THE STARTING LINEUP
The Longest Yard (1974)--The always-underrated Burt Reynolds proves that sticking it to The Man can retain its original meaning in prison. Reynolds stars as stir-crazy pro quarterback Paul Crewe, who leads a team of inmates against their oppressive guards. Suitably violent, the inmates make the most of their literal and metaphorical level playing field.
The Natural (1984)--Like most Robert Redford movies, this period baseball tale is so enamored with its flaxen-haired hero that for long periods it neglects to be entertaining. However, if it's fairy-tale sporting thrills you want, it doesn't get much better than a critically ill, over-the-hill baseball player smashing a gigantic home run into an exploding floodlight with a bat he carved from a tree struck by lightning.
Any Given Sunday (1999)--Are you ready for some football? Overblown, flashy and thoroughly exhilarating, Oliver Stone's pigskin polemic examines modern sport's corruption by the almighty dollar. The crunching game sequences deliver some painful visceral hits--the kind of knocks that might loosen Al Pacino's "HOO-hahs", which seem to have been stuck since 1992's Scent of a Woman.
Slap Shot (1977)--"I went to a fight last week, and a hockey game broke out." George Roy Hill's unrelentingly brutal and ignominious portrayal of life in ice hockey's hinterland is most remarkable for its complete lack of warmth. Paul Newman's Reggie Dunlop is gloriously hard to like, a never-was separated from his equally revolting teammates by a modicum of intelligence. The unsparing Hill makes the game action as violent as anything in the original Rollerball (see below), while life away from the ice is uncomfortably bleak. Keep an eye out for the Hanson Brothers, three Canadian imports who dish out pain as if health care were free.
ON THE BENCH
Hoosiers (1986)--Gene Hackman is a fiery high-school basketball coach, with Dennis Hopper cast to type as his degenerate alcoholic assistant.
Rocky (1976)--Research shows that no other movie has inspired as many pushups.
Rollerball (1975)--James Caan plays Jonathan E, a name that misleadingly screams "effete performance artist." Instead, he's the Wayne Gretzky of kickass in Norman Jewison's dystopian future.
White Men Can't Jump (1992)--Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, previously seen together in football flick Wildcats, renew their sporting acquaintance in this hightopped rip-off of The Color of Money.
Youngblood (1986)--Rob Lowe is just too pretty for ice hockey, but not for his coach's daughter.