In the last few weeks, to remarkably little fanfare, a self-congratulatory film produced and financed by FIFA hit theaters in the U.S. It’s called United Passions, and it hit theaters with a big ole’ thud, ranking among the worst sports movies, if not the worst-performing widely released film, in U.S. box office history.
Over the weekend of June 6-7, it pulled in a grand total of $918 in ten theaters. I’m pretty sure that someone earning minimum wage at one of those theatershas earned more than $918 since June 6th.
The Hollywood Reporter has a piece on FIFA’s reaction to the film, but the gist is that it didn’t make any money, and was universally slammed by critics for being terrible in virtually every way imaginable. It’s almost like a corrupt soccer organization doesn’t have a deft hand when it comes to the art of cinema. The film wasn’t even distributed in Brazil or Germany, though it did make $158,000 in Russia.
When sports movies are well done, they can become dramatic or comedic triumphs. However, like all genres of film, successes are the exception. Sports movies are often terrible because producers think that the film can coast on audiences going “Hey! Baseball!” and forking over $15 bucks to see a cat manage a Little League team.
So, in honor of United Passions (what a terrible name), let’s examine the worst sports movies in history.
Radio kicks off this list for several reasons. One is it features a post-Jerry Maguire Cuba Gooding Jr. starring in what’s clear Oscar-bait as a developmentally disabled equipment manager with terrible teeth. It also makes the cut because it squanders the talent of both Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr. in a sappy, sentimental film that has little in the way of an arc. Though it made $53 million at the box office, the film is wildly inessential, and would likely be completely forgotten, were it not for lists like these.
We’ve gotten used to Robert de Niro squandering his credibility these days in his post-Meet the Parents career arc. But in the mid-90s, it was still pretty upsetting to see him play characters in fare that could have almost been at home on Lifetime. On the plus side, the object of the obsessive de Niro character was Wesley Snipes, who we love as a baseball player thanks to the timeless Major League, which is NOT one of the worst sports movies ever.
8. The Fan
There aren’t many sports comedies on this list, if only because, generally sports comedies are less ambitious, and thus, less disappointing and disastrous. But Caddyshack II is one such exception. It was a disaster. It’s on par with Fletch 2 in terms of sequels that mar the original in hindsight. The jokes are there, but you get the feeling that every person involved, from the cast to the writers to the crew, were simply running out the clock for a paycheck. The jokes are lazy and familiar. Funny and familiar works well. Lazy and familiar is somehow worse than just lazy.
7. Caddyshack II
For some reason, an inordinate number of sports movies revolve around an animal who can play that sport. You don’t see this phenomenon in other genres. I suppose we could pick about ten different films to occupy this spud among the Air Buds, the mule placekickers, and the rest of them, but I picked Ed. Why? Because it was the first one that came to mind, and they’re pretty much all the same anyway. Also because it took a super-famous Matt LeBlanc and guaranteed that he’d never topline a film again. It’s a monkey that’s a pitcher. What else is there to the movie? I dunno. There’s probably a girl. Maybe a surly manager. But mostly just a monkey that’s a pitcher. And that’s a weak premise for a film.
This might be the most esoteric entry on the list. That’s because I have a history with this film, and I’m making it your problem, too. In 1988, I rented this movie because it had a basketball player on the cover, and I loved basketball. I was eight. I watched it, and I remember so bored that it almost made me hate basketball, even though there was virtually none in it. It was about a treaty to stop nuclear proliferation and the president. Only they didn’t tell you that up front. Or they did, but I was dumb because I was eight. In any event, this film, starring NBA semi-star Alex English, failed on all fronts, and somehow managed to take the venerable Gregory Peck down with it. This really isn’t a sports movie, but that’s what pissed me off so much, so it’s on the list.
5. Amazing Grace and Chuck
Sure, the Hilary Swank one could probably make this list, and the Jackie Chan/Jaden Smith one would if anyone had seen it, but the downfall of the franchise was marked by the third installment. The second one was forced and inferior, but forgivable. The third installment raised the stakes even further on Daniel LaRusso’s suffering, this time at the hands of a millionaire who for some reason hated this kid so much he dedicated a substantial portion of his time to making this kid’s life hell. We get it, something about Daniel LaRusso rubs people the wrong way. Of course, he’ll fight his way out of it with the help of his mentor, and on to the next one…
4. Karate Kid 3
One phenomenon we’ve seen in bad sports film is the franchise effect. “Oh, since we made a bad film about a dog that plays a sport, let’s make that same movie about that dog playing OTHER sports.” We see it pretty obviously in the Angels in the Outfield follow-up Angels in the Endzone. Fortunately, this film barely made a peep at the box office, even with Disney’s backing, leading us to believe there’s hope for humanity yet.
3. Angels in the Endzone
When your movie is named after a Gatorade marketing slogan, you’re probably in trouble when it comes to the durability of your film. Of course, the producers thought they could offset this issue with the presence of the timeless Michael Jordan. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But the scales shifted WAY towards a short shelf-life when they picked the kidk from Jerry Maguire (good sports movie), Jonathan Lipnicki to star. That’s like making a movie about the Macarena or the Budweiser “Wazzzzzup!?!?!?” guys.
2. Like Mike
Rocky V is a very watchable film, in part because Sylvester Stallone has established Rocky as maybe one of the most iconic, important characters in cinematic history up to that point. However, all that currency goes up in smoke when we get an updated film that feels completely artificial and unnecessary as Rocky’s protégé, Tommy Gunn, betrays him. The film ends in a street fight, for God’s sake. Rocky’s not a streetfighter. He’s a pro! And the Don King knockoff anchors the film to the real world in a way that no one asked for. Rocky IV was a fitting end to the franchise at the time. Let’s pretend it stayed that way.