Baseball is finally coming back. After a long delay to the start of the season, due to COVID-19 shutting sports down entirely, Major League Baseball is returning, with an opening day later this week. To celebrate MLB’s attempt to provide some normalcy during this trying time, we’re looking at the best baseball movies made to date. It’s a sport that doesn’t always get as much attention, cinematically, but when done right, the drama inherent in the pastime is absolutely incredible.
Below you’ll find a rundown of ten of the best baseball films of all-time. Just missing the cut we have “Bang the Drum Slowly” and “Eight Men Out,” while kid-friendly titles like “Little Big League” and “Rookie of the Year” deserve a shout-out, even if they can’t match the quality found on our list. What follows is a diverse group of flicks, which run the gamut of genres, tones, and even topics within the sport, showcasing how diverse baseball movies can be.
10. Fever Pitch (2005)
dir: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
A romantic comedy that gets obsessive sports fandom right? Believe it or not, the Farrelly Brothers took Nick Hornby‘s book (and the subsequent film) about soccer fandom and crafted it into a tribute to long-suffering Boston Red Sox fans. Jimmy Fallon makes a wonderfully lovable fan of the Sox, balancing his lifelong love of the team, warts and all, with a newfound romance with Drew Barrymore. An already charming and surprisingly perceptive movie got an added jolt of catharsis when the Red Sox broke the curse and won the World Series in time to be captured for this rom-com’s climax.
9. Major League (1989)
dir: David S. Ward
Mark Johnson’s beloved Cleveland Indians may not have won a World Series since 1948, but in the late 80s, they got a pretty popular movie franchise. The sequels may drop precipitously in quality, but the first installment is a ton of fun. Underdog stories are always a staple of the genre but rarely does it involve veteran castoffs. Here, we see a new owner for the team purposefully put together the cheapest and worst team possible, all in a scheme to move the club to Florida. However, the players, most of whom are getting their first (or likely) last chance at the big leagues, get wind of the plot and start winning, almost exclusively out of spite. It’s often silly, but the characters are lovable, the baseball is exciting, and the sport is more than done justice. “Major League” is much like a baseball game on a hot summer day. It’s relaxing and an ideal way to spend a few hours.
8. Knuckleball (2012)
dir: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
Baseball’s weirdest pitch gets a documentary all its own. Not only is the knuckleball a most unpredictable pitch, but it’s also almost exclusively thrown by unusual characters. Featuring large sections on pitchers Tim Wakefield and especially breakout knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (who won the Cy Young Award as the National League’s best pitcher around the same time), this doc looks at why the pitch is so rare. Beyond its logistics, there’s something compelling about how it can give a select few a second chance. We raved about it at the time (here) and even spoke to Dickey about it (here), but seeing is believing. The pitch defies logic, while the documentary is the best that the sport has ever seen.
7. The Natural (1984)
dir: Barry Levinson
A classic tall tale, this has long been considered one of the all-time great sports films, and an especially top-tier baseball movie. Obviously, there are better ones to come on the list, but that takes nothing away from this fantastical look at the rise and fall of an athlete. Speaking to larger issues in America as well, it’s a timeless story at its core, with actors like Glenn Close and Robert Redford turning in very strong work. Additionally, it’s among the best looking films to ever tackle baseball, without question (kudos to cinematographer Caleb Deschanel).
6. Bull Durham (1988)
dir: Ron Shelton
The minor leagues are about as far removed from the glory that baseball has to offer as possible. Kevin Costner plays Crash Davis, a catcher who never made it to the pros, but is tasked with tutoring future star pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, played hilariously by Tim Robbins. When both end up competing for the affections of Susan Sarandon, fans of comedy, romance, and sports alike are in for a treat. Due in no small part to Ron Shelton’s eye for detail, baseball is given a grimy yet instantly relatable classic tale.
Speaking of the minor leagues, this independent character study is an incredibly realistic portrayal of what the minors are like. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck took the surgical precision with which they made “Half Nelson” and follow a pitching prospect as he moves to America, struggles with assimilation, and tries not to blow his shot at riches. It’s hauntingly true to life and the massive stakes that every young man ripped from his home country are faced with as they pro to make it in pro ball. Despite being one of the best baseball movies ever made, the game itself is second to the human stakes on display here.
4. A League of Their Own (1992)
dir: Penny Marshall
Looking at the short-lived era during World War II where the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was formed, Penny Marshall crafts a brilliantly entertaining yarn. The cast is perfection (when you can say you contain an all-time great Tom Hanks turn, you know you’ve got something special), the laughs are huge, and the sport itself is given vibrant life. Fun, heartwarming, and truly original, this is how you find a new way to tell a classic sports story. Marshall and company may have fictionalized the details, but the tribute to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is still well worth honoring.
3. Field of Dreams (1989)
dir: Phil Alden Robinson
If you want to make a baseball fan cry, just recite the final line of this film. Kevin Costner‘s second foray into the sport may be as much about fathers and sons as it is about baseball, but the game looms large over everything. One needs to look no further than James Earl Jones’ speech in their act to know why this is one of the great efforts in the genre.
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
Amen to that.
2. For Love of the Game (1999)
dir: Sam Raimi
Another Kevin Costner entry, this one has the benefit of depicting some of the most accurate baseball cinema has seen. Costner plays a veteran pitcher, sure to go to the Hall of Fame one day, as he balances a potential perfect game against the Yankees with potential impending retirement (or a trade from the only team he’s ever played for), as well as reminiscing about the love of his life. Costner balances his baseball bonafides with romantic leading man charm, while the recently departed Kelly Preston has one of her best roles as the woman he can’t get out of his head. It’s unabashedly earnest, but the earnestness from Sam Raimi is a part of why it works. The love of baseball oozes out of every inch of this flick.
While players get all the glory, oftentimes it’s the General Manager who deserves the credit for assembling a championship-caliber team. In this adaptation of the non-fiction book of the same name, we watch Billy Beane develop a whole new way of putting together a 25 man squad. Bennett Miller, Aaron Sorkin, and the company find an absolutely engrossing way of making team-building completely hypnotic. To be sure, Brad Pitt‘s portrait of Beane goes a long way, but the way everyone here finds an avenue to make Beane’s obsessive nature and renegade ways something you can’t look away from is worth every bit of praise this film has received. The baseball itself is limited, but in terms of quality movies, “Moneyball” is the best the genre has ever produced.