Nothing has come close to supplying us with our much-needed life diversion since the advent of modern-day amusement than the beautiful world of movies, well, unless you’re a skilled poker player, that is. Ideally, we can experience, appreciate, and immerse ourselves in the long-form art of storytelling, which is one of the many reasons we watch and love movies so much. There is an unmistakable joy in being able to immerse yourself in the present merely by witnessing the story of other people’s lives unfold before your eyes, whether fictional or non-fictional. You get to experience their feelings at every turn, which can be both pleasant and mind-expanding.
Over the years, one particular film genre has done a fantastic job of portraying these feelings by demonstrating engrossing moments of success, failure, terror, determination, and just about everything in between — when handled effectively. We’re talking about sports movies, of course. You don’t have to be a fan of sports to enjoy sports movies. However, keep in mind that sports films aren’t just about the games themselves.
This list focuses on the essential word, underrated, which is, of course, subjective. Underrated refers to films that are not immediately top of the mind choices in the public eye, as defined for this list of sports films. In other circumstances, such films have been entirely overlooked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when Oscar season arrives.
The unforgettable story of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two teenagers from Chicago’s inner city who have athletic aspirations of one day playing in the NBA, is told in Hoop Dreams, one of the best documentaries of any kind in film history. But, unfortunately, the harsh realities of their personal lives eventually change the course of their once hopeful future. Hoop Dreams is unique because it is more about life, love, relationships, and family than basketball. We’re taken on a journey where Gates and Agee’s talents are part of something much bigger than a playground or a court.
Many critics praised this unusual, shocking, happy, gut-wrenching, and encouraging film. Yet, it received little love from the Oscars voting committee when released in 1994. It was not even nominated in the Best Documentary category. It’s a pity. You should see Hoop Dreams as soon as possible if you haven’t already. It’s an unrivalled real-life, eye-opening sports cinematic experience.
Blue Chips almost counts as a documentary in retrospect, as it tells the story of embattled college basketball coach Pete Bell (Nick Nolte), who goes into unknown recruiting terrain to restore his once-great programme to prominence. Anfernee Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal, and Matt Nover, all genuine basketball players, star in the film as three top recruits for whom everything is done to secure their services. However, sports enthusiasts will recognise a who’s who of cameos throughout the film.
Patton Oswalt is known for his dark comedies. Still, there isn’t much humour in this very gloomy film about a New York Giants fan who lives at home and has a violent encounter with his favourite player. The saddest scene in the film occurs towards the conclusion when he dials his favourite radio show, and his mother answers the phone, causing him to be chastised by the hosts.
This film is unquestionably underappreciated, given that it failed to gross $5 million in the United States that summer. But, apart from that, we’ve never encountered anyone who doesn’t enjoy this film. The plot is as follows: Gabriel Caine (James Woods), “Honey” Roy Palmer (Lou Gossett Jr.), and Fitz (Oliver Platt) set out to carry off a simple con in the boxing-crazed hamlet of Diggstown, but instead get up in a high-stakes confrontation with the town’s No. 1 money man (the devilish Bruce Dern). The characters are well-developed, the action both inside and beyond the boxing ring is captivating, and the combative, comedic connection between Woods and Gossett is unparalleled. It also has a fantastic finale.
Over The Top
Perhaps the greatest (if not the only) film about arm wrestling ever created. This was at a period when Sylvester Stallone seemed to turn everything he touched into gold. I’m not sure why this one didn’t go well with fans, but I like it. Bull was the quintessential evil guy, while Lincoln Hawk was the classic hero. Hawk is alienated from his son until they take a cross-country drive together. Hawk is transferring his kid from military camp to the hospital to see his dying mother.
The film has its share of ups and downs, but when you factor in the presence of several big-name wrestlers and strong men competitions, it has a genuine tough guy vibe to it. It took a sport that no one cared about and turned it into something exciting. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.
While films like Remember the Titans, Major League, Hoosiers, The Blindside, Little Big League, Rocky, Field of Dreams, Caddyshack, and Rudy are often regarded as among the best sports films ever made, I believe that several other excellent sports films are sometimes ignored. You’d be hard-pressed to locate any of these on a typical Top 10 list. It’s a shame they’re nearly never mentioned. These films are, in my opinion, some of the best sports films of all time that no one ever talks about.