Sports Movies and the Academy Award for Best Picture
As noted in February, 2010 in the Personal Journal section of the WSJ, there haven’t been very many sports-related movies nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. While the sport of boxing has received the most attention from the Academy, only two other sports have had more than a single nominee among the year’s best over its 82 year history: America’s former and current pastimes – baseball and football, respectively. Last year’s dramatization of football’s Michael Oher story – The Blind Side (2009) – just received a nomination, but was likely aided by Sandra Bullock’s performance (and nomination for Best Actress) and the fact that AMPAS increased the number of nominees from 5 to 10 for the first time since 1943, when Casablanca (1942) won.
During the Academy’s tenure, only 14 of 479 (less than 3%) nominees for Best Picture – arguably its most vaunted, certainly its most remembered and discussed if not always most acclaimed category – have been sports-related movies despite the inherent drama in stories like that of Jim Braddock (Cinderella Man (2005)), which failed to earn a BP nomination. One can only speculate whether The Champ (1931) – one of eight nominees for the top award that year, Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and even The Pride of the Yankees (1942) would have been nominated if the Academy had limited the category to 5 nominees, as it did from 1944 through 2008.
But a more interesting question might be: which sports movies “woulda, coulda, shoulda” been contenders if there had been 10 Best Picture nominees in their respective years?
First, an accounting of the sports-related movies that did receive Best Picture nominations (and won):
Football: Heaven Can Wait (1978), Jerry Maguire (1996), The Blind Side (2009)
Cycling: Breaking Away (1979)
Horse Racing: Seabiscuit (2003)
Pool: The Hustler (1961) – this was on the WSJ’s list (I didn’t know pool was considered a sport!)
Running/Track: Chariots of Fire (1981)
As you can see, my definition of “sports-related” is that a sport is integral to the story, e.g. Jack Lemmon’s character using a tennis racquet to strain spaghetti for Shirley MacLaine’s doesn’t qualify The Apartment (1960), however Prewitt’s refusal to box for his army unit is a key element in From Here to Eternity’s plot. One could also argue that the sport of swimming (and even sailing too) is an important part of the Oscar winning Ordinary People (1980).
Here are some films that I believe might have been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar had the number of nominees been 10 (instead of 5) in their year of eligibility (with an obvious bias towards movies that the Academy recognized with at least one nomination in another category):
I couldn't include City for Conquest (1940) or Gentleman Jim (1942), two of my favorite boxing movies; both were released in years that there were 10 Best Picture nominees and that neither was nominated in any category.
Football’s Remember the Titans (2000) and Olympic Hockey’s Miracle (2004) – how does this movie’s editing not get nominated?, because both stories transcend sport
Other worthy and/or nominated sports-related movies:
Lest we forget: Pat and Mike (1952) – although that year featured several other essentials that didn’t receive a Best Picture nomination: 5 Fingers, The Bad and the Beautiful, Come Back, Little Sheba, and Singin’ in the Rain; The Great Race (1965), and The Endless Summer (1966) … and one could make a case for Trader Horn (1931), big game hunting, or even possibly The Sting (1973).
© 2010 Turner Classic Movies - this article originally appeared on TCM's official blog