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Tues Top Ten: Tennis in the Movies

The world's number one ranked male tennis player turns a quarter century today so in honor of Novak Djokovic why not celebrate with a list of best tennis moments in the movies?

Because... uh...

Are there any? When I first thought of doing this list I was like YES -- little known fact: I played tennis daily one summer in high school and still love the game  -- only to hit a brick wall rather than a low net. You may have heard this complaint before from tennis fans but given the abundance of sports movies of every other stripe it's almost like Hollywood hates the game. Those private tennis courts on celebrity acreage are all going to waste.

I've come up with ten things anyway.


You should know upfront that I've never seen the Chad Lowe boy-in-drag masterpiece Nobody's Perfect (1989) -- no decade ever loved cross-dressing comedies like the 80s -- so I shan't include it. 

10 Wimbledon (2004)
Nobody likes this movie but given the abrupt sharp decline in romantic comedy quality over the past ten years, I bet it'd look pretty good if it came out now. At the very least both Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst looked fresh and healthy and sun-kissed as the professional athletes in love.

09 The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
We'll be sure to celebrate this movie's 25th anniversary next month but for now, remember that tennis match? Temperatures are flaring as the three best friends Jane (Susan Sarandon) Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Alex (Cher) all compete for Devil Jack Nicholson's attention. In a game of doubles things get vindicative and then supernatural.


Funny girls and dangerous men after the jump...

Temperatures are flaring as the three best friends Jane (Susan Sarandon) Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Alex (Cher) all compete for devil Jack Nicholson's attention. In a game of doubles things get vindicative and then supernatural with the balls flying impossibly high and with impossible trajectories.

08 Bridesmaids (2011)
Speaking of vindicative tennis matches...  Have you ever taken a tennis ball to the boob? Not pleasurable! Especially if your boobs are real.

image via fuzzy signal

07 Bon Voyage Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!) (1980)
Charlie Brown's world famous dog Snoopy is best known outside his canine role as a fighter pilot and a happy dancer. But he's also tennis obsessed. He even competed at Wimbledon in this lowkey animated feature. 

06 A Room With a View (1986)
An hour into A Room With a View when Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) has (somewhat) successfully forgotten about her Italian romance and agreed to marry stuffy Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis) we get a wild playful tennis match between her and her brother Freddy (Rupert Graves) suggesting that she still can't be tamed or rob herself of that "Honeychurch taint" as Cecil's mother so uncharmingly puts it. Lucy's about to get the good (but to her terrible) news that a neighboring villa will now house the man she's been trying not to think about. She's instantly peevish with Freddy who is the easiest target since she can't be peevish with herself.

Don't be silly, Freddy. You always overdo it when we play!"

 05 Clueless (1995)
Gym class. 

Amber: Ms Stoeger, my plastic surgeon told me not to participate in any activities where balls fly at my nose.
Dionne: Well there goes your social life …

04 Strangers on a Train (1951)
Alfred Hitchcock liked tennis -- or at least liked to reference it in the movies -- and particularly brilliant is this bit from his 1951 classic.

Sweaty Farley Granger, also the star of Rope, just finished with a game, notices eyes on him from across the court. The crowd's heads are methodically comically turning left to right to follow the unseen tennis match but as the camera zooms in one man's head never moves. He's already fixed his gaze on his handsome target. 

03 Blow Up (1966)
Easily the most fascinating and oddest tennis match ever captured onscreen. I don't want to spoil it but if you still haven't seen this seminal 60s classic from Michelangelo Antonioni, what are you waiting for?

02 Match Point (2005) 
Tennis is used mostly for thematically snap in this terrific Woody Allen thriller about an upwardly mobile tennis instructor and the rich family he'd like to marry into. But boy does Allen sell the late film twist, which geniusly recalls a common visual from tennis matches. For once the most memorable bit from a Woody Allen feature is not a choice turn of phrase but a visual reveal.

