Friday, April 17, 2020

Sports Movies I Thought Would Be Huge But Weren't

by Adam Riske
I miss sports. I miss movies. No one saw these in theaters.

The Babe (1992) – The Babe was released right when I started going from having a passing interest in baseball to loving it as much as movies. All I ever heard at the time was Babe Ruth was the biggest thing to ever happen to the sport. It was like if Hercules played the game. He was mythic. Surely the biopic telling his life story would be the biggest movie of 1992, maybe even of all time. It wasn’t. The Babe was critically panned and opened at #5 with only $5.0M on its way to just $17.5M. I still haven’t seen it. Rob, we need to get on this for a future Reserved Seating baseball review.

The Program (1993) – For a movie I only saw once on video, I can recall an awful lot about The Program (e.g. “Kane is Able”). I think I’m due for a re-watch. It has James Caan as a football coach, Omar Epps again as a collegiate athlete (the movie also stars Kristy Swanson, so this is basically a Higher Learning prequel) and a football player named Alvin Mack whose timeline makes it possible that he’s Vontae Mack’s father. The Program opened in September 1993 at #2 but only with $6.8M behind fellow debut The Good Son (Patrick – is there a show there?) on its way to a final tally of $23.0M. I guess it wasn’t smart to open a college football movie while people could just be watching real college football. People should have gone. It’s what was best for The Program.
Blue Chips (1994) – A movie featuring Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway in early 1994 should have cleaned up. I thought this movie was going to gross $100M in its opening weekend. I couldn’t have been more excited. It didn’t do that well, only debuting with $10.1M at #3 (behind fellow debut and recent Heavy Action inductee On Deadly Ground), finishing with only $23.0M. This is a super frustrating movie to watch. It has many annoyable elements, like Nick Nolte bursting blood vessels playing Fake Bobby Knight, ladles of smarm from J.T. Walsh as a character named Happy, and the ceaseless use of the song “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” It’s like a torture device. I forgot William Friedkin directed this.

The Big Green (1995) – Disney had the kids sports movie formula down by September 1995, so why wouldn’t I think The Big Green would gross $50M without breaking a sweat? I mean, the movie had a savvy roster, with Steve Guttenberg (cast for dads who think if he can make it so can I), Olivia d’Abo (cast for moms who think if she can make it so can I), and a murderer’s row of kid actor royalty in The Sandlot’s Patrick Renna/Chauncey Leopardi and Bug Hall hot off that The Little Rascals shine. Somehow it didn’t all connect and The Big Green debuted at #5 with only $4.7M on its way to just $17.7M behind fellow debuts Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and Devil in a Blue Dress. I don’t get. Kid takes a soccer ball to the nuts on the poster. You can’t blame the marketing department.
Kingpin (1996) – Of all the movies on this list, Kingpin is the one whose failure at the box office confuses me most. This is the Farrelly brothers coming off Dumb and Dumber and the movie’s great. I’d go as far as saying it’s one of the funniest movies of the 1990s. Coming off that goodwill, this should have made its way to a final tally of $100M easy, but it only made $25M after debuting #5 with $5.6M (A Time to Kill debuted at #1 that weekend). I guess Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, and Bill Murray together in 1996 just wasn’t a draw. Whatever happened to Vanessa Angel? (Checks) It looks like she worked a lot after Kingpin, but only in movies and TV shows I didn’t see.

