From ‘The Sandlot’ to ‘Mighty Ducks’


The Big Picture

  • The Mighty Ducks
    may have dominated the ’90s kids sports movies, but
    The Sandlot
    takes first place with its beautiful coming-of-age story and timeless tale of friendship.

  • Little Giants
    hits all the right notes with big names from sports, two major actors in the lead, and a legitimate female lead to cheer on.

  • D2: The Mighty Ducks
    surpasses the first film with its funny exploration of a new city and heart-wrenching moments as the team deals with a coach who cares more about fame than the team.

A niche genre that dominated the ‘90s was kids sports movies. Some were so big they became a franchise, inspired a real team, and led to a remake on Disney+, but does all of that qualify The Mighty Ducks as the best the decade had to offer? One can’t count out the athleticism of Disney Channel Original Movies or the power of teen heartthrob Devon Sawa either. All of these helped put ‘90s kids sports movies in a league of their own, but only one can be the champ, and it’s time to see who comes out on top.

13. Switching Goals (1999)

Long before Kim Kardashian made her family a brand, there was Mary Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen aka The Olsen Twins. They stole the show as mere toddlers on Full House, and then went on to make themselves worth millions with books, toys, clothing lines, and movies that were sometimes questionable. Switching Goals being one of those as it took the basic idea of the Olsen movie, It Takes Two, and put it on a soccer field. It was more about the ol’ switcheroo than the sport. Also, having already done something very similar calls for this movie to be disqualified from the game altogether.

12. Little Big League (1994)

Little Big League

Little Big League is a movie about what happens when a tween inherits a baseball team from their late grandfather and becomes manager. It’s very much the Blank Check of the sports movie realm, which makes sense since they came out within a few months of each other in 1994. It leaned into a fantasy some young viewers had, but isn’t one of the most memorable as it can and often gets confused with another baseball dream come true movie that’ll show up in a later inning on this list.

11. Johnny Tsunami (1999)

Image of Actors from Disney Channel Johnny Tsunami

Johnny Tsunami was one of a few Disney Channel Original Movies to play into the growing interest in extreme sports that came at the tail-end of the ‘90s. Johnny (Brandon Baker) loved his life in Hawaii. Then his dad (Yuji Okumoto) gets transferred to Vermont. The natural-born surfer not only has to assimilate to a new school, but a world without surfing. However, he goes on to prove himself on a new type of board — a snowboard. The plot alone plays into so much that people love about sports movies as well as kids’ movies and that’s the underdog and the outsider trying to make it storyline. They coincide well together, but Disney did too much when they tried to recapture the magic of this one almost a decade later with Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board.

10. Ladybugs (1992)


The Mighty Ducks may have helped put kids’ sports movies on the map but months before its release, Ladybugs suited up and laid the foundation. Rodney Dangerfield stars as a guy trying to impress everyone in his life from those at work to his new girlfriend (Ilene Graff). His need to be on top for those around him leads to coaching a youth soccer team. Things take a turn for the memorable in Ladybugs when Dangerfield’s Chester Lee gets his girlfriend’s son, Matthew (Jonathan Brandis), to dress as a girl to be on the team he’s coaching. This is one of those movies ‘90s kids think is a fever dream because it’s rarely recognized among the bigger ones of that era, but for helping bring about a great genre, it’s applauded.

9. D3: The Mighty Ducks (1996)

D3 The Mighty Ducks

The final movie in a franchise that is close to many millennials’ hearts, D3: The Mighty Ducks isn’t bad, but it’s far from the best of the trio. One could tell that Disney was trying to squeeze one more out of this bunch because while only four years had passed between the first and the last, the kids had significantly grown up. Not as bad as the crew from Stranger Things have in recent years between their seasons, but it was still a bit jarring. Plus, the plot just wasn’t as special as the first or as comedic as the second. A good ending to an iconic trilogy, but not the best of the franchise.

8. Brink! (1998)


Has anyone watched Brink! in the past decade? Those who have know this is a wild ride in which a teenager (Erik von Detten) has to go against his beliefs and perform for money and not just the love of inline skating when his father gets a back injury. It sounds a lot more serious than it is, but it was very much of the time with X-Games starting to become more mainstream in 1998. It also helped solidify those first dozen Disney Channel Original Movies that owned small screens once a month on Saturday nights.

