The Academy Awards are tonight, and the best films of this past year are due to be honored. From Abraham Lincoln to a vulgar animated teddy bear, Hollywood is throwing itself another annual ball to pat itself on the back for being so amazing. But while we’re likely going to only watch five minutes of the actual ceremony, the question in the sports world is being raised: what are the best sports movies ever made?
So in honor of Hollywood honoring itself, let’s take a look at what the Oscars’ would look like if we were handing out awards to the best sports films of all-time.
- Gene Hackman, in Hoosiers
- Kevin Costner, in Bull Durham
- Robert De Niro, in Raging Bull
- Paul Newman, in Slap Shot
- Mickey Rourke, in The Wrestler
When you think about acting in a sports movie, the phrase great performance rarely comes to mind. But when done correctly, a sports film can be both a movie about sports and an actual movie with character depth and narrative themes that run deep within the story. A good story starts with a great script but it becomes legendary thanks to an actor portraying a character. All of the nominees dug deep into their roles and for most of them, they remain some of the finest performances they’ve ever delivered on film, as both Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke were actually nominated and won Oscars for their roles. From Paul Newman’s hilarious role in Slap Shot to Gene Hackman’s iconic role as a head coach in Hoosiers, all performances are terrific but only one can win.
Gene Hackman’s performance as a head coach in Hoosiers is one of the most memorable sports movie performances of all-time but DeNiro took his role above and beyond what just about anyone had done before him. For his role as Jake LaMotta, DeNiro infamously gained an incredible amount of weight to portray LaMotta later in his life. Usually actors put on fat suits so they don’t have to jeopardize their chiseled physiques, but De Niro is a method actor and wanted the weight gain to be real. Things were so real that director Martin Scorsese and other actually feared for De Niro’s health during filming. But the result was one of the finest acting performances ever and it ended up winning De Niro his second Oscar.