FOX Sports South takes a look at 16 of the most underrated sports movies of the last 50 years -- a highly subjective countdown that doesn't include many box-office smashes or Oscar darlings. In other words, don't be on the lookout for Field Of Dreams, Hoosiers, Remember The Titans, Chariots Of Fire, Million Dollar Baby, Seabiscuit, A League Of Their Own, Bull Durham, Happy Gilmore, Raging Bull, Caddyshack, The Natural (perhaps the perfect sports movie) or any of the "Rocky" epics, I-IV. Why 16 movies? Well, we also wanted to honor the late, great Robin Williams with his most noteworthy accomplishment to sports cinema. (Photo: Assorted Images)
'The Best Of Times'
RANKING: 16 ... YEAR: 1986 ... SKINNY: With supreme hits like Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump, Cobb and Tin Cup, writer Ron Shelton likely stands as the undisputed king of sports-themed screenplays. His first solo effort in this genre involves the cool union of Kurt Russell (two appearances for this countdown) and Robin Williams (one of the most accomplished comedians of our time) trying to relive their glory days of high school -- or, in Williams' case, find redemption for a football gaffe from 13 years ago (dropped pass in a rivalry game). It's a sincere premise, attempting to exorcise the demons of a high school humiliation; and it's easy to cheer for Williams' character at the film's climax ... even though Hollywood would never have OK'd a movie where its dorky-looking star actually drops the ball -- twice. (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 15 ... YEAR: 1994 ... SKINNY: This brilliant documentary/feature film intimately follows a pair of touted Chicago prepsters from their freshman-to-senior campaigns -- with both inner-city kids traveling a reasonable distance daily to attend St. Joseph's High School, a predominatly white school in the suburbs. The stars (guard Arthur Agee, small forward William Gates) might have started their careers at the same place ... but their paths would shift in divergent directions over that four-year cycle, with Agee eventually transferring to an inner-city school and Gates suffering a substantial knee injury as an upperclassman. Neither player reached the NBA, but that doesn't matter here. This film wonderfully chronicles the many pressures that supposed blue-chip prospects face on a regular basis. (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 14 ... YEAR: 2002 ... SKINNY: Props to Disney for spinning gold from the tale of a guy who appeared in only 21 major league games (1999-2000) and posted a 4.80 career ERA. In this inspirational flick, Dennis Quaid plays Jim Morris, a one-time Milwaukee Brewers propsect who tears up his shoulder, retires from the game, gets married, has kids, teaches science at the high-school level and then coaches baseball in a sleepy sports town. But his life would take a dramatic turn, after Morris flashes an upper-90s fastball to his players during batting practice ... and soon gets subtly coerced (in a good way) to give the majors one final shot. At the age of 35, Morris signs with the Tampa Bay Rays and then completes an unlikely and meteoric rise to the majors. (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 13 ... YEAR: 2008 ... SKINNY: Most Will Ferrell comedies get a ton of publicity before the release date, a perk extended to bankable Hollywood stars. Strangely though, Semi-Pro had to sing for its proverbial supper with a relatively low-key opening -- and that includes Ferrell's Old Spice TV spots as "Jackie Moon." In terms of execution, Ferrell certainly does the lion's share of heavy lifting in this charming and consistently funny flick, fictionally chronicling the turbulent, pre-merger days of the American Basketball Association. But Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin and David Koechner were excellent in supporting roles. Among the many memorable quotes, we'll end with this: "Use small children as shields, bears like soft, tender meat!" (Photo: Assorted Images)
'Heaven Can Wait'