Wimbledon (2004) – I thought Wimbledon was going to be the movie that took Kirsten Dunst to superstardom. She put in the work for years and this was her first non-teen movie title shot. It didn’t happen. The movie opened #4 behind the bad Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and the even worse Mr. 3000 with only $7.1M on its way to a final gross of $17.0M. I blame pairing Dunst with Paul Bettany, who has the onscreen persona of a soup-less bread bowl. I bought this movie on clearance for $2 but haven’t watched it yet. I probably should. Sam Neill’s in it, too, playing Dunst dad. That’s a solid family. Who plays the mom? Why don’t tennis movies do better? Tennis was on every summer morning on HBO during my youth. If there wasn’t an audience, then why did they waste my time not showing movies?
Cinderella Man (2005) – This was it: the movie I thought would rock the year 2005. It felt made to gross $200M and win 10 Oscars. It was written all over its syrupy trailer and prestige-baiting pedigree: a period sports drama reuniting an Oscar winning director (Ron Howard) and actor (Russell Crowe) whose previous movie (A Beautiful Mind) won Best Picture, and this time they added an Oscar winner co-lead (Renee Zellweger) and supporting actor who was a critics darling coming off a nomination snub the previous year (Paul Giamatti). It had all the ingredients, but it wasn’t enough. Cinderella Man underperformed at the box office, opening at #4 with $18.3M and finished with only $61.6M. What happened? I think two things: 1) It opened in early June, which seems odd for a maudlin drama and 2) they named it Cinderella Man. I like the movie, but I’d be lying if I said I was ever compelled to watch it a second time.

Warrior (2011) – All the buzz in early Fall 2011 was that Warrior was going to be a huge, crowd-pleasing hit, so I was surprised to see it only grossed a weak $13.7M after opening at #3 with only $5.2M (fellow debut Contagion – a movie I will never watch again, especially now – was no. 1). When I caught up with Warrior, I didn’t understand why people loved it so much, but I do feel like re-watching it now (largely because I forgot Frank Grillo co-stars). My memory was that Nick Nolte freaked out throughout the movie to the point it became laughable (he does that) and Tom Hardy was doing an awful anachronistic Marlon Brando impression for some reason that a lot of people thought was this revelatory acting. This feels like a movie that would have done better if it was released five years later after its talent became more recognizable.

What are some sports movies you thought would be huge but weren’t?


  1. "He Got Game" was the first Spike Lee joint I watched in the cinema and that was a big deal for me. I was giddy before, during and afterwards, but then I read the (local) reviews and saw that it was a flop in the States. I was dismayed, angry even. Human beings were shit and the world was uninhabitable.

    Was/Am I alone in thinking that it's a masterpiece or am/was I making too big a deal out of it?

    1. You're not wrong at all. He Got Game is definitely among my favorite Spike Lee movies. It's even better now than it was in 1998.

  2. I agree that "Blue Chips" is extremely frustrating (even though I love the opening scene). Nick Nolte is obviously playing a fictional version of Bobby Knight... and then BOBBY KNIGHT IS IN THE MOVIE PLAYING HIMSELF. Huh?

  3. Ha! I saw 2 of these in theaters. And not the good ones! Saw the Program opening weekend. Luckily that was before idiots copied what they saw in the flick and the movie had to edit out the highway scene. Also Blue Chips the first day as I was a huge Orlando Magic fan due to Shaq.

    And I'm with you. I thought Cinderella Man was going to be the Oscar and box office darling of 2005. When I finally saw it on video I realized quickly why it wasn't. Not an exciting watch.

    Of the following which do you consider the best movie featuring John Goodman in a sports related roll?
    Everybody's All American
    Speed Racer
    Revenge of the Nerds

  4. The Great White Hype. I thought it was going to be a big hit. The trailer looked funny, you had Bring the Pain - Method Man playing, Sam Jackson going full Don King, Jamie Foxx, Damon Wayans, Goldblum & Jon Lovitz! I saw it opening weekend with my mom. Well the movie bombed. Opening in 5th place behind. Even finished behind the awful Van Damn movie The Quest in it's 2nd weekend. The Great White Hype grossed 8 million for it's entire box office run.

  5. The Program is one of those movies that was always on TV when I was a kid, so for the longest time I assumed that it was a huge box office hit with a big cultural impact. Too many people I know have politely entertained me making references to it and then going "You know, like in The Program???"

  6. Little Big League (1994) - take Rookie of the Year (1993) and replace a kid pitcher with a kid manager and you have success. Made 12M to Rookies 56M. Granted, it did have less funky butt lovin'.

  7. Right on target with Kingpin - great movie! Right off target with Blue Chips - great movie!

  8. Blue Chips was a big deal to 14 year old me, at that time Blue Chips and The Program we’re perfect movies