One for the Little Guy! Our Favorite Underdog Sports Movies
By Perri Nemiroff
According to Real Steel, in the year 2020 humans recruit robots to do their boxing for them. Hugh Jackman’s Charlie Kenton uses his steadfastness to train a sparring robot named Atom and turn him into a solid fighter. Should Atom follow the path of these iconic big-screen sports underdogs, boxing greatness could be well within his reach.
There’s a reason Hoosiers appears on just about every underdog list; it’s one of the most rousing rise-to-success movies out there. Norman Dale starts his coaching venture dealing with problem after problem. Against all odds, Dale’s experience turns around courtesy of some much needed support from the team’s all-star player and, despite all odds, making it to the state championship becomes a possibility.
Rudy’s got quite a bit working against him, lack of money, talent and size, just to name a few. Sure, most all-star athletes have natural talent to thank for their success, but that doesn’t mean greats can’t grow from honest hard work. More than a story of someone who becomes a top-notch football player, Rudy earns his clout through the immense amount of respect the teammates and ultimately a stadium full of fans have for him.
The story may seem too good to be true, but, well, it is true and that makes Miracle all the more powerful. Coach Herb Brooks follows his instincts, opting for fresh players and takes them to the 1980 Olympics to battle the gold medalists of 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976, the Soviets. Even after getting pummeled by the champs during an exhibition game, Brooks pulls it together and leads his team on a track resulting in “The Miracle on Ice.”
Friday Night Lights
When you take a football team’s star player and overwork him to the point that his ACL snaps, you’re bound to take some heat. Even without Boobie Miles, coach Gaines identifies his remaining players’ strengths and weaknesses to help the boys win games and solidify futures. Not only did FNL top its budget by $30 million at the box office, but Peter Berg went on to make a TV show that rallied fans in a way the industry will never forget.
A League of Their Own
Warming a drunk like Jimmy Dugan up to the idea of girls playing baseball is really something to be proud of. But, even beyond Jimmy, while the men of America are off fighting in WWII, the ladies of the Rockford Peaches and the rest of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League manage to keep spirits high, the sport alive and thriving, and take their skills all the way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Remember the Titans
Not only does Herman Boone have a long way to go in terms of earning respect having replaced the beloved football coach Bill Yoast, but so does his team. And, not only does his team have a long way to go in terms forming a cohesive unit and winning games, but they’re also battling a hefty degree of racism, amongst themselves and throughout the town. They overcome challenge after challenge solidifying themselves as admirable underdogs.
As someone who grew up playing golf, Happy Gilmore’s tantrums are the slightest bit understandable. No, I’ve never snapped a rake in two and thrown it in the woods so it could “be with his family,” but the game can get frustrating. While his ways of becoming a solid player are questions, all Happy really wants to do is earn enough money to let his grandmother keep her house. Who can argue with that?
The boys of The Sandlot may not have fancy uniforms or equipment, or a baseball for that matter, but they’ve got more than enough heart to not only form a solid team, but battle the Beast. Powered by their love of the game and reverence for Babe Ruth, the boys load up with s’mores, erector sets and, of course, the shoes guaranteed to make a kid run faster and jump higher, PF flyers.
Punishment for getting caught drinking and driving in Minneapolis? Community service coaching the worst peewee hockey team in the league. Poor Gordon Bombay certainly has his work cut out for him, coaching a team with lackluster equipment and the attitudes to match, but with a little TLC and the ability to harness the power of the Flying V, the Ducks inch close to giving the notorious Hawks a run for their money on the ice.
Spike may get nightly massages with evaporated milk, but once the Little Giants learn that “football is 80% mental and 40% physical,” his rough and tough training just isn’t enough to overpower Coach Danny O’Shea’s more tender approach and smarter plays. From their dilapidated dust field to the greens of Urbania stadium, the Icebox and Junior Floyd lead the Little Giants into battle against Kevin O’Shea’s Cowboys to claim the title for Danny.
In a world packed with rock solid MMA fighters, estranged brothers Tommy and Brendan are nothing but wannabes desperate to make a buck. However, when the talent’s innate, all it needs is a little coaching to bring it out and with the help of the brother’s father for Tommy and an old trainer pal for Brendan, they wind up facing off in the biggest mixed martial arts competition of all time.
The Karate Kid
Life’s rough for Daniel LaRusso. When a little jerk like Johnny Lawrence is running around beating the crap out of sweeties like Daniel, underdog pride is all consuming. Sure, Mr. Miyagi may not use a fancy gym or the no mercy tactic, but wax on, wax off turns out to be all it takes to get Daniel to kick some Cobra Kai but and rock the crane kick.
The tubby kids of Heavy Weights have it hard enough during the school year then their summers take a turn for the worst when the loving Camp Hope owners are replace by the all-business Tony Perkis. In a desperate attempt to avoid further humiliation, they not only have to overthrow their new leader, but pull themselves together to put up a noble fight in the annual competition between Camp Home and the neighboring sports camp.
Sure, hanging out on a driving range and drinking all day sounds like a good time, but if you’ve got talent like Roy McAvoy, you better put it to use. It takes some good old fashioned revenge to get him there, but Roy pulls it together to take down David Simms by qualifying for the U.S. Open. Taking risks can cost you in golf, but as Molly says, nobody will remember a five, but they’ll remember a 12.
The Blind Side
If you’ve learned anything from this list, it’s that with a little time and attention, even an untrained athlete can rise above his or her troubles to become a stellar athlete. Michael Oher may start out homeless, family-less and practically mute, but thanks to the Tuohys he gains a family and a future.
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