The Indisputable Top-10 Baseball Movies of All-Time
It's a question as old as time: Which baseball movies are the best of the best?
Yes, baseball is back. This — ranking baseball movies, in an extremely pompous and arrogant way — is probably not the kind of content you’d expect right now. But that’s what you’re gonna get!
Because while it’s true the MLB and MLBPA managed to stop their arguing for the (hopefully) good of America’s national pastime, we’re still going to need something — aside from, like, the Yankees’ redundant lineup — to argue about in the baseball world before fans fire up their trade machines and try to fleece each other.
So why not the best baseball movies of all-time? There were plenty of times during the lockout that MLB Network was showing some of the all-time greats, so perhaps they’re a little fresher in people’s heads. And remember, if you disagree with any element of the list it is for one reason and one reason only: that you are wrong.
**POTENTIAL SPOILERS TO FOLLOW**
Bad News Bears (1976)
Yep, starting things off with a controversial take because I like to be dramatic. Really, I have nothing particularly bad to say about The Bad News Bears. The problem is that I also have nothing, generally, to say about it. The kids, I suppose, were fun to watch and acted the way kids typically act. There were some times, I suppose, I laughed. The baseball action was, I suppose, satisfactory.
Perhaps it was simply the mood I was in when watching it — a hugely underrated factor that often goes into our enjoyment of a film. But for now, the image in my mind is of that bland, warm summer day in which all you did was get out of your bed, eat a bag of chips, and end up somehow watching Jeopardy! and feeling the existential angst of knowing you wasted an entire day. A slow day. Real slow.
I don’t know why I’m still writing about this either.
Clay Snowden — or as I like to call him, Clay — is perhaps one of the most underrated soldiers of justice here at Just Baseball. I trust Clay implicitly, and he says that Sugar, a 2008 film following the story of Dominican pitcher Miguel Santos, is money. I haven’t personally seen it, but Clay’s opinion carries enormous weight so it deserves a mention.
There’s plenty that you can critique Hardball for. It falls a bit into the White Savior trope and might be the only sports movie where the kids significantly outperform the adults (The Sandlot doesn’t count since they have nearly the entire screentime) much to the film’s detriment. It’s a cacophony of loud and prescient ideas (e.g. politicians’ seeming indifference to lower-income areas) that don’t quite mesh together enough to become timeless, even though the potential is there.
But if I’m lying I’m dying, there’s still heart here. Hardball is at least trying to say something, and it stands apart from other baseball movies because of it. And while he’s not a great actor in the traditional sense, there may not be a more likable one than Keanu Reeves.
10. Field of Dreams (1989)
Speaking of White Saviors, coming in at number 10 is perhaps the actor with the most white-savior roles ever: Kevin Costner. Field of Dreams is often considered a classic, and for good enough reason. If you’re of a younger age, it feels more like a baseball movie of a bygone era. It’s simple, extremely self-serious, and has a nostalgia fetish for the infamous Black Sox and Shoeless Joe Jackson — baseball legends for the wrong reasons that don’t quite resonate with the younger generation.
But despite all that, the movie just fundamentally works. It’s sentimental to a fault, sure, but it also has a genuinely emotional ending and a warmth to it that perhaps only Kevin Costner could pull off. Sometimes having a great lead actor is all it takes! It’s a baseball movie relic of the past worshipped by the older generation, but unlike Hoosiers its resolution and message don’t contradict itself or feel remotely as obnoxious.
Hoosiers preaches teamwork, but the team only starts winning once its best player gets back. Field of Dreams is a journey of nostalgia that preaches forgiveness, and it succeeds with the film’s father-son catch at its end. It’s peak cheesiness, and Kevin Costner is the peak of peak cheesiness. Don’t hate (too much)!
9. Fever Pitch (2005)
At first, there’s no way in hell Fever Pitch should be able to squeeze its way into the cathedral of baseball movie greatness. But think again, fool! Fever Pitch does the impossible: making a likable movie about a degenerate BOSTON fan — the most insufferable fandom, perhaps, in the entire solar system — played by Jimmy Fallon, who feels more like a caricature of himself and ambivalence than a person at this point. There have been plenty of remarkable baseball movie feats, but that’s certainly up there.
It’s a movie that just feels comforting. It’s oddly comforting, really. Maybe it’s something about that mid-2000s comedy aesthetic. But it works! It may seem like a movie that caters to the heteronormative gaze in an almost embarrassing fashion, like a guy’s wet dream (he’s obsessed with sports! And she’s OKAY with it!!), but it works! Turn your brain off, grab your favorite snack, and enjoy a baseball movie that’ll get you through a bad day.
