While there are a ton of enjoyable ones that have been produced, for it to reach that "truly special" level, where it can even compare to treasures such as Rocky, Remember the Titans or even newer winners such as Million Dollar Arm and Draft Day, there are several ingredients that are always extremely crucial.
These include a strong cast and preferably an ultra-strong leading character such as a Redford or De Niro, a great script, an athlete with almost mystical powers, or perhaps even a cornfield with magical powers and realistic and dramatic sports scenes set to the tone of equally-dramatic and emotion-churning musical interplay.
It also does not hurt if Kevin Costner is in it, as he certainly has proven to be box office gold in terms of sports flicks.
With all that being said, the following flicks have survived the tough cuts made it to the top of my personal roster as the Top 5 Sports Movies Ever:
1. Field of Dreams: Also this writer's choice for the best movie ever period. What more can be said about this Frank Capra-esque Costner classic that has not already been said. "If you build it, he will come" pretty much sets the tone for an entertaining and emotional ride that combines many of our feelings about baseball, fantasy, spiritual elements and also the simply complex thing at times that is the relationship between a father and son. It almost seems shallow to even call this a "sports movie," as those who have watched it probably a hundred times like I have, know that it is so much more and appreciate it so richly because of that fact. Costner, of course, is magical with his performance in this breakout role for him but what a supporting cast, including Burt Lancaster, Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta, and James Earl Jones among others. The scene at the very end of Field of Dreams where Ray Kinsella asks his father to "have a catch" with him is one of the best movie moments ever period.
2. Hoosiers: The passion and downright intensity of basketball in the farm towns of Indiana is superbly captured in this somewhat-underrated tale of a broken-down coach (Hackman) who seeks to rebuild his career and reputation with a small but gritty high school hoops team. Of course the rest is history as the team wins against all odds and Hackman's character is able to find redemption in the midst of much adversity, including having an alcoholic hermit as an assistant coach. The interplay between Hackman and his players make the movie emotionally stirring, but the basketball scenes are also very realistic, and the supporting cast, the crowds in the gyms and the music only serve to set a richly poignant tone for the movie that pulls you in and immediately makes you pull for this coach and this underdog Hickory team.
3. Rudy: For anyone who loves college football and has a true appreciation for the history of the sport, this true underdog story starring Sean Astin as Rudy Ruettiger, a member of a hard-working family that basically worships Notre Dame football, and a young man who dream of not only attending the South Bend, Indiana school but to also suit up for the Fighting Irish. What this movie may lack in terms of superb acting by the overall cast is more than made up for by Astin as he convincingly allows us to almost feel the grim determination and desire that Rudy has, and the adversity he faces in trying to work and study, make his grades and still convince the Notre Dame coaches that he belongs on this tradition-rich college football team. All of this despite the doubts of his own family. The music is great throughout, as are the football action segments and the scenery of the Notre Dame campus and fabled Notre Dame Stadium.
4. The Natural: Although Redford's legacy includes hundreds of cinematic classics, one of his finest roles is certainly his portrayal of Roy Hobbs, a somewhat cursed baseball player who has overcome much adversity to resume his career at an age when most players are heading toward retirement. This is another movie that is about so much more than just sports as it is a tale of making mistakes, overcoming them and finding redemption against all odds. The dramatics are intense throughout the movie due to Hobbs' mythical-like powers and grim perspective regarding life and the lessons he has learned. The entire cast, which includes Robert Duvall, Wilford Brimley, Glenn Close and Kim Basinger, is special and the interplay between the charm and romance of baseball and the real-life drama that Redford's character, who simply wants to be "the best there ever was," represents works perfectly. The music, effects, script and scenery only bring this classic to another level.
5. We Are Marshall: Deciding the fifth and final choice was a difficult task as I considered a host of classics such as Remember the Titans, Miracle, The Rookie, For Love of the Game and Bull Durham. But this is another somewhat underrated flick that combines many of the same great attributes as the other four on this list, including great life lessons of overcoming tragedy and the adversity that often follows, taking risks even in what appears to a situation with little hope and of course the importance of teamwork and loyalty in the midst of futility and doubt. The tragedy of the flight that killed much of the Marshall football team is hauntingly captured in this movie and the grief that followed is perfectly demonstrated by cast members such as Matthew Fox. McConaughey also does a masterful job of portraying the coach that has the daunting job of putting the Thundering Herd program back together, and doing so with both humor and gritty tenacity. The imagery of the horrific plane crash is stunning enough but the emotion of the whole movie is stirring and will bring tears to anyone with half a heart. Great cast and music, and the football scenes are also very realistic.