There have been a plethora of movies about sports. Some were excellent, others fairly good and quite a few were dismal. The same goes for the performances. Say what you will, it takes guts for an actor or actress to attempt to portray an athlete especially when they do their own difficult stunts like bending over to field a ground ball. Below is my completely subjective ranking of some of those who have tried, ranked from worst to best.
100). Will Ferrell, “Semi Pro.”
99). Madonna, “A League of Their Own.”
98). Adam Sandler, “The Waterboy.”
97). Adam Sandler, “Happy Gilmore.”
96). Adam Sandler, “The Longest Yard.”
By claiming three of the bottom five slots Sandler cements himself as the Savannah State of Actors.
95). Anthony Michael Hall, “”Johnny Be Good.”
Hall played a heavily recruited high school football quarterback. One problem: this was before Hall turned himself into The Incredible Hulk and he weighed approximately 115 pounds during filming. He could have been sacked by a piece of lint. I’m pretty sure his deepest throws would not have reached the line of scrimmage and he couldn’t outrun a turd, which is pathetic since most turds don’t even have legs.
94). Jim Varney, “Slam Dunk Ernest.”
Tests confirm that people who sat through “Slam Dunk Ernest” lost 40 points of IQ which they NEVER recovered.
93). The entire cast of “Sandlot 2.”
92). Johnny Knoxville, “The Ringer.”
Knoxville starred as a guy who fakes being developmentally disabled to enter the Special Olympics and win the heart of a woman. Unfortunately, it worked, so a generation of young men faked being developmentally disabled to try and impress women.
91). Tom Selleck, “Mr. Baseball.”
I know it’s hard for the very young to believe but Selleck had a career before becoming the TV pitchman for reverse mortgage loans.
90). Sinbad, “Necessary Roughness.”
89). Whoopi Goldberg, “Eddie.”
88). Lynn-Holly Johnson, “Ice Castles.”
In Johnson’s defense this is the best portrayal of a blind world class figure skater that I’ve ever seen.
87). David Arquette, “Ready To Rumble.”
86). Rob Schneider, “The Benchwarmers.”
I’d rather be waterboarded at halftime of a WNBA game while my nuts are coated with peanut butter and presented to a hungry pitbull than sit through “The Benchwarmers” again.
85). Emilio Estevez, "Mighty Ducks 2.”
84). Will Ferrell, “Blades of Glory.”
83). Jon Heder “Blades of Glory.”
82). Jackie Earle Haley, “The Bad News Bears Go To Japan.”
81). Amanda Bynes, “She’s The Man.”
80). Matt LeBlanc, “Ed.”
LeBlanc is out-acted by a baseball-playing monkey which still isn’t as embarrassing as being out-acted by David Schwimmer.
79). Kathy Ireland, “Necessary Roughness.”
If you can get past the “supermodel plays a football kicker” thing the performance isn’t so bad.
78). David Spade, “The Benchwarmers.”
77). Stephen Baldwin, “Slap Shot 2: Breaking The Ice.”
76). Simon Pegg, “Run, Fat Boy, Run.”
Pegg portrays an out of shape security guard who trains for a few weeks and enters a “high profile marathon” to win back the woman he left at the altar several years before. As if that plot-line isn’t asinine enough, as a runner it’s preposterous to think somebody with no training could even finish a marathon after a couple weeks of running let alone be competitive.
75). Gary Cooper, “Pride of The Yankees.”
74). Ronald Reagan, “Knute Rockne: All American.”
73). Sylvestor Stallone, “Escape To Victory.”
72). Hayden Panettiere, “Racing Stripes.”
71). Dwayne Johnson, “Tooth Fairy.”
Johnson is a minor league hockey player called “Tooth Fairy” because he hits opponents so hard their teeth fall out. He eventually grows wings and turns into the actual tooth fairy. This was the in-flight movie on a transatlantic flight I once took and I could’ve forgiven anyone who opened the emergency hatch and jumped.
70). Keanu Reeves, “The Replacements.”
