With no NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey to watch this spring – we'd be part way through the final four conference finals in any other year – I recently took to re-watching my three favorite hockey movies.
These hockey flicks have maintained their 1-2-3 order on my personal list for the past 15 years or so – since Miracle came out in 2004. I may offend a lot of diehard hockey fans here, but after viewing them again with 2020 glasses on – see what I did there? – I'm ready to change the rankings.
Here was my order going into the assignment:
3. Slap Shot. The 1977 movie starring Paul Newman didn't do that well at the box office at the time, but with each passing decade and each new generation of fan has become a cult classic among followers of the game. I have to say though, it's not holding up well in my eyes. Sorry, not sorry.
Give it full marks for personality. It has the lovable Hanson brothers and the crazy antics of coach Reggie Dunlop. So many characters from this movie have morphed into cult figures over time. Dickie Dunn, Joe McGrath, Tim McCracken – you know who they are in an instant. The storyline about a minor league team on the verge of bankruptcy getting new life and new followers thanks to on-ice thuggery is believable in a 1970s kind of way. There are countless scenes, lines and accents that have been quoted over and over again by hockey fans for more than 40 years. Sadly though, the cringe factor has crept in in certain spots.
It was always a check-your-brain sort of movie where you could just kick back and laugh and be entertained because you knew it was pure Hollywood fantasy. Satire is like that. Especially when it's over-the-top hyperbolic like Slap Shot was from the day it was made. Well, now you have to check your sensitivities along with your brain. There's a reason parents never wanted young kids to watch this movie. Now I wouldn't want to watch it with anyone who has never seen it.
Much of the language used was tolerable in the 1970s. Today? No. So many movies from decades of the recent past fall into this trap. Does that make them horrible? Not at all. They're just not something I would want to call a top-three classic and be able defend it.
2. Miracle. Kurt Russell's portrayal of U.S. coach Herb Brooks in the depiction of the 1980 Miracle On Ice Olympics was brilliant. Former players of Brooks say Russell nailed the characterization perfectly. He should have been nominated for an Oscar. It helped that the David versus Goliath storyline was true and the underdogs prevailed, but the scene sequencing was tremendous as well. Everything from the early rivalries between players from different college programs in training camp to the bag-skate in Norway that finally brought the team together.
Sure, Miracle had its fair share of cliches, from inspirational speech to the name on the front of the sweater being more important than the name on the back to the predictable ending – as if viewers didn't already know. But the movie simply told an unforgettable story extremely well.
Miracle holds up as well today as it did in 2004.
1. Net Worth. Check online blogs for a dozen lists of top-five hockey movies and I'd be surprised if you saw Net Worth on more than one or two of them. The 1995 film takes viewers back to the mid-1950s and the early days about the creation of the NHL Players Association. While that storyline may seem dry at first glance, the mostly true story as it unfolds is eye-opening. And you might even be surprised by the ending.
Aidan Devine is spectacular as Detroit's Ted Lindsay and Al Waxman is perfect as coach Jack Adams. The movie is based on the brilliant book by the same name, written by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths and is an absolute must-see for hockey fans. NHL players, of course, understand the importance of Lindsay as a legendary player. But what he did for them and their vocation as a trailblazing leader is captured all here.
One of the best lines in the movie is when lawyer Milton Mound asks the players “the owners have dropped the gloves on you, why aren't you swinging?”
How does Net Worth stand up today? Better than ever. I must admit, I watch this every couple of years, usually to get stoked for a coming hockey season. The costume design and the entire production sequencing almost have you believing it was shot in the 1950s.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post captured it the best when he said Net Worth is to Slap Shot as Eight Men Out is to Major League. I highly recommend you give it a PTO.
So based on this COVID-19 induced assignment, my new rankings stand at:
1. Net Worth
3. Red Army. Previously, this Gabe Polsky 2014 movie was fourth on my personal list. It's a glimpse at life as Soviet hockey players inside the Iron Curtain.
While falling out of the top three, Slap Shot is still a hockey movie classic because of its rich iconic nature. It essentially maintains its high status based on career achievement. As Dickie Dunn would write, it's a hockey movie jewel that captures the spirit of the thing.
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