McFarland USA and the Rest of the Underdogs

McFarlund USA and the Other Underdogs

Growing up I was kind of known for sticking up for the underdog. Or as M would say, I always had a “project” going – someone I was trying to pull out of their shell. I thought it was a middle-child thing – you know, wanting to fix everybody and have them get along? I thought that was something different about me. Recently, when I saw McFarland USA the same day I saw back footage on the American hockey team that took the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, I realized there’s nothing different about rooting for the underdog – it’s what we all do! It’s why Kevin Costner’s McFarland USA (a movie about hispanic teens in an economically depressed town who rise above challenges to form the first  cross-country running team at their school) leaves us with a smile on our faces. It’s why people who didn’t even like hockey went nuts as the American team came out of nowhere to win a gold medal – an event that was memorialized in the 2004 movie Miracle.

There’s a reason this genre is referred to as “feel-good” flicks. It lifts our spirits to see an underdog succeed. It makes us believe if they can do (whatever they did) we can do whatever we aspire to. It makes us want to be better people.

If you want a little pick-me-up this weekend, check out one these c’mon-you-can-do-it movies. Here’s 5 of my favorites.

At number 5: ROCKY. Even if you abhor boxing (as I do), you can’t resist rooting for Rocky Balboa as he builds up his stamina for the big fight. And you’ll be humming the iconic song long after the movie is Underdog Moviesover. Yo, Adrian!


At number 4: KARATE KID  Having moved to a new town with single mom for his senior year, Daniel LaRusso develops a friendship with a girl that results in his getting bullied and beat up by her arrogant ex and his buddies – guys who practice a vicious, unethical form of martial arts. The apartment manager, an eccentric humble Karate Kidman, takes Daniel under his wise wing and helps him develop skills to fight back – at a personal cost to himself. Everybody needs a Mr. Miyagi in their life.



At number 3: MY COUSIN VINNY  When Bill and friend Stan,  in the wrong place at the wrong time in a backwater southern town, get arrested for murder, Bill calls the only attorney he knows. Which happens to be his cousin, a New York lawyer (played by Joe Pesci) who has only practiced personal injury and never won case. But hey, family is family – so cuz comes down to help out and take on the cocky DA and an annoyed judge who has a bias about big-city folk. As a lawyer who has seen way too much Underdogsbullying in the courtroom, to me this was a hilarious version of Rocky. Fun, fun, fun. I would be remiss to not mention the under-appreciated, smart-as-a-whip girlfriend played by Marissa Tomei – worth the watch just to see what a hoot she is!


At number 2: HOOSIER An outsider to the farming community where he’s the new basketball coach in 1954, Norman Dale has to deal with local narrow minds as well Underdog moviesas a bunch of (for the most part) unathletic players. Trying to describe this story might make it sound dry – and it was anything but. The personalities and the build-up of this movie climax in what has been touted as one of the all-time great movie sports moments. I’m a sucker for movies like this that are based on, or inspired by, real life events. I’m also a sucker for movies with Gene Hackman in them!



At number 1: TO SIR WITH LOVE The ever proper Thackery (played by the always-incredible Sidney Poitier), looses out at an engineering job and ends up taking a job teaching a high school class full of street savvy, problem riddled, disrespectful toughs – a group nobody wanted to take on (including Thackery) and that had scared off a teach or two before him. What he left these students with was worth more than a 1000 gold medals – and what they left him with changed his life. A MUST SEE! Below is the iconic song from the 1967 movie, sung by Lulu, which sums up with poignancy the heart of this move.



    1. You have lots of Rudy support, Jill! I remember seeing it and liking it, but I didn’t remember it well enough to talk about. Good time to watch it again!

  1. Interesting list of good old watches! Loved loved LOVED My Cousin Vinny for so many reasons. One of my fave feel-good movies is the more recent The Blind Side. I’m sure if I think about it, I’ll come up with more. 🙂

  2. Great Scott! Blasts from the past and a number of movies to watch – some I’ve never heard of before! Your list made me think of the Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman movie called The Replacements, about a team of has beens, never weres and losers that do thear thang and come out on top – there’s a great scene where they are all in jail and do the cha-cha line dance to ‘I Will Survive’ ……… Loved it!

      1. I saw it in the 60’s 🙂 Haven’t seen it since, so will see if I can find a copy! I also read the book it was based on and that had such a big impact on me and was in part responsible for me becoming a teacher.

  3. You’ve listed all my favorite “feel-good, feel hopeful” movies…including McFarland USA, which I saw twice recently because it was SO good.

    1. That’s a lovely way to put it, Tess! Apparently, I’m overdue for another viewing of Rudy! And now I want to see the one that Pauline mentioned – The Replacements.

  4. I put underdog movies right up there with cathartic tear-jerkers, and you’ve listed some great ones. I loved My Cousin Vinny for both its underdog status and its clever (but colorfu!) dialogue. It’s one of those movies that gets quoted often at my house. And FYI, “To Sir with Love” was selected as the class song for my graduating class, which I’ve always thought was a hoot. While other classes chose highfalutin pieces like “Climb Every Mountain” or “The Impossible Dream,” our “cutting edge” class went with LuLu. Thanks for the video. A nice trip down memory lane!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *