On Friday, Sept. 24, 2011, the Brad Pitt movie “Moneyball” opened across the U.S. It had the misfortune of opening alongside the 3D re-release of “The Lion King,” which easily and unsurprisingly became the highest-grossing film of the weekend. “Moneyball” was right behind it, however, earning a respectable $21 million at the box office.
The movie is based on the 2003 novel of the same name. Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, whose job is to create the best possible team with a fraction of the money that other teams pay to recruit star players. Beane recruits players based on an analysis of their performance, as opposed to a general appraisal of their overall statistics. In the end, Beane builds a competitive team at a low cost.
“Moneyball” did well in part because it had what a lot of sports movies have—the inspiring tale of an underdog who beats the odds. It’s a simple formula, but when filmmakers get it right the result is often a story for the ages—one that remains popular long after the movie leaves the theaters.
CNBC.com collected the domestic gross box office of sports movies, using data from BoxOfficeMojo.com and adjusting the numbers for inflation. What are the highest grossing sports films of all time? Click ahead to find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 26 September 2011
Domestic Gross: $120 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $148 million
“Seabiscuit” is a 2003 film based on the book of the same name. The movie is about the racing career of the titular horse, whose small size makes people underestimate him and whose surprising success at the racetrack turns him into a star during the Great Depression.
The movie features Tobey Maguire, and it received mixed reviews upon its release. Audiences felt differently, however, and they lined up to see it. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, but didn’t take any of them home.
Domestic Gross: $116 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $152 million
“Remember the Titans” was advertised as a football movie and while it delivers plenty of on-the-field action, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. The 2000 film addresses social problems, such as racism and discrimination, alongside the bone-crunching gridiron carnage.
The film starred Denzel Washington, Hayden Panettiere, and a then-unknown Ryan Gosling. It was not well-received by critics, who described it as predictable and one-dimensional, while still praising Washington’s performance as the head coach of a high school football team. The unenthusiastic critical response didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of ticket buyers, who pushed the film over the $100 million mark during its theatrical run.
Domestic Gross: $148 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $167 million
“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” is a 2006 comedy starring Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver. The movie features John C. Reilly, a pre-Glee Jane Lynch, and a scene-stealing Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays the French Formula One driver Jean Girard.
The film was popular with critics such as Richard Roeper, who called it, “One of the stupidest and one of the funniest movies in Will Ferrell's career.” Audiences agreed, and “Talladega Nights” became one of the more successful movies of 2006, beating out “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” and even “Mission: Impossible III.”
Domestic Gross: $158 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $183 million
“The Longest Yard” is a 2005 remake of the 1974 film of the same name starring Burt Reynolds. Reynolds appeared in the new version in a supporting role, with his lead role taken this time by Adam Sandler, who plays an incarcerated professional football player who organizes a football game between the inmates and the guards.
The movie did poorly among critics, but fans of football and Adam Sandler didn’t seem to care—the film made $48 million dollars its opening weekend. It was the largest opening weekend haul of any Sandler movie to date. The movie also featured comedian Chris Rock, singer Nelly, and real professional athletes including Brian Bosworth and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Domestic Gross: $161 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $224 million
The year 1998 was a good one for Adam Sandler. First he released the retro comedy classic “The Wedding Singer,” his first movie to break $100 million at the worldwide box office. Later that year, he released “The Waterboy,” which more than doubled its predecessor’s domestic take and cemented his reputation as a comic leading man.
In “The Waterboy,” Sandler plays a not particularly bright water boy for a college football team who becomes its quarterback through a series of flukes. Critics hated it, and Sandler earned his first nomination for a Golden Raspberry Award for his performance. As with “The Longest Yard,” football fans and Adam Sandler fans ignored the reviews and the movie became one of the most successful of the actor’s career.
Domestic Gross: $85 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $266 million
“Rocky II” picks up where its predecessor left off, with Sylvester Stallone’s endearing Italian Stallion getting hospitalized after his boxing match against Apollo Creed. The lead character, Rocky Balboa, quits boxing, marries his girlfriend Adrian, and promptly blows every cent that he earned from his first match against Creed. Now destitute, Balboa accepts the challenge of a rematch.
The original “Rocky” was hugely successful and won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1976. While the sequel didn’t quite reach those same heights, it more than held its own, earning both positive reviews and more than $85 million at the box office—a gold mine in 1979. This was enough to earn “Rocky II” the distinction of highest grossing sequel of all time, before “The Empire Strikes Back” took the title the following year.
Domestic Gross: $128 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $269 million
The fourth installment in the “Rocky” franchise, “Rocky IV” was the most overtly commercial of any of the other films. In it, lead character Rocky Balboa goes up against Ivan Drago, a steroid-enhanced boxer from the Soviet Union who has killed someone in the ring.
At the time of its release, “Rocky IV” received reviews that were lukewarm at best, many of which characterized the film as cartoonish and inane. Nonetheless, it became the highest grossing installment of the franchise, and it remained the highest grossing sports film until 2009.
Domestic Gross: $256 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $270 million
“The Blind Side” is a 2009 film based on the Michael Lewis book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.” The movie documents the rise of Michael Oher, a football player who grows up in abject poverty and eventually becomes an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens.
The film stars Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, who along with her husband adopts Oher. Bullock was highly praised by critics for her performance and took home the Academy Award for Best Actress. Buoyed by the critical response and the crowd-pleasing nature of the movie, “The Blind Side” became one of the 10 highest grossing films of 2009.
Domestic Gross: $125 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $293 million
“Rocky III” was one of the highest-grossing installments in the Rocky franchise, but today, few people remember it for the plot. It remains memorable today for two reasons: Mr. T and the movie’s theme song, “Eye of the Tiger.”
Mr. T plays Clubber Lang, a cocky and vicious up-and-coming boxer. The movie made him an instant star, and he spent the rest of the 1980s appearing on television shows such as “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The A-Team,” and at one point was photographed with First Lady Nancy Reagan sitting on his lap.
“Eye of the Tiger” was a massive hit. According to Survivor guitarist and “Eye of the Tiger” songwriter Jim Peterik, the song topped the Billboard charts for seven consecutive weeks, and won a Grammy Award and a People’s Choice Award. The song has also been covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks, Paul Anka, and the Jonas Brothers.
Domestic Gross: $117 million
Adjusted for Inflation (2011): $467 million
The entire “Rocky” franchise has taken in $567 million (not adjusting for inflation) at the U.S. box office since the original film appeared in 1976. Some of the installments made more money than others, and some got better reviews. Few people dispute, however, that the original film is a poignant work of art. It remains the most critically praised installment in the franchise, and is the highest grossing, with a domestic take of $467 million, adjusted for inflation.
At the time of its release, film reviewer Roger Ebert gave the movie four out of four stars, claiming that lead actor Sylvester Stallone reminded him of a young Marlon Brando. “Rocky” remains a classic film that deserves its status as the highest grossing sports movie of all time.