“Citizen Kane,” or “The Godfather?” “Animal House,” or “Old School?” “Heaven’s Gate,” or “Ishtar?” Whether we’re debating the best, the funniest, or the worst movie of all time, there is certainly no shortage of opinions, educated, or otherwise. That was on clear display when we sat down to choose, once and for all, the Greatest Underdog Movie Of All Time.
As you may be aware, we take challengers pretty seriously here at LOOMIS. We are, after all, “the voice of the underdog.” So this debate was pretty personal for us and you should know we took our responsibility seriously.
First, the criteria: we only looked at movies featuring, or about underdogs. As you might expect, this put us squarely in the sports milieu, but we did include four films featuring huge underdogs that fell outside of the sports genre. We also decided that to be the Greatest Underdog Movie Of All Time, the film had to be first and foremost the story of an underdog. We considered films with a strong underdog element in them like “Forrest Gump,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Ray,” but ultimately decided those films transcended being “underdog” movies and chose not to include them.
Once we had a clear understanding of what our criteria were, we chose our 32 underdog favorites and placed them into four competing brackets. Then, we let Movie Madness take its course. Three days, two personal fouls and a little bloodshed later, we arrived at our final completed bracket and the undisputed, undefeated Greatest Underdog Movie Of All Time. Let the arguments begin!
The Round of 32
Coming out of the South Region, all eyes were on “Rocky” the number one seed taking on the Uruguayan rugby team from “Alive.” Alas, in their weakened state from the plane crash and cannibalism, the eight seed was no match for Stallone and were quickly KO’d.
From there, the rest of the South bracket went according to seeding with the two seed “The Blind Side” taking out “42.” Jackie Robinson clearly has a compelling story, but he was one of the most gifted baseball players of all time. Michael Oher came from nothing AND made it through Sandra Bullock’s accent to make it to the NFL. Disney’s “The Rookie” starring Dennis Quaid as Texas Chemistry teacher Jim Morris who made it to the bigs at 39 beat out fellow baseball competitor “Moneyball” and in a squeaker, “Seabiscuit” beat out Abigail Breslin’s stripper dance in “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Like the South Region the Northeast bracket went pretty much according to seed. As big a tearjerker as the Jon Voight/Ricky Schroeder remake of “The Champ” was, it was no match for perennial underdog contender “Rudy.” This one was over by halftime. Likewise, “Slap Shot” and the Hanson Brothers easily slobber knocked “Hoop Dreams” while the cycling classic “Breaking Away” did just that leaving the Russell Crowe boxing drama “Cinderella Man” in the dust. The only slight upset in the Northeast Region came when Kevin Costner’s “Tin Cup” handily took care of the Jamaican bobsled team in “Cool Runnings.” Cool story. Bad movie.
Next, we dropped down to the West Region where the number one seed “Hoosiers” had no problem dispatching the eight seed “Dodgeball” and number two seed “The Bad News Bears” made quick work of Hillary Swank’s “Million Dollar Baby.” The big news coming out of the West Region was the emergence of two non-sports movies – Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” and Julie Roberts’ “Erin Brockavich” which beat out “Bull Durham” and “The Fighter.”
As in every tournament, one corner of the bracket is sure to be rife with upsets and that was certainly the case in the center of the North Region. One seed “Miracle” easily skated away from “The Mighty Ducks” and in the two slot, Mark Wahlberg’s “Invincible” beat up on a bunch of girls in “A League Of Their Own” and didn’t apologize once. But in a slight upset, five seed “Major League” took down the four seed “Remember The Titans” by the very tip of a Wesley Snipes slide into home. And then, in the biggest upset of the tournament, six seed “The Karate Kid” swept the leg and took out three seed “Friday Night Lights.” It was shocking, but only the beginning of Daniel LaRusso’s run through the tournament.
The Sweet 16
In the Sweet 16, the South Region saw “Rocky” take out Superheavyweight “Seabiscuit” despite a 1,000 pound weight disadvantage and in the bottom half, Dennis Quaid reached back and fired one last 98 mph fastball striking out “The Blind Side” in a mild upset.