RANKING: 12 ... YEAR: 1978 ... SKINNY: For this countdown, I believe Heaven Can Wait is the only remake of the bunch, even though co-writers Warren Beatty, Buck Henry, Robert Towne and Elaine May provided Beatty's character with a different sports occupation (NFL quarterback -- as opposed to the boxer in Here Comes Mr. Jordan). You know who didn't have a different job? Late, great actor Jack Warden, who charmingly plays a Los Angeles Rams coach in this Oscar-winning classic ... and the iconic George Halas (head coach/owner of the Chicago Bears) later in these rankings. How many actors can say they've played coaches for multiple movies that were fully endorsed by the relentlessly image-conscious NFL? (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 11 ... YEAR: 2005 ... SKINNY: Samuel L. Jackson, on the short list for "The Hardest-Working Man In Hollywood," made a good choice here, in between filmings of the updated Star Wars revivals (Episodes I and II). His ethical portrayal of a successful sporting-goods-owner/turned hoops coach who favored academics over athletics -- even during the most trying of circumstances -- was essentially letter-perfect. The plotline ride was intense, as well, especially when Jackson's character experiences extreme pushback from his cluster of spoiled, undisciplined players, which included young actors Channning Tatum and Rob Brown. (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 10 ... YEAR: 2001 ... SKINNY: In the summer of 2000, I had a long-shot opportunity to be a "preferred extra" for this flick (filmed in my hometown of Detroit); but the casting call coincided with the morning after my birthday party. Long story short ... director Billy Crystal and I have never met. As for the finished product, Crystal and HBO knocked this one out of the proverbial ballpark, with Barry Pepper (as Roger Maris) and Thomas Jane (as Mickey Mantle) breathing life into the 40-year-old tale of the most celebrated (and divisive) home-run battle in MLB history -- with Maris and Mantle chasing Babe Ruth's then-single-season record for homers (60). Kudos to the versatile Anthony Michael Hall for his work as Yankees icon Whitey Ford, as well. A riveting ride from April to October. (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 9 ... YEAR: 1971 ... SKINNY: It's crazy to think about it: The legendary James Caan went directly from the set of Brian's Song -- easily the biggest tear-jerker of this countdown -- to The Godfather (as volcanic hothead Sonny Corleone) in the early 1970s, signaling one of the great character transformations of that era. As for the first film, Caan (as Brian Piccolo) and Billy Dee Williams (as Gale Sayers) nailed their portrayals of the Bears running backs, who entered the NFL as social and cultural opposites, before developing a rock-solid bond that would stay true until Piccolo's death in 1970 (embryonal cell carcinoma). It's a beautiful picture, with a sad, but eminently sweet climax. (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 8 ... YEAR: 1977 ... SKINNY: You could walk into any bar in the Northeast, upper Midwest or Canada altogether and utter the phrase, "If Dickie Dunn wrote it, it's got to be true" ... and the vast majority of bar patrons would understand the reference. That's the power of great dialogue from a classic hockey movie. It never gets old, and it never ceases to be funny. There's also this: The late, great Paul Newman might be an Oscar winner and focal point of some of the most game-changing films in cinema history -- such as Cool Hand Luke or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Cat On A Hot Tin Roof -- but he never had a better moviemaking experience than this debaucherous, hilarious romp with the Johnstown Chiefs. It also helps to have the Hanson Brothers on your side. (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 7 ... YEAR: 1986 ... SKINNY: Hollywood went a little overboard with the pre-release promotion of Youngblood, offering countless publicity shots of shirtless actor Rob Lowe. But there wasn't a lot of superfluous beefcake in the actual movie, detailing Dean Youngblood's season-long journey in the Canadian minor leagues. The Gretzky-like Youngblood led a rough existence as the proverbial superstar, getting crushed against bigger, stronger players and constantly dealing with a hard-to-please dad and negative-nelly brother. Plus, hired goon Carl Racke might be one of the top 10 bad guys in sports-flick history. It's a good movie with a great ending ... so much that we don't even have time to praise Cynthia Gibb, Ed Lauter, Keanu Reeves or Patrick Swayze. (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 6 ... YEAR: 1979 ... SKINNY: Breaking Away collected a slew of Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in the spring of 1980 (claiming two victories); and yet, it routinely gets ignored when media companies concoct lists of the most impactful sports movies. And that's a damn shame when considering the superb writing, excellent cast (right to left -- Dennis Quaid, Dennis Christopher, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley), supreme contribution to the world of cycling (especially in American circles) and overall riveting tone, from beginning to end. There's also the wonderful pairing of Dave's parents -- played by Paul Dooley and Barbara Barrie -- who live in constant bewilderment of their loopy 19-year-old son ... and his go-for-broke trio of friends, aka The Cutters. (Photo: Assorted Images)
