Jock Stars

Robert De Niro, Raging Bull
Image credit: Raging Bull: United Artists/Kobal Collection
6 Million Dollar Baby PG-13, 132 mins., 2004 (Warner)

HERE'S WHY ''You're not gonna cry now, are ya?'' Clint Eastwood's cranky trainer growls. Actually, boss, we're all gonna cry at the heart-wrenching ending, after we've cheered the hard-knuckled determination of Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), left-hooking her way to self-respect as she climbs the ranks of women's boxing. A story that could have wallowed in sentimentality, Baby instead pays homage to the redemption of a poor, uneducated waitress through starkly staged fight scenes and gutsy performances in and out of the ring.

EXTRAS They may not show Swank doing a bazillion crunches and pounding a heavy bag, but the entire cast turns out for enthusiastic on-set interviews.

DID YOU KNOW? Costar Morgan Freeman was once a serious student of...ballet.

FINAL SCORE With Oscars for picture, director, actress, and supporting actor, Million Dollar Baby is a true champion. — Hannah Tucker

5 Bull Durham R, 108 mins., 1988 (MGM)

HERE'S WHY It took an ex-ballplayer to craft the ultimate ode to America's pastime. Rookie director Ron Shelton set the story in his old stomping grounds: the minor leagues, where the beer is cheap and the game is at its stripped-down best. The standard-issue plot — brash fireballer ''Nuke'' LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) locks horns with veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) and both strike sparks with sexy groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) — goes way inside baseball, exposing locker-room trysts, Bible-beating teammates, claustrophobic bus trips, and fungus-coated shower shoes. Now we know what they talk about on the pitcher's mound: candlesticks.

DID YOU KNOW? Shelton originally wanted Kurt Russell, a former minor-leaguer himself, to play Crash.

EXTRAS The costars' commentary is hilariously childish. Robbins on his bare behind: ''That's not my ass.'' Costner: ''Anymore!''

FINAL SCORE We believe in the church of baseball, and Bull Durham is our bible. — Melissa Rose Bernardo

4 Rocky PG, 119 mins., 1976 (MGM)

HERE'S WHY Hard enough to take a 15-round beating from Apollo (Carl Weathers), soft enough to give Adrian (Talia Shire) the bed the night before the big fight, the Philly southpaw is more character than most. With one shot to prove he's not just another bum from the hood, Sylvester Stallone faces the champ and does the unthinkable, by Hollywood standards: He loses. But he wins our hearts by going the distance (and remembering Adrian's hat).

DID YOU KNOW? The Italian Stallion's blow-by-blow of the bout weighed in at 32 pages.

EXTRAS The 2001 special edition features commentaries detailing every decision made in the making of this Best Picture.

FINAL SCORE We'd all like to eat lightning and crap thunder for Mickey (Burgess Meredith). — Mandi Bierly

3 Hoosiers PG, 114 mins., 1986 (MGM)

HERE'S WHY Because this is the greatest basketball movie ever made, and if you haven't seen it for some petty I-don't-like-sports reason, you're just afraid to let yourself be happy. Based on the true story of a tiny Indiana high school team that won the state championship, Hoosiers is supremely acted — thanks to the cool-as-ice Gene Hackman and the Oscar-nominated Dennis Hopper — and beautifully shot, and features a Jerry Goldsmith score that should be listed in the dictionary under triumphant.

DID YOU KNOW? Remember that scene where Hackman's Coach Dale tells local hero Jimmy Chitwood he doesn't care whether Jimmy plays or not, as the kid makes free throw after free throw? They loosened the rim. Oh, well.

EXTRAS For those who thought Hackman's kiss with Barbara Hershey came out of nowhere, the deleted scenes help bridge the gaps.

FINAL SCORE Watch it, or we'll run the picket fence at ya. — Whitney Pastorek

2 Caddyshack R, 99 mins., 1980 (Warner)

HERE'S WHY Some sports movies have a particular line of dialogue or moment that transcends the film and becomes a part of pop-culture lore to be shared by fans over and over. Caddyshack doesn't have one — it has about a hundred. Not only is this snobs-versus-slobs golf comedy easily the most quotable sports movie ever but it also only gets better with repeated viewings, thanks to the ongoing discovery of numerous background and secondary gags (yes, caddy day at the pool is from 1 to 1:15). And what can you say about a cast including comedic geniuses Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield, especially when they're all shown up by Ted (''How 'bout a Fresca?'') Knight? So, it's got that going for it, which is nice.

DID YOU KNOW? The one scene between Chase and Murray was written during lunch only after producers realized their two biggest stars didn't ever appear together.

EXTRAS The ''19th Hole'' documentary features alternate takes and cast and crew discussing all the on- and off-camera shenanigans, including how Murray almost ran Chase over with a tractor.

FINAL SCORE With its relentless assault of inspired insanity, Caddyshack remains a hole in one. — Dalton Ross

1 Raging Bull R, 129 mins., 1980 (MGM)

HERE'S WHY Any serious list of greatest sports movies begins with Raging Bull. Come to think of it, any list of greatest movies begins with Martin Scorsese's black-and-white epic about Jake La Motta, a middleweight thug brought low by his own paranoia, insecurity, and rage. The reason so many films about boxing are in our top 30: No other sport captures the solitude, brutality, and triumph of the underdog as starkly and savagely as the sweet science. And certainly none captures them with the same sucker-punch force as Raging Bull.

DID YOU KNOW? Robert De Niro, who packed on 60 pounds of Method flab to play the down-and-out, latter-years La Motta, got so intense in one sparring scene that he broke costar Joe Pesci's ribs. Also, the F-bomb is dropped 128 times in the flick.

EXTRAS On the special edition, a f---in' smorgasbord: commentaries from Scorsese and La Motta, documentaries, and featurettes including a shot-by-shot comparison of La Motta's and De Niro's brawls.

FINAL SCORE On the Waterfront plus Rocky minus the schmaltz. — Chris Nashawaty

Originally posted Nov 11, 2005 Published in issue #851 Nov 25, 2005 Order article reprints
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