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Baseball movies have been popular dating back to the very first, “The Ball Game,” which Thomas Edison produced in 1898. Since then it is estimated that over 250 films, series, or documentaries involving the sport have been produced. A longstanding debate remains: Which are the best baseball movies of all time?
Here, we offer what has been attempted a countless number of times: to rank baseball movies through motion picture history according to their level of excellence.
Of course, such a list is quite subjective, and if you search for a few of these lists you’d be hard bound to find duplication. Almost every baseball fan has a favorite or 2, usually for specific reasons.
We took time to go back and gauge these baseball films, and include in the list movies based on baseball history, American history, storyline, plot, concept, drama, humor, and detail.
It wasn’t easy, but here’s what we discovered.
- Field of Dreams tops our list, with its definitive historical statement linking the game with the nation’s history, and father-son reunion story peppered in, along with a whole lot of baseball history.
- When The Natural came out in 1984, there had been a relative lull in baseball movies, and Robert Redford playing the heroic yet flawed can’t-miss star brought fans back to the olden days.
- Eight Men Out is a motion picture that needed to be made, as part of American history (namely the growing influence of gambling), as well as a pivotal time in the history of Major League Baseball.
- A League of Their Own ranks side by side with the above-mentioned Black Sox Scandal ~ but from the positive angle, a true story of an all-women professional baseball league created as men fought World War II.
- Bull Durham tops many “best baseball films” lists, and rightfully so. It’s a phenomenal story of the intermingling of an aging minor leaguer, an up-and-coming hot shot pitcher, and the baseball groupie (played by Susan Sarandon) who comes between them.
- 42 best displays and conveys the harsh challenges of Jackie Robinson in breaking baseball’s secret color line. If you visit an MLB stadium and see the number displayed prominently, here’s the reason.
- Moneyball is actually more appropriate for baseball history today than when it surfaced (book in 2003, movie in 2011), as some stay an addiction to statistics is ruining the game. So much, in fact, that MLB changed some rules accordingly for 2023.
- Bad News Bears is the first classic Little League story, featuring a beer-drinking Walter Mathau leading a group of misfits to victory.
- With Pride of the Yankees and other older baseball films, it’s difficult to compare with modern movies due to the major differences in audio, visual, and production; but this classic story of Lou Gehrig passes the test of time. Babe Ruth plays himself!
- The Sandlot is the neighborhood kids’ version of Bad News Bears, only this time the battle is not with their talent but themselves ~ and a ferocious, ball-eating canine.
- Leading our list of Honorable Mentions is Major League, with Charlie Sheen as “Wild Thing” and plenty of baseball insider stuff to keep audiences chuckling to this day.
- The Rookie, our 2nd honorable mention, tells the story of a retired minor leaguer who makes a major comeback at the urging of the young players he was coaching.
- We love the old (1949) It Happens Every Spring for a lot of reasons, among them how such an unusual idea served as the basis for a movie. We can only wish Hollywood today was as creative.
- Fever Pitch is probably the best look at how a person’s fanaticism for a sports team can cause real problems.
- Not just another tale of young baseball misfits overcoming the odds to beat a team full of bad guys is Benchwarmers.
In Our Words: Why the Best Baseball Movies?
Best Baseball Movie of All Time ~ Field of Dreams
The James Earl Jones speech (as author Terrence Mann) is worth the price of admission all by itself, in terms of explaining the game and its place in American history, as well as in our lives. Any baseball fan who has seen “Field of Dreams” is moved by this scene:
“Mann: Ray. People will come, Ray.
They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past.
‘Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,’ you’ll say. ‘It’s only twenty dollars per person.’
They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack.
Mark (Ray’s brother-in-law and bank financing expert): Ray, just sign the papers.
Mann: And they’ll walk out to the bleachers, and sit in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.
Mark: Ray, when the bank opens in the morning, they’ll foreclose.
Mann: People will come, Ray.
Mark: You’re broke, Ray. You sell now or you lose everything.
Mann: The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.
America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.
This field, this game — it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.
Ohhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Of course, there are not many baseball fans who have not seen this movie.
The film, based on the 1982 novel “Shoeless Joe” by W. P. Kinsella, stars Kevin Costner as a farming landowner who is convinced by ghosts of baseball’s past to build a baseball field on his cornfield despite severe financial hardship.
The “If you build it, they will come” whisper through the film’s first half has become part of baseball lore. The movie adds so much history with characters from the infamous Chicago Black Sox team, as well as Jones’ speech and other baseball history details, that it was chosen by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation with the national film registry, as a motion picture that is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The story is actually a mystery, with the who will build it, and why build it, and, What does that mean? All pursued by Kinsella and his wife. Ultimately it all leads Kinsella back to his father, a former ballplayer, for a dramatic father-son ending unlike any other.
