In honor of the uplifting Invictus, I thought it was time to put together a list of my favorite inspirational sports movie moments. Now there were certain movies I thought about including that never made it to the final cut. Brian's Song was a TV movie, and I nixed it because it was opening a Pandora's box. I also excluded documentaries, though I was close to inserting both Hoop Dreams and Mad Hot Ballroom (hey, it's an Olympic event). Meanwhile, some of the best "sports" movies didn't make this list, like The Hustler or Raging Bull, because they aren't very inspirational. In fact, I'd say Raging Bull is an anti-inspirational movie. Anyway, we have a lot of ground to cover, so let's get this party started (alphabetically).
1. The Rumble in the Jungle, Ali
Ali bomaye! Ali bomaye!
Ali's defeat of the physically imposing George Foreman isn't portrayed as simply another grab at a championship belt for the man formerly known as Cassius Clay. It's more than the rope-a-dope. It's bigger than any man in the ring. But only one man knows it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game. Every minute. Every second. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when we add up all those inches, that's going to make the f'ing difference between winning and losing. Between living and dying.
Hey, I hate this movie and I still get inspired by this scene. Is this the best locker room speech put to film? Probably.
3. Bad News Bears lose, The Bad News Bears
This was the first movie to teach me a very valuable lesson. It doesn't matter if you lose, so long as you get to bathe in beer afterward.
4. Abrahams wins the 100, Chariots of Fire
It may feature two of the most inspiring stories to be filmed for the big screen, but Chariots of Fire is a fairly reserved film despite the Vangelis score. Abrahams' victory is subdued but the significance cannot be ignored.
5. Liddell wins the 400, Chariots of Fire
It's also hard not to get goosebumps when Liddell wipes the floor with the American runners and their dismissive coach.
6. Braddock beats Corn Griffin, Cinderella Man
Come on, Joe. We both know what this is, right? I get to put a little more distance between my kids and the street. And... I get to say goodbye at The Garden.
When washed up boxer Jim Braddock has a chance to get in the ring again, it's just supposed to be one last fight, a favor handed down from an old friend, a chance at a couple of bucks to put food on the table for the family. He wasn't supposed to, you know, win. But he does, and if you aren't cheering you aren't living. "Imagine what I woulda done to him if I had a coupla steaks", Braddock says. Damn skippy.
7. Jim Braddock fights Max Baer, Cinderella Man
Cinderella Man has to be one of the biggest Oscar snubs in recent memory. Crowe is on another playing field than most actors working today when he's this good. As the film sets it up, Max Baer is a merciless animal (reality may tell a different story) who killed a man in the ring (history confirmed). It's Braddock's biggest and most dangerous test yet. They fight dirty -- Baer back slaps Braddock, Braddock intentionally head butts Baer -- they talk smack, and their animosity is as plain as splattered blood on a white canvas (and there's plenty of that to go around, too). It's an epic battle as exciting as any Rocky movie. Only better: it really happened.
8. Finishing the race, Cool Runnings
The Jamaican bobsled team may not have won a medal, but they won our hearts. With their sled busted, the team carries it across the ice track and to the finish line. If only we weren't punished with one of those cheesy slow-clapping scenes (don't think I forgot about the one in your movie, Hoosiers).
People will come, Ray ... The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard. Rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us all that once was good and it could be again. People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.
What's great about this scene is that it isn't inspiring in the traditional sports movie sense. It isn't about performing at a high caliber athletically. It's about following your heart and remembering childlike love for a game.
10. Coach Gaines' halftime speech, Friday Night Lights
Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn't let them down... can you live in that moment? As best you can with clear eyes and love in your heart. With joy in your heart. If you can do that, gentlemen, then you're perfect.
Billy Bob's subdued delivery enhances this scene's power. Compete to the best of your ability, win or lose. They lose. After the game, through the tears it's clear: no teammates could have asked more of each other.
11. State Championship game, Hoosiers
If I were general manager for the Knicks, I'd strongly consider drafting Jimmy Chitwood and hiring Coach Dale. Hell, I'd pay the real Dennis Hopper to booze up and scamper about Madison Square Garden blabbering incoherently.
12. Rod Tidwell breaks out (not neck), Jerry Maguire
Rod Tidwell looked like he might have been dead. Instead it turns into a career-defining moment that changes everything for him, his family, and -- of course -- his agent.
13. Daniel gets leg whipped, returns, The Karate Kid
Daniel LaRusso is going to fight? DANIEL LARUSSO'S GOING TO FIGHT!
One crane attack later, Daniel LaRusso takes down Johnny and the Cobra Kais for good. No matter how cynical you are, no one can overcome the well-earned cheese of this underdog classic.
14. Hall of Fame induction, A League of Their Own
The girls of summer finally get their due, albeit years later. It's a nostalgic moment for the audience. The cast of characters we grew to love in the previous two hours appear as older folk or in photographs or paintings. But it's inspiring to see their efforts recognized, finally.
15. Indians win the pennant, Major League
The Indians win the pennant! The Indians win the pennant!
Epic situation. Tied ballgame against the dreaded Yankees (my favorite team, go figure). The victor takes the pennant. Ricky "Wild Thang" Vaughn got a critical strikeout to send the Indians to the bottom of the ninth. The speedy Willie Mays Hayes is on base. And the captain, Jake Taylor, is at the plate and he's calling his shot, pointing to the bleachers in a move reminiscent of the Great Bambino. It's brash. It's insane. It irks the Yankee pitcher. He throws one high and in, nearly knocking Taylor off his feet. But Taylor calls his shot again. He's going to bring this team of misfits back from the dregs. You just know it. The next pitch ... he bunts. He practically destroys his knees racing to first base. Hayes speeds home and ... The Indians win the pennant! The Indians win the pennant!
