If we were playing Family Feud and the question was “Name a Kevin Costner movie,” your best bet would be to hit that plunger and yell out one of his sports films. While a certain “Sly” actor has created an athletic hero who has his own statue, when you think of sports on film, Costner is near the top of the list. Over his 36-year (so far) career, Costner has appeared in at least 10 movies about or related to sports. Some of them are enduring classics while others are all but forgotten. Here, today, we’ll be taking a look at all 10 of them, and one that I’ll make an argument for.
Chasing Dreams (1982)
Chasing Dreams was Costner’s first foray into sports, and he started with the sport he would visit the most often: baseball.
If, like me, you were a little kid when Field of Dreams came out in 1989, then you may have spotted this movie at your local video store and rented it without thinking. The box art clearly shows Costner’s giant head with a baseball diamond behind him, and we Americans were looking for all the Costner baseball we could get at the time. If, also like me, you saw the movie once way back in 1989, you probably have little to no memory of it. I remember spending a lot of time wondering when Costner was going to show up, and then wondering when he would come back. IMDb has the cast listed in credits order, and Costner is 20 spots down, under such important characters like “Cougar Player” numbers 1-8.
What I’m saying is you can skip this one.
American Flyers (1985)
American Flyers was part of Costner’s rise from characters with no names to leading roles, as well as his first experiment with poorly planned facial hair. In 1985 alone, Costner starred in Fandango, Silverado, and American Flyers, though Silverado is the only one that made money.
Still, American Flyers is a pretty good flick. The movie centers on two brothers living in fear of dying of a genetic condition that took their father. The older brother, sports physician Marcus (played by Costner), convinces his brother, David (David Grant), to join him in “The Hell of the West,” a three-day bicycle race across the Rocky Mountains.
The movie, like so many sports movies, is about overcoming impossible odds and facing your fears. Costner and Grant are joined by a hell of a cast that includes Rae Dawn Chong, Robert Townsend, John Amos, and Jennifer Grey.
Bull Durham (1988)
The Untouchables turned Costner into a household name, but Bull Durham turned him into a sex symbol. Oddly, it also turned the 33-year-old into a symbol of mature sexiness. In the movie, Costner plays a never-was baseball veteran who is sent to help the young and eager Tim Robbins — who in reality is three years younger than Costner — learn to control his pitches. The two men are at odds about everything except for their love of Annie (Susan Sarandon). With his third sports film, Costner found his first sports classic. He followed it up with his second.
Field of Dreams (1989)
Field of Dreams isn’t just a sports movie. It’s a movie about the need sons have to connect with their fathers. It’s about man’s deep desire to leave his mark on the world. It’s about realizing that your idols are human. It’s about a guy who maybe took too much acid while at Berkeley and now appears to be suffering from serious flashbacks.
Field of Dreams may not be the most quoted movie in history, but it’s sure as hell up there. To this day you’ll find people making “If you build it…” jokes, and there’s good reason for it; Field of Dreams is an amazing movie. If you know some dude who claims he never cries, make him watch Field of Dreams and enjoy seeing him turn into a sobbing mess, unless you’re crying too much to see anything.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
This one blows your mind, huh? You’re thinking, possibly out loud (which will look weird to the other people on the bus, Brent. Please try to control yourself), “What the hell is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves doing here!” Think on it…
Archery. Archery is hard as hell. It’s also an Olympic sport, one that Robin of Locksley could have won easy. A big part of the Robin Hood legend is his taking part in an archery contest, and while they decided not to include that bit of myth in this flick, it’s still an integral part of the character. Add in how good a sport Costner was when we all made fun of his terrible English accent and I think it is fair to claim Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as a sports film!
Tin Cup (1996)
If you wanna be a jerk about it and not count Robin Hood, Costner went seven years without making a sports film. Some feared that he was leaving the genre behind, choosing instead to chase Oscar gold with movies like JFK, Wyatt Earp, and A Perfect World. Maybe the lack of acclaim convinced Costner to return to safe ground, or maybe it was the reported nightmare of making Waterworld that did it. Either way, we Costner sports fans were more than happy to see Kevin take the lead in Tin Cup.
Re-teaming with Bull Durham writer/director Ron Shelton, Costner once again plays a washed-up never-was, this time in the field of golf. For the first time since Bull Durham, Costner gets to really show off his comedic skills, and as Roy McAvoy, he does so beautifully.
