What happened to sports movies?

With last Thursday’s announcement of the Academy Awards nominations, it’s official; Oscar Live Mikeseason is upon us. But in looking over the movies of the last year—both those nominated and the ones that otherwise stood out as blockbuster-type events—there’s one particular genre of film that seems to have been out of season for quite some time now; the sports flick.

In a very unscientificI cannot stress that word enoughlook back at the top movies of the year, the only sports film that I can even recall reading about was the ill-received Sylvester Stallone-Robert De Niro vehicle “Grudge Match,” a movie I believe De Niro agreed to star in because, at this stage in his career, he can’t be bothered to actually read a script before signing on to a project.

Sports Editor Mike Smith believes that, although they don’t make many great sports movies these days, the genre is far from dead and buried. Photo courtesy metrocreativeconnection.com

Sports Editor Mike Smith believes that, although they don’t make many great sports movies these days, the genre is far from dead and buried. Photo courtesy metrocreativeconnection.com

Now sure, there always exceptions to the rule. Movies like “The Blind Side,” “Million-Dollar Baby,” and “Moneyball” were all released in the last 10 years to much critical acclaim, but I’d argue that—with regard to ‘”Baby’s” third-act gearshift into a full-on morality play, “Moneyball” is the only traditional sports movie of the three in the sense you’ve got an underdog, the A’s/Billy Beane; a goal, a World Series Championship and the conflict, no money to pay for better players.

For years, this rough outline for a movie—while formulaic—just seemed to work. I would say that, of my all-time favorite sports movies, four of my top sixSlap Shot, Bull Durham, Major League and The Bad News Bearsfollow this very design and all of them, were fun, engaging movies. I probably wore out two VHS copies of each of those movies by the time I was 13 year old.

But with each retread of this genresee the absolutely shameful Major League sequels, for instancethe jokes began to lose their edge, falling flat and reminding people like me that we were watching poor imitations of the movies we grew up loving.

But while all the punch has been taken out of the genre, it doesn’t mean the formula is dead and buried. In reality, it’s just switched gears a little bit.

Once, audiences flocked to movies about misfit ballplayers getting ready for the state finals, they’re now lining up to see films about ragtag a capella groups reversing their fortunes or street dance teams coming together and beating out a rival squad for the grand prize. The same principles behind those sports movies I grew up with are still very much in play.

Heck, 2013’s “Silver Linings Playbook” managed to touch upon sports fanaticism while also including a dance competition finale that brought the entire film together.

So, I’m not worried that sports films are dead. The spirit is still alive and well in the Hollywood. They might not be making sports movies like they used to, but the competition, the heart, is still there and it doesn’t matter to me if I ever find new characters as compelling as Crash Davis or Reggie Dunlop. I can go back and visit them any time I like.

Assuming the VCR still works.

Follow Mike on Twitter, @LiveMike_Sports

This entry was posted in Columns, Live Mike, Sports on by .

About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.