Some of these "actors" can really ball.
Dust off those Rec-Specs, tighten up those (once white) Chucks, and you young bloods slip into your head-to-toe compression, because it’s time for basketball. Excuse me, it's time to talk basketball movies, so maybe you just need those Rec-Specs. Over the years, there have been a boatload of sports movies to "grace" the Silver Screen. Like any other genre, there have been some duds (MVP: Most Valuable Primate) and some classics (The Natural), with some good-to-pathetic sports scenes. While the focus is hardly ever the on-the-field/court action, but the drama off of it, it got us Peanut Gallery sports addicts thinking about the most realistic of sports movies.
As the resident alleged hoops expert, I will now list the five best choreographed basketball movies.
5. Hoosiers (1986)
Starting it off at five, we’re going with Hoosiers. Hoosiers stars Gene Hackman as a failed college coach who takes the reins of a high school program in basketball-crazed Indiana. Hoosiers!? Shocking, you say? Not one of those actors can ball out!? Well, it was a shock to me that it even made it into my Top 10, but after mulling it over quite a bit, it moved up my list.
Hear me out.
This movie is taking place in the 1950’s, and if you’ve ever seen video clips of the basketball back then it was absolutely garbage to watch, borderline unbearable. The basketball scenes in Hoosiers are not flashy in any way and rely on some pretty static camera movement, which in turn displays 1950’s basketball built on fundamentals. They executed this pretty well on screen. You won’t see any nasty crossovers or silky fade-aways, switch those out for some good passing and diaper-shot free throws. Ultimately, the movie is forced to play down to the era the film takes place in and they do a successful job in hitting that mark.
4. Coach Carter (2005)
Coming in at fourth is Coach Carter, starring Samuel L. Jackson as a hard-ass, disciplinarian of a coach who wants nothing more than for his players to succeed in the classroom and in life. You can tell the producers wanted the basketball scenes to feel intense and amped up. The main actors on the Richmond basketball team all look the part. Some definitely sport a little game. Often, opposing teams in this movie looked much more legitimate than the Richmond squad. Ty Crane and his boys on that St. Francis team looked like they could run you out of the gym!
Robert Ri’chard runs the point for Richmond and actually looks convincing as a pass-first guard who can get into the paint to create. A lot of his maneuvers look to be of someone who was trained to protect the rock at all times. Some of his teammates can really throw it down (albeit on an eight-foot rim, I’m assuming!). Overall, most of the basketball scenes move at a good pace and feel somewhat real.
3. He Got Game (1998)
Next up we have He Got Game, starring Denzel Washington and Ray Allen. This is my favorite Spike Lee movie; don’t worry, it didn’t factor into its placement on this list. Anytime you are able to lock down an NBA superstar to play a lead role, you’re going to get good results. Hell, even Denzel flashed a little “Old Man at the YMCA” game for us. Is there anything he can’t do?
A lot of the basketball scenes felt authentic...they felt like “Poetry in Motion.” Jesus Shuttlesworth and his team at Lincoln High looked like they were just playing ball, not necessarily following a script. Everything felt very natural and crisp, which is why this movie is sitting in third on this ranking of cinematic basketball realism.
2. Glory Road (2006)
Second on the list is a wonderful movie based on a true story; Glory Road. Similar to Hoosiers, we have to time travel back to the 1960’s to watch the first all-black starting lineup in college basketball. Again, looking back at footage from the 1960’s, this film does a really great job of giving you that old school basketball feel. A few points are deducted due to the surplus of tomahawk jams and highlight-reel plays. My research didn’t show too much of that, so it seems to me that Hollywood was trying to spice it up a little.
There are a number of good performances from the main cast and supporting cast/opposing teams. Handles looked tight, jump shots had good form, and the cinematography was terrific. The games also felt fairly natural despite having to follow a specific script, as this was an actual event. Perhaps there were some liberties taken? Props to David Luke for perfecting the "Bobby Joe Hill behind-the-back pass."
1. Blue Chips (1994)
Number one was a no-brainer for us here at the Peanut Gallery. Blue Chips is loaded with talent. Shaq and Penny alone is enough, but they went ahead and added other NBAers and college guys. Just turn the camera on and let it go. Boom, cinematic basketball gold. The movie itself might not be that great, but the hoop game is A+ and credit goes to Nick Nolte for playing a short-tempered coach that loses his shit on multiple occasions. Just another layer of real.
Aside from the player cameos, we also get many coaching cameos, namely Bobby Knight*. Clearly, the producers had a meeting and said, “pump this movie with as much 90’s basketball star power as possible and see what happens.” Well I’m glad they did, because it was a treat seeing all these guys on camera, as well as some ridiculous Shaq slammas.
White Men Can’t Jump (1992) - Pretty solid hoop game all around, but just didn’t feel as true as the basketball scenes in the movies mentioned above.
Love and Basketball (2000) - Big fan of this movie and was also so close to making that five spot. High fives to Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan, who looked decent out there on the hardwood. Major points deducted for Omar Epps, an NBA player in this film, getting stripped by Sanaa Lathan in 1-on-1...c’mon…
Hall of Shame: No actual basketball film. But I just had to find a away to fit in something about that freakin' scene from Catwoman. This is quite possibly the cringiest basketball scene in the history of cinema. Woof.
Perhaps in the future, with NBA players wanting to push their names and brands to the next level, we will see a top-to-bottom great basketball movie with ultra-realistic basketball choreography. Until then, we will have to keep going back to the same well for water. Next up, we discuss the most realistic Bobsledding movies. Stay tuned.
* Bobby Knight took his role wayyy too seriously, apparently. He refused to let his team lose and did everything in his power to prevent that from happening, even though that's what was in the script. Perfectly on-brand for "The General".