12 Most Improbable Sports Moments from Hollywood’s Last 25 Years
Sports movies are usually not supposed be too realistic. We watch them for their sheer entertainment value - the motivational speeches, the buzzer beating shots, the underdog stories that defy all odds. And while some movies, such as Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, about a down and out wrestler (Mickey Rourke) in search of one last comeback, handle sports with far greater nuance, they are definitely the exception to the rule. (Bear with me on calling pro wrestling a sport.) Sure, it’s great to garner the sort of critical acclaim and Oscar buzz that The Wrestler has received, but that shouldn’t overshadow all the wonderfully ridiculous moments sports movies have given audiences over the years.
12. Rocky Balboa (2006)
The sixth installment in the life of Rocky Balboa (Sylvster Stallone), an unlikely boxing champion from Philadelphia, chronicles his return to the ring for one last fight. His journey is set in motion after a video game simulation shows that in his prime he could have defeated the current heavyweight champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon.
Like all Rocky films, this one ends with a climactic scene in the ring between Rocky and his fiercest competitor. Although the audience is supposed to believe that his determination and heart enable him to go toe-to-toe with “The Line,” it’s clear that the billion-year-old Rocky Balboa really shouldn’t stand a chance. Rocky may have the eye of the tiger, but now he needs to be in bed by sundown.
11. Gleaming the Cube (1989)
Gleaming is the story of a 16-year-old skateboarder, Brian Kelly (Christian Slater), whose life gets a wake up call when his adopted Vietnamese brother is mysteriously murdered. With the help of a trustworthy police detective, his girlfriend, and an entourage of skateboarding buddies, he’s determined to figure out who really murdered his brother.
In the climactic scene of the movie, Brian chases down his brother’s murderer on the highway while holding onto the back of a moving car and riding his skateboard. Even though the car is probably going at least 80mph, he’s somehow able to able to let go of it (circa 2min 43sec) and skateboard across the highway onto the back of another car, narrowly evading a Mac truck in the process! Take that, Tony Hawk.
10. Any Given Sunday (1997)
A fast-paced football movie about the fictional Miami Sharks, Any Give Sunday stars Dennis Quaid as the semi-washed up quarterback/team leader, Jaime Foxx as the new quarterback and rising star, and Al Pacino as the constantly angry and melodramatic head coach. Although the Sharks were once a preeminent team, they have fallen from greatness, encountered tremendous internal conflict amongst team players and personnel, and need to fight with all their strength just to make the playoffs.
In the final game shown in the movie, the Sharks battle back against the Dallas Knights and are in position to seal the game with a victory (and win their first game of the playoffs). The ball, of course, winds up in Jaime Foxx’s hands and we are treated to a ridiculous close-up of his eyes with a correspondingly ridiculous, time-defying emotional montage. He then flies over a crowd of linebackers like he’s Superman.
9. Air Bud (1997)
One of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of the 20th century, Airbud tells the story of a shy boy, Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers), who befriends a Golden Retriever and that Golden Retriever’s amazing ability to play basketball. The title character of Airbud is still an inspiration to dogs around the world.
Although choosing the most improbable moment from Airbud is somewhat of a futile exercise, the moment when Josh first discovers Airbud’s talent sticks out in my mind. It’s really a lesson to all of us: even when you feel alone in the world and like nothing is going right, check to see whether your dog can shoot hoops. I still can’t believe this movie didn’t win an Oscar for best lead actor.
8. Varsity Blues (1999)
Set in a small town that’s utterly obsessed with football, Varsity Blues follows a high school football team through a challenging season. After the starting quarterback gets injured, the backup, Jonathan "Mox" Moxon (James Van Der Beek), is expected to lead the team to victory and pretty much ignore his academic pursuits.
Although the movie is cluttered with improbable football moments, like when the 300+ lbs. Billy Bob scores a touchdown with three defenders on his back, I think the pinnacle of improbability comes when Mox turns down the starting quarterback’s girlfriend (Ali Larter) at his house. I don’t care how moral and good-natured you are: turning down Ali Larter in a whipped cream bikini is simply not comprehensible. I remember walking out of the movie theater immediately after this scene was over.
7. Over the Top (1987)
Slyvester Stallone (yes, again!) stars as a long haul trucker driver, Lincoln Hawk, who’s trying to put his life back in order after the death of his wife. He desperately wants to make amends with his estranged son, but isn’t having any luck – until Sly’s character enters the national arm wrestling arm competion in Las Vegas!
