Gene Hackman stars as Norman Dale, a new coach with a spotty past. The film co-stars Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper, whose role as the basketball-loving town drunk, earned him an Oscar nomination. Jerry Goldsmith was also nominated for an Academy Award for his score. In 2001, Hoosiers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In 1951, Norman Dale arrives in rural Hickory, Indiana to become a high school teacher and head basketball coach of the Huskers. He was hired by his longtime friend, principal Cletus Summers. Speaking with Cletus, Dale thanks him for the opportunity and mysteriously mentions that he hopes things will work out for him this time.
The townspeople are passionate about basketball. They are upset because the best player in town, Jimmy Chitwood, has left the team to focus on his schoolwork. He also is still mourning the death of the previous coach. At a meet-and-greet, Dale tells the townspeople he used to coach college ball and has been in the Navy for the past ten years. Fellow teacher Myra Fleener, who senses something negative in Dale's past, warns him not to try to persuade Jimmy to change his mind.
The school is so small that the Huskers have only seven players. At the first practice, Dale quickly dismisses Buddy Walker for rudeness, and Whit Butcher also walks out. Dale begins drilling the remaining five players (Rade Butcher, Merle Webb, Everett Flatch, Strap Purl, and manager Ollie McLellan) with fundamentals and conditioning but no scrimmages or shooting, much to the players' dismay.
With the team having worked on a four-pass offense, Dale remains committed to this approach in the opening game of the season, even when Rade disobeys him and repeatedly shoots successfully without passing. Dale benches him and, when Merle fouls out, refuses to let Rade return to the game, leaving his team with only four players on the floor. In a subsequent game, when an opposing player pokes Dale in the chest during an on-court argument, Rade jumps to his defense and hits the player. After the ensuing brawl, Cletus, who has been assisting Dale in coaching, suffers a mild heart attack.
The coach further alienates the community by having the team play with a slow, defensive style that does not immediately produce results and also by losing his temper, causing him to be ejected from multiple games.
With Cletus laid up, Dale invites knowledgeable former Husker Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch, Everett's alcoholic father, to join him on the bench as a new assistant. This too confounds the town, including Everett. The coach has one major requirement for Shooter: he must be sober at all times around the boys.
By the middle of the season, the townspeople decide to hold a meeting and vote on whether Dale should be dismissed. Before the meeting, Fleener tells Dale she has learned from an old newspaper article that he was banned from coaching years ago after hitting one of his players. At the meeting, Fleener starts to tell the townspeople what she found out, but she changes her mind and tells them to give Dale a chance. As the ballots are being counted, Jimmy enters and announces that he's ready to rejoin the team, but only if Dale remains as coach. The ballot count is reported, and it has gone against Dale, but everyone votes again, this time overwhelmingly choosing for Dale to stay.
With Jimmy back on the team, the reenergized Huskers rack up a series of wins. Along the way, Dale proves Shooter's value (to the townspeople and to Shooter himself) by intentionally getting himself ejected from a game and forcing Shooter to demonstrate his coaching ability. Shooter does just that by designing a play that helps Hickory win the game on a last-second shot.
Despite a setback in which Shooter arrives drunk at the sectional game and ends up in the hospital, the team advances through tournament play with contributions from unsung players, such as the pint-sized Ollie and devoutly religious Strap. Hickory reaches the state championship game in Indianapolis. In a large fieldhouse, and before a crowd bigger than any they've seen, the Hickory players face long odds to defeat the South Bend Central Bears, whose players are taller and more athletic. But with Jimmy scoring at the last second, Hickory wins the 1952 state championship.Gene Hackman as Norman Dale
Barbara Hershey as Myra Fleener
Dennis Hopper as Shooter Flatch
Sheb Wooley as Cletus Summers
Maris Valainis as Jimmy Chitwood
David Neidorf as Everett Flatch
Brad Long as Buddy Walker
Steve Hollar as Rade Butcher
Brad Boyle as Whit Butcher
Wade Schenck as Ollie McLellan
Kent Poole as Merle Webb
Scott Summers as Strap Purl
Fern Persons as Opal Fleener
Chelcie Ross as George Walker
The film is very loosely based on the story of the 1954 Indiana state champions, Milan High School ( MY-lən), but the term "inspired by a true story" may be more appropriate, as there was little the two teams had in common.
