Feb 2 2012 6:00pm

She Shoots, He Scores: Top 10 Sports Film Romances

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Days of ThunderIt doesn’t matter if you’re not into sports in general, or tend to rail against one sport in particular, there is still just something about a well-done sports movie, all that triumph of the underdog stuff that gladdens the heart and so often brings a tear to the eye. But where would a good sports movie be without a little side note of romance? (Well, it would be Air Bud, I guess.) Here, a look at ten of the best romances to come out of this very date movie-friendly genre, in honor of the coming Superbowl...

10. Cole Trickle and Dr. Claire Lewicki
Days of Thunder (1990)
Played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman
Sport: Motor Racing

Top Gun in a race car is a pretty fair assessment of this movie, in which Cruise plays hotshot driver Cole Trickle (stupidest name ever) whose track feud with arch rival Rowdy Burns (I stand corrected) lands him in hospital, and into the eventually loving arms of noted neurosurgeon, Kidman. Of course, when she’s being smart and doctor-like, Kidman’s Claire dons spectacles and a very severe look about her, but when she’s being Cole’s groupie she’s all flowing ginger locks and porcelain beauty. Though there will be those who’d argue that the various dalliances of assorted Fast and the Furious movies would better represent the motor sports arena here (is illegal street racing considered a sport?), and even those who’d suggest the self-love of Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights is much more heartfelt, for me, Cole and Claire’s Opposites Attract tale still holds up, if only because this loud, heart-pumping movie actually makes the formalized circuits of stock car racing seem very exciting—which, let’s face it, is pretty impressive when what we’re basically talking about here is just really fast traffic.

HONORABLE MOTOR RACING MENTION: Cars. Come on: Lightning and Sally are a cute couple!

Nicole Kidman and Tom Burlinson in Windrider9. P.C. Simpson and Jade
Windrider (1986)
Played by Tom Burlinson and Nicole Kidman
Sport: Windsurfing

Well, hello again, Nicole Kidman, as the girlfriend of yet another cocky sports star in this little-remembered Australian ’80’s epic. Burlinson (The Man from Snowy River) plays business and windsurfing wunderkind, Stewart “P.C.” Simpson, to whom everything comes incredibly easily and who never met a beach bunny he couldn’t charm out of her bikini. But then he meets Kidmans’s Jade, a flame-haired and feisty singer of embarrassingly cheesy soft rock, whose independence of spirit so disrupts P.C.’s otherwise orderly existence that he ends up burning his toast. (This is not a metaphor; he actually burns his toast. It’s pretty dramatic.) Eventually, of course, P.C. and Jade manage to overcome their differences, although only after he uses his substantial family connections to develop a breakthrough new board design to take on the ruffians of the windsurfing world—of whom there are many, apparently. Yes, the fashions are ridiculous, the hair enormous, and the humor occasionally not worth the name, but this is nevertheless an enjoyable romantic sports movie with some glorious scenery, in addition to which we have the spectacle of a 19-year old future Oscar-winner lip synching to some truly dire music. (Which… why? Moulin Rouge would seem to suggest this was unnecessary, unless it’s because Auto-Tune wasn’t invented then?)

Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Bradford in Bring It On8. Torrance Shipman and Cliff Pantone
Bring It On (2000)
Played by Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Bradford
Sport: Cheerleading (and yes, cheerleading is a sport.)

When Torrance (Dunst), newly made head cheerleader of the Rancho Carne Toros, discovers that the previous team captain had purloined their Nationals routine from rival squad, the East Compton Clovers, she must quickly take the reins and set things right by coming up with all new choreography mere weeks from the competition. There follows the recruitment of a new cheerleader, the rebellious Missy (Eliza Dushku), whose vaguely counter-culture brother Cliff (Bradford) predictably falls for the peppy Torrance—though her dedication to cheering does prove to be an obstacle to their teenage dream, as you can probably well imagine. Of course, this movie will perhaps be always best remembered for the intricate terpsichorean efforts of one Sparky Polastri (“Spirit fingers!”), but even the splendor of that signature dance move cannot overshadow this rather sweet Girl Meets Boy, Girl Spells Things Out, Girl Does High Kicks high school romance. (Sequels Bring it On: Again; All or Nothing; In it to Win it; and Fight to the Finish aren’t a patch on the original—although All or Nothing, starring Hayden Panettiere, is the least offensive of the four—and as someone who saw the stage musical in its opening engagement in Atlanta last year and has even played the Wii game, all I can say is… let it go, folks. Let it go.)

Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst in Wimbledon7. Peter Colt and Lizzie Bradbury
Wimbledon (2004)
Played by Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst
Sport: Tennis

Well, hello again, Kirsten Dunst as an entitled, bossy little priss who is an oddly sympathetic and engaging character, although we can’t really say why. Here, she is brash American tennis ace Lizzie Bradbury, who meets and dazzles journeyman English player Peter Colt and inspires him to be a better man, thus enabling him to rise above his world ranking of 119 to battle against the best in the world at the titular Grand Slam, Wimbledon. Of course, her domineering father (Sam Neill) is none too fond of the pairing, nor is Lizzie’s obnoxious ex—who also happens to be the number one seed, of course. And the couple also have to contend with Britain’s notoriously intrusive press, Peter’s aristocratic yet batty family, a considerable age difference and their own inner demons before they can become cinema’s answer to Andre and Steffi, but since when is any time spent in the company of Paul Bettany possibly a bad thing? (Well… okay… The Da Vinci Code. I’ll give you that.)

Parminder Nagra and Jonathan Rhys Meyers6. Jesminder Kaur Bharma and Joe (yep… just Joe.)
Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
Played by Parminder Nagra and Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Sport: Soccer

This movie made many a career, most notably perhaps those of co-star Keira Knightley and director Gurinder Chadha, but let us not forget that amidst all of the girl power and familial rebellion and coming into one’s own—and, of course, the soccer—there is also the lovely, cross-cultural romance of sheltered, scarred Jess, scion of respectable Sikhs and expected to act maidenly and virtuous, and the crystal-eyed, silver-tonged Joe, her soccer coach-cum-soul mate. Knightley’s Jules is also more than a little interested in Joe, which tests the girls’ friendship and Jess’s feelings for him, as such things are wont to do, but in the end the Irishman manages to win over not only Jess, but her conservative family as well, leaving us with a sweetly satisfying story that somehow manages never to be cloying or unrealistic. The only thing one might possibly have against this film is that it made soccer star David Beckham even more unwontedly famous, and for anyone fed up with coverage of his wife, children, and succession of haircuts, that is a black mark against it indeed.

Tom Berenger and Renee Russo in Major League5. Jake Taylor and Lynn Wells
Major League (1989)
Played by Tom Berenger and Renee Russo
Sport: Baseball

Take a trophy wife team owner with visions of abandoning Cleveland for warmer climes, a baseball team on a losing streak so long and wide that even their announcer finds himself reluctant to attend their games, a hard-as-nails team manager with tobacco in his cheek and diamond dust in his veins, and a ragtag bunch of misfits and has-beens who it is believed are doomed to fail—and yet, don’t! (Oh, sorry: spoiler alert!)—and you have Major League, a fun and funny triumph of the underdog tale in which Charlie Sheen plays a badass, Corbin Bernsen plays a douchebag, and Tom Berenger plays natural leader Jake, a catcher with bad knees who reunites with old flame Lynn, and manages to wheedle her away from her steady fiancé with some soft-focus lovin’, as only an ageing ’80s heartthrob can. (The events of Major League II and Major League: Back to the Minors can handily be ignored.)

Ralph Macchio and Elisabeth Shue in The Karate Kid4. Daniel Russo and Ali Mills
The Karate Kid (1986)
Played by Ralph Macchio and Elisabeth Shue
Sport: Uh, Karate

Now, it is true that the focus of this movie is much more on the relationship between New Kid in Town Daniel and his monosyllabic mentor, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), than it is about Daniel and Ali. But the well-trodden trope of the swarthy teenager from the wrong side of the tracks dating the Country Club debutante is always a good time, and when you add to it such innocent courtship as the playing of foosball, chaste drives in a borrowed vintage car, and her silent support as Daniel-San faces off against the meanest of the Cobra Kai, then it easily becomes one of the most adorable teen movie romances, whether from a sports-related movie or no. (It later transpires that Ali and Daniel break up, leaving our boy free to court quit different young ladies in installments II and III. I believe we can handily ignore those ill-advised sequels, too.)

Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell in Fever Pitch3. Paul Ashworth and Sarah Hughes
Fever Pitch (1997)
Played by Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell
Sport: Soccer

Based on a Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) novel, this original British version stars Colin Firth as a mad keen supporter of English football side Arsenal. (In the 2005 American remake, soccer becomes baseball, Arsenal becomes the Red Sox and Firth is replaced by Jimmy Fallon, which…look, I like Jimmy Fallon as much as the next person, but come on! That’s like replacing Cary Grant with Jerry Lewis. Anyway…) Paul is a school teacher with a quiet obsession, but when he meets the straightforward Sarah, he finds himself torn between his beloved Arsenal and his, well, beloved, with perhaps expected results. Unusually for a sports flick, the story here concentrates on the fans and not the players or team staff, and really explores why it is that we become so attached to “laundry” (as Jerry Seinfeld once called sporting teams) that we live and die by their victories and defeats. All of this existential exploration and Colin Firth as a bumbling, though charming, loner who finds happiness via some sharp observations and witty dialogue? Goal!

D.B. Sweeney and Moira Kelly in The Cutting Edge2. Doug Dorsey and Kate Moseley
The Cutting Edge (1992)
Played by D. B. Sweeney and Moira Kelly
Sport: Figure Skating

Pairs figure skater Kate Moseley (Kelly) is difficult and demanding, a spoiled ice princess whose daddy has Olympic dreams—but Kate is without a partner, and has become persona non grata among the sport’s elite. Enter Doug Dorsey (Sweeney), a blue-collar ice hockey star whose own Olympic career ended with an injury; but, the boy can still skate, and so is persuaded to try his hand (and feet) at figure skating. From their very first meeting, tempers flared and sparks flew between the spoiled Kate and resentful Doug, but between learning to land jumps and shoot hockey pucks and use toepicks – and compete in several international events, after mere months of training – somehow the pair become more than mere partners on the ice… Unworthy straight-to-DVD sequels The Cutting Edge: Going for the Gold; Chasing the Dream; and Fire and Ice don’t come even close to living up to this cult classic’s cheesy appeal, but at least 2006’s Going for the Gold reveals that Kate and Doug are still together and have an equally talented daughter… (although, really, they couldn’t get Kelly and Sweeney back to reprise their roles? What, too busy getting kicked off The West Wing with no explanation and starring in soon-to-be-cancelled shows, were they?)

HONORABLE FIGURE SKATING MENTION: Ice Castles (the 70’s original, though, not the remake).

Keanu Reeves and Brooke Langton in The Replacements1. Shane Falco and Annabelle Farrell
The Replacements (2000)
Played by Keanu Reeves and Brooke Langton
Sport: American Football

Among the plethora of truly excellent American Football movies, like Remember the Titans and Wildcats and Rudy (“Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!”—gets me every time), this one is perhaps my favorite because it takes everything that I love about sports movies and makes it all just that little bit better with the inclusion of Keanu Reeves in a football uniform. In many ways this movie is a mashup of Major League and A League of Their Own, along with a sprinkling of The Mighty Ducks and its ilk: unsatisfactory contract negotiations have led the Washington Sentinels to walk out on the new season (yes, isn’t awful how NFL players are so terribly underpaid?), and so in an effort to keep the franchise afloat, the team owner recruits a ragtag bunch of ne’er do wells to temporarily fly the flag. Enter, then, Reeves as Shane Falco, a formerly promising quarterback who suffered a humiliating defeat in a college game and just never got his groove back. He and his fellow replacements—a criminal, a Sumo wrestler, a Welsh soccer player, a deaf kid, etc.—somewhat predictably overcome their differences and get good, while the football-mad head cheerleader, Annabelle (Langton), teaches Falco a thing or two about the game… and, of course, about L. O. V. E. (Get it? Because of the cheerleader spelling thing?)

HONORABLE AMERICAN FOOTBALL MENTIONS: Leatherheads, Varsity Blues, Friday Night Lights, All the Right Moves, The Waterboy –-yes, really—and I guess Jerry Maguire, if only for all of those Hallmark-worthy quotes.



Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
The Cutting Edge! Always a favorite. For surfing I'd have gone with Blue Crush just because I think Matt Davis is hot and the Hawaii scenery gorgeous, but then, I haven't seen Windrider.

Love Bend It Like Beckham too. Just watched that again the other day...

Any favorite hockey movies?
Cheryl Sneed
2. CherylSneed
I was so sure that Bull Durham would be #1 and it's not even on the list! Crash Davis and Annie Savoy (Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon) have one of the sexiest, funniest, smartest, most adult romances ever filmed. I can't be the only one who thinks so. ;-)
Rachel Hyland
4. RachelHyland
@ redline_

Had this been a Top 11, then you'd have seen Mystery, Alaska on the list, with my favorite romance therein being that of Russell Crowe and Mary McCormack -- sure, they're married, but it's all still quite charming. The Mighty Ducks would have rated an honorable mention, I imagine, as would Youngblood, because hey, Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze-- although the romance angle is pretty lame.

