Much like the Olympics, even people who don’t like sports like sports movies and TV Shows. Even fictional sports subplots. And the English-speaking world has gifted us with an avalanche of good to transcendent ones. Which makes them an ideal topic of debate and conversation. I don’t care to debate, so today I just want to talk about my favorites. And to zero in on those moments that cause me to cry, cheer, get chill bumps, or all of the above. Every time. Note that I’m limiting myself to events that were on the field (or court, or pitch). In reverse order:
25. “Shoot it, Fat Boy” (Teen Wolf, Movie, 1986)
One of the 80s most perfectly ’80s’ villains taunted Chubbs in the state championship. Big, fat mistake.
24. Gryffindor Wins the Quidditch Cub in Harry’s Third Year (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Book, 1999)
The Lions won it all in Harry’s 5th and 6th years but they do not compare in my mind for two reasons. First, Harry didn’t even play in either of those final games so we didn’t get to witness the action firsthand. Rowling’s masterful and imaginative play-by-play regales me over and over again. And secondly, there’s something special about that first championship. Especially after waiting for three years (And for Wood, much longer). Oh, and bonus points for Percy celebrating with “all dignity forgotten” and McGonagall weeping into a giant house flag. Those visuals are priceless.
23. The Final Two-Point Conversion (Necessary Roughness, 1991)
I saw this movie in the theater as a 13-year old with my two best friends. We could not have found it more humorous. Along with the barrage of laughs, the movie ends with about as riveting a sports cliche moment as you’ll see. Robert Loggia calls the play (fake extra point for the win), Scott Bakula makes the throw, “Charlie Banks” makes the catch and Rob Schneider is on the radio call. This movie ain’t The Godfather, but this moment is euphoric perfection.
22. Saracen Throws A Hail Mary Touchdown After Coming Off The Bench (Friday Night Lights Series Premiere, TV Show, 2006)
Matt Saracen reminds me of myself as a personality. I love his character deeply. The one way he is different is that he can throw a football. And man did he in the very first episode of this show, coming in cold off the bench. Props to Coach Taylor for setting up this moment with his words to Matt.
21. The Waterboy Delivers Multiple Pancake Blocks On Fake FG in Bourbon Bowl (The Waterboy, 2000)
The moment is unique on this list because it gives me chill bumps and makes me laugh at the same time, because it’s just so ridiculous. Adam Sandler has done that to me more times than I can count in the last thirty years.
20. Charlie Scores The Winning Goal Via The Triple-Deke (The Mighty Ducks, 1992)
I confess I have a soft spot for this trilogy and watch it every few years. Emilio Estevez and Joshua Jackson resonate with me in every role, no matter how cheesy. As with most sports movie series, my favorite moment comes in the original, as Charlie utilizes his coach’s old move to pull off the upset of upsets.
19. Lincoln Hawk pins Bull Hurley (Over The Top, 1987)
I’ve already written about this movie. But this moment stands out among a sea of “lovable underdog beats heavy favorite villain at the end” moments for two reasons: First, it’s arm wrestling! And secondly, Stallone makes us forget for 90 minutes that he was Rocky and Rambo. I love this performance so much. Without him, and the music, this is a terrible movie.
18. Daniel Knocks Out Chozen With Drum Technique (Karate Kid II, 1986)
A fight to the death and a callback to Miyagi’s humor at the very beginning. Armrest gripping followed by fall out of the chair laughter. It takes a while to re-enter reality after this movie for me.
17. Bennie Steals Home (The Sandlot, 1993)
There is so much to love about this movie and this is about as sublime an ending and they could have come up with.
16. Taylor Calls His Shot, Bunts Home Hayes From Second (Major League, 1989)
You knew Taylor would get the game-winning RBI, but how they pulled it off was truly special. He plays to Babe Ruth but then goes the opposite way with a perfectly executed bunt. As slow as he was, it had to be perfect. Somewhere my dad is still weeping with joy at that bunt.
15. The Russians Start Cheering For Rocky (Rocky IV, 1986)
I’ve also already written about this one before, so I’ll content myself by saying that it’s just so marvelously outrageous. I have watched the Rocky-Drago fight probably 200 times in my life, for this and #4 below.
14. Mr. Han Shows Xiao Dre He’s Been Learning Kung Fu The Whole Time (The Karate Kid, 2010)
I actually think this version of this subplot is cooler than the original in a lot of ways. Notably that, unlike Daniel’s backbreaking chores, Dre’s task is to teach him to do something his mother wanted him to do: pick up his jacket. In both cases, the effect of “these frustrations are teaching you the skills you need” is peak cinema.
13. Leave No Doubt! (Remember The Titans, 2000)
If you love football, these three minutes are for you. Or maybe if you have a heartbeat these three minutes are for you. This is definitely a Denzel movie but Will Patton is Oscar-worthy in this scene.
