “What’s next?” Benny, the only one brave enough to eventually confront “the beast,” so becomes the only one to make it to the majors. Smalls, meanwhile, is the first to see “the beast” for what he is; just a dog, and he also makes it to the majors, as a broadcaster. With countless classic quotes and a near-flawless casting, “The Sandlot” will hold its own as one of the top baseball movies of all time.
1.) “Field of Dreams” (1989)
Ever true to putting audiences in touch with the inner spirit of the game in the 1980s, Kevin Costner followed up “Bull Durham” with this timeless baseball gem. To discover the deepest connection with the beauty of what makes baseball special, look no further than “Field of Dreams.” Costner plays relatively new farmer Ray Kinsella, who, in the beginning of the film, hears a voice while walking through his Iowa cornfield, urging him to build a baseball field at the cost of his crop. It is revealed that Kinsella had a turbulent relationship with his father, John Kinsella, who loved baseball. After building the field and risking the farm’s finances, Kinsella encounters none other than “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, who brings the rest of the banned players from the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. By the end of the film, Ray is taught by Shoeless Joe that the voice he heard was his own desire to rebuild his relationship with his deceased father. He does this through building the field and reigniting his love for baseball. This runs off the powerful theme that, while baseball does not possess any voice-in-a-cornfield magical power, it does have the ability to heal, as it is timeless, and is a game that honors the past. This point is argued in Terrance Mann’s (James Earl Jones) famous “people will come” speech. For Ray, this means healing his own pain by rediscovering the game, and through that, rediscovering what he never achieved with his father.