Baseball is to Britain as chalk is to cheese. The same is true for much of the rest of the world beyond the U.S., Canada, and Central America. Which is why, despite starring Brad Pitt, Moneyball – which opens this Friday (September 23) – is unlikely to rank with the latest Harry Potter and Transformers movies when it comes to international box office success.
Based on a true story, and a bestselling book by Michael Lewis, the film tells how the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (played by Pitt) transformed professional baseball by putting the emphasis, when assembling his team, on objective statistical analysis rather than subjective talent appraisals. Though it’s a smart, engaging movie with a terrific performance by Pitt, Moneyball is unlikely to appeal to overseas audiences who’ve never cheered for (or against) the Yankees or hit a homer or fielded a grounder.
Still, baseball is the great American pastime and Hollywood has made any number of films about the sport (think Field of Dreams and Bull Durham). There have also been plenty of movies about those other favorite U.S. sports, football (North Dallas Forty, Friday Night Lights and The Longest Yard) and basketball (Hoosiers and He Got Game).
What Hollywood hasn’t done is make movies about sports that interest Brits: cricket and football (or, as we call it on this side of the pond, soccer). The closest Tinseltown has come of late to celebrating soccer is allowing Will Ferrell to run around in short shorts in the dopey 2005 comedy, Kicking & Screaming.
Movies about soccer do, however, get made in the U.K. and a few even become modest international hits. Consider Bend It Like Beckham (2002), the popular comedy about a British teenager of Indian descent (ER’s Parminder Nagra) who upsets her traditional parents by playing soccer. The low budget movie turned into a breakout hit and ended up grossing $32.5 million in the U.S. and $44 million overseas. (It also helped to launch Keira Knightley’s career).
Other noteworthy recent U.K. soccer films are The Damned United (2009) and When Saturday Comes (1996), though neither scored a major goal at the U.S. box office.
Then there’s Fever Pitch (1997), the British version – it barely opened in U.S. theaters – of Nick Hornby’s bestselling autobiographical novel about an Arsenal-loving soccer fanatic, wonderfully played by Colin Firth. When the film was remade by Hollywood in 2005, it had the same title but now starred Jimmy Fallon as – wait for it – a fervid fan of the Boston Red Sox.
Cricket movies? Forget about it. In 2003, there was a charming little British film called Wondrous Oblivion, about a young Jewish boy in the 1960s who was coached in the fundamentals of bats and wickets by his new Jamaican neighbors. It played in only limited U.S. theaters. And there have been numerous Bollywood films about cricket, though the only one to break out internationally was Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001). It was an almost four-hour epic about a cricket match, one pitting Indian peasants against the ruling British, during the Victorian era. It was also a musical. In between, and sometimes during the seemingly endless cricket match, characters would sing and dance.
What’s your favorite British sports movie?