Batter Up! – Our Top 9 Baseball Movies

Sports movies are a huge category that contains many sub-genres, be it the romantic sports movie or the comedic sports movie, or the emotional sports drama. There are many examples of sports being used as a foundation or a backdrop to many a feature film. Suffice to say, most sports films revolve around American sports, as that’s where most of the movies we consume in the West are made.

Baseball is perhaps the most uniquely American sport of them all, and there have been literally hundreds of movies produced that centre around this popular game. We do not really play baseball here in the U.K., we are much more likely to be seen on a cricket crease as opposed to a baseball diamond, but it has been impossible to ignore the fact that a whole slew of Hollywood’s sports-movie output has been dedicated to baseball.

Indeed, some of the very best movies have involved baseball in one way or another, and similarly, some of the very worst movies have too. For example, the movie Ed (1996), which features Friends star Matt LeBlanc playing a minor league ballplayer who befriends a chimpanzee that happens to be incredible at baseball. Suffice to say, it is ranked as one of the worst films ever made.

Ed (1996) did not make our top 9 Baseball Movies
Ed (1996) did not make our top 9 Baseball Movies

Having grown up in the U.K. with little to no knowledge of the sport outside of the movies, I have to admit that baseball films are probably my favourite type of American sports movie. I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps I just liked the films, and they happened to be baseball themed, or there is possibly a deep-rooted subconscious pining for the sport somewhere in my psyche. Either way, I am compelled to list my favourites below in Our Top 9 Baseball Movies list. As always, the selections appear chronologically…

1. The Bad News Bears (1976)

Rude, brash, politically incorrect and hailing from a time where societal prejudices in movies were things to be made fun of, as opposed to being used to vilify one another, The Bad News Bears (1976) stars Walter Matthau as a curmudgeonly little-league baseball coach who has to teach a group of ne’er-do-well kids how to become a winning team. He does this by introducing a girl into the team, played excellently by a young Tatum O’Neal, a character whose skills are leaps and bounds above her rambunctious male counterparts.

Although dated now in terms of some of the content, The Bad News Bears is essentially a heart-warming movie in which the characters all learn important life lessons such as tolerance, teamsmanship, racial and gender equality and the value of hard work, all via the medium of baseball. Older film fans will look back on it fondly, whereas younger first-time viewers may be shocked to discover some of the films more dubious dialogue (see the trailer below for a taste). It was remade in 2003 with Billy Bob Thornton, which was also a decent watch, but it’s the original film that will always be considered the real winner.

The Bad News Bears (1976)
The Bad News Bears (1976)

Hard-drinking, ex-minor-league hopeful Morris Buttermaker begrudgingly agrees to coach a Little League team at the behest of lawyer-councilman Bob Whitewood, who has a vendetta against the league for excluding his marginally talented son from play. After failing with his new team of misfits, Buttermaker enlists feisty and gifted pitcher Amanda Whurlitzer to lead the charge, but can he find the luck and patience to whip these outcasts into shape?

2. The Natural (1984)

With a great ensemble cast which includes Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger and Robert Duvall, The Natural (1984) is a period drama baseball movie that follows the adventures of Roy Hobbs, played by Redford. As a youngster, Hobbs father dies of a heart attack next to a huge oak tree. When the tree is later struck by lightning, Roy makes himself a bat out of the splintered wood which he christens Wonderboy. He then embarks on a career as a professional ballplayer, but things do not go as he imagines. After he is shot in the stomach by a crazed sports fan, his career takes a different path fraught with double-crossing swindlers, femme fatales and crooked match-fixers.

The ultimate feel-good film, The Natural, makes all the best plays that tug on your heartstrings and get you invested in the plot and the characters. The tense, suspenseful final match serves as an archetype for the pitch-perfect sports movie finale, and the perennially youthful Redford is excellent as the underdog who becomes the greatest baseball hitter of all time. Classic Americana and guaranteed to cover all the bases for enthusiasts of this particular corner of sports movie fandom.

Robert Redford in The Natural (1984)

On the way to a tryout with the Chicago Cubs, young baseball phenom Roy Hobbs is shot by the unstable Harriet Bird. After 16 years, Hobbs returns to pro baseball as a rookie for the last-place New York Knights. Despite early arguments with his manager, Pop Fisher, Hobbs becomes one of the best players in the league, and the Knights start winning. But this upsets the Judge, their owner, who wants Hobbs to lose games, not win.

3. Brewster’s Millions (1985)

A wonderful rags-to-riches comedy, Brewster’s Millions (1985) stars Richard Pryor and John Candy. It was inspired by a 1902 novel of the same name in which the central character Montgomery Brewster inherits $1 million from a recently deceased relative. But the windfall comes with a catch, either Brewster can take the million and run or accept the challenge to spend £30 million in 30 days in order to inherit the entire estate worth £300 million. 

