1. "The Triple Lindy," Back To School (1986)
The Grand Lakes University diving team is down a man. They've just lost their best diver (and state champion douchebag) to a fake leg cramp and it looks like they're going to have to forfeit the big meet. So the coach (M. Emmet Walsh) surveys the crowd and pulls out his trump card: A plump middle-aged businessman and dedicated party animal, played by Rodney Dangerfield, who was once famous for an impossible dive called "The Triple Lindy," but has, um, let himself go over the years. (As owner of the "Tall And Fat" clothing chain, he has to look the part.) The dive calls for a platform and three springboards, involves a series of somewhat ill-formed back flips from one apparatus to another, and relies to some degree on reading the wind correctly. It's probably safe to say that Dangerfield didn't do his own stunts for this movie, but his googly-eyed expressions do much of the dramatic heavy-lifting.
2. The Limp-Wristed Javelin Throw, Revenge Of The Nerds (1984)
Facing a stacked deck at the homecoming carnival, the physically puny but mentally ripped pledges of Lambda Lambda Lambda devise an ingenious way to beat the more athletically inclined Alpha Betas at their own game: They cheat. Spearheaded by "master of aerodynamics" Wormser, the nerds design an ergonomically advanced javelin that counteracts the effeminate Lamar's "limp-wristed" throwing style. Though the sport of ancient Greek warriors typically rewards upper-body strength, Lamar's girly toss surpasses the beefy Alpha Betas' best efforts by several yards with a little help from science (and a dash of movie magic), resulting in yet another triumph of mind over matter.
3. The 100-yard field goal, Gus (1976)
There's nothing in the rulebook that say a mule can't play. In Disney's live-action comedy Gus—billed as "the league's leading laugh scorer" in the tagline—the California Atoms are a hapless excuse for a professional football team, perennial bottom-dwellers with no offensive firepower. (Perhaps ownership might have considered replacing Tim Conway and Don Knotts on the coaching staff. Just a thought.) By happenstance, they discover the team mascot, a mule named Gus, has one hell of a back-kick when provoked out of his natural mule-like sloth. Now, the Atoms don't need a decent offense: They can simply sit on the ball for three downs and then have Gus boot it from 100 yards away with dead-on accuracy. In other words, he's like Adam Vinatieri with a non-union, roughage-centered contract.
4. "The Crane," The Karate Kid (1984)
"The Crane" is an unbeatable move. How to defend against an opponent who's standing on one leg with his arms stretched out and curled downward, in the shape of a long-necked bird? You can try to run around it or dodge/block the only limb that could possibly be used while the other three are occupied. But that's not the way it works out in The Karate Kid, which culminates in a big tournament where Ralph Macchio, a scrawny young outcast from Jersey, takes on the chief bully of Cobra Kai dojo, which believes that mercy is for the weak and that certain situations call for sweeping the leg. After a cheap shot cripples Macchio one point before victory, he reaches into his back pocket for his master's peace-loving, ass-kicking technique and his opponent does him the favor of leaning right into it.
5. The 27-strikeout perfect game, The Scout (1994)
At the end of the highly fitful comedy The Scout, over-the-hill baseball scout Albert Brooks tells his number-one prospect—the preternatural, psychologically damaged phenom Brendan Fraser—that it's okay if doesn't feel up to pitching for the Yankees in the first game of the World Series. Touched by the gesture of friendship, Fraser pulls himself together and wins Game One single-handedly, by hitting two home runs and throwing 81 pitches—all strikes—in the most ridiculously fantastical movie baseball game ever played. Apparently no one ever told this kid that strikeouts are fascist.
6. Rocky defeats Ivan Drago, Rocky IV (1985)
The Rocky series have served as the template for many underdog sports movies that followed: The idea that a working-class palooka from Philly could triumph against the best boxers in the world are a shining example of how can-do spirit and gumption can triumph over superior training and skills. (It's the American way!) But the tale of the tape in Rocky IV was a little ridiculous, even for a series that had "The Italian Stallion" outdueling Mr. T: In the red, white, and blue corner, there's Rocky Balboa, played by a 39-year-old Sylvester Stallone, who couldn't reach 6-feet in platform heels; and in the hammer-and-sickle corner, there's Ivan Drago, played by an actor over a decade his junior, and towering over him at 6'5" of pure muscle. What's more, Drago has the most sophisticated, high-tech training regimen in the world while Balboa still relies mainly on raw slabs of beef and whatever inspiration he can cull from his gang of colorful losers. But hey, this is America: If a ragtag bunch of guys could best the Soviet hockey team in the 1980 games, then surely Stallone can go back to the well one more time.
