Crying might not be allowed in baseball, but there’s no rules about laughter. Ever since Charlie Chaplin’s boxing comedy “The Champion” was released in 1915, Hollywood has continued to find new ways to unearth the hilarity in sports. There’s almost no form of athleticism that has yet to be given the big screen treatment in a way sure to make audiences laugh. From football and hockey to figure skating and roller derby, there’s a film for fans of almost every sport. To celebrate 45 years since the release of the baseball classic “The Bad News Bears” on April 7, 2021, join Wonderwall.com as we look back at some of the best sports comedies to ever grace the silver screen.
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“The Bad News Bears” is oft-considered one of the seminal sports comedies in movie history. Released in 1976, the film follows an alcoholic ex-baseball pitcher, played by movie icon Walter Matthau, who begins coaching a youth baseball team of misfits known as the Bears. The struggling team is formed in response to a lawsuit brought against the youth baseball league for excluding such players from other teams, and it’s up to their frustrated leader to whip them into shape. The MVP of the athletically challenged kids is played by Tatum O’Neal, who was fresh off becoming the youngest person to ever win a competitive Oscar. The movie was a box office hit, grossing more than four times its production budget at the box office. It spurred two sequels, a short-lived television series and a 2005 remake starring Billy Bob Thornton.
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For most millennials, you can’t mention baseball without triggering memories of “The Sandlot.” The story of a scrappy group of young baseball players who undergo a series of misadventures while playing on an empty neighborhood lot in the summer of 1962 wasn’t a massive box office hit, but it became a cult favorite for a generation of children after its 1993 release. Despite being a period piece, it’s a fantastic reminder of the fun and camaraderie kids find when they come up with creative ways to pass long summer days at home. It eventually sparked two direct-to-DVD sequels, and a television series based on the film is currently being developed for streaming platform Disney+. “Every time I see an athlete mention ‘The Sandlot,’ it’s cool to know that at some point in these guys’ lives, they related to the film for whatever reason. It’s still nostalgic for them,” star Chauncey Leopardi told The Wrap in 2018. “We kind of shaped their… Well, I don’t want to take full credit for why they play the game, but it’s clearly enough of a part for them to want to grow up and be pinnacle of the league.”
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Many movie fans consider “Caddyshack” to be not only the greatest sports comedy of all time, but also one of the most hilarious films ever. The 1980 tale follows the caddies, players and staff at the snobby Bushwood Country Club — and one mischievous gopher who refuses to be caught. Featuring an all-star lineup that includes Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray, the minor financial hit inspired an array of films that attempted to recapture the same brand of quotable lines and slapstick gold. The movie spawned a much maligned sequel in 1988 and led Bill to open a chain of Murray Bros. Caddyshack Restaurants in 2001 with his real-life brothers. Fans can still dine at locations in Florida and Illinois. “The fact that people are still watching it, showing it to their kids, probably their grandchildren now, and still talking about it amazes me,” late director Harold Ramis told the American Film Institute in 2009. “It was a little disappointing when it came out, and now it’s just miraculous irony that people have continued to embrace the film and love it… I thought maybe it’s like wine — the longer you keep it, it just gets a little better.”
Adam Sandler had an unstoppable winning streak in the 1990s and has starred in numerous sports comedies, but none have been as celebrated as 1998’s “The Waterboy.” The film documents Bobby Boucher Jr., a devoted college football waterboy who defies his overprotective mother by becoming a linebacker once the team’s coach discovers his unique tackling abilities. While the movie was ripped apart by critics upon its release, fans couldn’t get enough of it. With winning supporting turns from Henry Winkler and Kathy Bates to an endless assortment of quotable lines (medulla oblongata, anyone?), the legacy of Adam’s football hit lives on more than two decades later. “People will come up and they’ll talk about ‘Misery,'” Academy Award winner Kathy told SB Nation. “But a lot of people will talk about ‘Waterboy.'”
