Baseball is older than the movies themselves, and the first baseball movies featured well-recognized baseball players as the stars themselves; in many ways, they were our first movie stars. Right Off the Bat, widely considered the first baseball flick ever made, came out in 1915, the same year as the morally loathsome but cinematically groundbreaking The Birth of a Nation, and it starred John "Mugsy" McGraw as himself. McGraw actually appeared in dozens of movies that decade. The film industry was trying to capture America, and nothing was more American than baseball.
In the more than 100 years since, some of the most beloved movies made have been about baseball, and why not? Baseball's story is the story of our times, with heroes and villains, glory and scandal, triumph and failure, comedy and tragedy. It remains the most cinematic of our sports because it is, at its core, about human beings and their frailties and their glories. If baseball had never existed, the movies would have had to invent it.
Thus, sitting down to make a list of the best 25 baseball movies ever made is quite the challenge. You must consider their historical importance in the annals of cinematic lore ... but also, hey, it's baseball: This is supposed to be fun. I'm sure there are movies not on here that might make your list. But to me, these are the 25 baseball movies that best reflect what the sport is, both on screen and in the real world. Remember: There is no crying in baseball, but sometimes, there is crying in baseball movies.
1. Bull Durham (1988)
The conversations on the mound. The tricks for getting out of a slump. The managerial motivational tactics. Which hand to swing with in a fight. Bull Durham is a movie that understands the romance and madness of baseball better than any movie ever has, and it has an all-timer cast. The only thing better than watching this movie is watching an actual baseball game. And only barely.
2. A League of Their Own (1992)
A movie that has baseball in its bones as few other movies do, and one that tells a terrific story that few people even knew about. The cast is terrific top to bottom -- even Madonna is good in it! -- and the movie has the good fortune of having Tom Hanks as the crusty manager just before he became the biggest movie star in the world.
3. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Gary Cooper is an instantly iconic Lou Gehrig -- people to this day still think Gehrig looked like Cooper -- and don't forget the terrific portrayal of Babe Ruth by ... Babe Ruth!
4. Field of Dreams (1989)
Dads and their kids will cry every time they hear "have a catch" for the rest of time because of this movie.
5. Eight Men Out (1988)
Writer-director John Sayles' story of the Black Sox takes a literary, smart look at what remains the worst scandal in baseball's history.
6. Moneyball (2011)
The movie about math and data in baseball has a cheerful love of the sport, too, and Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are an oddly perfect team.
7. The Natural (1984)
Director Barry Levinson changed the ending to let Roy Hobbs be the hero Robert Redford played him as, and while the book might have more tragic resonance, the movie sure does hit the romantic sweet spot.
8. The Sandlot (1993)
The kids classic sneaked up on people when it was released, but its nostalgia is even more powerful now. And it has the one quote you'll surely see on a T-shirt every time you go to a game: "You're killin' me, Smalls!"
9. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
Underappreciated when it came out a few years ago (many people thought Richard Linklater's follow-up to Boyhood was going to be far more serious than it was) this is one of the most purely fun, and quietly moving, looks at what it means to be on a college baseball team there has ever been. And we'll be looking at this cast in 20 years the way we look at the cast of Dazed and Confused now.
10. Major League (1989)
This is absolutely the movie that every baseball player you know probably puts at No. 1.
11. The Bad News Bears (1976)
The classic raucous Little League comedy with Walter Matthau got an unfortunate remake 29 years later, but the original still packs a punch today. Kelly Leak forever!
12. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
One of the best baseball weepies out there, this features a then-unknown Robert De Niro as a good-hearted but dim catcher who contracts a terminal illness and develops a friendship with the team's intellectual star pitcher.
13. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)
This period piece about a group of Negro League stars putting together a traveling team that takes the country by storm in the 1930s has an almost cartoonishly awesome cast: Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor.
14. The Rookie (2002)
This story of Jim Morris, the high school science teacher who ended up making the big leagues at the age of 35, is a classic underdog tale that has the useful advantage of being based on a true story.
15. Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
An old-school Technicolor musical directed by Busby Berkeley, starring Gene Kelly, Esther Williams and Frank Sinatra. Why haven't you seen this yet?
16. Damn Yankees (1958)
The classic musical about a man who loves his Washington Senators so much he'll sell his soul to the devil for them to beat the Yankees got a rousing film version as well. People still call the Yankees this 60 years later.
17. Sugar (2008)
This independent drama about a Dominican baseball player and his struggles to both survive and acclimate himself in the Minor Leagues is one of the more underappreciated movies of the last decade.
18. Fear Strikes Out (1957)
Anthony Perkins might look like he'd never touched a baseball in his life before this movie, but his portrayal of former Red Sox star Jimmy Piersall's battles with mental illness is excellent, and the film is rather daring for its time.
19. 42 (2013)
The story of Jackie Robinson's and Branch Rickey's battles to integrate baseball benefits greatly from its stars, Harrison Ford and a pre-Black Panther Chadwick Boseman.
20. Rookie of the Year (1993)
Having your favorite team -- the Cubs, no less! -- just pick you from the stands and have you pitch for them is a childhood fantasy that any kid can relate to.
21. Mr. 3000 (2004)
This raucous comedy featuring Bernie Mac as a retired player who comes back to the game years after retiring to get his 3,000th hit has a little more emotional resonance than you might have suspected.
22. Angels in the Outfield (1994)
I'm showing my age here, but I prefer the silly Christopher Lloyd remake for Disney (with a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt!) than the original with Janet Leigh.
23. 61* (2001)
Billy Crystal's ode to the home run chase between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris is basically Baby Boomer catnip.
24. Cobb (1994)
Tommy Lee Jones plays the Tiger, both his warts and his ... well, also his warts. There has been some historical revisionism on Cobb in recent years, but Jones is Cobb at his worst: cruel, ornery and, of course, as great at baseball as anyone who ever played.
25. For Love of the Game (1999)
One of three Kevin Costner baseball movies, this is definitely the worst of them but still has its moments: I will think about it every time a veteran pitcher takes a no-hitter late into the game, for the rest of my life. Plus: John C. Reilly was born to play a catcher.