The 8 Most Absurd Sports Scenes Ever, From ‘Teen Wolf’ to ‘Top Gun’

I have played tennis approximately three times in my life and embarrassed myself each time. As such, it takes a lot to get me to watch tennis—even on film. Fortunately, Challengers, Luca Guadagnino’s steamy tennis drama, has granted us a vehicle to pretend we’re innocently watching sports, when we’re all really here to see Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor make out while Zendaya watches.

While Challengers is hot, it also features a lot of tennis (of the non-tonsil variety)—which is surprising coming from a director who professes to dislike the game. It got me thinking: If I can’t get paid to write a list of the questions raised by this being the second film about a love triangle to come out of the marriage between Celine Song and Justin Kuritzkes, perhaps there’s something to be said about how surprisingly excellent Challengers’ sports sequences are and what other similar sporting moments can be found in TV and film? What moments were so shocking or so good that they made me consider buying a pair of shorts and slithering outside? I don’t mean the best sporting moments or even the most iconic—but the moments in TV and film that are most memorable for their quality and, importantly, absurdity.

Top Gun’s homoerotic beach volleyball

“Keep it gay,” sings Roger De Bris (the late, great Gary Beach) in The Producers musical remake. Though it opened on Broadway in 2001, 15 years after the release of Top Gun, it’s clearly a lesson Top Gun director Tony Scott understood. Undertones become overtures as Tom Cruise and his pilot pals rip off their shirts halfway through the film and get homoerotic with a volleyball. After an hour of hyper-masculinity with military nonsense, planes, and motorbikes, the crew gets sweaty and sandy, as they indulge in a surprisingly high-quality game of beach volleyball—all while Kenny Loggin’s “Playing with the Boys” plays in the background. It’s a sudden pivot, but perhaps the biggest surprise is that Tom Top Gun (I don’t know the character’s name, and it’s too late to learn it) ends up with Kelly McGillis in the end, and not Val Kilmer.

One final bout in Cinderella Man

While not his most famous film, Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man is a criminally underappreciated gem that brings out the best of the director. Perfect to stumble across as you recover from a Sunday afternoon white wine pass-out, the story of Great Depression era boxer James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe) and his rise from poverty and obscurity to challenge for the heavyweight championship of the world is rousing and relatable. It’s the final bout, Braddock’s legendary 1935 fight with Max Baer (Craig Bierko), however, that leaves the most lasting impression. It’s brutal, jarring, and visceral as flashbulbs cut the action while Crowe and Bierko work behind thuds and thwacks in one of the best boxing matches committed to film. Is it surprising Ron Howard made a good film? No. It is surprising, however, that Cinderella Man doesn’t get the plaudits of its more illustrious peers.

Batman & Robin brings out Mr. Freeze’s ice hockey goons

“It’s the hockey team from hell!” yells Robin (Chris O’Donnell) as he and Batman (George Clooney) are surrounded by a team of goons dressed as hockey players, all under the employ of Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger). It’s the kind of power of deduction that highlights just why Batman chose him as his detective protégé. Is this a sports scene? These goons are hockey players just because there’s ice on the ground—that’s it. But, in a film that includes Bat-nipples and the Bat-credit card, the absurdity of Robin chasing a diamond around the Gotham Museum of Art like a hockey puck while battling goons is perfectly in keeping with the tone of the film. At any point, anyone could just… pick the diamond up and leave. But then it wouldn’t be Batman & Robin, would it?

Teen Wolf takes to the b-ball court

Imagine you’re back in high school and gearing up for the big game (sorry nerds; this flashback’s not for you). You’ve got your fancy vest on, the cheerleaders are dancing, the crowd is buzzing. In the next two hours, you could cover yourself in short-lived sporting glory or an embarrassment that will follow you into adulthood. Then, as you take to the court, a surprisingly fuckable werewolf turns out for the other team to ruin your night. That’s right: 39 years later, I’m going to “hear me out” Scott Howard’s furry transformation into Teen Wolf (both played by Michael J. Fox). The basketball is fine, but we’re here for Michael J. Fox ruining the lives of his opponents by effectively leaping from one end of the court to the other. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also a little concerning how much ’80s Michael J. Fox in fake fur could get it. No wonder both Pamela (Lorie Griffin) and Boof (Susan Ursitti) wanted in on it. This is my Challengers.