“Cool Runnings” might be the only film to ever tackle the Olympic sport of bobsledding, and considering how beloved the 1993 film is, it would be hard to top it. It’s loosely based on the true story of the Jamaica national bobsleigh team’s debut in competition during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and their entertaining road to the biggest sporting event in the world. The Disney flick marked the final film appearance of celebrated funnyman John Candy before his tragic passing the next year and its good-natured charm won audiences over at the box office. The inspirational tale also introduced the sport to a much wider, and younger, audience, turning it into a popular event at every Winter Olympics. Real-life Jamaican bobsledder Joel Alexander discussed the film’s legacy with Tyrol.com in 2016, saying, “Oh, it’s legendary. It is the first thing anybody would ask us. You know, it goes like: So you guys got an egg? That movie really put us on the map in many ways. It really served Jamaica bobsleigh very well.”
One film made audiences see cheerleading as a demanding competitive sport instead of a loud, sweater-clad hobby for teenagers across the country: “Bring It On.” The female-fronted comedy not only painted cheerleaders in a new light but inspired a new generation of uniformed dancers and gymnasts. The 2000 teen flick became a sleeper summer hit with moviegoers and helped turn stars Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union into household names. Twenty years on and you would be shocked to find out how many people can still recite the “I’m sexy, I’m cute…” opening cheer or explain the curse of the dropped spirit stick. “‘Bring It On’ is a fun teen movie, but there’s so much more when you pull back the layers,” Gabrielle told Vogue in 2020. “It’s really stood the test of time and still packs the same wallop, but in a campy, good time.”
One of the most popular playground games finally got the Hollywood treatment with 2004’s “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.” Featuring hilarious turns from stars Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, the movie follows an underdog group entering a Las Vegas dodgeball tournament to save their failing local gym from the onslaught of a villainous fitness guru looking to put them out of business. Ben had to fight to even get the film made, taking a major pay cut to get it greenlit, but the hard work paid off, as it grossed over $168 million in ticket sales. And who can forget classic lines like, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball”? “Now that the movie’s been around so long, I hear a lot from kids in their 20s who loved it from when they were kids. That’s the thing I remember from that age: Movies affect you so much, and they stick with you. So that’s really kind of cool,” Ben told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.
One of the most acclaimed films depicting America’s pastime is also one of the most progressive. “A League of Their Own” tells a fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s and features an all-star cast that includes Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. Directed by the late Penny Marshall, the charming 1992 film was a hit with viewers and critics alike, grossing more than $132 at the box office and being selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The story of the Rockford Peaches opened up the idea of playing sports to an entire generation of females. “I have just as many women and young girls tell me that they took up sports because of that movie as when it came out. I have just as many people recognize me from that movie and tell me what it meant to them and how it impacted their lives. It’s unbelievable to be a part of something that has an impact like that,” Geena told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.
Who doesn’t love a film that mixes both sports and crime? “White Men Can’t Jump” stars Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes as two basketball-loving hustlers in Los Angeles who con players underestimating the court skills of a white man. The pair eventually compete in big money-shot tournaments to prove that Woody’s character can, in fact, jump. The film had a massive cultural impact upon its 1992 release, from fashion to “yo mama” jokes, and cracked the top 20 in the yearly box office earnings list. Nike even launched a shoe inspired by the movie, which truthfully depicts the competitions and bonds that are built on public street ball courts. Plus there’s no denying the winning banter the two actors displayed throughout the film, which helped turn its two lead actors into movie stars. “It’s one of the fondest experiences of my professional life. I made a life-long friend and a spiritual brother,” Wesley told Entertainment Weekly in 2017 of working with Woody.