'North Dallas Forty'
RANKING: 5 ... YEAR: 1979 ... SKINNY: North Dallas Forty, a wink-wink loose translation of Peter Gent's 1960s-era playing days with the Dallas Cowboys, truly cuts to the heart of life in pro football back then -- before players would enjoy the fruits of free agency, exorbitant salaries, expert dieticians/strength trainers and a litany of post-retirement benefits. On the plus side, it was also a time when hedonistic athletes -- like Phillip Elliot (played by Nick Nolte -- left) and Seth Maxwell (Mac Davis -- right) -- dabbled in drugs, alcohol and potent painkillers ... without fear of reprisal from the powers-that-be. In terms of memorable lines, let's go with the keen words of Coach Johnson (played by Charles Durning): "This is national TV. So don't pick your noses or scratch your nuts." (Photo: Assorted Images)
'The Longest Yard'
RANKING: 4 ... YEAR: 1974 ... SKINNY: It's kind of sad that, as time marches on, the memories of The Longest Yard have been replaced by inferior sports flicks -- including the middling remake from 2005, bearing the same name. Quite frankly, the original has it all: A bankable star in his athletic prime (Burt Reynolds was once a halfback at Florida State), a first-rate supporting cast, superb editing techniques, a thrilling slo-motion ending and top-notch writing with the general plot and scene development -- especially when Reynolds and Co. were constantly harassed by the evil guards (like Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke) during prison detail. Bottom line: This classic still deserves your full attention along the weekend cable-TV circuit -- whenever that happens. (Photo: Assorted Images)
'Eight Men Out'
RANKING: 3 ... YEAR: 1988 ... SKINNY: This is a perfect spot for personal bias, since this film's fabulous ending rivals Rocky II, The Natural, Field Of Dreams or Hoosiers. A bitter Buck Weaver (Jon Cusack -- front, left) watching his friend "Shoeless Joe" Jackson (D.B. Sweeney -- front, right) in the stands, long after eight members of the famed 1919 White Sox had been banned from baseball? It's the coolest and saddest climax one could create for the big screen. But this high ranking goes deeper than a flawless ending: You can't do better than the all-star cast of Black Sox (including Charlie Sheen -- above), their manager (John Mahoney) and money man Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner), who puts Abe Atell in his place by conveying the revelance of "yesterday." Amazing flick! (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 2 ... YEAR: 2004 ... SKINNY: It's funny how Miracle didn't earn more than $65 million (domestic) at the box office or garner Oscar noms. It's the ultimate feel-good sports experience for this generation of American moviegoers -- complete with a very happy ending. The execution was just about letter-perfect, particularly Kurt Russell's portrayal as coach Herb Brooks and Al Michaels' contribution as ABC announcer, including a reprisal of his famous "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" line. Two seminal moments: 1) Russell ordering many down-and-back sprints with the players after a desultory exhibition match, and long after the arena went dark. 2) Russell's motivational tactics before and during games -- namely the classic "bruise on the leg" shouting match with Rob McClanahan (Nathan West). (Photo: Assorted Images)
RANKING: 1 ... YEAR: 1992 ... SKINNY: This countdown may be subjective, but we're certain about the No. 1 entry being "underrated" -- since it didn't clear $5 millon in the domestic box office that summer. That aside, we've never met anyone who doesn't love this movie. The plot: Con men Gabriel Caine (James Woods), "Honey" Roy Palmer (Lou Gossett Jr.) and Fitz (Oliver Platt) target the boxing-mad town of Diggstown, Ga., with the intent of pulling a simple scam ... but end up in a high-stakes showdown with the town's No. 1 money guy (the devilish Bruce Dern). The characters are well developed, the action inside and away from the boxing ring is mesmerizing and the combative, humorous chemistry between Woods and Gossett has few peers. Plus, it has a killer ending! (Photo: Assorted Images)