8. The Natural (1984)
Word to the wise: never look up the synopsis or anything of old baseball movies, or any movies in general. Go in as blind as you can. Because if you do, you might get to experience the adrenaline rush I got seeing Roy Hobbs get shot at the beginning of The Natural. I nearly fell off my bed. In the age of the internet, it’s a genuine joy to be shocked like that. It’s a beautiful drug I want every ounce of.
But aside from that, The Natural is a classic baseball movie that lives up to its legend. Much like its main character, the movie doesn’t age well in every way, especially with its pacing and baseball scenes that, aside from its delightfully over-the-top ending, may pale in comparison to today.
But more importantly, The Natural may not get enough credit for being one of the smartest baseball movies. There are a lot of clever thematic elements at play, with characters mirroring Greek Mythology archetypes and multiple questions about ethics and morality. It’s rare that a movie, baseball or otherwise, can feel so fantastical yet so grounded at the same time. It’s a baseball movie that doubles down on its mythical persona and remains timeless for doing so.
7. 42 (2013)
Some might accuse 42 of being a baseball movie that takes it easy on racism. After all, Hollywood has a checkered history of trying to make white people feel less guilty about it. 42 doesn’t seem to quite fall into that same vein, but it does feel like it missed out on an opportunity to widen its scope of the time period. In some ways, it keeps things simple and safe (no baseball pun intended!), which isn’t a totally damning indictment of its quality, but rather a fair criticism.
But every time it’s on TV, it’s hard to pass it up. The performances, the general aesthetic, and directing all nail the time period. The uniforms and stadiums are unrefined and the air feels dirty. The sounds of baseballs whizzing by, the cracking of the bat, the cleats scraping against the dirt and slamming into bases, and even that old-school radio buzz capture the vibe better than most baseball movies.
And of course, the language is appropriately scathing and raw given the time period, with perhaps the scene involving racist Phillies manager Ben Chapman being the most profound example. It’s difficult to watch, but wholly necessary.
Plus, albeit unintentionally, the movie takes on a different life given the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman. Far from perfect, but sometimes that’s just fine.
6. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
You know how, once a year, like clockwork, everyone regurgitates the “is Die Hard a Christmas movie?!?!” debate with the same obnoxious fervor of a First Take “LeBron vs Jordan” segment? That’s kind of the energy going on here, with 2016’s Everybody Wants Some!! — the underrated teen comedy from legendary filmmaker Richard Linklater. Is it a baseball movie, really? That’s a tough question.
Most known for his cult-classic Dazed and Confused, there is perhaps no living filmmaker that better captures the mundane yet equally warm and vulnerable interactions between youth. Everybody Wants Some!! is ostensibly a baseball movie, but not for the typical reasons of it containing actual full-length games, hardcore training, or any of the other cliches we get from most sports movies. Make no mistake, there’s baseball in it, but it’s also a movie that attests more to the idea of teamwork and the masculine urge to, well, do a lot of dumb shit for sake of competitive glory.
It’s perfect, and the performances are all top-notch (a special nod to Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell, who would later star in the very warm rom-com Set It Up two years later). Everybody Wants Some!! being called a baseball movie may receive pushback from some, but I can promise you that it deserves to be on this list. Baseball is more than just the on-field action, you know?
5. Major League (1989)
Look, it’s not something we like to admit. It’s not something we even like to acknowledge. But sometimes — and I can’t stress this enough, SOMETIMES — Charlie Sheen is incredible. Major League is a testament to that very fact, and is perhaps the only piece of evidence needed to justify its selection as one of the five best baseball movies ever made. Literally just seeing that stare which somehow elicits both stupidity and intensity — of his character, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, can make anyone convulse into laughter.
Of course, being a comedy from the late-80s, not everything ages perfectly well (e.g. the over-the-top Voodo practices of Pedro Cerrano). It’s a movie that wears its flaws on its sleeve, easily visible and easy to criticize. But even still, the laughs are aplenty and there’s nothing better than a tale of misfits Sticking it to the Man (in this case, a woman) and celebrating the silliness inherent with baseball.
4. A League of Their Own (1992)
There aren’t many movies quotes that you can totally understand and embrace even if you haven’t seen the movie, let alone ones from a baseball movie.
But enough about Tom Hanks; he’s great and his only flaw was getting Meg Ryan fired in You’ve Got Mail. The heart of A League of Their Own is the team, from Dottie Hinson — a first-round pick in any fictional baseball player draft — to Rosie O’Donnell and Ann Cusack. It’s an eclectic group of women that grow on you the more the movie progresses. Even Madonna, who I consistently manage to forget is in this movie, is great!