16. The ending, Miracle
Great moments are born from great opportunity.... one game. If we played them 10 times they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight we skate with 'em. Tonight we stay with 'em. And we shut them down, because WE CAN. Tonight we are the greatest hockey team in the world.
Al Michaels would later ask, "Do you believe in miracles?" I would have believed I could lift a semi with one arm during the last act of this movie.
17. Hobbs hits one out into outer space, The Natural
Call me sentimental, but this is still my favorite sports movie, and Roy Hobbs smacking one out into the stadium lights despite a torn-open stomach still gives me chills. Randy Newman's infamous score does justice to the moment. On a side note, shouldn't the stadium's electrician lose his license? It has to be the most dangerously-wired sportsplex ever. I mean, that could have been a disaster of Hindenburg proportions.
18. Peco and Smile meet each other in the final match, Ping Pong
Probably the best sports movie you haven't seen. Smile's revelation that he has been purposely losing to Peco (who taught him the game of ping pong) almost destroys him. What do you do when the pupil has more natural talent and discipline than you? You dig deep. We aren't really given the opportunity to watch Peco and Smile's final match, but we don't need to. When Smile says right before the first serve, "Welcome back, Hero," it's everything sports should aspire to be: supreme competition -- even if it's your best friend -- and on the right terms.
19. Lou Gherig's speech, Pride of the Yankees
Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
20. Training retreat, Remember the Titans
The most inspiring moment in Boaz Yakin's very strong football drama comes fairly early on when the white and black athletes learn to play -- and live -- together.
21. Will Patton goes Patton, Remember the Titans
I don't want them to gain ANOTHER YARD. You blitz ALL NIGHT! If they cross the line of scrimmage I'm gonna take every last one of you out. You make sure that they remember forever the night they played the Titans!
Will Patton has the wonderful ability to play a really good man or a complete bastard, and in Remember the Titans he kind of plays both at times. His mini-speech on the sidelines is my favorite moment in the final championship game.
22. Training montage, Rocky
The training montage to rule them all ... until Rocky II.
23. Rocky and Apollo Creed go 15 rounds, Rocky
This past Saturday I watched Paul Anderson and Sergio Martinez battle it out for 12 rounds in a fight that can only be called "Rockyesque." They kept landing punches on each other, many times at the same time, and me and my buddy Les were wondering if we could see a Rocky II-like double-knockdown. If they were able to go 15 rounds ... who knows? Instead, Anderson won a decision (Personally, I thought Martinez won, but hey, it was close. However, one judge scored the bout 119-110. Not sure what fight that guy was watching, but he shouldn't be allowed to judge a fight ever again in his life.) Martinez, like Rocky, lost the bout but he gained respect and more than a handful of fans, including yours truly. You don't always have to win to be a winner. Balboa taught us that.
24. Training montage, Rocky II
The training montage to rule them all ... until Rocky IV (maybe). I don't know. Adrian telling Rocky from the hospital bed, "Win." And then you hear those bells going off and then Mickey screaming like some kind of nutcase, "What are we waiting for?" I think this training montage forever scared me away from one-armed push-ups.
25. Training montage, Rocky IV
Heeeeearts on Fiiiiiiire, stroooooong deeeeesiiiiiire...
John Cafferty's "Hearts on Fire" is freaking amazing. Rocky's Russian beard is doubly amazing. Him outrunning Russian KGB guys in a car and then shouting "Dragoooooooooo!" on a mountaintop ... chills.
26. Rocky versus Drago, Rocky IV
I guess what I'm trying to say is, if I can change, and you can change, everybody can chaaaaaaaange!
Rocky Balboa did the impossible: he defeated the Russian Terminator. He brought down the Berlin wall. He took down communism. He changed the world. That's how it felt in 1985 when Balboa defeated Ivan Drago, the biggest and strongest foe he ever faced.
27. Jimmy Morris enters the game, gets strikeout, The Rookie
Jim Morris, the rookie, making his debut with the (then) Tampa Bay Devil Rays records a strikeout in his very first appearance. He was 35. Maybe it was the whole ugly Meg Ryan divorce, but Dennis Quaid was easy to root for.
You're five feett nothin', a hundred and nothin', and you got hardly a speck of athletic ability... in this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody except yourself.
Just when our hero Rudy Ruettiger is about to give it all up, he is verbally assaulted by Fortune. Screw Tony Robbins, get yourself some Dutton.
29. The ending, Rudy
OK, for the sake of not including 8 million scenes from Rudy, this "ending" encompasses the players turning in their jerseys in protest; the players then chanting Rudy's name late in the final home game; the stadium following suit and chanting Rudy's name; Vince Vaughn telling his teammates in the huddle, "Let's do this for Rudy"; Rudy's improbable sack on the Georgia Tech quarterback (Jerry Goldsmith's outstanding score reaching its apex); and finally, Rudy being carried off the field. So there.
30. Seabiscuit defeats War Admiral, Seabiscuit
Seabiscuit overcomes tremendous odds and defeats a supposedly superior (and healthier) racing horse. This movie had a couple of strong scenes worth considering, but, you know ... we had to make room for Rocky.
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Dre writes for Film.com weekly.