At the end of a crazy and dramatic sporting event where an underdog has pulled off an improbable victory or a series of plays defy the laws of physics and logic, the announcers will often be heard saying, “If you wrote this as a movie, Hollywood would reject the script as being too unbelievable.”
It’s this mindset that is the reason why only 20 of the top 500 grossing films of all time (U.S. box office) have a sports theme. After all, why pay money for tickets and popcorn on a Friday night to see a story you can watch for free on TV as it happens live the very next day. We’re not spies or superheroes or Hobbits, so we need the cinematic experience in order to capture that feeling in our lives. But we are sports fans and the drama of competition is available to us 24/7 thanks to ESPN and its ilk.
And even among these 20 films below, many of them are only tangentially related to sports or competition and are focused more on a personality or character. Four of the movies are animated kids films and four others are more of an outrageous comedy that happens to take place in a sports setting. Only seven of the top 20 were released before 2000, as it’s much easier to crack $100M in ticket sales when tickets cost all that much more. When adjusted for inflation, “Rocky” is the top sports film, jumping from 389th to 73rd and grossing over $440M in today’s money.
The list shows where each film lands in the list of all-time box office gross as well as the money it made when released (not adjusted for inflation).
20 Highest Grossing Sports Movies of All Time
448. “A League of Their Own” ($107.5M) – the only sports film in the top 20 that focuses on female athletes.
405. “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” ($114.3M) – Vince Vaughan’s cast of misfits battle Ben Stiller in Vegas.
402. “The Karate Kid Part II” ($115.1M) – the sequel to the Ralph Macchio film made almost $25 million more than the original which introduced us to Daniel-san.
400. “Remember the Titans” ($115.7M) – Denzel Washington stars as a high school football coach in the 3rd biggest box office performance of his career (behind “American Gangster” and “Safe House”).
389. “Rocky” ($117.2M) – the movie that launched a franchise as well as Stallone’s career.
382. “Blades of Glory” ($118.6M) – Will Ferrell and Jon Heder star as the world’s first all male pairs figure skating champions.
365. “Seabiscuit” ($120.3M) – a rare example where the movie is as good as the book it’s based on.
344. “Rocky III” ($125.0M) – arguably the best of the “Rocky” films, this one finds Mr. T’s Clubber Lang as the main foil.
323. “Rocky IV” ($127.9M) – the 4th installment finds Balboa fighting to avenge Apollo Creed’s death at the hands of Ivan Drago and just narrowly squeaks past its predecessor at the box office.
237. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” ($148.2M) – yes, stock car racing is in fact a sport.
223. “Jerry Maguire” ($153.9M) – more about the agents than the athletes, this Cameron Crowe film did include a memorable “Monday Night Football” sequence starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.
210. “The Longest Yard” ($158.1M) – The Adam Sandler remake of the Burt Reynolds classic is not his highest-grossing sports flick.
204. “The Waterboy” ($161.5M) – This would be the top earner for Sandler as his Bobby Boucher discovers he might be the best tackler that football has ever seen.
192. “Kung Fu Panda 2″ ($165.2M) – are we stretching the concept of sports movie with this one? Yeah, probably, but still …
168. “The Karate Kid” ($176.6M) – the Jackie Chan / Jaden Smith remake was not only solid at the box office, but a well-made and entertaining movie.
139. “Gladiator” ($187.7M) – are we stretching the concept of sports movie with this one too? Technically, this was the sports of its time during the Roman Empire.
136. “Cars 2″ ($191.5M) – the Pixar film with the worst critical reviews in the studio’s history still nearly broke $200M. I believe they made a sequel solely for the money the merchandise pulls in at Toys ‘R Us and Target.
106. “Kung Fu Panda” ($215.4M) – Jack Black … panda … learns martial arts. Not exactly something to inspire you to start exercising on your own.
74. “Cars” ($244.1M) – yes, #2 on this list is anthropomorphised automobiles, but at least it was one of Paul Newman’s final roles. And yes, I’d much rather Newman’s “Slap Shot” be in this spot.
64. “The Blind Side” ($256.0M) – The highest-grossing sports-themed film of all-time is as much a Sandra Bullock film (she won the Oscar for it after all) as it is a sports movie.
These numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. What movie are you surprised did or didn’t make the cut?
photo source: wikipedia