Twenty-Five Twenty-One’s Olympic gold medal fencing match

Twenty-Five Twenty-One is the best sports series you’ve never seen—mostly because it’s wrapped in a nostalgic and unconventional K-romance set in the ’90s. This K-drama about rival fencers who become best friends culminates in Na Hee-do (Kim Tae-ri) and, fresh off her defection to Russia, Ko Yu-rim (Kim Ji-yeon aka “Bona”) facing off for the gold medal at the fictional 2001 Madrid Olympics. I was weeping before the fight started, but the interplay between Hee-do and Yu-rum as they transition to adulthood and out of each other’s lives—an event represented neatly by their increasing competitiveness—is heartbreaking. The K-drama melodrama is off the charts, but this fight also captures better than anything before the unique highs and lows of sport. All of it’s wrapped up in surprisingly dynamic filmmaking. There’s not much fencing in film and TV, but this is it at its best.

GLOW takes leg work a little too far

RIP GLOW; gone too soon. The surreal, beautiful, and often too relatable story of misfits finding a home in the world of women’s wrestling was one of the best things to grace Netflix. But funny as it was (I still think about “a mother without a baby is just a person”), the comedy was always anchored with sobering drama. The core of this humanistic element was the rivalry between Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth (Alison Brie). As Debbie spirals from a successful acting career, and Ruth thrives in a new role (after sleeping with Debbie’s husband), GLOW teases that the frictions that haunt them outside the ring will get them in the ring, too. It doesn’t happen until the midpoint of Season 2, but when Ruth (a.k.a. Zoya the Destroya) and Debbie (a.k.a. Liberty Belle) face off, it not only combines GLOW’s great fight choreography and drama, but gives us a shock, too. In an episode aptly named “Work the Leg,” a spaced-out Debbie—drunk and high on cocaine—takes the performance a little too far and breaks Ruth’s ankle. Brie shrieking “Debbie!” as her ankle cracks is probably the most realistic wrestling that has ever been on TV.

The Karate Kid: “Get him in a body bag, yeah!”

I’ve seen 1984’s The Karate Kid upward of 30 times. It’s got everything: ’80s music, a surrogate father-son relationship, Elizabeth Shue being baby-Geoffrey’s first crush, and wicked karate. Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) heads to the Under-18 All-Valley Karate Championship to face off against the Cobra Kai dojo. Winning means his bullies, led by Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka), will back off, losing means his mentor, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) will sanction them continuing to beat him up—it’s probably best not to think too hard about the plot of The Karate Kid. There are too many perfect moments in The Karate Kid to list: the crane kick, “sweep the leg,” the moment Daniel realizes Miyagi’s chores are actually lessons—I could go on, but my editor told me to stop. What stays with me all these years later, however, is Rob Garrison’s pitch-perfect line delivery of, “Get him in a bodybag, yeah!” It’s vicious, it’s emotive; it’s exactly the kind of competitive spirit you’d expect from top-flight athletes. It’s also a little silly when you realize this is the most local of local teenage karate tournaments…

The Gang gets into inspirational sports movie-mode on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

In 2019, The Guardian reported that 12 percent of British men live under the delusion that they could win a point against Serena Williams, arguably the greatest tennis player in history. Absurd as that clearly is, if you’ve ever had to watch sports-ball around dudes, particularly older men, you know just how many truly believe that if they only had the chance, they could compete at a similar level to professional athletes. “The Gang Gets Invincible” doesn’t just make this list because the gang trying out for the Philadelphia Eagles—a la Marky Mark’s terrible Invincible (2006)—is peak sporting buffoonery, but because it’s a surprisingly realistic rendition of what would happen if any of these dudes actually played professional sport. Dennis (Glenn Howerton) gives an internal monologue that’s ripped straight from the mind of someone playing Thursday night five-a-side, before turning to take a long pass and getting knocked out by a pigskin. It’s funny—and humbling—and, more than anything, it should be a warning to you all: You’re not as good as a pro.

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