7. Rookie of the Year (1993)

Image via 20th Century Fox

Baseball often gets pegged as America’s favorite pastime, and that sentiment may have never been more true as in the ‘90s. Was it the popularity of players like Ken Griffey Jr. or Mike Piazza, or the fact that every other year kids were given a new movie to love based around the diamond? The world may never know, but they do know that American Pie alum Thomas Ian Nicholas helped baseball be a favorite movie sport with Rookie of the Year. Another one of those fantasy come true movies, Nicholas’ Henry gets a gift when his broken arm heals and turns him into a one-of-a-kind baseball player. The likelihood of this happening to any child is low, but one can’t help but smile at the adventure Henry’s arm takes him on throughout the movie.

6. The Big Green (1995)

Image via Disney

The Big Green is just one of many underdog tales on this list, but it’s unique in that it took soccer, a sport not as big in America at the time as baseball or football, and made kids interested. Did it get a lot of help from the fact that it had three actors from other movies that had already proven to be fan favorites? Yes, The Big Green did play on the fact that it had Chauncey Leopardi and Patrick Renna from The Sandlot, and Bug Hall, whom many from that time knew from The Little Rascals. So there was a familiarity with The Big Green, but also this mature subplot that dealt with immigration that not many kids’ films were diving into at the time. Lovable outcasts, entertaining, and socially conscious? Yes, yes, and yes.

5. The Mighty Ducks (1992)

The Mighty Ducks

A whole NHL team came from The Mighty Ducks movie. That in and of itself deserves recognition, but while the subplot of The Big Green was interesting to many and showed a new side of what some deal with in America, The Mighty Ducks stars with Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) being sentenced to do community service after getting caught drunk driving. It doesn’t deter the movie from being one of the best, but that, along with the fact that it has one more that outperformed it, makes it a solid fifth place recipient.

4. Angels in the Outfield (1994)


There are no kids playing sports in Angels in the Outfield, but there is so much heart in this movie that it still manages to hit viewers with a whopping amount of emotion. For those who’ve yet to see this Joseph Gordon-Levitt classic, he stars as Roger, a young foster child who adores the Angels. His love of the team is so strong that eventually legit angels, led by Christopher Lloyd, start helping the team. Only Roger is the only one who can see them, so he starts to get special treatment from the team’s manager, George Knox (Danny Glover). Angels in the Outfield continues to teach kids the power of hope, as well as the importance of chosen family as Roger and his best friend (Milton Davis Jr.), are adopted by Knox in the end. Aww!

3. D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)

D2 The Mighty Ducks

Much like the second Sister Act, D2: The Mighty Ducks is significantly better than the first. This one took fans away from the cold of Minneapolis to the sun of Los Angeles as the team became the United States’ representatives in the Junior Goodwill Games. There were also some shake-ups to the team, with a handful of additions that only added to the comedy factor — including Kenan Thompson in his first big role as the movie dropped a month before Nickelodeon premiered All That. The kids exploring a new city was hilarious, but at the same time it was heart-wrenching to watch them also deal with their coach sort of caring more about fame than the team. Also, this one got major guest stars like Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi, LA Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the hockey icon himself, Wayne Gretzky.

2. Little Giants (1994)

Little Giants

D2 did it big with their guest stars, but Little Giants wasn’t messing around either when the movie scored some of the NFL’s best: John Madden, Emmitt Smith, and more. So not only did Little Giants deliver with the big names from sports, but it also had two major actors in the adult leads; Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neill. They played brothers with Moranis being the little engine that never could, and O’Neill starring as their small town’s football hero. They wind up meeting on the field when O’Neill refuses to give his niece, Becky aka Icebox (Shawna Waldron) a spot on the Pee-Wee Cowboys. Not wanting to see his daughter down, Moranis tells her to gather a team. It winds up being every outcast in town, except for ’90s dreamboat Junior Floyd (Devon Sawa). Little Giants hit every single nail on the head when it comes to what one wants in a kids’ sports movie and gave girls a legitimate female lead to cheer on, and while it’s so close to first — it gets edged out by just one.

1. The Sandlot (1993)

The Sandlot is a beautiful coming-of-age story wrapped in sports. Yes, this group of boys spends a good chunk of their summer trying to get a baseball back from a yard inhabited by a dog they describe as a man-killing beast, but encased in that is a timeless tale of friendship. Every kid who watched then and still today can relate as everyone has that core group of friends when they’re that age the world revolves around. That group of friends that gets in trouble together, crushes on the local older kid together, and tries things that perhaps kids shouldn’t be trying while simultaneously learning from their mistakes.

The importance of friendships as a kid shines through, but The Sandlot also gives a lot of that outsider charm as these kids aren’t on any actual team as proven when the little leaguers roll up in their freshly pressed uniforms ready to battle on the field. There was and is so much to love about The Mighty Ducks and Little Giants, but there was something a little more special about the kids that made up The Sandlot. They were more relatable as none got pushed to the background. They were a solid team, and for that, The Sandlot will always take first place.


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