The Seven Greatest Fictional Matches Ever (Never) Played
If there’s one takeaway from that masterful 30 for 30 spoof on the climactic game played in Space Jam it’s this: fictional sports games can be just as riveting and memorable as real ones. (Especially with the aide of super-slow motion, sanguine sound-tracking and questionable game clock timing.)
Which got us thinking about some of the most epic battles ever played on film—and how they’d stack up against one another, had they actually happened in real life.
Herewith, the greatest fictional sports games ever (never) played, in no particular order:
The New York Knights vs. The Pittsburgh Pirates (The Natural): In a heated pennant race rampant with bribery and injuries, the pennant comes down to one final at-bat, with Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) at the plate. After fouling into a full count, Hobbs miraculously dings a game-winning three-run homer in to the field lights, causing a spectacular finish to the game.
Happy Gilmore vs. Shooter McGavin, PGA Tour Championship (Happy Gilmore): Ex-hockey player turned pro golfer, Gilmore has everything on the line—including his grandmother’s home, the honor of his late golf coach Chubbs and approval from Lee Trevino—coming up to the final hole of the PGA Tour Championship. His last chance to win hinges on sinking an insanely improbable putt with the aide of a fallen television tower. He sinks it, knocking off arch-rival Shooter and securing all of the above.
Rockford Peaches vs. Racine Belles (A League of Their Own): The two dominant teams of the All-American Girls Baseball League meet in the World Series amidst WWII era strife, sibling rivalry and threats of there being no crying in baseball. In the pivotal final game with two outs in the ninth, Kit drives a ball deep and goes for the infield home-run for the win—which requires her to bulldoze her sister and former teammate, Dottie, waiting for her at home plate. As the dust settles, we see the dramatic outstretched hand of Dottie lose grip of the ball. The Racine Belles win. But the real winners: the entire nation, uplifted by the game of baseball during the grim years of WWII.
Hickory vs. South Bend (Hoosiers): Hickory, a small-town Indiana high school makes a Cinderella run at the state championship—and is pitted against a taller, bigger and stronger team from South Bend in the final game. The grueling game goes down to the wire and finishes with a buzzer beater from Jimmy Chitwood. It’s the stuff sports movies are made of (especially because it’s loosely based on a real team).
The Cleveland Indians vs The New York Yankees (Major League): The band of miscreant ballplayers from Cleveland take a run at the pennant and are faced with a one-game playoff against the Yankees. They win in typically unspectacular fashion, using a bit of trickery that results in a bunt driving in a run. That’s right, a walk-off bunt seals the game.
The Mighty Ducks vs. The Hawks (The Mighty Ducks): A rag-tag bunch of kids in Minneapolis lead by their coach fulfilling his community service sentence on a drunk driving charge beat the odds time after time, to make it into the District 5 Pee Wee Hockey Championship against perennial powerhouse The Hawks. The game goes to penalty shots and it’s up to Charlie Conway (Joshua Jackson) to win the game. He attempts the highly risky “triple deke” in a slow-motion scene that feels like ages. He shoots, he scores. Quack.
Rocky Balboa vs Ivan Drago (Rocky IV): Rocky Balboa is not one to shy away from an epic slugfest—which made choosing a fight a very tough decision—but the Cold War undertones, vengeance of a fallen brother, and perhaps the greatest training montage of all time played into why this was Rocky’s greatest battle. Ivan Drago was virtually unstoppable. The fight goes all 15 rounds, until finally Rocky lays out Drago and wins glory for America, Apollo and Christmas.
- Najib Benouar