What We Like
- Father-son-baseball relationship spotlighted
- Jones as the recalcitrant-turned-believer author to link the story together
- Visuals of the 1919 Chicago White Sox playing on an emerald-green field surrounded by corn stalks; including details longtime baseball fans will appreciate like using old webless gloves and thick-handled bats
Best Baseball Movie of All Time 1st Runner-Up ~ The Natural
There seemed to be quite the lull in great baseball movies before “The Natural” was released in 1984. You have to go back to 1976 for “The Bad News Bears” and “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.” During a period of significant national and political turmoil, the late 1970s and early 1980s, no baseball movie moved the needle for mass audiences.
Then Robert Redford played Roy Hobbs, and what in reality is a romantic awakening movie became a Great American Hero film like the nation seemed to be clamoring for at the time (think Bruce Springsteen, Carl Lewis and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Joe Montana in football, many others).
The director (Barry Levinson) had to change the ending from the book (by Bernard Malamud, in 1952) to make it more Hollywood-like, and few complained. The story follows Hobbs and his experiences over decades, including romantic dallies.
In the end of course the hero comes through in true Hollywood style, but other details of this film stand out, including the cinematography, well-done replicas of old-time baseball stadiums, Hobbs’ bat Wonderboy, and the key involvement of a batboy in the end.
What We Like
- Redford played baseball in high school and his hitting scenes look more authentic than in most baseball films
- Hobbs battling the demons of his past
- The remarkable scoreboard-smashing climax
Best Baseball Movie of All Time 2nd Runner-Up ~ Eight Men Out
This is the most complete film to date about the aforementioned Black Sox, the 1919 Chicago White Sox team that purposely lost a World Series for gamblers’ cash. Real baseball fans understand that the scandal served to break major league history in halves, as the trial of 1920 (and emergence of Babe Ruth as a slugger, among other things) changed the game forever.
Based on Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book, the film chronicles how big baseball became in the nation’s consciousness ~ as well as how gambling influences threatened to ruin it all. It follows the players as they struggle with good vs. bad life decisions, and a journalist chasing suspicions of dubious play on the field.
Many things about this film stand out, including superb live-action game scenes. The uniforms, gloves used, even most of the swings excellently show off a game of the past. The court drama in the end and the sad fate of Shoeless Joe Jackson solidifies this movie as among the all-time best.
What We Like
- Frames baseball, as an institution, at the time very well
- Portrait of Joe Jackson as an illiterate, sad footnote in baseball history
- Awesome baseball play scenes
Best Baseball Movie of All Time 3rd Runner-Up ~ A League of Their Own
Admitting we are suckers for baseball history on the big screen, “A League of Their Own” is not only a well-made story and film, but at the time it introduced audiences to a little known fact about professional baseball in America.
That is, at a period of time during World War II, there was an all-women professional baseball league. With a stupendous cast that includes Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Ann Cusack, and Tom Hanks in a memorable role early in his career, the film basically showcases the first season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Davis and Hanks excel as the star player and an aging ex-MLB player as manager (based on real Hall of Fame slugger Jimmie Foxx, by the way). This film ranks side by side with the above-mentioned “Eight Men Out” ~ but from the positive angle, a true story of an all-women league created for fans as men fought World War II.
What We Like
- Tremendous cast
- Really neat imagery including the authentic uniforms with skirts (imagine the raspberries!)
- Solidification of the “There’s no crying in baseball!” line used in almost every youth baseball and softball league to this day
Best Baseball Movie of All Time for Life Lessons ~ Bull Durham
Breaking from the all-serious films that top our baseball movies list is “Bull Durham” ~ which tops many “best baseball films” inventories. A perfect cast (Costner as the hard-luck bush leaguer Crash Davis), Tim Robbins as rookie hot-shot pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh, and Susan Sarandon playing the love interest who comes between them, makes this tale move along easily.
The baseball scenes are pretty good, especially mound visits between Davis the catcher and LaLoosh, the hard-headed blossoming talent. In terms of reality, Costner comes across well as an actual player, but Robbins as a pitcher is hard to watch.
There’s plenty of corny in this film, including a look at baseball superstitions, but Costner’s speech to Sarandon near the end rivals that of Jones in “Field of Dreams” ~ another baseball film speech that makes its way into our everyday language. This is a film full of life lessons, with baseball just being the glue that holds it together.
What We Like
- Perfect cast
- Kevin Costner as the no-nonsense career minor leaguer
- A lot of baseball insider stuff that real baseball fans appreciate
Best Baseball Movie of All Time for American History ~ 42
The movie “42” is the story of Jackie Robinson and his experience breaking baseball’s unspoken color line in the 1940s. This is our favorite film for history ~ not just that of baseball, but of America as baseball was an institution in the nation then and Robinson’s is a story of courage, perseverance, and restraint.
The cast for this film is great, with Harrison Ford stepping in to do a wonderful portrayal of Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who was instrumental in locating Robinson, and then coaching him through the numerous minefields involved with being the first black player in Major League Baseball.
Let’s be honest, some of the film’s language is not for the very young, but at least it is realistic in terms of what Robinson endured. Chadwick Boseman does a tremendous job as Robinson, both in emotional off-field scenes, as well as the in-play work. By the way, the film’s title refers to the uniform number worn by Robinson ~ which is now retired by every MLB club which means no other MLB player will ever wear it again.
What We Like
- Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford are perfect for the tricky player-GM relationship
- Solid portrayal of a significant ordeal in American history
- Very good baseball scenes especially the verbal jousting between white players and coaches and Robinson (and, sometimes, his teammates)
Best Baseball Movie of All Time for Development of the Sport ~ Moneyball
“Moneyball” is actually more heavily ingrained in baseball history now than when it surfaced (book in 2003, movie in 2011). While strategic use of statistics could level the playing field between the Davids and Goliaths of baseball a couple of decades ago, today the MLB is passing rules to curb some of it.
Starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, then general manager of the small-market (and therefore not rich) Oakland Athletics, who used his own failure as a big leaguer to embrace the computers and statistics that carried much more information about baseball play than ever before.
Granted, there is little romance to be had here, and this movie really is for very, very knowledgeable baseball fans. After all, most fans are little interested in how a team wins. They just want the team to win. Still, this movie spotlights a key moment in the future of baseball.
What We Like
- Brad Pitt as the wunderkind GM for the money-strapped Oakland franchise
- Very good dialogue from Beane’s assistants that carefully laid out the thrust of the story: looking at numbers differently than baseball insiders had for a century
Best Baseball Movie for Kids ~ The Bad News Bears
In its original incarnation, “The Bad News Bears” was rather ground-breaking, upon its release in 1976. By then, Little League baseball had been ingrained into almost every male childhood, and it was a matter that adults left to the kids. That is, until this movie pulled the covers back a bit, and showed the human sides of both coaching, and playing as a kid with a lot of other kids.
With Walter Mathau as the cursing, beer-drinking manager Morris Butterworth leading a group of misfits, this movie could be our choice for most comedic. From the cocky shortstop to the nose-picking outfielder, to Tatum O’Neal as the girl pitcher supreme, and all the players in between, it’s the characters that make this movie flow.
Kelly Leak and Chico’s Bail Bonds also help.
What We Like
- Focus on the characters who lived in youth baseball at the time
- Classic “good guys finally win” storyline
Best Heart-Wrenching Baseball Movie Ever ~ Pride of the Yankees
Most everyone knows the Lou Gehrig story, and “Pride of the Yankees” (1942) with Gary Cooper as the Iron Horse was done so well, no updates have been attempted since. Gehrig’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4 (See clip) alone ~ plus Cooper’s portrayal of it ~ is something all baseball fans should see whether or not they are Yankees.
Gehrig, of course, was among the best baseball players of all time, who played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record that was so astounding that it made Cal Ripken Jr. nationally famous when he broke the record in 1995.
Babe Ruth himself is seen in the background during the speech, but watch closely and you’ll see the Bambino in a locker room cameo also ~ eating a hot dog and goofing off, of all things. Sure, some baseball fun is peppered in, but “Pride of the Yankees” is a gut-wrenching story about how a good guy struck back at bad luck.
What We Like
- Gary Cooper’s portrayal of the humble and nice Gehrig
- Babe Ruth appearance
- Inclusion of real stadium clips from the actual speech
Best Baseball Movie Villain ~ The Sandlot
Those too young for the release of Bad News Bears got their replacement with “The Sandlot,” released in 1993. This tale of a group of youngsters who play baseball on a junkyard sandlot, and who must deal with fears of the property’s watchdog, is priceless.
This movie is not about baseball, per se, but there are plenty of old-school details to make any true baseball fan happy. There is a lot of humor here, plus the “You’re killin’ me, Smalls” line that remains repeated in real American life to this day. This film is a classic for kids, with enough nostalgia and moments to entertain adults.
What We Like
- Little Rascals-esque dialogue and children acting
- The fierce junkyard dog
- Funny baseball movie
This underdog story of a retired minor leaguer taking a chance to pursue his major league dreams, and excellently done.
That the end of this movie had to be changed completely when the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series is hilarious on its own.
It Happens Every Spring
The 1949 classic is about a professor who discovers a chemical that makes baseballs avoid wood. So he used his knowledge to pitch in the majors, of course.
This classic tale of childhood misfits has enough moments of hilarity to make it quite memorable.
This 1989 comedy might be more popular with actual baseball players, who can identify with the Willie Mays Hays, Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, and other real characters in the film.