Hollywood loves to make movies about boxing, so much so that a seventh "Rocky" movie is coming out in November. Seriously, a seventh "Rocky" movie. This one is about Rocky training Apollo Creed's son. Well, at least he's not training Ivan Drago's son.
There also have been a large number of well-received baseball movies, as well as some football, basketball, soccer, golf and hockey flicks.
But tennis movies? Ummm, not so much.
There have been some tennis movies, but nothing nearly as memorable or good as "Bull Durham,'' "The Natural,'' "Hoosiers'' or "Slap Shot.'' And certainly no major box-office hits (and that's not likely to happen unless Katniss Everdeen replaces her bow with a racket in the new "Hunger Games" installment).
There is one recent movie -- "Break Point,'' starring Jeremy Sisto, David Walton and J.K. Simmons. It's a comedy about two estranged brothers in their 30s who get back together to play doubles and try to qualify for a fictional Grand Slam. The movie isn't bad (though, the tennis isn't particularly good), and there are a couple of funny moments, often involving the crude ,older, semi-alcoholic brother, who wears even uglier shorts than Stan Wawrinka.
Still, it was made available on video prior to a very limited theatrical release last month, which is another example of tennis' lack of box-office power. A tennis film is lucky to take in as much money as Tim Smyczek did this year. Which is kind of odd given that it is a global sport and successful movies these days have broad appeal to international crowds. Perhaps Serena Williams should join the Avengers.
Which isn't to say that tennis hasn't had a presence on the big screen. Here are some moments and movies that have caught my eye on the big screen:
"Pat and Mike": This 1952 movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy might have the best tennis scene you'll see outside of a documentary on Roger Federer. Hepburn's character, Pat Pemberton, is a top tennis player (and golfer) who plays mixed doubles with Don Budge in one scene. (I can't wait for a movie with Jennifer Lawrence playing mixed doubles with Novak Djokovic.)
The important scene, though, is Hepburn singles match against Gussie Moran in which the sudden presence of Pemberton's fiancé in the stands makes her feel so much pressure she quickly blows a 6-3, 3-2 lead in amusing fashion. After double-faulting several times, Hepburn pictures her racket to be the size of a pingpong paddle. She also imagines the net rising higher and higher whenever she returns.
Hepburn does not play at a level that would challenge Serena, but she actually displays pretty good form. And in one ever-so-brief shot, Moran is asked to twirl her skirt for photographers, just as Williams and Eugenie Bouchard were asked inappropriately to do at the Australian Open this year. There was no such issue for Hepburn. Always portraying powerful women, she wears shorts rather a skirt in the match.
(Unfortunately, to see this match, you will have to buy the video because there is online link.)
"The Royal Tenenbaums": In this 2001 comedy, Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) is a former tennis prodigy who dresses like Bjorn Borg (retro headband, Fila logo shirt) and whose career tanks from depression over his adopted sister (Gwyneth Paltrow) marrying another man (Bill Murray). Yeah, it's an odd plot line but, hey, it's a Wes Anderson movie. Tenenbaum's meltdown on court -- 72 unforced errors, underhand serves, removal of his shoes and a complete bagel -- is even more amazing than Serena's at her 2014 Wimbledon doubles match.
"Strangers on a Train": This is an Alfred Hitchcock thriller in which a tennis player named Guy (Farley Granger) meets a psychotic passenger named Bruno (Robert Walker) while traveling on, well, a train. Bruno suggests they murder each other's troublesome relatives -- Guy's wife and the psycho's father -- so that neither would be considered a suspect. Guy doesn't realize Bruno is serious until he kills Guy's wife. No, it's not a rom-com.
There is a match scene intercut with Bruno attempting to get a cigarette lighter out of a storm drain. A shorter but more entertaining court scene is when we see everyone in the crowd turning their heads to follow each shot, except for the psycho, whose focus remains relentlessly set on Guy, sort of like the media on Serena during the recent US Open.
"Match Point": Aside from the title and the lead character's background as a former tennis player turned instructor, this Woody Allen non-com doesn't have a lot of tennis in it. But it's a gripping, well-done movie (with a young Scarlett Johansson) in which the former tennis player winds up committing murder to hide an affair. In other words, he should have met up with Bruno on a train.
By the way, in his classic "Annie Hall," Woody Allen meets Diane Keaton while playing tennis.
"The Bachelor Party": OK, it's not the best movie Tom Hanks has ever made (oddly, he did not get an Oscar nomination), and it doesn't have anything to do with tennis, but there is this brief and funny scene in which the future Jimmy Dugan shows his baseball prowess on the hard court.
"Wimbledon": In this 2004 tennis rom-com, Kirsten Dunst is a rising American star who meets an aging English player (Paul Bettany) at Wimbledon and the two quickly fall for each other. Let's just say that Dunst's form would not have been good enough to beat Helen Wills Moody, even though Wills Moody had been dead for six years when the movie came out. Bettany, meanwhile, spends more time diving to the ground than a major league shortstop.
It's a mediocre movie, but there is one memorable line when Dunst is yelling at Bettany for distracting her from her game: "Love means nothing in tennis. Zero.'' Oh, and -- spoiler alert -- Bettany retires after winning the Wimbledon final. (Perhaps Flavia Pennetta and Marion Bartoli really liked the movie.) Bettany's agent, Jon Favreau, also has his cell phone ring in the middle of a match, which happened to me during a Lindsay Davenport quarterfinal at Wimbledon the year after "Wimbledon" was released. But maybe the movie scene would have been more amusing if Favreau's ring tone had been "Holly Jolly Christmas," as mine was.
"Seven Days in Hell": Not a theatrical movie, but worth mentioning. This recent HBO mockumentary tells the fictional story of a tennis match at Wimbledon that lasts an entire week. No, John Isner is not in it, but John McEnroe, Chris Evert and Serena are, as are comic actors Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen and Will Forte. There are some funny scenes, but it tends to go a little overboard in the sexual crudity department. In other words, don't watch it with your children. Or your parents.
I didn't see the movies, but ESPN tennis writer Peter Bodo and others recommend the mimes-playing tennis scene in Antonioni's "Blow Up'' along with the scene with Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and Cher playing in "The Witches of Eastwick." But I think it might be better to watch "Rocky'' again.