The Sports Film is a sacred thing. Charlie Chaplin created a classic boxing film in the 1910s. Raging Bull won Robert DeNiro an Oscar and should've been Scorcese's directing Oscar 25 some years before he got it with the Departed. From the youthful Remember the Titans to drug-filled, R-rated intensity like Any Given Sunday, culminating in Al Pacino's unforgettable "Inches" speech.
A successful sports flick will re-air on weekend television for eternity. However, sports films often fall on the wrong side of a very thin blade. They become tacky homages to a specific sport, rather than a full narrative justifying a full length film. As more and more mediocre films come out, and more and more of them have sequels, things get a bit ridiculous. Having one movie about cheerleading? Sure. But I think we've passed the quota. How many sequels can Air Bud have? There are at least two table tennis movies. By the time the folks in Hollywood got around to green-lighting a film about volleyball, things got dicey.
I'm sorry if this opinion rubs you wrong, but volleyball movies are bad. Just bad. Pretty much every single one. SportsinVolleyball.com built up a list and they could only manage seven movies. The highest ranking? 6.42/10. Maybe there will come a day when these movies, including Beach Kings, Sideout, and yes... Air Bud: Spikes Back, will deserve to be viewed and rated.
But for now, and much easier to watch, we count down the Top 10 Volleyball Moments in Television and Movies!
10. Hannah Montana
Hannah Montana's grandma in the plot was an American Olympic Team Volleyball player, and Hannah's brother Jackson has a volleyball tournament in the plot in Season 1 Episode 6.
Quality of Volleyball: There is almost no quality of volleyball here at all. An underhand serve is returned right back over the net. Hannah's brother gives a beach-style set and his grandma kills it with a closed hand on the second ball.
Reality Factor: Apparently they live in some world where 2 vs 2 volleyball isn't just an indoor sport, but it's collegiate level competitive athletics. Then, when one of two people miss the game, you are allowed to put a grandmother into the game. Doesn't this go against some sort of school regulations? Not only that, but she is a former Olympic Team player. Doesn't anybody see some kind of conflict in here? Also, Hannah's brother is all over the net on multiple plays, yet they celebrate like they've won. Completely unrealistic.
Extras: In the winning point, Hannah's brother seemingly steps on somebody's slightly off-screen back to get extra height on the attack. It doesn't seem like it's his grandma, but instead a third player there specifically to give him an illegal boost. This is just awful and unforgivable. Why even make it volleyball when clearly the show only had the resources for badminton.
This sucks. I wish I hadn't seen any of this and had those minutes of my life back.
Score: -4 / 5
In the very early stages of the original horror film Carrie, she is subjected to some cruel bullying from her peers due to her lack of volleyball skill.
Quality of Volleyball: This volleyball is just awful. It's some junior school gym class or something, and I would call every single touch an egregious lift. Not only that, but the girl on the far court in the middle attacks the ball, plays her own ball off of the net, and touches the ball a third time in the same sequence while one of her teammates clobbers her and lifts the ball as well. For shame.
Reality Factor: There is a whistle, which means there is a teacher present. Let's do a quick count. On the close side, you can see 7 players, with the server waved at off-screen. As a gym teacher, you're going to allow 8 vs 6, and then not correct any of the 5 girls that play the ball incorrectly? Also, why are you playing on a basketball court? If one girl decides to be competitive and go down, she's going to give herself a terrible gash. Either this is terrible teaching, which is completely believable, or this is a completely unbelievable depiction of a well-run gym class.
Extras: You can audibly hear one of the players off-screen say "hit it at Carrie, she'll blow it!". Right before that moment you can see a girl in a red hat back up towards Carrie to cover her space defensively. The red hat moves just off-screen and then the ball comes in, which Carrie misses, and then gets bullied for her failures. In my opinion, the red hat either missed her blocking duties, or missed the ball in front of Carrie, which is a space she previously occupied. Carrie is, in a way, faultless.
The volleyball sucks. The gym teacher sucks. It makes you feel like volleyball sucks.
Score: -1 / 5
8. Into the Blue 2
In a sequel to a Paul Walker and Jessica Alba movie that nobody asked for, we get a scene of tense volleyball competition between who cares and some other loser seemingly over some dude with a six-pack.