Reeves only seems believable playing a quarterback if you watch this movie right after “Johnny Be Good” or, after watching an Arizona Cardinals game.
69). Hilary Swank, “The Next Karate Kid.”
68). Sylvestor Stallone, “Rocky V.”
This film should’ve been called “Rocky V: Phoning It In.” I’m pretty sure at least one of the boxing scenes was filmed with the actors reclining in La-Z-boys after chugging quaaludes.
67). John Goodman, “The Babe.”
In the movie we learned that Babe lived for liquor and hookers and had venereal disease. Today we’d call him “Senator Ruth.”
66). Chris Klein, “Rollerball.”
65). Michael O’Keefe, “The Slugger’s Wife.”
64). Ryan O’Neal, “The Main Event.”
63). Quinton Aaron, “The Blind Side.”
I never bought into Aaron playing a star offensive lineman and first-round NFL draft pick. Most of the finalists from the Scripps National Spelling Bee would be more believable as an NFL offensive lineman.
62). William Bendix, “The Babe Ruth Story.”
61). Jackie Mason, “Caddyshack 2.”
Swapping Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack” for Jackie Mason in “Caddyshack 2" was the worst trade since Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac.
60). Robby Benson, “One On One.”
This 1977 movie about a college basketball recruit whose coach tries to force him to renounce his scholarship is excellent and should be a classic.
59). Tim Robbins, “Bull Durham.”
Some would rank Robbins’ performance much higher, but I had to downgrade him since his wind up on the mound resembled a guy who had Ben Gay put into his underpants.
58). Corbin Bernsen, “Major League.”
57). Parker Stevenson, “Stroker Ace.”
56)., 55). (tie). Vince Vaughn, “Dodgeball” and Ben Stiller, “Dodgeball.”
54). Dennis Quaid, “The Rookie.”
53). LL Cool J, “Any Given Sunday.”
52). Thomas Jane, “61*.”
51). Jim Nabors, “Stroker Ace.”
I’m pretty sure this is the only list ranking actors where Jim Nabors is ahead of Academy Award winners Hilary Swank and Gary Cooper. “Stroker Ace” is Nabors’ second best all time performance right after the “Gomer Pyle” episode where Gomer finds out the woman he’s dating is a stripper.
50). Dolph Lundgren, “Rocky IV.”
49). Ralph Macchio, “The Karate Kid.”
48). Mark Wahlberg, “Invincible.”
Wahlberg portrays a Philadelphia Eagles fan who gets to play for the team. The Eagles fan is easy to spot in games - instead of trying to tackle opposing running backs he grabs his crotch and goes, “Here’s your touchdown right here.” Also, after every Eagles score he runs outside the stadium and sets a car on fire.
47). James Van Der Beek, “Varsity Blues.”
46). James Caan, “Rollerball.”
45). D.B. Sweeney, “Eight Men Out.”
44). Bernie Mac, “Mr. 3000.”
Bernie Mac is no longer with us and thus is probably ranked about five spots higher than he would be if he were alive. This is a phenomenon that has throughout history afflicted almost all writers who rank humans according to merit in any activity. We’ll call it the “Dead Man Boost” or DMB.
43). Matt Damon, “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”
42). Tom Cruise, “Days of Thunder.”
The movie would’ve been better if not for that scene where the head of the Church of Scientology cuts the brake line in Cruise’s rival’s car.
41). Scott Bakula, “Major League: Back To The Minors.”
40). Tobey Maguire, “Seabiscuit.”
39). Mac Davis, “North Dallas Forty.”
38). John Cusack, “Eight Men Out.”
37). Paul Walker, “Varsity Blues.”
See “Bernie Mac” at number 44.
36). Will Smith, “Ali.”
35). Leon, “Cool Runnings.”
In the “actors with one name who starred in sports movies” competition Leon trounces Madonna.
34). Michael Ontkean, “Slap Shot.”
33). Ryan O’Neal, “Love Story.”
32). Kurt Russell, “Miracle.”
31). Bill Murray, “Caddyshack.”
30). Woody Harrelson, “White Men Can’t Jump.”
