Sports Media Expert Stephen Mosher on Why Films Like 'Million Dollar Arm' Don't Perform
ITHACA, NY — The summer movie season is in full swing. Tent pole summer blockbusters like “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Maleficent” are raking in cash as expected, while films without over-the-top special effects and explosions are pulling in less staggering amounts of box office receipts.
In particular, sports films like Disney’s “Million Dollar Arm” come and go through theaters and barely make a ripple in the box office. The John Hamm-led baseball flick took in $10.5 million three weekends ago when it opened against “Godzilla,” which took in $93.2 million. (Afterall, when you face off against a giant radioactive monster, chances are good you get crushed.) Since then, “Million Dollar Arm” has totaled a mere $28.1 million in the U.S.
Stephen Mosher, professor in the Department of Sport Management and Media at Ithaca College, specializes in the intersection of sports and popular culture, and has researched sports films for nearly three decades. He understands what makes this genre of films work — and it’s not sports.
“It has to have human beings who are interesting and worth paying attention to, and they have to have relationships that are also worth paying attention to,” Mosher said.
“Million Dollar Arm,” based on a true story, sees a struggling sports agent played by Hamm (best known for his role as suave disaster and marketer Don Draper on “Mad Men”) head to India in hopes of finding two cricket players he can convert into baseball pitchers. He finds his candidates after traversing the subcontinent as part of a reality TV show that shares a title with the film.
“Eminently forgettable,” is how Mosher describes the film. “It focused on the agent’s story and wound up a sucky ‘Jerry Maguire,’” he said. “There was a good story about the Indian kids, but the movie didn’t focus on them.”
Mosher said one of the worst things that could be inferred from the film is the notion that baseball — by its very nature as the American pastime — is a superior sport to cricket. Yet across the globe, cricket has a far more massive following.
"Watch the documentary 'Fire in Babylon' and you get a very good idea as to how important cricket is worldwide, and how utterly insignificant baseball is,” Mosher said.
Mosher said the comparative unpopularity of baseball will also limit how “Million Dollar Arm” performs overseas.
“The best American films using baseball and football don't connect with international audiences because they don't know the sport,” he said.
The next sports-themed movie on the horizon is “When the Game Stands Tall,” starring Jim Caveziel (currently on CBS’s “Person of Interest” and known for the film “Passion of the Christ”) as a high school football coach who takes his team on a 151-game winning streak. The film is scheduled for release on September 19, according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com).