7. The Pediatric Cancer-Curing Home Run, The Babe Ruth Story (1948)
When John Goodman starred as Babe Ruth in the 1992 stinker The Babe, he tried his damnedest to make the worst baseball biopic the world had ever seen. Unfortunately, he was up against one film that will hold on to that title long after all of Ruth's records have been forgotten: 1948's The Babe Ruth Story, in which a hopelessly out of his league William Bendix plays the Sultan Of Swat. Fans will dispute until the end of time whether or not Babe actually called his shot in the 1932 World Series, but according to The Babe Ruth Story, he could do a lot more than that. In one of the movie's most infamous (and oft-parodied) moments, Ruth visits a dying child in a hospital, and not only promises that he'll hit him a pair of home runs, but delivers on his promise. So mighty is the force of Babe Ruth's wallop that the little boy is immediately cured of whatever was ailing him and, presumably, grows up to be Mr. Rogers.
8. "The Pamchenko," The Cutting Edge (1992)
In The Cutting Edge, spoiled literal ice princess Moira Kelly and working-class former hockey star D.B. Sweeney need something to make their Olympic pairs ice-skating routine really sing—besides, of course, their undeniable feelings for each other. What they need is a killer move that will send them skating right to the gold medal. What they need is "The Pamchenko," a move so dangerous, so bold, so utterly awe-inspiring, that we only see reaction shots to it, and a sequence of blurry, slo-mo skating shots clunkily edited together. But even though we never get to actually see the entirety of the Pamchenko, it sounds like a pretty astounding feat. Here is what we know about The Pamchenko:
1. Their Russian coach has been working on it for 20 years, and has the old, yellowed notebook pages full of skating diagrams to prove it.
2. It's a bounce spin into a throw twist, and Sweeney is supposed to catch her.
3. It might be illegal.
Take all of those facts, combine them with a grueling training montage that nearly cracks open Kelly's (or her stunt double's) head, and the Pamchenko is basically as dangerous as pairs ice skating gets.[pagebreak]
9. "The Iron Lotus," Blades Of Glory (2007)
In pairs skating, the only evidence of the mythic "Iron Lotus" comes from a bootleg cassette out of North Korea, perhaps the only nation rogue enough to sanction such a deadly maneuver. With Kim Jong-il looking on, a couple tries to pull off the harrowing swings and twists that go into the move, and, in the words of American coach Craig T. Nelson, "they almost had it" before the routine ended with the male skater accidentally beheading his female partner with his flying blade. Nelson believes that with a pairs skating team of two men (super-macho sex machine Will Ferrell and feathery-haired finesse guy Jon Heder), they might have the combined strength to pull it off. He's right, of course, and they manage to pull off the Lotus by a neck whisker. Good thing, too, because the rest of the routine doesn't match the peerless form of the previous pair, who brought the passion and drama of the JFK-Marilyn Monroe affair to life.
10. The game-winning putt, Happy Gilmore (1996)
In Happy Gilmore's climactic golfing scene, Adam Sandler must sink a lengthy putt in order to beat the evil Shooter McGavin and save his grandmother's house. (Don't ask.) The shot is complicated further when, just as he's about to putt—using his modified hockey stick—a giant metal viewing tower, which had been precariously perched on an old VW Beetle (don't ask), falls right in his way. His arch nemesis insists that Sandler "play it as it lies," and the tournament director agrees. Instead of two-putting around it and sending the match into "sudden death," Sandler takes all the knowledge that he learned while mini-golfing and sends the ball through an incredible Rube Goldberg device—off the Beetle, down a conspicuously placed Subway restaurant sign, down several lengths of broken grandstand, and eventually out a piece of pipe, right into the hole. It's not totally outlandish, though—Sandler credits the ghost of his mentor Chubbs (played by Carl Weathers) for helping him sink it.
11. A 12-year-old with a Nolan Ryan fastball, Rookie Of The Year (1993)
Thomas Ian Nicholas is the worst little-leaguer around, one of those kids that coaches sub into games for the obligatory inning or two and stick in left field, hoping that nothing gets out of the infield. So it's an act of mercy when Nicholas slips on a ball and ruptures his shoulder, even though the doctor has situated his cast so it looks like he's always raising his hand. Shortly after he recovers, his dad takes him to a Chicago Cubs game, where he catches a home run in the bleachers and (as is customary in Wrigley when the visitor hits a dinger) throws it back onto the field all the way to the catcher's mitt. It seems the tendons in his right arm has reset in such a way that he can throw the ball at bionic, 100 m.p.h. velocity. The Cubs sign him, he becomes an instant sensation, and he gets the starting job in the standard "big game," where he finally gets his girly arm back at the most inopportune moment. Formulaic wackiness ensues.
