10 When We Were Kings
This long-delayed account of the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman is nearly as enthralling as the bout. The footage is a heartbreaking record of Ali as a cultural force. Norman Mailer and George Plimpton provide sharp commentary.
11 Bang the Drum Slowly
MICHAEL MORIARTY, MORIARTY, ROBERT DE NIRO (1973)
Nobody looks much like a ballplayer, least of all pitcher Moriarty and doomed, tobacco-chewing catcher De Niro. But Drum movingly hugs the foul line between myth and reality. And there's not a dry eye in the stadium as De Niro stumbles around under that final pop foul.
12 Dogtown and Z-Boys
A hard-core look at how surfing values and style morphed into extreme skateboarding for a ragtag gang of Southern California beach kids, this movie is also a wonderful evocation of time (the 70s) and place (Dogtown, a shoddy area of Santa Monica). Groove on the old school rock.
13 A League of Their Own
TOM HANKS, GEENA DAVIS (1992)
There may be no crying in baseball—but the game once had females, as recounted in this lightly fictionalized and spiritedly feminist account of the World War II-era women's pro league. Hanks as a fall-down-drunk skipper and Davis as a loose-limbed catcher provide the pathos.
14 The Freshman
HAROLD LLOYD, JOBYNA RALSTON (1925)
The most plundered sports film ever made, this sidesplitting silent stars Lloyd as a callow youth who becomes the laughingstock of his college. He tries out for the football team, fails and serves as water boy until the final crazed seconds of the Big Game.
15 The Endless Summer
Writer-director-narrator Bruce Brown followed surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August around the world in search of the perfect wave. The story line is small, but sweet. In this classic you can see the DNA of every surf movie that came after.
16 North Dallas Forty
NICK NOLTE, MAC DAVIS (1979)
With somewhat less splash NDF demystifies the Dallas Cowboys the way Ball Four did the New York Yankees. The action is vivid and violent, the dialogue remains fresh, and pot-smoking, pill-popping, glue-fingered wide receiver Nolte is an All-Pro antihero.
17 Brian's Song
JAMES CAAN, BILLY DEE WILLIAMS (1971)
A grown-men-do-cry classic. Caan and Williams are a dream backfield as Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers, of course, but the TV movie gets two extra points for casting Jack Warden (as crusty George Halas) and Shelley Fabares (as Piccolo's plucky wife, Joy).
RODNEY DANGERFIELD, BILL MURRAY (1980)
As long as men Gather to drink beer and break wind, director Harold Ramis's masterwork will be deconstructed frame by frame, including the memorable bit in which Murray provides his own play-by-play as he uses a hoe to make a shot out of a flower bed.
19 Downhill Racer
ROBERT REDFORD, GENE HACKMAN (1969)
The then cutting-edge, skier's-eye camera work gave a visual rush to this tale of a U.S. Olympic ski coach (Hackman) who tries to tame a talented but wayward medal hopeful (Redford). What ever happened to Redford's dynamic love interest, Camilla Sparv?