For movie fans of a certain age, “The Mighty Ducks” was a defining film while they were young. The 1992 Disney hit is about a reckless young lawyer, played by Emilio Estevez, who has to coach a kids hockey team as community service after getting a DUI. He soon falls for the ragtag team of teens, led by a young Joshua Jackson, who he must turn into winning athletes. The family-friendly flick is one of the few to depict hockey, and it became a surprise hit at the box office, spawning two sequels and an animated TV series. Disney even founded an NHL hockey team — the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim — after the film’s release. The Mouse House has so much faith in the lasting legacy of the brand that they launched a new series, “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers,” also starring Emilio, on streaming platform Disney+ in March 2021. “I hope my kids grow up and play pickup hockey and I hope that they have their own movies like my generation had those movies,” Joshua told Time magazine in 2014.
No film has attempted a comedic take on car racing like 2006’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” Will Ferrell stars as the titular NASCAR superstar who’s at the top of his game — until the arrival of a French Formula One champion (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) threatens to take it all way. The comedian also co-wrote the quotable feature, which became another $100-million grosser on his resume. Sony greenlit the film off a six-word pitch, “Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver,” and the ensuing hilarity proved they knew exactly what they were in for. It tapped into a piece of modern-day Americana that was ripe for spoofing and weaved in perfectly with Will’s comedic sensibilities. Speaking of the movie’s enduring legacy, Will told ESPN in 2016, “It means we got it right. I mean, as right as a movie like this can be. No one was too mad at us. I did have one driver show up at my house and threaten to drag me behind his car at Daytona, but just one. No, I’m kidding that didn’t happen. Maybe.”
Soccer is another sport that has had limited representation on the big screen, but a major winner came in the form of 2002’s “Bend It Like Beckham.” It follows the 18-year-old daughter of British Indian Sikhs in London who is infatuated with soccer and David Beckham. Her parents forbid her to play because she’s a girl, but she secretly joins a local women’s team that makes its way to the top of the league. The film became a box office smash on both sides of the Atlantic, grossing more than $75 million, and nabbed nominations at the Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards. It also helped launch the career of Keira Knightley with one of her earliest starring roles, and proved that young women want to see themselves in more sports films. “I think people underestimated the power of girls wanting to see films where they were empowered,” director Gurinder Chadha told Entertainment Weekly in 2018. “Those hardly ever existed.”
The success of “The Mighty Ducks” spurred a long line of sport comedies aimed at kids in almost every field. One of the most notable entries was the football laugher “Little Giants” in 1994. It tells the story of two adult brothers in a small Ohio town, played by Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neill, who are polar opposites and find themselves coaching rival Pee-Wee Football teams. Naturally, the audience is meant to root for the titular crew of underdogs, who are led by their female star player, Becky “Icebox” O’Shea. While it didn’t make a splash with viewers or critics at the time of its release, the film’s legacy has endured with generations of kids — and with football enthusiasts who still use and celebrate the film’s football plays. “It was a load of fun to shoot, and it’s crazy who will approach me nowadays and be like, ‘Oh my god, I loved you from ‘Little Giants,”” star — and 90s teen heartthrob — Devon Sawa told ESPN in 2019.
1989’s “Major League” might have kicked off the most successful baseball franchise in movie history. It deals with the exploits of a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians baseball team whose new owner hires the most incompetent players available in an effort to get them moved to Miami. The slapstick comedy is as known for its countless one-liners as it is for its winning performances from stars Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo, Dennis Haysbert, Corbin Bernsen and Tom Berenger. It wenton to spawn an additional two sequels. “I love the fact that I was in a film that for a long time now is an iconic baseball movie, an iconic comedy. It’s great to know that you’ve been a part of something that meant something, even if it is a silly comedy about teamwork,” Corbin told Den of Geek in 2020.
