Trying to decide what is the greatest sports movie makes for great debate. Some prefer the drama and underdog story of Hoosiers. Other like the dialogue and philosophies found in Bull Durham. Still others point to Raging Bull or Chariots of Fire for their cinematic value.
To narrow down the list, here is a look at the best sports movies set in Los Angeles. Finding 10 sports movies set in Los Angeles was a challenge. Some have loose ties, but all have LA as a backdrop for at least a portion of the movie.
- Gus: Gus is a movie about a football-kicking mule and his unathletic soccer watching owner from Yugoslavia. They move to Los Angeles to play for the fictional football team, the California Atoms. The movie has Ed Asner, Don Knotts and Tim Conway, the funniest three men in movies in 1976. It also introduced movie-goers to the word Oyage. That was the trigger word of Yugoslavian origin for Gus to kick the football. Apparently there is still some debate about how to spell and pronounce Oyage. Some say it’s spelled Oyatch. Other say it has a more Slavic flavor, Ojigdz. Yes, this was a very sad time for Disney.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy was a cheerleader. That is the sports tie. She was one of the coolest cheerleaders ever written into a movie plot. Not only did she kick ass at killing vampires, she wore little mini skirts and had great shoes. The movie had a great cast, too, with Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Luke Perry in his pre-90210 stage and Hillary Swank, before she took roles that highlighted her man-hands. For the record, cheerleading is not a sport. It’s so confusing.
- Cars: A majority of the movie takes place in Radiator Springs. But the goal is to reach Los Angeles for the race that will decide the Piston Cup champion. Lightning McQueen wants nothing more than to be a star on the grandest stage. But he learns he can shine just as bright in a small town. Plus he learns that the price of glory is sometimes way too high. This was a much better time for Disney.
- The Last Boy Scout: This is probably the low point of Bruce Willis’ movie career. He played a watered-down version of John McClain who uncovers all the evils of professional football. The movie opens with a player from the fictional LA Stallions who shoots three opposing players with a gun during a nationally televised game. A washed-up quarterback, played by Damon Wayans, helps reveal all the warts on professional sports. Still, there were some memorable catch phrases and Hale Berry as a stripper, so it wasn’t all bad.
- The Sandlot: Life in the Valley in the 1960s was nothing like The Sandlot. There is no way the Mexican kid in the neighborhood is allowed to play baseball with all the white kids, even if the Mexican kid is the best player. Take that out of the equation and The Sandlot is a pretty awesome movie. It is filled with stereotypes and dated jokes, but sweet in its own right. Karen Allen is great as Scotty’s mom. Wendy Peffercorn is every 10 year old boy’s dream girl.
- Heaven Can Wait: This movie has been made three times and was a play before that. The 1978 version with Warren Beatty is the best. He is the back-up quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams, who dies prematurely when, while riding a bicycle through the Mullholland Tunnel on Sepulveda Boulevard, he is hit by a truck. This is a great movie about second chances and making the most of your time on earth. And yes, there was a time with the NFL had a team in Los Angeles. It had two for a while.
- White Men Can’t Jump: This might be the best movie about basketball ever made. Not only is it a testament to the basketball culture in Los Angeles, it is a clash of cultures of how to play basketball. It has racial overtones and differences of philosophies that are settled on the basketball court. Through all the strife on the basketball court, Rosie Perez rises to the top off the court. As convincing as Wesley Snipes was in this movie, no one believes he can dunk. And it made fun of Woody Harrelson. Sheesh!
- The Karate Kid: Mr. Miyagi might be on the Mount Rushmore of sports movie characters. His Jedi-like wax on, wax off karate instruction styles are legendary. Little Daniel Russo is the perfect underdog. The movie has great villains and a teen-age Elizabeth Sue as Ali with an i. But the best thing to take away from this movie is that girls from Encino don’t date boys from Reseda. You have to see the beginning of Karate Kid 2 to understand, but stop watching after the first 15 minutes. The story only goes downhill from there.
- The Big Lebowski: All right, this is a stretch. About the only sport in this movie is bowling. It is an important part, but not the purpose of the movie. There are lots of white Russians too, which are equally as important as the bowling, but have nothing to do with sports. Plus there is The Dude, who is perhaps the most perfect character ever written into a movie and the one with the least amount of athletic ability. For the record, bowling is more of a sport than cheerleading. Filmed in various locations around Los Angeles including Hollywood Star Lanes.
- The Bad News Bears: The version with Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal is far superior to the one with Billy Bob Thornton. The message in The Bad News Bears is something that is lost on the current generation. Sometimes more is gained from losing than winning. Now it’s win at all costs. Sadly, the youth sports culture hasn’t changed much in the Valley or in Southern California from the 1970s to 2015. Parents live vicariously through their kids in sports. Adults forget to let the kids have fun playing a game. Kids should be able to be kids. They are going to make mistakes. So what? Teach them not to make them again. They are going to lose. Big deal. Make them gracious when they win. But above all, teach your kids not to be afraid to step up to the plate. Swing hard in case you hit it.