Quality of Volleyball: A series of incredibly quick, close-up shots prevent any real viewable volleyball. The first serve seems to be returned with an attack. Most of their "spikes" come from a standing position, and at one point I think it becomes 4v2, unless those extra girls are just part of the celebration. The only visible touches are with terrible technique, and in the end I'm not sure I even saw a volleyball game. In the end, it was 4v4 all along!
Reality Factor: Well, it's a random pick up game of volleyball on the beach. They all suck, so it's kind of believable. The tough to believe part is that they sustain enough of a rally to keep a game going with a realistic score. They even put a bet on it midway and a crowd kind of forms, functioning as a plot element of an incredibly thin film. Overall, it's too awful to really believe. Maybe a viewer that has never seen volleyball, and is also on their phone and laptop while watching, won't notice the difference.
Extras: The film inexplicably cuts to another men's game that I guess I just don't know the significance of. It features more quick-cuts, maybe some actually volleyball touches, and an amazing "Get Some, Bass!" celebration.
This looks like a terrible part of a worse film and I hope none of you have ever, or will ever, see it.
Score: 0 / 5
A young protagonist Bella Swan gets a baptism by fire to her new school via gym class volleyball.
Quality of Volleyball: It looks like a real volleyball gym class. There are some very basic volleyball skills, the ball is kept up, and Bella sucks. She gets in the way and then swats the ball away, ending the volleyball. It literally lasts :11 seconds of the scene.
Reality Factor: I guess it's realistic. The volleyball, for all of the seconds, is appropriate for a gym class. When Bella breaks off to chat up the boy she bopped in the head, the game seems to break off into some blocking drills. I don't know what kind of coach pauses a gym class and starts a new drill mid-game for a new girl to go and flirt 5 feet from the court, so that I don't believe. The rest of it, sure.
Extras: This scene is too short for my liking, and if you are going to promote volleyball to the teeny boppers watching this flick, it'd be better to not make Bella hate the game. Shame on you for villainising the beautiful sport of volleyball! And give it more screen time. Plus, this movie stinks.
Score: 1 / 5
Daria, a 90s cartoon about an indifferent teen, shows a clip of her indifference to volleyball in the opening credits.
Quality of Volleyball: Ok, this is a reference to an intro of a show which displays maybe 4 seconds of volleyball. There may actually be an episode of Daria that includes more volleyball, but who has Daria episodes anyway? The quality of volleyball is poor, because the point is that Daria doesn't give a **** and barely puts an arm out, long after the ball has gone.
Reality Factor: On one hand, it's completely realistic that kids in the 90s didn't care about gym class volleyball. On the other hand, it's a cartoon, which is by definition not reality.
Extras: This clip of Daria will either click with you or it won't. For those who remember Daria, at this point they only really remember the volleyball from the intro. In fact, they did a fake trailer to a Daria movie with Aubrey Plaza last year, and the final joke of the entire trailer was a reference to the volleyball arm-out technique. If you get the reference to Daria, this will be an enjoyable reference to a fond memory. If you don't, this won't make any sense at all and will seem more than insignificant.
Let's be real, 1.5 / 5
5. Saved by the Bell
In season 3 episode 4 of Saved by the Bell, the gang is joined by Leah Remini for an intense volleyball rivalry against some Caifornia boys.
Quality of Volleyball: Well, it started off alright! An underhand serve started the whole exchange, which started a serve receive sequence that looked legitimate. Just before things turned into an attack, the show cuts to a clearly out of sequence moment where Screech takes a ball to the head. After realizing they are in trouble, the gang recruits "Gary," who is 6'10". As they practice, Gary suddenly makes the team dominant. However, his actual volleyball skill is somewhat lacking. Sure, they edit it to make his contributions look good. But his movement is poor, his overhand serve looks average, and I worry his arms might break with a strong enough attack through his block. It looks like AC Slater can play good enough to join a rec game on the beach.
Reality Factor: During the big game, they clearly let the actual actors play volleyball for a big. There are clips of Zach Morris making mistakes, some serves from the opponents that look realistic, and a couple of actual exchanges where the gang keeps the ball up and manages to (barely) get it over with a roll shot. There are also super corny edits of Zach coming through with hits that look fake. Everybody on the team except AC Slater and Zach look incredibly uncomfortable and unrealistic when they are isolated to appear to be playing.
Extras: Well... I guess it's something that a popular show in the heart of its run decided to have an entire episode dedicated to volleyball. They probably made it seem pretty cool to teenagers and kids younger than that. The volleyball is tacky, the episode is corny, but it is what it is.
