Back in my day – we weren’t able to stream sports movies on Netflix. We had to wait until one of the three major networks ran the movies as a special “Movie of the Week.” We had to use a small child as our remote control. We had to heat leftovers in the regular oven — no microwave!
We were so primitive!
Now, here we are 35 or so years later, and we have gone from a rotary home phone, to a push-button phone, to a brick cell phone, to a small cell phone, to a smartphone that I can watch sports movies on Netflix. It’s like Buck Rodgers! (Just kidding, even Buck Rodgers is dated.)
With the baseball season officially upon us, I got a little nostalgic, thinking back to my childhood when I’d watch a lot of these sports movies with my parents and brothers.
If you’ve seen these movies before, give them another look. You will probably be like me in that you’ll remember that they were better than they actually are. But you have to remember that we didn’t have CGI in movies like they do today. Filmmakers were stuck using what was available to them, on much smaller budgets. Even the acting back then was much worse, but some of the stories were still fun, and some were still imaginative. Sure, some of this stuff could never really happen in sports, but still. It was fun to watch.
11 Great Old Sports Movies on Netflix
These movies will be listed backward in age, with their Rotten Tomatoes score in parentheses. A high score indicates critics loved the movie.
Days of Thunder, 1990
(Rotten Tomatoes score: 41 out of 100)
A few things can be debated about this choice for this list.
1. Do we really consider 1990 to be an “old movie” year?
2. Is NASCAR considered a sport?
3. With a 41 RT rating, do we really consider it a movie we should rewatch?
I say, “Yes, yes and yes!” Outside of “Talladega Nights,” this is probably the best NASCAR movie out there. Tom Cruise and Jerry Bruckheimer (“Top Gun”) team up again for this stock car racing film. You also have to love the supporting cast of Robert Duvall, Nicole Kidman, Randy Quaid, Michael Rooker and Cary Elwes.
Bull Durham, 1988
(97 out of 100)
This movie is tricky because men and women alike love it. Kevin Costner stars as Crash Davis, a journeyman minor-league catcher, who tries to help a dumb, talented young pitcher in Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), while they both go after Annie (Susan Sarandon). Funny, insightful and just a very good baseball movie.
Raging Bull, 1980
(98 out of 100)
This was the first movie that brought together the talented troika of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. This film portrays the life of boxer Jake La Motta. Filmed in black and white, I think many, like myself, thought it was an older movie than just 1980. Or maybe I’m just dumb.
Slap Shot, 1980
(85 out of 100)
Easily the greatest hockey movie of all time, including all Might Ducks movies! I know, there aren’t many hockey movies to compete with, but this movie just gets better and better with time. Paul Newman stars as a coach/player of a bad minor-league hockey teams, full of a bunch of nutcases, including the quirky Hanson Brothers.
Paradise Alley, 1978
(96 out of 100)
Sylvester Stallone directed this movie, which came out a couple years after “Rocky,” but before “Rocky II.” Set in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Stallone portrays as a guy trying to get his friends out of the slums. He sets up fights for his meathead friend, while trying to dodge mobsters. Also starring a young Armand Assante as Stallone’s brother. This was 18 years before they faced off in “Judge Dredd.”
The Bad News Bears, 1976
(96 out of 100)
This was an iconic film from our childhood that starred Walter Matthau, one of the most underrated comic actors of the past half-century, and a young Tatum O’Neal. Coach Buttermaker (Matthau) chooses to coach a Little League team in California, and O’Neal ends up being one of his best players. The team is full of misfits, but they have heart!
Brian’s Song, 1971
(91 out of 100)
Mostly known as the movie that will make any man weep, this was the true story of the friendship between Heisman Trophy-winning running back Gale Sayers and his teammate Brian Piccolo, who both joined the Chicago Bears in the same season. This was actually a made-for-TV movie – and it even won an Emmy Award.
The Endless Summer, 1966
(100 out of 100)
This was a cult classic movie that took a serious look at the sport of surfing. The concept was that three surfing buddies got together to follow the summer around the earth, catching waves in Africa, Australia, Hawaii and Tahiti.
The Longest Yard, 1974
(81 out of 100)
Yes, Adam Sandler’s remake in the early 2000s was much funnier, but Burt Reynolds’ film was just better all around. Paul Crewes is a former football star that ends up in prison (not because of dog fighting), and he ends up leading a prisoner football team against a prison guard team. More of a dramedy than the remake.
North Dallas Forty, 1979
(85 out of 100)
This drama follows the North Dallas Bulls professional football team, as the players party excessively and rely on painkillers to get through games, and the management that allows it. This was really one of the first movies that took a cynical look at sports and the reality that money and glory are the only real goals by all involved.
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings
(87 out of 100)
The eponymous character, is played by a young Billy Dee Williams, leads a barnstorming baseball team set in the late ’30s. Sick of the unethical management by the Negro League teams, Long takes his team on the road across the south. This cast is star-studded, including Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor. Media historian Hal Erickson notes that this movie was initially offered to Steven Spielberg to direct, but he chose “Close Encounters of a Third Kind,” instead.
Looking back at all of these movies, they were definitely better than I really remember them. The average Rotten Tomatoes score for these 11 films was 87. If we throw out “Days of Thunder,” the average score ends up being 92!
Give these movies another chance if you’re home sick or feel like some good old sports movies on Netflix at home on a rainy day. If you’re having trouble watching movies online, here are some tips on how to improve your Netflix streaming.