In honor of opening day March 29, we count down the best baseball movies of all time.
If baseball is America’s pastime, then movies are a close second. And what do you get when you combine the two? Well, usually a bunch of baseball movie clichés like underdogs, slumps and game-winning home runs. But there are some (baseball) diamonds in the rough.
The earliest known depiction of baseball on film is a 30-second clip from 1898, copyrighted by Thomas Edison, and the first “baseball movie” was arguably a silent film called Right Off the Bat from 1915, so baseball movies have been around almost as long as movies themselves.
With so many baseball movies, I couldn’t include everything, but here are my favorite classics, biopics, comedies, documentaries and movies for kids.
These movies are widely praised by critics and fans. If you love baseball, there’s a strong chance you’ll love these classic films. In fact, if you love baseball, you’ve probably already seen them.
1. Field of Dreams (1989)
This perennial favorite is a baseball fairy tale reminding us of the game’s power to connect us to an unbroken thread of history stretching back generations. Kevin Costner plays Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, a man haunted by his frayed relationship with his late father. When he hears voices urging him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield, he fears his mind may be unraveling.
2. Eight Men Out (1988)
Eight Men Out tells the sometimes convoluted but true story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, one of the darkest chapters in baseball history. The heart of the movie is a sort of heist narrative with suspense, twists and shady characters. Baseball fans will love this tale of corruption and greed.
3. The Natural (1984)
With allusions to Sir Lancelot and the Greek poet Homer in the first 20 minutes of the film, The Natural isn’t your typical baseball movie. It’s the stuff of legend. Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs, a middle-aged ballplayer with almost divine talent, who rises to glory in 1939. Featuring amazing performances and a nostalgic score by Randy Newman, this movie is awesome!
Baseball has given rise to many larger-than-life characters, from Babe Ruth to Big Papi, so it makes sense that there are tons of biographical baseball movies. Here are a few of the best.
4. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
The Pride of the Yankees, which chronicles the life of Lou Gehrig, was released only one year after the legendary first baseman’s untimely death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that was later named after him. Several of his teammates, including Babe Ruth, portray themselves.
5. 42: The Jackie Robinson Story (2013)
42 tells the monumental story of Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play in the major leagues in the modern era, breaking baseball’s “color line” and paving the way for future integration. Robinson’s story is significant to the history not only of baseball but of America.
6. Moneyball (2011)
Moneyball tells the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), general manager of the Oakland A’s, who had to rebuild the team with a limited budget in 2002. Working with his nerdy general manager Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Beane created a competitive team using ideas that were considered radical at the time. The film was nominated for six Oscars, including best picture.
At its heart, baseball is a game, and the following comedies remind us of its fun side. These are perfect “gateway” baseball movies, since they can be enjoyed even if you’re not a huge fan of the sport.
7. A League of Their Own (1992)
A League of Their Own is loosely based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which rose to prominence in the World War II years when most of the able-bodied men who would otherwise play professional baseball were overseas. This movie spawned a short-lived TV series with only six episodes, which was a pale version of a great film.
8. The Bad News Bears (1976)
Ah, the ’70s. It was a different time. Seat belts and helmets were optional, and a movie like The Bad News Bears could receive a PG rating. (The first PG-13 rating wasn’t given until 1984.) The movie has kids using foul language, exhibiting poor sportsmanship, and even drinking beer! Walter Matthau’s performance and music from the opera Carmen elevate this gritty comedy.
9. Major League (1989)
When Rachel Phelps inherits the Cleveland Indians from her deceased husband, she wants to move the team to Miami, so she enacts a plot to assemble the worst possible players, hoping to sabotage the team in Cleveland. But the group of oddballs she puts together has different plans.
Baseball is full of quirky stories and unbelievable legends, making it perfect for documentaries. The most ambitious baseball documentary is Ken Burns’ Baseball, which takes an extremely detailed look at the history of the sport. But if you don’t have 20 hours to spare and you’re looking for more of a quick fix, check out the following thought-provoking films.
10. Fastball (2016)
The best pitchers in the history of the game join forces with scientists to discuss the physics of fastballs, the evolution of the technology used to measure ball speed, and the breaking of world records. Narrated by Kevin Costner, this engrossing documentary examines the limits of human physicality and perception in the 395 milliseconds it takes a pitched fastball to reach home plate.
11. The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)
This epic underdog story focuses on the independent minor league baseball team the Portland Mavericks, active from 1973 to 1977. Established by actor Bing Russell (Kurt Russell’s dad), the Mavericks did things their own way. Leading the league in facial hair, this ragtag group of misfits fought back against the baseball establishment.
12. No No: A Dockumentary (2014)
On June 12, 1970, Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter while “high as a Georgia pine” on LSD. In fact, he claims he pitched every game in the major leagues under the influence of drugs. But to think of him only as the no-hitter-on-acid guy misses the complex and nuanced point of this great documentary, which examines issues like race, drug use in sports, addiction and redemption.
For the Kids
The following baseball movies for kids came out when I was 10 years old and deep into my Little League career. I know they aren’t the most critically acclaimed, but they’ll always have a special place in my heart.
13. Rookie of the Year (1993)
Directed by Daniel Stern (one of the “wet bandits” in Home Alone), Rookie of the Year tells the improbable story of Henry, a struggling 12-year-old Little Leaguer who breaks his arm. When the cast comes off, he learns his tendons have healed too tightly, enabling him to pitch over 100 miles per hour. Naturally, he’s drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
14. Little Big League (1994)
Coming out just months before the 1994 Major League Baseball strike, in which more than 900 games were canceled (including the World Series for the first time since 1904), Little Big League is about a kid named Billy who inherits the Minnesota Twins upon his grandfather’s death. When Billy becomes manager, the players have a hard time adjusting to their new 12-year-old boss.
15. The Sandlot (1993)
The Sandlot is a great coming-of-age film. In the summer of 1962, Scotty Smalls is the new kid in town, struggling to fit in. He wants to join the local sandlot baseball team, but there’s just one problem: he can’t play baseball. He soon learns and is accepted by the team, but the plot thickens when they hit a baseball signed by Babe Ruth over the sandlot wall into the yard of “the Beast.”
Baseball is more than just a game — it’s a multifaceted part of our history. And these films shed light on the sport’s continued significance. So queue up one of these great baseball movies and get ready for another exciting and unpredictable season of America’s pastime.