It’s a classical Hollywood feel-good movie that runs the gamut of emotions without feeling overly cliche. Even its ending manages to be profound in its own right, where the outcome of the final game hardly feels like the point. When you think of baseball movies, A League of Their Own is required to be in the top tier; it genuinely gives credence to the notion that Hollywood simply doesn’t movies like they used to.
3. Bull Durham (1988)
It’s the story that baseball movies have always avoided. It’s a baseball movie that dared to ask: what if you simply stopped taking your career so seriously and instead went and hooked up with the person you’re extraordinarily attracted to. That’s the American Dream.
But in all seriousness, Bull Durham absolutely rules. It’s the ultimate counter-culture oddball for what is typically expected from sports movies. There’s a blue-collar sentiment in the form of minor league baseball, which is great! It’s not a story of uber-talented superstars, and instead is more about romance not just for the game at its most primitive level, but between humans.
Those humans, of course, are Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon, whose chemistry is more electric than Pikachu’s thunderbolt against Dragonite. It’s a baseball movie that almost forgets that it’s supposed to be about baseball due to the sheer amount of horniness permeating throughout. But it plays well and comes off as welcomingly transgressive in its sexual politics and ages gracefully.
Plus, it’s quite funny.
2. The Sandlot (1993)
There are plenty of baseball movies — and certainly movies in general — that are crafted better than The Sandlot. At times, it even feels amateur. There aren’t exactly any jaw-dropping effects, sensational baseball stunts, or even the best visual shots aside from the fireworks display halfway through the movie.
But that’s where the charm of The Sandlot kicks in.
Where it lacks in the areas traditionally associated with film expertise, it more than makes up for it in heart. The kids have become icons in their own right, with even Kevin Durant using a picture of “Ham” as his Twitter icon, and their banter between each other, and the dumbest of situations they find themselves in, carry the movie. It doesn’t even follow a typical structure, but instead feels like a series of vignettes and arcs that happen to be joined together for a 101-minute flick.
Not every one of these mini-episodes ages well, of course, with a special nod going to the pool scene with Michael “Squints” Palledorous. Yes, it’s a 90s movie, but even still the way it’s framed as something “cool” is perhaps the movie’s greatest flaw. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least.
But everything else? It’s simply timeless. Throwing up at the carnival because you thought it was a good idea to chew tobacco on the ride? Oh yeah. Beating the snot out of a bunch of preppy rich kids on the baseball diamond? That’s the good stuff. Benny Rodriguez with perhaps the most clutch moment in baseball movie history when he outruns a damn dog? Yep!
But really, it’s a movie about buds. It’s about the time in your life when you first made friends — when you first found a true belonging. In a way, it’s inspired a lot by Stand By Me. As the ending of the movie attests to, those friends are usually more ephemeral than everlasting, but for some reason, you never forget them.
The best baseball movie of all time is Moneyball. In a way, that should be the most indisputable take in this entire article. But over the years, such a stance has been met with criticisms from baseball nerds. But unlike most times, the nerds do have a point.
Whenever you talk about Moneyball, it’s hard to ignore how it massages history (e.g. ignoring that Miguel Tejada, who wins the AL MVP that year, was on the team). This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given that legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) was involved, but it feels bizarre nonetheless.
It also, perhaps unintentionally, lends credence to the notion that baseball teams are helpless in boosting their payroll — a notion that is almost universally disproven. Frankly, it’s odd to have a movie that has us rooting for a massive corporation that is spending as little as possible for success.
But even despite all that, Moneyball kicks ass.
The writing is intoxicatingly beautiful; it makes you somehow fall in love with a bunch of dudes gushing about numbers and strategy, drawing you in like a The musical cues are perfect, it’s paced like a dream, and captures the immaculate highs and devastating lows of the sport.
And that’s not even mentioning the acting. Brad Pitt, who was arguably robbed of an Oscar (be honest: how many conversations have you had about The Artist?), gives the best performance in baseball movie history. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is wonderfully understated, and let us not forget how much of a departure from his usual persona this role was for Jonah Hill at the time.
But even if that isn’t enough, and the aforementioned criticisms are what stand in your way, it’s important to note that Moneyball is about a lot of other things, too. It’s about how talent comes in many shapes and sizes. It’s about failure and endurance — to have the ability to simply keep going. It’s about how ingenuity is often not praised upon inception, and that creativity can come with the cost of ostracization. It’s about learning to appreciate what we already have and the subjectivity of the ever-so-dangerous term, “success.”
It’s not about baseball. It’s about everything else.