Sure, baseball season is over and many folks don’t want to think about it again until the spring, but if, like me, you didn’t quite manage to overdose on the actual game during the season then you can either hope that ESPN Classic decides to just rerun the season for you, or you can turn to a good old fashioned baseball movie.
Last spring when baseball season was about to commence I was treated to some film critic spouting off some nonsense about how baseball was essentially uncinematic and I found myself thinking: Do you even watch motion pictures?
That’s when it occurred to me that someone needed to nail a list of the best baseball films to this guy’s door. Because if you look carefully at the best baseball films you will find that they are some of the best films ever, regardless of subject matter. Now, I could launch into some George Will/Ken Burns essay about what makes baseball so great or how it’s a metaphor for everything good, but instead I’ll skip the beautiful speechifying and treat you to a guided tour of a celluloid ballpark of the imagination.
1. The Natural (1984)
2. Eight Men Out (1988)
3. Field of Dreams (1989)
4. A League of Their Own (1992)
5. Bull Durham (1988)
6. Long Gone (1987)
7. The Bad News Bears (1976)
8. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
9. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
10. Major League (1989)
If these were the only baseball films ever made they’d be a pretty good recommendation for appreciating the sport. Let’s take a closer look.
The Natural (1984)
Directed by Barry Levinson
If some part of your soul is made up of the films and books and music that has left a mark on you then I have to admit that The Natural is one of those films for me.
It helps when the source material is a great novel, of course, but for once even the liberties that cinema took with the adaptation worked out for a great story.
And it doesn’t hurt to have the Roberts Redford and Duvall, Glenn Close, Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth in your cast.
The Natural has everything you could want in a baseball movie: youthful promise, femmes fatales, crusty old managers, corrupt owners, shifty agents and a last minute redemption.
I always thought The Natural was one of the greatest films ever, but the older I get the more I actually find myself relating to Roy Hobbs more than I ever imagined I would. There’s nothing like having a second chance to be who you might have should have been. And there’s nothing like having another chance after that too.
Eight Men Out (1988)
Directed by John Sayles
If you’re going to deal with corruption in baseball then why fictionalize when you can just tell the story of the 1919 “Black Sox.” Here’s another classic with an all star cast that includes John Cusack, D.B. Sweeney and the great Studs Terkel. Not only is this a great film, but it’s also morally good for you. This film is a clear eyed but earnest American tragedy.
Field of Dreams (1989)
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson
Speaking of Shoeless Joe Jackson, we now arrive at the classic adaptation of the W.P. Kinsella book Shoeless Joe. Go ahead and get the “If you build it..” jokes out of your system and then sit down and watch this American fable for real. Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and the last screen appearance of Burt Lancaster. Yeah, you want to like this film. Go ahead and do it. If watching Eight Men Out left you a little jaded and disillusioned then this film will take you back to where The Natural left you. Just try to remember the life lessons you got from Eight Men Out before you entirely buy back into the myth.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Directed by Penny Marshall
There’s no crying in baseball but it’s okay to get the handkerchief out. At least this one will give you some laughs before you start crying. This is the Steel Magnolias of baseball movies and I actually mean that as a compliment. And yes, Madonna is in this movie and it doesn’t suck, but don’t let that be the reason you decide to take another look at Who’s That Girl?
Bull Durham (1988)
Directed by Ron Shelton
Do I really have to go out of my way to recommend this baseball romantic comedy with Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins? There’s only one baseball romantic comedy that could be considered better than this one.
Long Gone (1987)
Directed by Martin Davidson
This is the baseball romantic comedy that is in many ways even better than Bull Durham. In fact, Long Gone is actually one of the best baseball films ever. William Petersen and Virginia Madsen are really quite good in this gem. So why hasn’t this film been released again? Why is it so hard to find? It’s enough to warrant a conspiracy theory.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Directed by Michael Ritchie
This is one of the few films from the 1970s that doesn’t end with the death of the main character or some other sort of grim apocalypse. Unless you think a bunch of little leaguers getting drunk is a grim apocalypse in which case this is you’ll think this is The Omega Man of baseball movies.
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Directed by Sam Wood
Get the hankies back out for the Lou Gehrig tearjerker with Gary Cooper. Yes, the film is seriously dated, but that makes it even more of a historical artifact than it was before. Not only is the film an artifact of cinematic history, but it also features real contemporaries of Gehrig playing themselves, which makes it something of a historical record. Oh, and you will get misty when Gary Cooper gives that farewell address in Yankee Stadium.
Bang The Drum Slowly (1973)
Directed by John D. Hancock
You can think of this as the Brian’s Song of baseball movies. And it has Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarty.
Major League (1989)
Directed by David S. Ward
This is the satyr play of baseball movies. It contains all of the key elements that are common to all of the other baseball films and then it piles on whatever comic effect can be found.
Copyright © 2017 William M. Razavi. All rights reserved.