For nostalgia's sake this probably ranks higher for some people than others, but I'm a realist.
Score: 2 / 5
4. We Have a Pope
This 2011 foreign film about a Pope and his therapist has a scene where all sorts of Cardinals and other of the Pope's peers learn volleyball for the first time.
Quality of Volleyball: Since this is a scene about teaching volleyball to people who have never learned it before, the quality of volleyball is predictably bad. However, the instruction is fairly good for the context of the scene. Yes, the folks in robes were having problems getting their serves over the net, but at least they were being instructed how to do so.
Reality Factor: Would the Pope make folks play volleyball? Well... Kate Middleton was forced into some volleyball for a photoshoot, so why wouldn't the Pope? It was outlandish, yes, but that's kind of the point of the film, I think (I haven't seen it all). The instructions given about having a level playing field to avoid injury are completely fair. The instructions about serving overhand or underhand were true to life. Nobody was any good at volleyball, and it was their first time so that makes sense as well. This is a realistic depiction of volleyball. Enough said.
Extras: During serving practice, there was even a mention of "the Korean way". The instructor goes on to show the regional style that adds more spin to the ball with a larger, arcing swinging motion. In my experience, this is a fair assessment. Not only are there some serving basics in here, but a displayed knowledge of regional volleyball tendencies. That's really going to the next level.
It looks like a funny movie, they are introducing volleyball to a new demographic under a positive light, and even though the skill level is garbage I'm giving a:
Score: 3 / 5
3. Top Gun
The famous scene of Tom Crusie vs. Val Kilmer in a bit of volleyball between sessions of jet piloting.
Quality of Volleyball: There are a handful of clips that are clearly different actors with some decent volleyball skill. They add a couple scenes with the actors where Goose does an awkward hands-clasped overhead set, and Tom Cruise comes through with a closed-fist attack, but they do keep the ball up. It's a bit weird to have the scenes of the real actors mediocre volleyball spliced in with the talented players. The net must be incredibly low for Cruise to pull it off, but it actually does resemble volleyball on the whole.
Reality Factor: Why is Tom Cruise wearing a watch? He checks it multiple times. I guess he has to go shower awkwardly in his date's house while she waits right after this scene, but c'mon. He also is wearing Jeans, and they all keep their dog tags on, but most of them would be functionally athletic in that attire. They are all covered in hand tape, which actually rings more true than false. The extra supports like Ice's kneepad and the one brace on a wrist are highly suspect, but overall I believe it. I've seen weirder things on the rec courts.
Extras: This is the single-most famous volleyball scene from any movie ever. It is notoriously mocked for being homoerotic (and more-so the film Top Gun in its entirety) and is scored in such a terribly 80s and tacky manner that its at once appropriate and cringe-inducing. It would be impossible to claim you enjoy this scene without a sense of irony, but it also cannot be ignored.
I hate to give it a realistic ranking, but for Pop Culture relevance, actual level of volleyball, and lack of glaring flaws,.
Top Gun gets a 3.5/10
2. The Office
In Season 5 of the Office, the Dunder Mifflin crew head to a Company Picnic volleyball tournament, where Michael Scott goes against his ex, Holly, with her new boyfriend.
Quality of Volleyball: The Dunder Mifflin team is predictably terrible, as are all of their opponents. The plot thickens when Pam turns out to have played through her youth and busts out her incredible serve that begins to dominate the competition. At one point there is an actually decent dig, which knocks the ball over the net. Jim blocks a ball in a way that a person might, but with almost no technique. The real actors are obviously doing every part, and Dwight even gives Jim an ugly set on an important point, which Jim slams down in the way a recreation basketball player might.
Reality Factor: I think all of this volleyball is incredibly mediocre, and therefore believable. Even the ridiculous outbursts of competitiveness from Dwight ring true. The one thing that is impossible to believe is that Pam's serve would begin to dominate. She does a split jump right before hitting it, with no approach. She has this weird grunt, and her hand flails at it. This serve would barely make the night on the best attempt, and could have no consistency. The rest of the volleyball is completely realistic.
Extras: This is mostly ugly volleyball, passing back and forth over the net, with underhand serves. However, it's hilarious, somewhat realistic, and features an appearance from Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther). This was from the era of the Office that still featured Steve Carell, and I will accept the poor level of volleyball since it is (mostly) realistic, and spans the entire episode.