Adam Sandler has a series of hit sports comedies under his belt, but his first effort came with 1996’s “Happy Gilmore.” The comedy icon plays the title character, an unsuccessful ice hockey player who discovers a newfound talent for golf. He soon enters a tournament to win enough money to help his grandmother save her home and becomes an unlikely, foulmouthed golf hero. Adam co-wrote the film after being inspired by “Caddyshack” and created a successful laugh riot of his own. It even spawned its very own “Happy Gilmore swing” that many player still use to this day. Christopher McDonald, who played villain Shooter McGavin opposite Adam, in 2021 told NBC Sports, “This movie has legs because it’s funny, really funny. It comes on television — that’s why it exploded, because it would come on television and people had to watch it because it was funny.”
Bowling might not sound like the most exciting sport to tackle for a big-screen comedy, but 1996’s “Kingpin” proved any naysayers wrong. Starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid and Bill Murray, the ridiculous film tells the story of an alcoholic ex-professional bowler who becomes the manager for a promising Amish talent. It wasn’t a massive box office hit, but it found a devoted audience who still quote it to this day, and it helped the sport build a new, younger fanbase. It also helped propel the career of directing duo the Farrelly Brothers, who would go on to helm “There’s Something About Mary” and “Shallow Hal.” Many of their fans consider it their funniest film, featuring an all-time best performance from Bill. “In some ways it’s almost cooler to have a movie that’s a cult hit. If it’s a big hit and everybody knows it, that’s one thing, but I probably had more people come up to me about ‘Kingpin’ in my career than ‘…Something About Mary,'” Bobby Farrelly told Fast Company in 2016.
When it comes to obscure sports being covered in film, none takes the cake like roller derby. 2009’s “Whip It” explores the journey of a small-town teen who rebels against her conservative, beauty pageant-obsessed mother by joining an adult roller derby team. The movie marked star Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, and despite not lighting ticket booths on fire, it received critical support after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also features an incredible ensemble that includes Elliot Page, Kristen Wiig, Marcia Gay Harden, Eve, Juliette Lewis and Jimmy Fallon. The movie introduced the brutal sport to a much wider audience including young females who discovered a new outlet for their frustrations. “It was a real dream come true,” Drew told Reuters at the time of the film’s release. “I didn’t want it to be just another chick flick. I wanted it to stay true to girl empowerment. I wanted to make something that was also irreverent and relevant for boys. I wanted it to be emotional and yet romantic and also have action and have girls doing things you’d normally see boys do.”
One way to create a classic sports comedy? Make up your own game. “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone did just that with 1998’s “BASEketball.” The film follows the history of the original sport of the same name, which as you would imagine, is a combination of baseball and basketball. Viewers learn of its invention by the lead characters (played by Trey and Matt) and about its development as a nationwide league sport. Although the two creative minds did not write the film, it’s chock-full of their comedic sensibilities, and they did a great job skewering the real-life corporate stronghold over sports. Yasmine Bleeth and Jenny McCarthy round out a cast that is oh-so ’90s, as is its equally of its time ska-influenced soundtrack that features Smash Mouth and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. While the ridiculous-yet-hilarious film was a massive box office bomb upon its release, it has developed a cult following in the two decades since and should be required viewing for any “South Park” fan.
Will Ferrell developed new athletic muscles with 2007’s “Blades of Glory” — this time on the ice. He stars alongside Jon Heder as a mismatched pair of banned figure skaters who become teammates upon discovering a loophole that will allow them to compete in the sport again. From the ridiculous costumes to the absurd routines, it was only a matter of time before a take on the beloved Olympic sport landed in the hands of a comedy favorite. It’s only helped by a talented supporting roster that includes Will Arnett, Amy Poehler and Jenna Fischer. The hilarious parody became a gold medal winner with viewers, raking in more than $145 million at the box office. In 2018, Will spoke to Nerdist about the warm reception the film has also received from members of the figure skating community: “Not one complaint. I think the world of figure skating was more than happy to have anyone pay attention to them. In fact, I just ran into Dorothy Hamill out in Palm Springs and I think professional figure skaters think that movie is hilarious: ‘Thank you for making it, and I know you guys are trying to be funny but it’s actually more accurate than you think.'”
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