The NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, and every hockey fan’s favorite time of year is here. Hockey is a sport that’s been often misunderstood and much maligned by those who don’t follow it, but, despite its underdog status in the North American hierarchy, it’s been the basis of some of the best sports movies ever made. In honor of the toughest championship to win in all of sports, here are the 10 best hockey movies to get you in the right mindset for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
8. Youngblood (1986)
If The Mighty Ducks is a movie planted firmly in the ’90s, then Youngblood is a real child of the ’80s. It starred Rob Lowe at the high point of his Brat Pack years, as well as Patrick Swayze at peak heartthrob status. The story itself couldn’t be more ’80s, either. Lowe plays Dean Youngblood, a junior hockey player with all the skills and talent in the world, but who is soft as marshmallows. Of course, he’s in love with the coach’s daughter. With the help of Swayze’s Derek Sutton, and goalie Heaver (played by Keanu Reeves – I told you this was an ’80s movie), Youngblood learns to drop the gloves and fight with the biggest, badest dude around. Naturally, he gets the girl and they ride away into the metaphorical sunset as only an authentic ’80s movie can be resolved. Never to fear, it has the obligatory synth-rock power ballad soundtrack. Necessary.
7. Miracle (2004)
The “Miracle on Ice” of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey team is perhaps the greatest underdog story in all of sports and Miracle is truly a great retelling of that story. At the height of the Cold War, a young, untested group of college hockey players from the U.S. took on the Russian CCCP juggernaut in the Olympics, and they won a medal-round game they had no business winning on their way to the gold. Kurt Russell is great in his role as the legendary coach, Herb Brooks, who whipped the group of kids into a true hockey team and steered them to victory against a Russian team that never smiled, never broke, and never lost. Much like the actual team itself, the cast is an assembly of mostly no-names who came together to create a pretty great ensemble. Miracle is the film you watch when you want to feel inspired, uplifted. If nothing else, it certainly gives you a momentary reason to feel proud to be an American again at a time when many of us sorely need it, and reminds us that sometimes, underdogs really do come out on top. A little sappy? Yeah, maybe. But sometimes the best moments in life are.
6. Sudden Death (1995)
Understand, Sudden Death is not, by any means, a great movie. I’m not even sure it’s a good movie. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a terrible one. But it is also a cheesy, action-packed Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, and hugely entertaining. For some reason, the VP of the United States has decided to take in an ice hockey game, and, of course, there is a combo assassination/explosion plot, and, of course, it’s up to JCVD to save the day. For hockey fans, it’s a blast from the past: Not only is Mike Lange, now the Penguins’ radio broadcaster, still in his role as their television color commentator, it’s filmed at the old Civic Arena, which was demolished in 2010 to make way for the new, state-of-the-art Consol Center (R.I.P. Igloo). At one point he fights Iceberg, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ mascot. Let me repeat that: He FIGHTS a guy in a PENGUIN SUIT. As a bonus, it has one of the most deliciously ridiculous taglines in movie history: “Terror goes into overtime.” So bad, it’s come full circle back to good.
5. D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
I’m separating the sequel to Mighty Ducks from the original as I’d argue the two films are each their own thing. The sequel takes what the first film did well and elevates it with the addition of new characters and a few years for the original cast of kids to grow into their roles (and acting in general). It also features truly one of the most diabolical teams to ever grace a film. Iceland’s national team functions like an extension of the Russian CCCP team back in the Red Army days, just as nameless, robotic, and seemingly unbeatable as Russia’s team in real life. Its head coach is one of those villains you love to hate, just pure asshole through and through. It’s so quintessentially ’90s, from the clothing to the rollerblading to the fact that Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)” was the featured song. Seriously. Tag Team. You can’t get more ’90s than that.
4. The Mighty Ducks (1992)
Obviously, this list wouldn’t be complete without The Mighty Ducks. It’s truly one of the all-time classic greats, and it had more of a real-world, tangible impact on its sport than any other sports film in history: It was directly responsible for a renewed interest in hockey in the United States, and ushered in a wave of American-born players in the NHL who had initially become interested in playing hockey because of the movie. Plus, it spawned the creation of an actual, professional sports team with the Disney-founded Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (now the Anaheim Ducks), right down to the team even using the same logo from the film, originally. But back to the movie itself. The ensemble cast launched the careers of a handful still in the industry today, including Joshua Jackson and Elden Henson, as well as being arguably the pinnacle of Emilio Estevez’ career. The icing on the cake: It’s eminently quotable, with particular lines having been absorbed into our pop culture lexicon since and still being used today.
3. Mystery, Alaska (1999)
Okay, yes, the plot of Mystery, Alaska is a bit ridiculous. The NHL’s New York Rangers agree to fly to a tiny town in Alaska to play a scrimmage hockey game with the local team as a PR stunt, and somehow, the movie wasn’t a comedy. But my God, does this movie have a remarkable starring and supporting cast, including Russell Crowe in the lead role as town sheriff/captain of the hockey team, John Biebe, and Burt Reynolds as the town judge. Colm Meaney, Hank Azaria, Ron Eldard, and Kevin Durand round out the supporting cast, and the silly premise is worth a watch solely for the great chemistry between the characters. Plus, it’s just fun to watch the reactions of the local boys when the full impact of going up against the big, bad Rangers on national television fully sinks in.
2. Goon (2011)
Providing the other side of the enforcer coin to Slap Shot, Goon is not just a seriously underrated hockey movie, but an underrated movie, period. Surprisingly poignant at times, it’s the most accurate depiction of what it’s like to be an enforcer (a.k.a. “goon”) in hockey, and the strange dance of spoken and unspoken rules that govern what happens on the ice between players. Co-written by hockey fan Jay Baruchel, who also plays the foul-mouthed Pat, it’s clear that the script was a labor of love from a true hockey fan who understands the intricacies of the sport. The dynamic between Sean William Scott’s sweet-but-stupid goon, Doug Glatt, and his mentor-nemesis, Ross Rhea, is the glue that holds it together, and I’d argue that the diner scene between the two is one of the best scenes in any sports movie, ever. Rhea, the world weary, veteran enforcer, is a role that’s punched up by the phenomenally talented Liev Schreiber. In fact, none of the characters are really two-dimensional, sports movie tropes. Because of this, there’s a bittersweetness to the film that’s hard to find in other hockey movies and why it’s on the list.
1. Slap Shot (1977)
Of course, I must start with the granddaddy of all hockey movies, Slap Shot. It is balls to the wall crass, irreverent, and ribald (I mean…really vulgar), and introduced one of the most memorable trios in movie history with the introduction of the Hanson Brothers. The rowdy brawlers, and Paul Newman’s player-coach character, Reggie Dunlop, have spawned a significant portion of the most quotable hockey quotes we still use today. Seriously, was there ever a moment in Paul Newman’s life when he wasn’t cool? The film celebrates a simpler time in hockey, when enforcers and bench-clearing brawls were the norm and the Broad Street Bullies were the most feared team in hockey – not for their skills, but because they’d only beat the crap out of other teams until they broke. Watching Slap Shot is a little glimpse into hockey’s past, from a time before helmets were mandatory and we understood the dangers of concussions and repeated head trauma. Great hockey movie, or greatest hockey movie? That’s up to your personal tastes, but it will never not be a cult classic, regardless.