These classic, family-friendly films celebrate life lessons like sportsmanship and perseverance.

By Suelain Moy
October 03, 2005

A League of Their Own

Rated: PG

Year: 1992

Cast: Geena Davis, Tom Hanks

During World War II, a candy mogul gets the sweet idea to pitch the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Meet Dottie and Kit, two sisters recruited for the Rockford Peaches. Not only are the girls fresh-faced catches, but they can really play, hit, pitch, catch, and run. Among their feisty teammates: Rosie O'Donnell and Madonna.

What Parents Like: Hanks delivers his double entendres with zest as the tough, wise-cracking coach who drank away his professional career, and must start again from the bottom.

What Kids Like: Youngsters will relate to the sibling rivalry between the sisters, as when Kit jokes, "This is our daughter, Dottie, and this is our other daughter, Dottie's sister."

Air Bud

Rated: PG

Year: 1997

Cast: Kevin Zegers, Michael Jeter, Buddy

A golden retriever leaps into the life of a lonely boy and helps him rebound from the loss of his father. This quietly winning film scores both on and off the court, and stars real-life hoopster pooch, Buddy.

What Parents Like: Jeter adds bite and edge as the dog's villainous ex-owner, Snively the Clown. A gentle coach teaches lessons about the importance of sportsmanship.

What Kids Like: Kids will delight in the ingenious ways Buddy bounces a ball off his nose to make baskets, and his dogged attempts to enter the house.

Angels in the Outfield

Rated: PG

Year: 1994

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Danny Glover, Tony Danza

An 11-year-old foster kid dreams of reuniting with his absentee father, who tells him he will get a real family when "the Angels win the pennant." The boy prays for a miracle, and the bottom-ranked team gets a boost from a phalanx of angels only the boy can see.

What Parents Like: Glover and Danza turn in sensitive performances, while then-unknowns Matthew McConaughey and Adrien Brody can be seen flexing their muscles on the team.

What Kids Like: While the angels' presence is nothing short of miraculous, the focus and action are kept real and close to home, especially when Roger faces the prospect of abandonment.

Bad News Bears

Rated: PG

Year: 1976

Cast: Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal, Jackie Earle Haley

Before reality TV and feel-good athletics, there were losing teams of outcast kids who played their hearts out and walked home empty-handed. Bad News Bears reveals the dusty disappointment of life in the Little League with offbeat humor and acceptance. Need more proof of their down-and-out status? The team is sponsored by Chico's Bail Bonds.

What Parents Like: Matthau's curmudgeonly coach lets even the most rabid soccer mom and hardball dad off the hook.

What Kids Like: Precocious and tough child leads don't mince words -- or attitude -- on the field or off.

Bend It Like Beckham

Rated: PG-13

Year: 2003

Cast: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers

"Anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?" That's the dilemma of Jesminder Bhamra, a brilliant soccer player whose parents want her to learn how to make chapatis, attend university, and meet a nice Indian boy. Instead, Jess lovingly papers her bedroom with posters of British soccer star, David Beckham, and sneaks out of the house for matches and practices. She finds a confidante and friend in Jules, who helps kick her life in a new direction.

What Parents Like: The generational clashes between Jess and her parents are affecting, and the cultural misunderstandings that ensue when traditional Indian and British households mix are hilarious.

What Kids Like: When you're a teen, aren't all parents overbearing and overprotective?

Ice Castles

Rated: PG

Year: 1978

Cast: Lynn-Holly Johnson, Robby Benson, Tom Skerritt

At 16, Alexis is considered over the hill and a long-shot Olympic hopeful. She gets an early push from a local rink owner and skates her way to training camp. Away from home, she falters and injures herself, and goes blind. With the help and support of her boyfriend and father, she triumphs on the ice again.

What Parents Like: This weeper marked the debut of Novice Free Skating Silver Medalist Johnson, who later became a Bond girl. The Melissa Manchester theme, "Through the Eyes of Love," is a keeper.

What Kids Like: The soapy plot is saved by graceful skating sequences, where Alexis glides across the ice effortlessly.

Mighty Ducks

Rated: PG

Year: 1992

Cast: Emilio Estevez, Lane Smith, Joss Ackland, Joshua Jackson

Yuppie lawyer Gordon Bombay gets busted for drunk driving, and must do a stint of community service. His sentence? Coaching a hockey team of young misfits. His punishment turns out to be his redemption, as he learns to be a team player on the ice, and warms up into decent person.

What Parents Like: This is Scrooge meets The Bad News Bears.

What Kids Like: Team spirit saves the day. As Gordon says, "They know that if they mess with one duck, they gotta mess with the whole flock!"


Rated: PG

Year: 2004

Cast: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich

This is the story of how a bunch of college kids beat the best hockey team in the world at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Their transformation required a miracle, or at least one very determined coach, Herb Brooks. "Take a good look, gentlemen," says Brooks, as he watches scores of athletes leave the rink. "Because they're the ones who got it easy." And he's not kidding. Brooks' training methods are grueling, unconventional, and inspiring to watch.

What Parents Like: Many parents will remember the day the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team defeated the Soviets, as well as the long gas lines and tense hostage situation that permeated the national psyche at the time.

What Kids Like: Plenty of action on the ice, and gritty determination off. The puck flies, and tempers flare.

National Velvet

Rated: G

Year: 1944

Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Anne Revere, Donald Crisp

A young girl named Velvet dreams of riding her horse to victory at the Grand National Steeplechase. Among the hurdles they face and leap: lack of funds and training, disbelief, not to mention the fact that girls are not allowed to compete.

What Parents Like: Velvet's mother takes a leap of faith by putting her life savings on the line: "Everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly at least once in his life."

What Kids Like: Velvet is tiny, but mighty. Her belief in her horse -- and herself -- is unsurpassed. And Taylor proves she is a thoroughbred talent, even at 12.


Rated: PG

Year: 1993

Cast: Sean Astin, Charles Dutton

Rudy longs to leave his steel mill hometown and play football for Notre Dame's Fighting Irish. Despite his slight build and less-than-stellar grades, he applies himself and gamely tackles try-outs and setbacks, earning acceptance and finally, landing a spot on the school's practice team.

What Parents Like: Rudy may be small, but he perseveres like a true champion. He also graduates with a degree from the University of Notre Dame.

What Kids Like: The triumph of the inner runt: We exult when a five-foot, 100-pound "nothing" with a "speck of athletic ability" gets to run out on the field with the best college football team in the land. As the janitor tells him, "In this life you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself."

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