01 Annie Hall (1977)
One of the screen's all time most iconic romances began with the game! Annie Hall and Alvy Singer meet on the tennis courts over a game of mixed doubles. Outside the locker rooms thereafter they have one of the most awkward movie flirtations ever in which Annie first unleashes her famous catchphrase "♪ La Di Da. La Di Da". The flirtation comes complete with a hilariously risque accidental crotch-poking by way of Alvy's tennis racket handle.

Annie drives Alvy home and the mutual romantic feelings develop as fast as Annie's crazed driving through Manhattan streets.

You're a wonderful tennis player and the worst driver I've ever seen in my life."

There's not much tennis in the cinema but it's Woody Allen to the rescue!

Have you ever played tennis? Did I miss anything from the movies?

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Reader Comments (42)

Brilliant post! Combining my two lifelong passions - Tennis and Film! All great choices.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChrisD

I love Luke Wilson's Björn Borg surrogate in 'The Royal Tenenbaums'. Also the tennis instructor played by William Baldwin in 'The Squid and the Whale', and especially watching Jeff Daniels play tennis was superb.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Love it!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Z

I forgot how much I loved Match Point. Upon reflection, I would say it's my 2nd favourite Woody Allen movie.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Who says nobody likes Wimbledon? I love it! I mean, not in a guilty pleasure way. It's a very very good movie, very strong genre effort.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Redford and Streisand hit a couple of balls in "The Way We Were"! She actually hit a decent serve. One thing is for sure, whenever tennis is featured in a movie - the result is normally terrible. Especially In "Match Point" - there's no way skinny legged Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a professional tennis player! As for other films, remember Tom Hanks in "Bachelor Party" or the Bill Murray "Meatballs"?

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Blow Up and Strangers on a Train both came to mind for me so glad to see you picked them. And happy birthday Novak!!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDanny

Great list, Nat! My first thought was the Strangers on a Train scene, which is just brilliant.

And I was just over by the tennis courts where the Annie Hall scene was set the other day and every time I'm near there all I hear in my head is, "You're what Grammy Hall would call 'a real Jew'" and then I laugh and laugh and laugh.

I've only seen Blow Up once and I loved it but I can't for the life of me remember a tennis scene. Guess I need to watch it again!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJA

The only tennis movie I could think of was "Partners" with Ali MacGraw and Dean Paul Martin, a forgotten Bad Movie from the 70's, and yet, reading your list, I've seen most of these. "Match Point" and "Strangers on a Train" fantastic films. "Wimbledon" was cute, from what little I remember of it. Very very blonde!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

I simply can't play, but I love to watch. Good list, not many movies, but some of them are just excellent.

PS Can't wait for Eastwick's anniversary!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

what about Lucas? when thinking tennis in the movies that scene between C.Haim and K.Green was the first thing i thought of -

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdave

"Get your shit together, Carol!"

Hahah, I knew that would be in here.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

I'd add The Squid and The Whale for its Baldwin Brother tennis pro story-line.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertimothy

Nathaniel, THE GREAT GATSBY trailer... And it looks like we might have to worry with this one after all...

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

I like Wimbledon too! Like cal roth says, it's a definitely one of the best recent romantic comedies. And Paul Bettany is just delightful in it.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

nat...that you love tennis makes me appreciate you even morei
totally agree with the royal tenenbaums ref. above. only other scene that's not on your list is when the military coup occurs in the last emperor.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkekuwene

There was an episode of Nip/Tuck where Seth Gabel and Joely Richardson played. Joely Richardson was clearly an accomplished player and Seth Gabel was not, but for metaphorical purposes he had to win the point. The tennis was so unconvincing and his winning stroke so feeble that I wished tennis would stop featuring in pop culture unless the actors knew how to actually play.

And yes, tennis shot to the boob hurts like hell. I was the unfortunate recipient in on of my high school doubles matches. I'm still embarrassed about it until this day.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjtagliere

Wimbledon is indeed a quite well-made romantic comedy.

