Play Ball! 25 Best Baseball Movies Ever

Baseball, the American pastime, can make you cry (with joy, relief or anguish), whoop, laugh or go wide-eyed with wonder — often enough within the same inning. It’s no wonder the best movies about the sport have produced the same reactions. We talk endlessly about our favorite films and moments with friends. We watch them over and over, no matter the season. We quote the lines as pop culture touchstones: “If you build it, he will come.” “There’s no crying in baseball!” “You’re killin’ me, Smalls.” And we stand at the imaginary plate and reenact those big-league moments, like Robert Redford in The Natural, his prized bat broken, asking the batboy to “Pick me out a winner, Bobby.” So, any discussion of Hollywood’s best in the genre has the potential to inspire nods of agreement or a bench-clearing brawl. But these 25 continue to stand the test of time — and many leave us choked up.

THE NATURAL, Robert Redford, 1984.

TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

For instance, it’s hard to argue against the merits of one of the earliest picks, 1942’s The Pride of the Yankees, a movie that came out 13 months after Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig’s death to ALS, a disease that now bears his name. While the movie’s star, Gary Cooper, was not a baseball fan and had reportedly never even swung a bat, his all-American persona worked perfectly in portraying the player who famously considered himself the “luckiest man on the face of the Earth” despite his diagnosis. And few can argue about the acting abilities of one of Cooper’s main costars — Babe Ruth, playing an incredibly compassionate version of himself.


Everett Collection

The stars aligned big-time for 1949’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Esther Williams, and choreographer and director extraordinaire Busby Berkeley. But along with the dance numbers, the film — perhaps based on the life of MLB player and vaudevillian Mike Donlin — features a great bit of baseball tomfoolery when new team owner K.C. Higgins (Williams) gives a flirty Eddie O’Brien (Kelly) an unforgettable lesson in hitting — and a solid knock on the head with a bat!

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Gene Kelly, 1949

Everett Collection

The next top picks come with 1957’s Fear Strikes Out, and Damn Yankees the following year. In the former, Anthony Perkins plays big leaguer Jimmy Piersall, whose career was marked by game-disrupting anxiety-inspired incidents (depicted in the movie as Piersall being overly pressured to succeed by his father, played by Karl Malden). The musical romp Damn Yankees was based on the Broadway hit; a Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the devil and is transformed into a baseball star (Tab Hunter) bent on helping his team beat the dreaded Bronx Bombers. Showstopping songs such as “Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants” — sung by the fantastic Gwen Verdon — were top hits.

THE BAD NEWS BEARS, Vic Morrow, Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal, 1976, on the baseball field

Everett Collection

It would be yet another 15 years before baseball movies that were in a whole different league began to hit the big screen, starting with the beautifully played 1973 weeper Bang the Drum Slowly. Robert De Niro costarred as a terminally ill catcher in the film, which came out a few months before Mean Streets made him a star. In 1976, two popular comedies premiered. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, about ex-Negro League players on the local game circuit in the 1930s, costarred Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor and another star of future top baseball movies: James Earl Jones. And The Bad News Bears sees Walter Matthau as the alcoholic coach of a group of outsider little leaguers who are helped by a tomboy pitcher (Tatum O’Neal) and a troublemaking star athlete (Jackie Earle Haley). The movie led to two sequels and, almost 30 years later, a remake starring Billy Bob Thornton.

Baseball Movies Hit Their Stride

While other films before it tapped into the inspirational nature of the game, Barry Levinson’s 1984 drama The Natural hit for power, and was the first in decades to cause grown men to weep unashamedly. You truly had to suspend your disbelief in this one, and not just because the 48-year-old Robert Redford was playing, at the beginning, 19-year-old phenom Roy Hobbs. It’s because at the end, years after being shot nearly to death and then engineering an unlikely comeback, Hobbs hits a critical homer (shown in beautiful slo-mo) for his New York Knights team that smashes some of the stadium’s lights to bits, as Randy Newman’s stirring soundtrack plays on. The decisive home run enrages the gambling bad guys who own the team and have been betting against him … but you never bet against Hobbs!

Another sure thing: The years 1988 and 1989 produced the finest baseball movies ever and established Kevin Costner as Hollywood’s truest Hall of Famer. It started with perennial favorite Bull Durham (1988), starring Costner as enduring minor league catcher “Crash” Davis, Susan Sarandon as ultimate groupie Annie Savoy, and the young Tim Robbins (who met Sarandon, who became his longtime partner, on this film) as pitching prospect “Nuke” LaLoosh. Ron Shelton’s semiautobiographical movie laid out the hilarious wonders of a pure, honest love for the game with Crash, the minor league baseball lifer and mentor who famously believes in several things, including, as he tells Annie, “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

BULL DURHAM, Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, 1988. NO GREETING CARD USAGE UNTIL January 3, 2010

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A few months later, John Sayles’ Eight Men Out premiered, scripting the infamous 1919 Black Sox scandal with members of the Chicago White Sox throwing the World Series. The most famous name among the eight players — the one illiterate batter characterized as not swift enough to understand it all — was the team’s great superstar, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (D.B. Sweeney).