In the Northeast Region, seeding held according to form as number one seed “Rudy” handily whipped “Breaking Away” and number two seed “Slap Shot” roughed up “Tin Cup” and moved to the round of eight. Likewise in the West Region, the two top seeds advanced easily as “Hoosiers” ran the picket fence on “Braveheart” and “The Bad News Bears” outsmartassed “Erin Brockavich” to take its place in the elite eight.
Once again the high drama came out of the North Region where six seed “The Karate Kid” waxed on, waxed off and did what the Russians and Finns couldn’t do in 1980 beating the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team in “Miracle.” In the second game, the Cleveland Indians from “Major League” put up a valiant fight, but at the end, Mark Wahlberg forced one last fumble and ran it back proving at least for the round of 16, he was indeed, “Invincible.”
The Elite 8
And then there were eight. At the top of the bracket, the one seeds continued their dominance as “Rocky” downed another raw egg smoothie and easily took care of “The Rookie” in the South while “Rudy” gave it more than the old college try and permanently sent the Hanson Brothers and “Slap Shot” to the penalty box in the Northeast. In the West, the cultural diversity and forward thinking gender equality of “The Bad News Bears” proved too much for the Indiana farm boys in “Hoosiers” making everyone at Chico’s Bail Bonds extremely proud. That only left the game in the North Region, which again proved to be a barnburner. “Invincible” took an early lead and held it until the very end when out of nowhere, Ralph Macchio whipped out some one legged crane shit and sent Mark Wahlberg’s feel good bartender makes the NFL heart tugger to the showers.
The Final 4
“Rocky” vs. “The Karate Kid.” “Rudy” vs. “The Bad News Bears.” In all the years of NCAA March Madness, there may never have been two more highly contested battles between underdogs. At least it would seem that way on paper. But in the ring, not so much.
In the first Final Four matchup, Stallone and Macchio came to the center of the ring for the fight instructions and when they bumped gloves, Stallone’s mere touch broke Macchio’s arms. He immediately collapsed on his bad knee and Elisabeth Shue came running to the center of the ring to console her “Karate Kid.” Not to be outdone, Talia Shire came running down the aisle yelling “Rocky! Rocky!” She jumped over the turnbuckle and beat Shue senseless with her beret. Winner – “Rocky.”
In the second matchup, number one seed “Rudy” took the field against number six seed “The Bad News Bears” and it turned out to be a blowout – just not in the manner Vegas odds makers were betting on. When Sean Astin finally made it onto the field, the Bears all rushed over and dog piled him. Engelberg and Ahmad held him down while Tanner spiked him repeatedly and Kelly Leak showered him with dirt from the back tire of his motorcycle, all the while flicking cigarette after cigarette in his general direction. When “Rudy” jumped up and complained, the umpire informed him he was offside anyway. Winner – “The Bad News Bears.”
After considering hundreds of films and having the top 32 fight to the death, we arrived at our final matchup – “Rocky” vs. “The Bad News Bears.” On one side, we had Sylvester Stallone’s quintessential underdog movie – a dockside enforcer with a vicious left hook and an indomitable spirit gets an improbable shot at the Heavyweight Championship of the World. While there were certainly plenty of underdog movies made before “Rocky,” this 1976 Oscar Best Picture Winner reignited the genre and had people coast to coast on their feet cheering in the theatres.
Coincidentally, our second finalist, “The Bad News Bears” was also released in 1976. The film chronicles the adventures of a little league baseball team full of misfits and outcasts that ends up with alcoholic pool cleaner Walter Matthau as their coach. When he brings in his daughter Amanda to pitch (Tatum O’Neal fresh off her Oscar win for “Paper Moon”) and recruits the local hood (Jackie Earl Haley) who smokes and drinks but can crush a fastball, all hell breaks loose. If there’s a politically incorrect thing that can be said, it’s probably quoted in “The Bad News Bears.” But to this day, the heart in the film is undeniable. We’ve all been on a team of misfits and there’s no greater feeling than succeeding in spite of it. The Bears won it all on the field, but alas, not here.
In our estimation, the Greatest Underdog Movie Of All Time is “Rocky,” hands down. When we started looking at all the movies in our bracket, we realized that at their hearts, they are all “Rocky.” Call it the writing, the performances, or the iconic score by Bill Conti, “Rocky” IS the spirit of the underdog. It’s a spectacular metaphor for getting up after being knocked down and an emotional reminder that sometimes, even when you lose, or draw, you win.