Tin Cup is number two on my Costner sports movie list. The flick is a ton of fun and the cast, including Rene Russo, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, and Linda Hart, is top notch. While Field of Dreams may be the movie that most of the world likes to quote, you’ll find me muttering “I’ll be playing a pink lady today” on a near-daily basis.
Play It to the Bone (1999)
Another controversial choice! Yes, Play It to the Bone stars Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas in Ron Shelton’s film about two old boxing never-weres who get their shot at the big time (man, Shelton loves stories about people who never made it, huh?) — but Kevin Costner is in it! During the Vegas fight, we see quite a few celebrities in the audience, including Tony Curtis, Jennifer Tilly, and the Kev man himself. If Costner weren’t in the credits, I would have left this movie out, but his name is indeed there, and so this is a sports movie that Kevin Costner is in!
For Love of the Game (1999)
Costner finished up his baseball trilogy (which is actually four movies since Chasing Dreams exists even if we don’t want to admit it) with the Sam Raimi-directed For Love of the Game. The movie, about an aging pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who finds himself pitching a no-hitter while trying to make sense of his life, isn’t well liked. Most people, from what I’ve seen, kind of hate it.
Personally, I really dig it. Yes, the romance stuff is well-tread territory that doesn’t take any chances, and you can almost hear Raimi snoring during those bits, but the scenes in the stadium, with Costner at the mound facing off an endless array of batters, is the type of thing that makes for a great sports film. Raimi sets up a wonderful recurring bit where Costner is able to shut out the world around him with a simple mantra: “Clear the mechanism.” Everything around Costner and the batter blurs, the sound of the crowd becomes muted. It is just the two of them, pitcher and batter, caught in an endless battle for the ball. As the game goes on, a tiring Costner finds it harder and harder to work his mantra, creating, I think, a great deal of tension.
The Upside of Anger (2005)
This one almost snuck by me, but I was lucky enough to have a buddy who loves it. The Upside of Anger has Costner playing an ex-ballplayer who hosts a sports radio show and drinks a whole bunch. Costner isn’t the main character here; that honor goes to the always great Joan Allen. The story centers on Allen as she tries to hold her family together after her husband suddenly leaves them all.
This is the kind of movie we don’t see much of anymore, a mid-budget story made for adults about adults dealing with adult lives. It isn’t something I think people would put on for a rainy Sunday, but it is more than worth a watch.
Draft Day (2014)
Costner took nearly a decade off from playing characters connected to sports. Maybe he was feeling too old for the roles, or maybe he felt like not doing sports stuff for a while. Either way, he found himself pulled back to sports, though this time he went for football.
Draft Day is, in my opinion, drastically underrated. The movie centers on Costner as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns on, as the title should make clear to you, the day of the NFL draft. Costner’s character finds himself caught in a vortex of conflicting emotions, including the recent death of his father and the news that his girlfriend is going to cosplay as Preggers Padme, all while trying to find the right draft pick to turn the Browns franchise around. Like Moneyball, Draft Day takes a look at a piece of a sport that most of us will never put much thought into and shows how interesting it can be.
McFarland, USA (2015)
Sooner or later, every “blue collar” actor has to do a Disney movie based on a true sports story. Kurt Russell did Miracle, Dennis Quaid did The Rookie, and Costner finally did his duty with McFarland, USA. The movie, based on the 1987 cross-country team from a mainly Latino high school in McFarland, Calif., stars Costner as the coach. For Costner, this was the first film in a decade to be both a commercial and a critical success, which must have been nice for him.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Welcome to the future! Slated to be released this year (but with no firm date yet) is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game. The film stars Jessica Chastain in the true story of Molly Bloom, a one-time Olympic hopeful who turned her attention from skiing to international poker. Costner plays Chastain’s father who, I’m guessing, isn’t happy about her poker stuff, what with the FBI investigating her and all.
Will Molly’s Game be good? I don’t know, but with a cast that includes Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Chris O’Dowd, and the always underrated Graham Green speaking Sorkin’s words, it sure as hell will be well acted.
Will Kevin Costner make more sports-related movies? I can’t imagine he won’t. He’s aged out of playing pitchers or runners, but the worlds of coaches and sportscasters and general managers is his to own. As much as the idea fills me with dread, we can’t be that far away from a Field of Dreams remake, and Costner is now older than James Earl Jones was when they made the movie. How crazy is that?
Derek Faraci lives in Farmington Hills, Mich., and always plays a pink lady.
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