12. Vaughn Intentionally Walks Beck To Get To Parkman (Major League II, 1994)
This movie does not make any list of great sequels to me, but this scene plays to my testosterone like few others. Wild Thing was brought in for a one-out save, to face Beck. But these were the days when Charlie Sheen was gloriously crazy and not disturbingly crazy. He demands to intentionally walk Beck—to load the bases!!—to pitch to his nemesis, who was literally batting .900 against him. The fortitude at that moment…Wow. And since it’s a movie, of course, his manager consents. And of course, he strikes him out. This whole scene fires me up, from the classic rock song used to bring Vaughn in, until the last strike.
11. Rocky Beats Apollo By One Second In The Rematch (Rocky II, 1979)
As heart-stopping during my 40th viewing as my first. This is the Laettner vs. Kentucky shot of sports movie moments to me. Two titans exchanged blows for 15 merciless rounds, all for it to come down to one second. Give this moment its due as well for setting up the Rocky quote everyone knows: “YO ADRIAN!!”
10. The Jamaican Bob Sled Team Carries The Sled Across the Finish Line (Cool Runnings, 1993)
This qualifies as fictional because, like much of the movie, it didn’t happen at the 1988 Olympics. But it’s like injecting all the good emotions straight into the veins. Every single time. Somewhere between the slow clap by the Swiss team and the Junior’s dad shirt reveal, I just lose it.
9. Saracen to Riggins to Williams for the State Championship (Friday Night Lights, TV Show, Season 1 Finale, 2007)
The play, a 39-yard hook-and-lateral as the last play with the title on the line, seems almost too unbelievable to work. Yet Boise St. did it in a similar situation about three months earlier in real life. Regardless, the execution and drama of it all make this play legendary. The discussion-debate in the huddle…the confidence Taylor puts in Saracen (“Coach, it’ll work”)…Riggins nodding at Saracen at the line…the music in the background…Smash carrying two defenders into the end zone after dislocating his shoulder, for the championship! Even my chill bumps have chill bumps.
8. Daniel-san Discovers He’s Been Learning Karate the Whole Time (The Karate Kid, 1984)
This is a mind-blowing plot twist of a scene. I had never seen anything like it before. It shows us why those who do not love real sports love fictional sports—because so often they are about growing, learning and character transformation and not about the sport itself. Everyone loved Miyagi for innumerable reasons. His mentorship remains among the primary ones.
7. Jimmy Chitwood’s Game-Winning Shot (Hoosiers, 1986)
“I’ll Make It”. Epic. Legendary. From every kid alone in the backyard to Jordan on the Bulls in the Finals, this is a dream scenario. Add the underdog story and we have been cheering this bucket for 35 years.
6. Rudy Is Carried Off The Field (Rudy, 1993)
Another moment that I’m counting as fictional because it didn’t happen. Or, according to Joe Montana, it didn’t happen in any sense the way it was portrayed in the movie. Rudy is the story to watch when it comes to persistence in the daily, menial, and monotonous. He did not do anything truly meaningful on the field. I love him for what he did day-in and day-out with few watching and no glory. And as result, the way his teammates rewarded him for a sack in an already won game hits me in the feels.
5. Kit and Dottie Collide At The Plate, Kit Scores Winning Run (A League Of Their Own, 1992)
I have three brothers, but the one who is one year older than me was the one who was my biggest rival growing up. I know I love this moment in part because the younger sibling wins. But outside of that, it’s just a phenomenally done climax to a fantastic movie. The look on Jimmy Dugan’s (Tom Hanks) face is almost as good as the plate collision itself.
4. Rocky Cuts Drago (Rocky IV, 1985)
I want to scale Mt. Everest after watching this moment. Rocky IV joke firmly intended. After literally getting his brains beat in for two rounds, Balboa turned the tide with a punch heard round the world. The announcers’ call is a huge part of the lore as well: “HE’S CUT! The Russian’s cut!! And it’s a bad cut!!!” You can feel the mood of the fake crowd shift from your living room. That’s how amazing this punch is.
3. “Strong Side! Left Side!” (Remember The Titans, 2000)
Pure, Cinematic Magic. Two enemies became brothers that night. And this was the moment that revolutionized everything.
2. The Crane Kick (Karate Kid, 1984)
Both the image of the moment right before the kick and the kick itself are as iconic as anything in any sports movie to me. This comment on a YouTube clip of the final two minutes says it better than I can: “I will NEVER forget the great atmosphere in the theater when he wins over arch-enemy Johnny. There were over 500 people in the cinema and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, including me and my parents, were just standing up and cheering and applauding as if it were a real decisive match we all just saw. Absolutely incredible. I and many of the audience had tears of joy. Probably the best ending in the history of sports movies.“
Rocky’s 14th-Round Resurrection (Rocky, 1976)
I do not want to oversell this moment, but similar to how Phill has written about movie resurrections before, this is in that vein. The word used in our New Testament for Christ’s resurrection can definitely mean “to stand back up again”. That’s exactly what Rocky did. Apollo left him for dead. The match was over after nearly 14 brutal rounds. But Rocky did what he always did. He got back up. That is so much bigger and more real to life than winning anything. And for that, it has been, is, and likely will always be my #1.
Now your turn. Tell us your favorite fictional sports moments below!