After accepting the challenge, Brewster sets about spending the money as best as he can without breaking any of the strict conditions that it entails, one of which is that he cannot reveal what he is attempting to do to anyone else, including those nearest and dearest to him.

As a pitcher for a minor league baseball team, Brewster attempts to blow some of the money on an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, and although this is not technically a film about baseball, it does use the sport as a predominant backdrop in a lot of the scenes. Heart-warming, consistently funny and a great opportunity to see two giants of comedy work together, this classic ’80s feel-good film is guaranteed to make you smile from the first innings right through to the last pitch.

John Candy and Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions (1985)

After losing his position as a minor-league pitcher, Montgomery Brewster learns his great-uncle has left him $300 million. To inherit it, Brewster must spend $30 million in 30 days under a complicated set of rules that forbid him from donating too much to charity or retaining any new assets when the period is up. Unable to share details about the will’s odd conditions with anyone, Brewster sets out to spend his money under the stern eye of paralegal Angela Drake.

4. Bull Durham (1988)

Bull Durham (1988) is a romantic comedy that also falls into the sports drama category. Starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, the action centres around the Durham Bulls, a North Carolina minor league team. Costner plays Crash Davis, a time-served and experienced catcher drafted by the team to help coach their up-and-coming rookie pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh (Robbins) to help him prepare for a career in the majors. Unfortunately, Nuke’s girlfriend Annie (Sarandon) becomes attracted to Crash, and an awkward love triangle develops between the three. When the tension threatens to interrupt the progress made with Nuke, things come to a head, and tempers flare-up.

With excellent performances from the leads and the supporting cast, Bull Durham quickly became one of the most popular sports movies of all time. It had an unexpectedly good run at the box office, making over $50 million in the United States. The comedy is consistently funny throughout, and the chemistry between Sarandon and Costner is entertaining and memorable. All of the usual tropes of a good hard-hitting baseball movie are present, and it’s easy to see why this movie has remained so consistently popular throughout the years since its release.

Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins in Bull Durham (1988)

In Durham, N.C., the Bulls minor league baseball team has one asset no other can claim: a poetry-loving groupie named Annie Savoy. As the team’s season begins, Annie selects brash new recruit Ebby Calvin Laloosh, whom she christens “Nuke,” to inspire with the religion of baseball. Nuke also receives guidance from veteran player Crash Davis, who settles Nuke’s erratic pitching and teaches him to follow the catcher’s lead.

5. Field of Dreams (1989)

Kevin Costner starred in yet another popular baseball movie the following year, one which is also considered to be amongst the most popular sports movies of all time. Field of Dreams (1989) is a very different movie from Bull Durham, as it centres around an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield after mysterious voices tell him to do so.

The field is then used by the ghosts of famous former ballplayer “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and his teammates from the Chicago Black Sox. It may sound a bit cheesy now, but this film’s influence spread far and wide at the time with everyone reciting the line “if you build it, he will come”, in reference to the movies supernatural mantra.

The film also stars Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones and screen icon Burt Lancaster in his last ever movie performance. A young Ray Liotta gives a memorable turn as Shoeless Joe, who was a real-life baseball star of the early 1900s. The movie is similar to Bull Durham in that it also performed extremely well at the box office, taking over $80 million from a budget of around $15 million. No doubt paving the way for more baseball-themed sports movies to be produced in the years ahead.

Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams (1989)

When Iowa farmer Ray hears a mysterious voice one night in his cornfield saying “If you build it, he will come,” he feels the need to act. Despite taunts of lunacy, Ray builds a baseball diamond on his land, supported by his wife, Annie. Afterward, the ghosts of great players start emerging from the crops to play ball, led by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. But, as Ray learns, this field of dreams is about much more than bringing former baseball greats out to play.

6. Major League (1989)

The other big baseball movie of 1989 was the comedy film Major League. Using the real-life team, the Cleveland Indians, as its inspiration, the film follows the exploits of a fictionalised version of the team, which includes Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Wesley Snipes as some of the larger than life players. This movie is packed full of laughs as the rag-tag squad travel around playing games against their more successful rivals and prove to be nothing but trouble for their long-suffering coaches. The new team owner is the former wife of the previous owner and someone who is hellbent on destroying the team from within and uprooting them for a move from Cleveland, Ohio, to Miami, Florida.

The new comedy series Ted Lasso owes some of its inspiration to the storyline here, in that a scorned ex-wife attempts to ruin her husbands legacy in a last-ditch attempt to spite him. Suffice to say, the team gets wind that they must keep annual game attendance above 800,000 or face being moved to Florida. What follows is the typical underdog, last-ditch attempt to avoid this fate which culminates in a nail-biting finale, just as any good sports movie should. A couple of sequels were made off the back of this movie’s success, but the original is the only one that is worth seeing.

Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen in Major League (1989)

The new owner of the Cleveland Indians, former showgirl Rachel Phelps, has a sweetheart deal to move the team to Miami. But to break the lease with the city of Cleveland, ticket sales have to plummet. So Phelps hires the most incompetent players available, including near-blind pitcher Rick Vaughn and injury-prone catcher Jake Taylor. But her villainous tactics accidentally foster a can-do team spirit, turning the Indians into potential winners.

7. A League of Their Own (1992)

Like many sports, baseball was traditionally a male-dominated pursuit and rarely involved the participation of women, especially in terms of the baseball teams themselves. A League of Their Own (1992) tells the fictionalised story of a real-life women’s baseball team from the 1940s, who rose to prominence due to the outbreak of the Second World War and the resulting lack of male baseball players who had all gone to fight in the conflict. Starring Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnel, Lori Petty and Tom Hanks as the coach, this movie puts the women at the forefront and shows how their struggle against sexism was fought on the baseball pitch where they become the new stars of the game.

Often hilarious, occasionally touching, and consistently entertaining, this sports movie flies the flag for gender equality and shows when it comes to bad language, dirty tricks, tough calls and tenacious attitudes, the women can match the men on any given Sunday. Geena Davis is excellent in the lead role, and the support from the rest of the cast is top-notch. Although the movie takes liberties with the actual events it is inspired by, it still manages to hit a home run and provide a story well worth seeing in terms of this beloved sport.

Tom Hanks and Geena Davis in A League of Their Own (1992)

As America’s stock of athletic young men is depleted during World War II, a professional all-female baseball league springs up in the Midwest, funded by publicity-hungry candy maker Walter Harvey. Competitive sisters Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller spar with each other, scout Ernie Capadino and grumpy has-been coach Jimmy Dugan on their way to fame.

8. Moneyball (2011)

Based on the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, Moneyball (2011) stars Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This movie takes a look behind the scenes at a baseball club and concentrates its focus on the buying and selling of players. Although it sounds pretty dry and uninteresting, this movie is quite enthralling. Pitt plays Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland Athletics. 

Following a disastrous season, Beane has to deal with the departure of several of his key players and then figure out a way to replace them and have a better upcoming season on a minimal budget. He hires economic analyst Peter Brand (Hill), who convinces Beane that they can assemble a team good enough to perform competitively by playing the numbers. The only problem they have is convincing the old talent scouts and coaches that their old way of thinking will not produce the same results as this more mathematical, modern approach.

With a watertight screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball is a superb drama that explores the sport via the boardrooms and offices of the money men and administrative staff, providing a look at a lesser-known element to the game, and it does this in a gripping and entertaining way, thanks in no small part to the excellent performances from the lead actors and brilliant supporting cast. Highly recommended for those who love match statistics and data with their baseball!

Brad Pitt in Moneyball (2011)

Billy Beane general manager of the Oakland A’s, one day has an epiphany: Baseball’s conventional wisdom is all wrong. Faced with a tight budget, Beane must reinvent his team by outsmarting the richer ball clubs. Joining forces with Ivy League graduate Peter Brand, Beane prepares to challenge old-school traditions. He recruits bargain-bin players whom the scouts have labeled as flawed, but have game-winning potential.

9. 42 (2013)

Baseball has produced a wealth of famous names throughout the years, perhaps none more famous than that of Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete to play major league baseball. In the modern era in which we live, it’s almost impossible to think that there was a time when players of colour were not allowed to play in the same league as their white counterparts. 

The story of Jackie Robinson is one that triumphs over racial discrimination and paves the way for players of all racial ethnicities to be able to compete at the same level. Starring the late Chadwick Boseman as Robinson, 42 (2013) is a story about triumph over adversity, told via the sport of baseball. With a supporting cast that includes Harrison Ford and Nicole Beharie, this contemporary baseball movie celebrates one of the sports most recognisable and beloved names.

The number 42 represents Robinson’s number, which he became associated with throughout his career. This movie shows the abuse suffered by Robinson at the hands of his fellow teammates, his opponents, and the sport’s fans. But it also shows the solidarity displayed by some fellow players several more forward-thinking individuals associated with the sport. A harsh reminder of the wickedness of mindless discrimination and a fabulous example of perseverance, talent, and fate overcoming all obstacles to pave a way forward and leave an example for future generations to follow.

Chadwick Boseman in 42 (2013)

In 1946, Branch Rickey, legendary manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, defies major league baseball’s notorious color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to the team. The heroic act puts both Rickey and Robinson in the firing line of the public, the press and other players. Facing open racism from all sides, Robinson demonstrates true courage and admirable restraint by not reacting in kind and lets his undeniable talent silence the critics for him.

So, that’s our Top 9 Baseball Movies!

Think we’ve missed any out or not included your favourite baseball movies? Then let us know in the comments below.

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Greg Fisher
Greg is a digital content creator, photographer, filmmaker and writer. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @theflyingartist