The League

Desmond Bieler
Occasional Blogger, Constant Blowhard

Desmond Bieler

An assistant news editor at The Washington Post

Most Sports Films Are Bad

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Why are football movies so bad? Maybe it's because sports movies in general ain't so great.

Of the American Film Institute's 100 best American movies, only two can be categorized as sports films -- "Raging Bull" at #24 and "Rocky" at #78. And it's probably not a coincidence that boxing films find their way onto the list, as all sorts of movies go out of their way to embroil their protagonists in crowd-pleasing fistfights, so making the leading man a pugilist solves that issue nicely. And who thinks of "Raging Bull" as a "boxing" movie, rather than a "Scorsese" movie?

IMDB's much more wide-ranging list of 250 top films contains just four sports films, and that's generously throwing "The Wrestler" (#101) and "The Hustler" (#183) in there, along with "Raging Bull" (#73) and "Rocky" (#244). So that's three films in which the protagonists are placed in intrinsically violent situations, and one that enjoys the services of Paul Newman in his prime.

Of course, one could say that football is a plenty violent sport, but there are two elements that work against it from a cinematic standpoint: It's a team sport, so the protagonist can't be solely responsible for his success (well, he and the love of a good woman, of course), and the helmet obscures his face (i.e., the "acting zone"). Oh, and it doesn't really allow for the give-and-take violence Hollywood prefers, in that a football player is generally either dispensing the harm or being on the receiving end of it.

The basic problem is that sports and the arts tend to be somewhat mutually exclusive pursuits, in the sense that people generally are drawn to one or the other. The old adage "write what you know" has never lost its validity, and the world of cinema is largely populated by people who would much rather watch "Casablanca" than the Super Bowl. And it's possible that a sport like football, which relies so heavily on intense aggression, is less likely to produce a good screenwriter than a sport like baseball, which would seem to have more room for the contemplative sort.

But, of course, the good news is that we don't need to have good football movies around to watch. We have, you know, football around to watch. And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to call Comcast to complain bitterly about not getting the NFL Network.


By Desmond Bieler  |  June 15, 2009; 10:50 AM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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