Other tennis scenes of interest:
- The hospital scene in Alps.
- Nude tennis scene in lowbrow comedy (and second biggest dutch film ever) Flodder (Especially for nine year old boy in the 1980s this is something amazing), followed by a car-chase with some added tennis.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

Wow, I've seen 8 of these. Great selection - especially Blow Up!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

There is a great scene in In Good Company when Scarlett Johanssen's character (meant to be a very strong player) runs Topher Grace side to side of the court while drinking coffee at the same time

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChrisD

Brilliant list. If anyone could do it, it's you, and you did.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCinesnatch

Aw tennis, my other life's obsession along with TV and movies. Good post, Nat. Though I knew before even clicking that ANNIE HALL would be #1. Of course it is!

As for WIMBLEDON, it's such a guilty pleasure. Plus it was the first time I saw James McAvoy on screen!

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Wibmeldon also gave us the strangely homoerotic friendship between Paul Bettany and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau -

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJA

Awesome post, Nathaniel!

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

That Clueless line cracks my shit up every time.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Me too, I liked Wimbledon! Very blond indeed. I also remembered that I was kind of confused if I should not root for the pairing Paul Bettany and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

Am I the only one who remembers Jocks, the 80s comic masterpiece about a college tennis team? :)

Also, has nobody mentioned the tennis scene from Fletch?

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergwynn1984

Not exactly a tennis scene, but still a delightful romantic moment on the tennis court with William Holden and Audrey Hepburn in 1954's Sabrina.

And, as tennis player I particularly love the scenes in Bachelor Party and Bridesmaids. So hilarious!

Game, set, and match, Nathaniel!!

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPam

The first thing I thought of when I saw the Bridesmaids tennis scene: This is SO Witches of Eastwick! Looking forward to the retrospective as well. I think of that movie every time I eat cherries...

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfbh

Love this list - thanks for bringing some much-needed love to Tennis Nation. And I'd somehow forgotten that James McAvoy *and* Nikolaj Coster-Waldau were in Wimbledon. Definitely time for a my bunk.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Jorge: Really? Well, I don't think we have that much to be concerned about. I think Baz is a divisive director and this is what the fans love to see out of him. If you just don't like Baz, don't see this.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I still love the moment in Two Weeks Notice when Sandra Bullock gets hit in the head with a tennis ball and falls over.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

Besides Wimbledon, I thought of the tennis scenes from Pat & Mike. Didn't Kate hit the ball throughout that one? A comedically sized tennis racket in one panic scene.

And thanks for the reminder of Match Point. What a great movie. Annie Hall is without equal of course.

Oh, good ! Someone else thought of "Pat and Mike". I also remember how that scene ended, with about a hundred tennis balls streaming at Katherine Hepburn simultaneously (she was hallucinating) right before she passed out. The tennis scene in "Fletch" was a hoot as well, in the book and the film.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

Pat And Mike was my first thought!!!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim B.

You forgot about A Single Man!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Um...isn't A Room with a View Tetherball with Tennis Rackets?

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

And it's "vindictive" not "vindicative."

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Yes, there IS an actual tennis match later on, but the moment you're talking about? Tetherball with Tennis Rackets. #Don'tcommentaboutamoviewhileyou'rewatchingit.

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Great post Nate :) Annie Hall obviously takes the cake but I can't really say tennis comes to mind whenever I discuss that movie. And I'm a HUGE tennis fanatico.

By the way, do you still follow any of it? I consistently follow both the ATP and WTA, but for quite different reasons. I believe I do enjoy the WTA more nowadays what with the added drama. I miss the Hingis days though; all that bitching between her and the Williamses and Capriati in press conferences were so epic and messy.

Any favorite players? I'd have to go with Novak and Sharapova as my all-time faves:)

May 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZé Vozone

Match point at 3. I have watched match point more than 3 times. I agree with the lineup.

Tennis with film, now that’s really cool and something I have been looking forward.

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