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Classic Sports Movies: 3 Movies That Helped Shape the Genre

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By    |   Thursday, 16 Apr 2015 06:14 AM

If there's one movie genre that has the consistent ability to capture exhilaration and heart-tugging emotion at the same time, it's sports movies. The spirit of competition has been well-documented in Hollywood with classic sports movies about real or fictional events or athletes – in films about teamwork including baseball, football, basketball, and hockey to the individual triumphs including boxing, bicycling, golf, and track and field.

Here's a look at three classic movies that helped shape the genre.

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1. "Pride of the Yankees" (1942)


Gary Cooper channeled the late, great New York Yankees star Lou Gehrig in this film about the legendary player's amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a disease that would eventually become synonymous with Gehrig's name. Adding realism to the film was an appearance by Babe Ruth as himself, and Gehrig's emotional retirement speech as recreated by Cooper is arguably one of the greatest soliloquies delivered in the sports movie genre. The Internet Movie Database says the film earned an astounding 11 Academy Award nominations – including nods for Best Picture and Best Actor (for Cooper) – but was only awarded one statuette, which was for editing. The film ranks No. 3 on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest sports movies of all time.

2. "Raging Bull" (1976)


Widely considered by critics and the entertainment industry as one of the greatest films of all time, director Martin Scorsese's black-and-white sports opus chronicles the troubling life of boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro). The film set itself apart from other movies in the genre in that painted a warts-and-all portrait of a star athlete; a type of story unfamiliar to moviegoers who were previously exposed to more inspirational portrayals of sports heroes.

"Raging Bull," which scored Robert De Niro his first and only Best Actor Oscar, is only one of two sports-themed films to earn a spot on the American Film Institute's "100 Years … 100 Movies" best movies of all time list in 1998, ranking No. 24. Once AFI members re-evaluated the film for its updated list 10 years later, it zoomed up 20 slots to No. 4. Not surprisingly, "Raging Bull" is No. 1 on AFI's list of the 10 greatest sports movies of all time.

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3. "Rocky" (1976)


Before "Raging Bull," movie fans entered the cinematic boxing ring with a relative newcomer named Sylvester Stallone and his rags-to-riches tale about a humble, small-time boxer named Rocky Balboa who gets a rare shot at world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). The film not only defined Stallone's career and spawned five sequels (and a sixth, "Creed," is in the works), it also was named Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1977.

Apart from "Raging Bull," "Rocky" was the only boxing film to earn a spot on the American Film Institute's "100 Years … 100 Movies" list (No. 78) and fought its way up to the No. 57 slot for the 10th anniversary edition of the list. "Rocky" is only second to "Raging Bull" on AFI's list of the greatest sports movies of all time.

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If there's one movie genre that has the consistent ability to capture exhilaration and heart-tugging emotion at the same time, it's sports movies. The spirit of competition has been well-documented in Hollywood with classic sports movies about real or fictional events.
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