Score: 4 / 5
1. Meet the Parents
Ben Stiller's nightmare experience with his new in-laws falls to new lows during a "friendly" game of pool volleyball
Quality of Volleyball: It's pool volleyball with a bunch of family members, so we have to accept that as the tone of volleyball. They are actually opening their hands and putting down some attacks, and diving for some digs (as they should in a pool! What's the point of playing, otherwise?). Both Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro serve with an open hand. Owen Wilson is the beneficiary of a nice clean set just after the :30 second mark, and he puts it away. Of course, they follow that up with a direct reference to the Top Gun volleyball match.
Reality Factor: I'm almost too impressed with the volleyball to call it real, but I'll shut up and buy it. It ends in completely realistic fashion: with somebody getting hurt. It's a completely predictable part of a series of unfortunate events, but the context is completely appropriate. It passed the Reality test.
Extras: Dropping references to Maverick and Ice Man prove just how popular that Top Gun volleyball scene is, but this one is funny, realistic, and represents (recreation) volleyball appropriately.
It's memorable. It's funny. It involved DeNiro, Owen Wilson, and Ben Stiller. Good ol' six-pack to the face. All good things.
Score: 4.2 / 5
There is a lot more Anime volleyball than I anticipated. Shows like Kaichou Wa Maid Sama (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9RXZnbnVPk ) and Carnival Phantasm ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1B-biP5CWQ ) have volleyball episodes, even though I've heard of neither show. The former is essentially a realistic volleyball game in anime style, as if humans with regular abilities were playing in the game. Carnival Phantasm, on the other hand, uses those supernatural abilities so common in Anime, and leaves a pit of destruction where the court began. Even this show, I guess titled Acchi Kocchi, has a pretty banal Anime volleyball gym class: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjbi02RkcME . Or how about this Anime show called Mermaid Melody? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP2h9XBQPgI It's kind of like Sailor Moon meets volleyball. It seems like volleyball is almost a regular plot device used in Anime. No wonder we lose all of our good players to Korean and Japanese professional teams.
At the very beginning of this movie there is a creepy moment where Bad Santa simply sits on a park bench and watches a bunch of ladies in bikinis playing volleyball while he drinks. It's really predatory and I don't support it. Nor do I care much for Billy Bob Thornton. And it's short. And the volleyball sucks. Hence, why it didn't make the list. You can look up the clip on your own, creep.
Apparently this flick has a scene where patients at an institution for mental care play volleyball without the ball. It sounds intriguing at the very least. However, I couldn't find the clip and therefore can't speak to how effective the scene was. Also, since the ball doesn't exist, there can obviously be no commentary about the volleyball technique. But I'd be very interested to see it!
The Blind Side
This Oscar-fodder movie from a couple years back is heavily focused on football. However, early in the movie there is a little bit of girls volleyball. When one character is late, this exchange happens: Mom says, "What'd I Miss?" SJ responds, "It's girls volleyball, Mom. You didn't miss anything". I resent that kind of treatment and disrespect of volleyball, and this mediocre movie missed the list by more than one placement.
Rozencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead
This film is often credited as having a scene about "Questions Volleyball". It's essentially the improv game "Questions" where you can't speak in statements (you may have seen it on Whose Line Is It Anyway). However, they are actually playing on a badminton court, following badminton service rules, and I cannot accept it as volleyball. Good flick, though.
The New Girl
Zooey Deschanel and crew had a bit of volleyball during their currently airing season. The character Coach became volleyball coach for the school Zooey (or Jess in the show) works for. There isn't much actual volleyball. He mainly yells at them to run. They also get him a heartwarming "Coach Coach" varsity jacket, but due to lack of actual volleyball to discuss this was cut as well.
Dead or Alive
No, this is not a reference to Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball the video game. Instead, there was an awful movie made in 2006 based on the same video game franchise. There was a bizarre bit of volleyball in it. However it is heavily edited to the point of being difficult to watch. In fact, one youtube fan went so far as to re-edit the scene to make it flow more logically in terms of the sports logic. You can check that out, if you really really want to. But you're probably okay without it. (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PNCbRhjjiw )
As he doesn't play volleyball, this movie is not included. However, there is a volleyball in it. If you ranked this list in terms of volleyball screen time, Cast Away might come in first. But I didn't.