Probably my favorite ice hockey movies, though, are the biopic The Rocket, which stars La Femme Nikita's Roy Dupuis as a Canadian hockey star of the 40's, and Miracle, the tale of the US Olympic hockey team from, I think, 1980. Neither warrant a place on this list, exactly, but I do love them and may very well go and watch Miracle again right now.

Yeah, The Cutting Edge. Always a good time.

@ CherylSneed

Oh, you're definitely not the only one that thinks so, but you know who doesn't think so? Me! Here's why I don't like Bull Durham: Susan Sarandon's Annie is a jerk. A first class, Grade A, uses-sex-as-a-weapon jerk. How any of the guys in this film fall for her disingenuous machinations is a mystery to me -- well, okay, no I get it; sex-as-a-weapon! -- but how we're then supposed to like or respect any of them for it, I haven't got the slightest idea. Also, it seems to me that Tim Robbins's "rookie" character is a little old to actually be a rookie, and I really don't foresee a big future for him in "the Show". The whole movie is just super-depressing, and so no, it doesn't make my list.

I'd put both of Costner's other baseball movies way ahead of Bull Durham, though Field of Dreams doesn't really crack the romance barrier (which is why it's not mentioned), and For Love of the Game isn't here because Costner and Kelly Preston have less chemistry in that movie than Costner and John C. Reilly, which just seems wrong.
5. JanetW
Your blog, your list -- but I was so sure that Bull Durham was on the list that when I looked at the link on twitter, my brain went "oh yeah, gotta watch Bull Durham again" ... it's not just Crash and Annie, the movie is in love with baseball -- it's a love letter to baseball. I can't listen to a ball player being interviewed and not hear the instructions on how to do it.
Rachel Hyland
6. RachelHyland
@ JanetW

Well, I do so hate to be predictable...

Now, I concede your point about how that dratted movie is a "love letter to baseball", but I counter with how The Legend of Bagger Vance is a love letter to golf, and yet that movie can still bite me.
7. Barb in Maryland
What? No Tin Cup? Costner and Rene Russo and professional golf. I was sure it was going to be on your list.
Sigh--I guess we are not on the same wave length--except you did put in Major League, so that is something....
8. JacquiC
Bull Durham is hands down the best sports movie ever, in my opinion. I agree that it's about the love of baseball as much as anything, but it's not only about that. To me, it's also a story about mature romance. Sure Annie tries to manipulate men with sex, but Crash won't let her manipulate him. I think part of the point of the story is how she has to figure out that what she's doing with players like "Nuke" isn't enough for her and isn't going to lead to a satisfying relationship for either of them. So count me among those who can't figure out why this one doesn't make the top 10... I think the other Costner sports movies (eg. Tin Cup or Field of Dreams) are just too schlocky by comparison. Bull Durham is so full of quirky humour, smart dialogue and classic scenes (eg the sports interview lesson which was already mentioned, the lessons Crash delivers to Nuke about ignoring his signals). However, I recognize that everyone doesn't share the same taste....
Christopher Morgan
9. cmorgan
My inner Texan is sad at the lack of 8 Seconds, though I'll admit that wasn't the happiest of endings.
Megan Frampton
10. MFrampton
@cmorgan dude, you don't HAVE an inner Texan, you're ALL Texan.
Rachel Hyland
11. RachelHyland
@ Barb in Maryland

No Tin Cup. No indeedy. Actually, the only golf movie I can think of that might have ended up on this list is Happy Gilmore. At least it doesn't make me want to claw my eyes out with a rusty fork.

Or Caddyshack, I guess.

@ cmorgan

The ending did rather disqualify 8 Seconds, though I'll admit the Luke Perry-ness almost overcame that, plus the girl from Northern Exposure, to whom I am now wondering what ever happened. In the end, though -- and with apologies to your inner-Texan -- I think I have such a big problem with the animal cruelty inherent in bull riding that I would have had to leave it out anyway; plus it's a biopic, which I also decided to discount here, since it feels a little weird to me to be judging people's real-life romances alongside the likes of Torrance and Cliff from Bring it On. I mean, how could anything possible compare?
12. joleesa
"I am not interested in any woman who is interested in that boy." Amen, Crash!

My all time favorite sports romance is Long Gone. If you haven't seen it, you should! Dermot Mulroney. 'Nuff said.
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