EIGHT MEN OUT, Bill Irwin, D.B. Sweeney, Charlie Sheen, & the team, 1988. (c)Orion Pictures Corp./courtesy

Everett Collection

Jackson gets a much kinder read in the classic that came out the following May: 1989’s Field of Dreams. Costner is back as Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, who famously hears a whispery request among his cornstalks: “If you build it, he will come.” The “he,” Ray imagines, is the long-dead Jackson (Ray Liotta), who returns from the ether after Ray mows up his corn and builds a baseball field. Bingo Long costar James Earl Jones delivers the most glorious-ever monologue about the game — “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. … People will come, Ray; people will most definitely come.” — but it is also the heart-tugging “he” reveal at the end that fans remember, as Ray plays catch with his now-returned dad. Tears!

It’s tears of laughter that hit you with Major League, also a debut in 1989, about a new owner of the Cleveland Indians who fills the roster with underperforming players because if the team finishes last, she can contractually move them to Miami. Of course, when the players find out, momentum builds and the hopeless and hapless become heroic. The film is remembered as a great star vehicle for Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger, as a proving ground for young actors on the rise (Dennis Haysbert, Neil Flynn) and for announcer Bob Uecker’s famous quote, calling a terribly wild pitch as being “JUST a bit outside.” The film that, like Field of Dreams, celebrates its 35th anniversary this year led to two sequels.

Few baseball movie quotes get more traction than “There’s no crying in baseball!” That shout is delivered in 1992 by a young Tom Hanks — one year away from perennial stardom and the first of two consecutive Oscars (1994 and 1995) — in A League of Their Own. Hanks plays the hard-drinking coach of a fictional version of the Rockford Peaches, a real-life women’s pro baseball team during the World War II era. The movie, which inspired the 2022 Prime Video reboot series, featured Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna. Later that year, Tom Selleck got plenty of cross-cultural laughs in Mr. Baseball as a major leaguer who is traded to Japan’s Chunichi Dragons.

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Rosie O'Donnell, 1992, ©Columbia Pictures/courtesy

Everett Collection

Extra Innings

The years since have seen several more films that capture the spirit and the spectacle, the humor and history of the great game. “You’re killin’ me, Smalls” has long been in the lexicon as a general cry of frustration. Of course, it comes from the 1993 coming-of-age comedy The Sandlot, which captures everything warm and winning about growing up and playing ball with your pals, seen through the eyes of 12-year-old Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry). Set in 1962, the film marked yet another baseball film appearance by James Earl Jones. And there’s still plenty of debate over which version of the fantasy Angels in the Outfield rules — the 1994 remake (with Christopher Lloyd leading the otherworldly crew helping the California Angels play better) or the 1951 original starring Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh. One plus for the newer version: seeing Adrien Brody, Matthew McConaughey and Joseph Gordon-Levitt before they were big names.

In 1994, Ken Burns premiered his incomparable nine-part Baseball docuseries on PBS. There have been plenty of baseball docs before and since, but none are in the same league. Also in 1994, the game’s greatest — and crankiest — hitter got his due, courtesy of Tommy Lee Jones, in Cobb. And a slew of Hall of Famers, including Ken Griffey Jr., Iván Rodríguez, Randy Johnson and Tim Raines costarred in Little Big League, about a 12-year-old who inherits ownership of the Minnesota Twins.

Not to be outdone by James Earl Jones, Kevin Costner made another baseball-related film in 1999, starring in For Love of the Game. He plays an aging pitcher tossing his last ever start — and it’s shaping up to be a perfect game — during which he reminisces about the life he sacrificed in exchange for lacing up those cleats.

Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper played, respectively, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in Billy Crystal’s deservedly lauded 2001 HBO drama 61*. It delved into the bond between the two Yankee greats — the quiet Maris, the boisterous and hard-drinking Mantle — as they chased Babe Ruth’s season-long home run record in 1961. Another rousing true-life tale came the following year with Dennis Quaid playing The Rookie, aka Jim Morris, a high school science teacher who overcame a slew of injuries before making his Major League pitching debut at age 35.

Like Mr. Baseball, Sugar (2008) offered a realistic look at the challenges of playing the American pastime far from home. In the case of this much-admired independent film, it’s “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto, aka Att-Lass in Captain Marvel), who travels to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, hoping his devastating curve will make him a star on the mound.

SUGAR, Algenis Perez Soto, 2008.

Sony Pictures Classics/courtesy Everett Collection

Finally, like the best World Series games of the past, the last two films on our list are memorably rewatchable. The 2011 biodrama Moneyball looks at Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who used a new kind of data analysis about players — courtesy of Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand — to reshape the team and turn them into winners during the 2002 season. Moneyball was that rare baseball film to be lauded by the Academy, earning six Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Actor for Pitt and Supporting Actor for Hill.

42, (aka FORTY-TWO), Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, 2013.

Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

In 2013’s 42 spins out the most inspirational tale in baseball history — that of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman, in his first big role) breaking the game’s color barrier in 1947, with the help of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). In the film, Robinson, speaking to his baby son, says he doesn’t remember his own father, who left the family when he was 6 months old. “You will remember me,” he adds. That sentiment can be applied to all the memorable films on this list, but in the case of Robinson and his legacy, truer words were never spoken.


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