29). Sean Astin, “Rudy.”
28). Mr. T, “Rocky III.”
Mr. T’s turn as Clubber Lang was wildly underrated since it’s hard to take an actor seriously who goes by one initial. For example, if Al Pacino was known professionally as “Mr. P” I can pretty much guarantee you he wouldn’t have all those awards. Ditto for Dustin Hoffman if he went by “Dusty H.”
27). Cuba Gooding Jr., “Jerry Maguire.”
26). Dennis Quaid, “Any Given Sunday.”
25). Randy Quaid, “Kingpin.”
I’m ranking Randy Quaid ahead of his brother Dennis which I’m sure has not happened before in their entire lives.
24). Charlie Sheen, “Major League.”
Sheen gets a fair amount of bad press - he actually gets worse press than Kim Jong Un and almost as bad of press as Roger Goodell and Johnny Manziel - but let’s not forget that he was a very good actor in these over-the-top roles.
23). Michael J. Foxx, “Teen Wolf.”
Foxx portrayed a basketball-playing werewolf. He was still less hairy than Pau Gasol.
22).The dancing gopher, “Caddyshack.”
The most noteworthy performance ever by an animatronic actor not including Steven Seagal.
21). Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and David Hanson, “Slap Shot.”
Many are surprised to learn that the Hanson triplets are not real triplets but were played by two brothers and some other guy. The Carlson brothers were actual minor league hockey-playing goons and not professional actors which should probably disqualify them from being ranked but I love the movie too much for that.
20). Robert Redford, “The Natural.”
19). Rodney Dangerfield, “Caddyshack.”
18). Steve McQueen, “Le Mans.”
17). Sylvestor Stallone, “Rocky.”
16). Burt Reynolds, “The Longest Yard.”
15). Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya.”
“I, Tonya” is the feel-good female empowerment movie about a competitive skater who has somebody take out her rival by whacking them on the kneecaps with a stick.
14). Don Johnson, “Tin Cup.”
13). Billy Dee Williams, “Brian’s Song.”
Some would call Williams’ portrayal wooden in “Brian’s Song” - a made-for-TV movie - but Gale Sayers was wooden and rote off the field. The performance is spot on.
12). Al Pacino (a.k.a. “Mr. P”), “Any Given Sunday.”
11). Tatum O’Neal, “Bad News Bears.”
O’Neal had a much more natural throwing motion than most adult actors who tried to portray baseball players - which is the ultimate backhanded compliment since most adults who try to portray baseball players look like a seal with a hernia tossing a beach ball.
10). Kevin Costner, “Field of Dreams.”
9). Paul Newman, “Slap Shot.”
8). Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler."
7). Hilary Swank, “Million Dollar Baby.”
6). Burt Lancaster: “Jim Thorpe: All-American.”
5). James Caan, “Brian’s Song.”
Caan plays dying, lovable NFL player Brian Piccolo to perfection. I saw the movie as a kid and was later startled to see Caan in other roles since I was sure he had really died. Which gave me hope that Bambi’s mother wasn’t really dead. (SPOILER ALERT) It turns out she was really dead. And so was Grandma!
4). Paul Newman, “The Hustler.”
3). Jackie Gleason, “The Hustler.”
Gleason was either one of the greatest actors ever or he was essentially playing himself here. Either way, it’s gold.
2). Carl Weathers, “Rocky.”
Many will claim Weathers is ranked too high; however, all of Rocky’s later opponents paled compared to Weathers’ turn as the bombastic Apollo Creed. Weathers WAS Apollo Creed.
1). Robert De Niro, “Raging Bull.”
De Niro shines in the true story of boxer Jake LaMotta who was about 35 bricks shy of a load. LaMotta almost made the “You talkin’ to me?” dude De Niro played in “Taxi Driver” look normal. Incongruously the fact the movie was filmed in black and white makes it seem more realistic.
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Brad Dickson is a former writer for "The Tonight Show," a humor columnist for the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, a best-selling author of two books and a professional speaker. You can find Brad on Twitter at @brad_dickson.
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