12. The Flubber Dunk, The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)
In this Disney kid-flick, Fred MacMurray—a long, long way from trading salacious quips with Barbara Stanwyck—plays a chemistry professor at Medfield College who invents a super-energetic, physics-defying goop called "flubber," or "flying rubber." Unfortunately, his first attempt to market it, by bouncing a superball made of the stuff, is sunk by his profoundly boring presentation, so he has to do something a little bit showier. At Medfield's big game, he coats the soles of the basketball team's sneakers with flubber, and the next thing you know, they're sailing over the heads of their opponents on the way to lucrative NBA endorsement deals. The Absent-Minded Professor was remade twice—once with Harry Anderson and once with Robin Williams in the title role—proving that there's nothing producers ad moviegoers alike want to see more than a white guy who can jump.
13. Angels in the Outfield, Angels in the Outfield (1994)
In 1955, a musical called Damn Yankees appeared on Broadway in which a frustrated Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for his team unseating New York and winning the pennant. (Presumably, the dismal history of baseball in Washington since then has been Satan collecting his due.) In 1994, Disney produced a movie called Angels in the Outfield—itself a remake of a 1951 film—in which God personally intervenes in the pennant race of the Angels in order to bring happiness to the life of a scrappy lad played by a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In order to help the kid realize his broken dreams, God sends down a bunch of angelic figures who help the crappy southern California team get to the post-season. While it's nice that God occasionally helps out like that, He could have just waited a while for Vladimir Guerrero to show up; and the continued existence of Bud Selig proves that, even today, Satan is a far more powerful influence in baseball.
14. Home run off the lights, The Natural (1984)
The ending of The Natural—a perennial baseball-movie favorite, adapted from Bernard Malamud's novel—adheres to the logic that if you're going to sell out the source material, you might as well go all the way. Malamud's book about a hot pitching prospect (here played by Robert Redford) who gets shot down in his prime and stages a comeback as an aging slugger evokes such baseball legends as "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Ted Williams, Branch Rickey, and Babe Ruth. Only in the Malamud version, the hero strikes out in the end. In the movie, directed by Barry Levinson, he instead hits perhaps the most dramatic homer in film history, a towering shot that smashes through the lights (estimated distance: 600 feet) and causes a chain reaction that showers the field in sparks. With Randy Newman's unforgettable score hitting crescendo, it's a moment that's as thrilling as it is fraudulent.
15. Outrunning a cheetah (among other things), The World's Greatest Athlete (1973)
The cheetah is the fastest land animal, capable of reaching speeds upwards of 70 m.p.h. To put that in perspective Summer Olympics sensation Usain Bolt, the fastest man ever to run the 100m dash, did so at around 23 m.p.h., not factoring in the chest-thumping braggadocio that might have slowed his closing speed slightly. But neither cheetahs nor Bolt have anything on Jan-Michael Vincent's Nanu in the Disney live-action comedy The World's Greatest Athlete, which turns on the discovery of a Tarzan-like super-athlete in the African brush. All sorts of inane, vaguely offensive hijinks ensue, as Nanu gets recruited by a tiny college and shatters records in every track-and-field event he enters, thanks in miniscule part of Vincent's athletic prowess and in much larger part by the Benny Hill effects.
16. "The Flying V," The Mighty Ducks (1992) and D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
The problem with hockey: Fun in person, boring on television. Perhaps that's why Disney relied so heavily on ridiculous gimmicks to keep kiddies glued to the Mighty Ducks series, so much to the point that it becomes known in the film as "Duck trickery." The most memorable example is, of course, "The Flying V" (no, it's not related to the guitar), where all five players skate up the ice in migrating-bird formation, passing the puck back and forth between them and confusing the hell out of the defense (presumably because of the speed of passing, not the preposterousness of the strategy) until one shoots and scores. By the sequel, D2, the Ducks were only able to milk this gag for two goals overall, until Disney realized it has ran its course and opposing teams learned how to defend it. That's okay, there was plenty more where that came from, including the triple deke, the shotgun slapshot, and, most ludicrous, the "knuckle puck."