Listen up, sports fans. Whether you’re into baseball, football, boxing, basketball, horses, soccer, bowling or even pinewood-derby racing, chances are a movie’s coming about your favorite pastime.
A Hollywood staple for decades with such classics as “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Rocky” and “Raging Bull,” sports flicks are on a winning streak with hits that include 2003’s “Seabiscuit,” last year’s “Miracle,” “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” and “Friday Night Lights” and this year’s “Coach Carter.”
“I think they’ll always come and go in waves sort of like other genres in the business,” said Brian Robbins, who has produced or directed such sports movies as “Varsity Blues,” “Hard Ball” and “Coach Carter” with filmmaking partner Michael Tollin. “We always say you can open up the sports section every day and get a great human story. There’s great inherent drama in sports.
“Even those of us who have made so many sports movies and say we’re never going to do another one again, we can’t seem to get away from it,” said Robbins, who is producing an as yet untitled horse-racing tale starring Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning due out late this year. “There are always new stories to tell.”
Celebrating the underdogBaseball probably has been the most popular subject for sports movies over the years, including “Fear Strikes Out,” “Bang the Drum Slowly,” “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams.”
“I love the baseball ones,” said Jimmy Fallon, who stars in “Fever Pitch” as a math teacher so obsessed with the Boston Red Sox that it endangers his romance with a business consultant (Drew Barrymore). “There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in baseball. You just get sucked in, no matter how sappy it is.”
Fallon recalls watching Robert Redford’s “The Natural” with a bunch of hard-nosed college friends and “by the end, there were guys crying. These are some of the toughest guys I know, and they’re crying.”
Among other upcoming sports tales: “Cinderella Man,” on which Russell Crowe reunites with director Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”) for the story of Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock; “The Longest Yard,” with Adam Sandler updating the 1970s story of prison inmates in a football showdown against sadistic guards; “Rebound,” starring Martin Lawrence as a college basketball coach doing penance leading a junior-high team; “The Bad News Bears,” a remake featuring “Friday Night Lights” star Billy Bob Thornton as an ex-ballplayer coaching a ragtag Little League team; and “Kicking & Screaming,” with Will Ferrell as a dad coaching his son’s soccer team to a championship matchup against a squad headed by his overly competitive father (Robert Duvall).
The key to many such stories is the notion that an underdog’s perseverance can win the day.
“I happen to like human-triumph stories, and there are a lot of those in sports,” said Howard Baldwin, a former National Hockey League team owner and producer of the upcoming “The Game of Their Lives,” starring Wes Bentley and Gerard Butler in the story of the U.S. soccer team that won the World Cup against Britain in the 1950s.
The film was directed by David Anspaugh, who made the 1986 underdog basketball tale “Hoosiers.”
A lifelong sports nut, “Kicking & Screaming” star Ferrell said just about any movie dealing with athletics can click with him.
“I definitely find that I tend to like them almost unfailingly, whether they’re quote-unquote good or bad,” Ferrell said. “I can be watching the worst sports movie in the world on an airplane and be sobbing at the end, even though I know somebody’s going to make the winning basket.”
Sports docsReal-life stories also are getting their due with a rush of documentaries: “Dust to Glory,” about the Baja 1000 road race; “The Year of the Yao,” the story of Yao Ming, the towering National Basketball Association star from China; “Murderball,” a look at quadriplegic athletes competing in wheelchair rugby; and “Down and Derby,” a chronicle of Cub Scout and youth competitions featuring small cars carved out of pinewood.
The popular skateboard documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boyz” from 2001 now has spawned fictional film treatment with this summer’s “Lords of Dogtown,” a portrait of teenagers who pioneered extreme skateboard styles in the early 1970s.
“Intrigue in these lesser-known sports and also kind of the people who do them, that’s what drove us toward bowling,” said Wilhelmus Bryan, a producer on the upcoming “A League of Ordinary Gentlemen,” a documentary examining professional bowling and the hard times the sport has undergone since the late 1990s. “It’s become sort of the Rodney Dangerfield of sports. It doesn’t get any respect.”
The onslaught of sports movies shows no signs of letting up. Other sports-themed movies in the works include the golf story “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the boxing saga “Annapolis,” the basketball drama “Glory Road” and the sports-gambling tale “2 for the Money.”
Even Disney’s the Love Bug gets back into the act with Lindsay Lohan’s “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” with the little Volkswagen hitting the NASCAR circuit.
The notion of a VW Bug competing against muscle cars hits at the heart of why sports movies appeal so strongly: Everyone dreams of the glory of making it to the winner’s circle.
“I think every one of us ... at some point in our lives wanted to be that,” said Peter Farrelly, who directed “Fever Pitch” with brother Bobby. “I didn’t want to be a fireman or a cop. I wanted to be a professional baseball player, a professional basketball player. Those are people’s dreams, those are people’s heroes.”