Hollywood’s Sordid Past in Casting Sports Movie Lead Roles

Did you ever notice that, in aggregate, sports movies cast some of the least believable stars possible in the lead roles? We all laugh at the thought of Keanu’s Shane Falco as a quarterback with NFL potential before his career got derailed by a houseboat fascination or Anthony Michael Hall as a star recruit star out of high school in Johnny Be Goode, but the list goes on ever longer with head-scratcher after head-scratcher.

Brendan Fraser as David Greene in “School Ties”

The old Jew at a prep school makes friends, stars on the football team, hides religion, gets caught, gets exiled, and overcomes adversity plot. It’s a formula as old as time itself. But you can only shake off so many Bedazzleds and George of the Jungles before a sports role is a bad idea. Plus, he he’s not even Jewish. He looks big enough and physical enough, but he’s done one too many “scared overachiever who lost his thesis paper” to believe in him as a gridiron hero.

Anthony Michael Hall as Johnny Walker in Johnny Be Good

Fresh off the role as neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie in The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall took a complete 180 degree reversal into the BMOC in Johnny Be Good. Anthony Michael Hall actually plays this role well and makes us all wish we were getting recruited to play college ball, but talk about not being typecast. He covered the polar opposite ends f the cool spectrum in the span of just two films. Plus, never before have movie audiences been awed by the hang time of punt. I always felt punt hang time was the real measure of a man.

Tom Cruise as Stefen Djordjevic in All the Right Moves

Tom Cruise in football pads? He looks like Harry the Hunter from Beetlejuice with that tiny head poking out of those things.  At 5’1” Cruise played a brash bad mofo, but we think he should probably stick to dancing to Seger in his undies?

On a side note, who named a football player Stefen Djordjevic? He must have come up through the NFL’s short-lived Nordic development league.

Robin Williams as Jack Dundee in Best of Times

We miss Robin Williams, so  like Michael Bolton, we celebrate his entire catalog.

Still, you’re telling me that thick-framed version of Robin was supposed to make the game winning play and become the local gridiron celebrity? You can’t even fit glasses like that under a football helmet.

It goes to show you though, take a couple of good actors and you can turn even the dumbest of plots into a pretty enjoyable movie? It’s the classic “underdog wins” plot with a twist. Dundee (Williams) lures his high school buddy and quarterback hero Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell) into playing a re-match of high school football game they lost 13 years ago. Dundee pulls out ever trick in the book to lure Reno into the concept. Finally they play, and Dundee, after getting banged around the entire game breaks free for a miracle bobble and catch 80 yard TD for the win. Good times.

James Van Der Beek as Mox in Varsity Blues

There is no way that during the Dawson years prime, we can suspend reality and envision Van Der Beek as a legitimate quarterback.

Mox gets the call to start for the varsity team, when the BMOC, goes down with an injury and he isn’t sure he can handle the pressure or all the Cool Whip that comes with it, but he pulled through for the team and this wound up becoming one of the better modern football movies. Amy Smart and Ali Larter? Hmmm.

Keanu Reeves as Shane Falco in the Replacements and/or Johnny Utah in Point Break

Hold still, you’ll just feel a little prick. This won’t hurt a bit. “Pain heals, Chicks dig scars. Glory… lasts forever.”

Somewhere a casting director loves the idea of Keanu Reeves as a washed up ex-college football star as it’s happened twice: in Point Break and the Replacements. Maybe it was that inspired role in Parenthood where he drives the funny-car into a wall. I can’t really say for sure, but somewhere somebody says to themself, “Keanu Reeves – burnt out quarterback extraordinaire. Yep. Solid.” Of this whole list, this is the one role that is actually entirely unbelievable.

Cuba Gooding Jr. as Rod Tidwell in Jerry McGuire

I suppose at the time, this was a decent choice, since we had no idea what Cuba had in store for us, but fast forward ten years and this is the guy who gave us Boat Trip and Snow Dogs.

Scott Bakula as Paul Blake in Necessary Roughness

I kinda hate to include Bakula, but he’s Bakula and Bakula is a one role man. This would be like Barry Sanders playing one final season with the Vikings. In all seriousness, he was great in this role and I was convinced lead a team of outcasts back to relevance at age 34. Necessary Roughness might be the funniest sports movie ever made, so while it would have been tempting to cast someone physically big and more well-known like a Bill Paxton, this turned out to be the perfect choice. Speaking of Paxton, bet you didn’t know he wore a size 14 shoe.

Craig Sheffer as Joe Kane in The Program

This dude kind of fell off the map after starring as the confused borderline alcoholic Joe Kane in The Program, and to be fair, he probably wasn’t the most awkward looking guy to don football pads and a helmet. Still , he’s irritating in that thinks he’s cool, but can’t remove that over-serious look off his face and most likely has a hot temper kind of way.


Honorable mentions: Omar Epps as Darnell Jefferson “The Program” and Corey Haim as Lucas in, well “Lucas”

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