Everyone is familiar with the agony and the ecstasy of the sports film. With so many different movies out there, it makes sense that certain themes would start repeating. Here are 12 clichés one can find in almost any sports movie:
The Up-Rise of the Underdog
In this classic cliché, with the game on the line and time for only one more play, the coach will frantically search the bench, looking for the sickliest bucket of scrawny he can find. He will then throw him into the game with some lame bit of encouragement like “This is your time,” or “We’re counting on you now.” The benchwarmer king will then of course go on to run 97 yards for a touchdown. Who saw that coming?
Occasionally, the main character will have some mysterious mentor figure, usually a creepy old man who looks like he’s never played sports in his life (but he has a beard, so he’s obviously an expert). The Mentor’s specialties are: offering deep metaphorical statements that really have nothing to do with sports, and disappearing right before the big game, only to reappear high in the stands for some creepy Phantom of the Opera stare-down.
The Cheap Shot
Just to reassure you that the opposing team consists entirely of “bad guys”, one of the players will inevitably throw a cheap shot that Ndamukong Suh would think twice about using, all under the direction of Mr. Evil Coach. The sport is irrelevant; basketball, football, quilting. Rest assured: the cheap shot is coming.
Announcer: Well Bob, it looks like number 23 drove a semi onto the field, ran over the opposing quarterback, and then backed over him again. If he keeps this up, he may find himself ejected from the game.
The Fickle Fans
These folks wave the “Fairweather” banner proudly. At the beginning of the movie, when the home team totally stinks, these endearing townspeople can be seen burning effigies of the team mascot in the streets, waving pitchforks and screaming “Give us the coach!” These people will of course be the same ones at the playoffs at the end of the movie waving the signs that say “We always believed in you!”
The Absentee Father
In a last ditch effort to appeal to the audiences’ “tender side”, there will often be a side plot with a player and his loser dad. Right before the final game, the kid will say something like “Gee, I wish my dad had made it,” which the coach will pacify with a wordless shoulder grip. Halfway through the game, guess who shows up? Afterwards, he will approach his son and say, “Son, when I heard you joined the jump rope team I thought it was stupid, boring and girly. Which it is. But the movie is ending, so here’s a halfhearted side hug to make up for the years of neglect.”
The Back-to-Basics Coach
This character is so dynamic that an entire list of clichés could be written solely about him. Basically, his job is to totally demoralize the entire team which will of course cause them to start winning. His methods include:
TORTUROUS WORKOUT REGIME: “Ok boys, for the next three months we’ll be running marathons in the Gobi Desert. During that time there will be no eating, sleeping, or drinking.”
INSULTS: “Faster, you mucus lined bucket of camel spit!” “You brainless wart of a bucktoothed donkey!” “I said move, you hideous glob of untalented lizard carcass!” (Don’t worry, by the end of the movie these are endearing for some reason.)
STRANGE TEAM BUILDING EXERCIZES: “Ok, in this exercise your blindfolded partner will guide you through the maze of bear traps using his sense of smell only.”
The Assistant Coach
This character’s complex role consists mainly of folding his arms, holding a clipboard, and slapping players on the backside when they head to the bench. Sometimes, when the writers decide to fully explore the depths of this character, we will get an occasional, “You heard the man.”
The Animal Sports Movie
Quick suggestion here: if you need an ape to play quarterback, maybe you should call it a day.
The Tragic Backstory
Inevitably, the tough-as-nails-coach will reveal a traumatic childhood experience that for some reason drives everything he does. “Yeah, that was the summer mom left, the house burned down, the bank took everything we had, and my dog died. That’s why I became a football coach.”
The Coach Hedges
This is the scene right before the big game where the coach shows his first signs of doubt and hedges his bets. “Ok guys, we’ve got this, this is our night, our game. We’re going to win for sure, no doubt, 100% in the bank. But just in case we don’t, you’re all winners in my book.” Lovely sentiments, but one can’t help but wonder that in the event of crippling defeat how much a little Post It note that says “Remember: Coach thinks you’re a winner” is going to help anyone.
The Girlfriend Ultimatum
In a half-baked attempt at a romantic dilemma, one of the players will inevitably have a girlfriend who insists he choose “Her or the team.” Nice idea, except for the fact that none of us give a stale Fig Newton for a junior high love quarrel. Besides, we all know that once little Bobby has a championship trophy, the girlfriend will all of a sudden realize “how wrong she was.”
What do you think are the most common sports movie clichés? What do you think are the best/worst sports movies of all time?
Jonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, and founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His latest novel “Like Melvin” is currently available on Amazon and Google Books. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, hiking, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter.
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