After an intense course of competition, Lincoln finds himself in the final match against a monster of man who’s about twice his size. If his underdog victory in this national tournament doesn’t strike you as improbable enough, consider how passionate everyone in the crowd is for arm wrestling. I’m sure there are arm wrestling enthusiasts out there, but this…. well, this is ridiculous.
6. The Karate Kid (1984)
Karate Kid tells the classic story of a wimpish boy, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), who learns karate in order to fend off tormenters and win over a girl. Daniel’s sensei, of course, is the omnipotent Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), who not only teaches him about fighting, but about living life like a champion.
Daniel faces his lead tormenter, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), in the final match of the “All Valley Karate Tournament” after winning one improbable match after another. Before the final match begins, however, one of his tormenters delivers an illegal attack to Daniel’s knee, severely injuring him. Mr. Miyagi ameliorates the pain with some voodoo technique, and Daniel hobbles into battle against his significantly stronger, more athletic opponent. Fortunately, Daniel knows how to use the “crane kick” (circa 4min 6sec), which is pretty much unstoppable.
5. The Color of Money (1986)
The Color of Money follows Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman), a once preeminent pool hustler, as he takes Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) under his wing and tries to impart his infinite knowledge. Friction in the relationship develops, however, because of Vincent’s desire to show off in favor of quick and easy money.
In one of the most glorious 80s movie moments off all time, Vincent dominates a pool game while twirling and dancing to Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” Fast Eddie is driving to the pool haul to stop Vincent, but to no avail. While many of Vincent’s shots are indeed miraculous, the fact that his out-of-place smarminess doesn’t get him beat up by the crowd is what makes this sports moment truly improbable.
4. White Men Can't Jump (1992)
Probably the greatest movie about pick-up basketball ever made, White Men Can’t Jump follows Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) and Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) as they hustle one team after another in Southern California. Billy is looking to make enough money to cover his gambling debts and Sidney is after his dream of moving him and his family out of the ghetto. The fact that Billy is a goofy white guy (who, of course, can’t jump) consistently leads opponents to underestimate their team.
In one of the many pick-up games in the movie, Billy and Sidney teach their opponents a lesson to remember. But the scene heads off the deep end when the 5’ 10’’, tye-die-wearing Woody Harrelson skies above the rim and slam-dunks the game-winning basket. Was there an invisible springboard on the court or something?
3. Teen Wolf (1985)
For Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox), puberty means more than just getting hair on his chest – he gains the ability to turn into a werewolf who just so happens to be an excellent basketball player. After finding acceptance by peers at school, he becomes the star of the basketball team and captures the heart of his longtime crush.
In the final game the season, Scott decides not to turn himself into a wolf, but rather, lead the team to victory with his absurdly unathletic, human skills. The team makes a comeback in the final stretch of the game that culminates with Scott at the free throw line – with a rival player taunting him from beneath the basket! Yeah, that’s only kinda unrealistic. Just for kicks, check out the German version below, which amazingly doesn’t even require a translation.
2. Bloodsport (1988)
Bloodsport is the story of Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), an American martial artist who drops out of the army and heads to Hong Kong to participate in "The Kumite,” a secret martial arts tournament to which only the world's best fighters are invited. With the prospect of becoming the first tournament champion from the Western hemisphere before him, Frank inevitably needs to face the dangerous Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). In previous matches, Chong had crippled and outright killed his opponents.
In the tournament’s final match, Frank is pretty much dominating Chong in terms of both fighting and hilarious grunting noises. But then Chong takes matters into his own hands and throws a pile of quicklime into Frank’s eyes that virtually blinds him. However, even though Frank can no longer see, he somehow manages to “sense” his surroundings and ends up winning the fight.
1. All The Right Moves (1983)
Tom Cruise plays Steffen "Stef" Djordjevic, a high school defensive back determined to get a college scholarship and escape his small Pennsylvanian hometown. Stef is forced to battle pressures from a self-motivated coach, a not entirely supportive family, and a town that is driven by one thing and one thing alone: football.
Although the movie deals with many issues that are entirely separate from football, the most improbable moment comes in the team’s locker room as they’re undressing. After one of the players (Chris Penn) tells Stef that he’ll be headed to the University of Southern California the following year, a few comments are made about living in Hollywood, and then the entire team suddenly starts dancing together. And when the coach (Craig T. Nelson) discovers the dancing, he even joins in for a moment before telling them to stop. Who ever said West Side Story and football couldn’t mix?