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Shock as sports movie journalism results in abundance of puns. But why oh why?

richard williams discussing moneyball

The Guardian’s chief sports writer makes the case for Moneyball in his paper’s series of “Why ____ should win the Oscar for Best Picture” videos.

In discussing the best baseball film since the Tom Hank/Madonna team-up A League of Their Own, he decides to go pun-crazy. He hits it out of the park.

The five others currently in the series (they’re being updated every day) are all here.

Obviously Williams is a man most comfortable writing football match reports or Formula 1 analysis and is just having a bit of fun here, but his groan-inducing (though admittedly quite fun) use of puns in describing sports films is indicative of a worrying trend.

I don’t really have a clue when this phenomenon started. Leading the fascinating work life that I do, I’ve just dug in and read a few reviews of the most critically-lauded and commercially-successful sports movies of all time – 1976’s Rocky.

It’s hard to find many texts as printed over 35 years ago, but most of the reviews I’ve found are completely pun-free. Vincent Canby of the New York Times who hated the movie, and Stallone’s performance in particular, ripped it to shreds calling it “purest Hollywood make-believe of the 1930’s“. He did not resort to saying it “failed to make the 12th round” or it “couldn’t land a killer punch”. Similarly, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times liked the movie a lot (two thumbs up) but his positive review keeps it all above the belt and pun-free.

A quick look through some of major reviews for other sports classics that followed Rocky reveal no major pun-adoption either – 1980’s Raging Bull (no mention of De Niro’s performance “pulling no punches”), 1989’s Field of Dreams and 1999’s Any Given Sunday being the three favourites that caught my eye.

But enter a new millennium and 20o3’s Million Dollar Baby brings a lot of changes…

We’ve since seen the now-ubiquitous  barrage of puns in almost all the reviews for The Fighter and Moneyball, the two big sporting Oscar contenders from the last 18 months. They’re getting so tired and predictable at this stage that I won’t even bother compiling them. Hell we’re as guilty as anyone, resorting to using “Gets to third base” in our review here on Spooool.

Puns are certainly a lot of fun, but it now seems to be a given that any bit of film criticism for a sports movie will rely heavily on them. I’m not sure if it’s indicative of the media not really taking films about sports that seriously or whether they just consider it a bit of fun to dumb it down a little. I for one will be hit for six if things ever go back to the serious analysis of yesteryear…

A cricket pun? Really?! We’re better than that surely…


Well, at the end of the day, a sports pun is only as good as your weakest player. STRIKER!

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