In most U.S. states, high school athletic teams are divided into different classes, usually based on the number of enrolled students, with separate state championship tournaments held for each classification. At the time, Indiana conducted a single state basketball championship for all of its high schools and continued to do so until 1997.
Some elements of the film do match closely with those of Milan's real story. Like the movie's fictional "Hickory High School", Milan was a very small high school in a rural, southern Indiana town. Both schools had undersized teams. Both Hickory and Milan won the state finals by two points: Hickory won 42–40, and Milan won 32–30. The final seconds of the Hoosiers state final hold fairly closely to the details of Milan's 1954 final; the final shot in the movie was taken from virtually the same spot on the floor as Bobby Plump's actual game-winner. The movie's final game was shot in the same building that hosted the 1954 Indiana final, Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse (called Butler Fieldhouse in 1954) in Indianapolis.
However, unlike the movie's plot, the 1954 Milan High School basketball team came into the season as heavy favorites and finished the '53-'54 regular season at 19-2. In addition, the previous 1952-1953 team went to the state semi-finals and were considered a powerhouse going into the championship season despite the school's small enrollment.
During filming in the Autumn of 1985, on location at Hinkle Fieldhouse, directors were unable to secure enough extras for shooting the final scenes even after casting calls through the Indianapolis media. To help fill the stands, they invited two local high schools to move a game to the Fieldhouse. Broad Ripple and Chatard, the alma mater of Maris Valainis who played the role of Jimmy Chitwood, obliged, and crowd shots were filmed during their actual game. Fans of both schools came out in period costumes to serve as extras and to supplement the hundreds of locals who had answered the call. At halftime and following the game, actors took to the court to shoot footage of the state championship scenes, including the game-winning shot by Hickory.
The film's producers chose New Richmond to serve as the fictional town of Hickory and recorded most of the film's location shots in and around the community. Signs on the roads into New Richmond still recall its role in the film. In addition, the old schoolhouse in Nineveh was used for the majority of the classroom scenes and many other scenes throughout the movie.
The home court of Hickory is located in Knightstown and is now known as the "Hoosier Gym."
Pizzo and Anspaugh shopped the script for two years before they finally found investment for the project. Despite this seeming approval, the financiers only approved a production budget of $6 million, forcing the crew to hire most of the cast playing the Hickory basketball team and many of the extras from the local community around New Richmond. Gene Hackman also predicted that the movie was going to be a "career killer." Despite the small budget, dire predictions, and little help from distributor Orion Pictures, Hoosiers grossed over $28 million and received two Oscar nominations (Dennis Hopper for Best Supporting Actor and Jerry Goldsmith for Best Original Score).
The music to Hoosiers was written by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith used a hybrid of orchestral and electronic elements in juxtaposition to the 1950s setting to score the film. He also helped tie the music to the movie by using recorded hits of basketballs on a gymnasium floor to serve as additional percussion sounds. Washington Post film critic Paul Attanasio praised the soundtrack, writing, "And it's marvelously (and innovatively) scored (by composer Jerry Goldsmith), who weaves together electronics with symphonic effects to create a sense of the rhythmic energy of basketball within a traditional setting."
The score would go on to garner Goldsmith an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score, though he ultimately lost to Herbie Hancock for Round Midnight. Goldsmith would later work with filmmakers Angelo Pizzo and David Anspaugh again on their successful 1993 sports film Rudy.
Until 2012, the soundtrack was primarily available under the European title Best Shot, with several of the film's cues not included on the album.
Track listing (1987 release):
- "Best Shot (Theme from Hoosiers)" - 4:25
- "You Did Good" - 7:02
- "The Coach Stays" - 2:42
- "The Pivot" - 3:29
- "Get the Ball" - 1:49
- "Town Meeting" - 4:47
- "Finals" - 15:19
In 2012, Intrada Records released Goldsmith's complete score, marking the first time the soundtrack has been released on CD in the United States.
Track listing (2012 release):
- Theme From Hoosiers - 4:24
- Main Title - Welcome To Hickory - 3:49
- Chester - 1:25
- First Workout - 1:55
- Get It Up - 2:18
- You Did Good - 7:01
- No More Basketball - 1:33
- Town Meeting - 4:44
- The Coach Stays - 2:41
- The Pivot - 3:28
- Get The Ball - 1:46
- Last Foul - :45
- Free Shot - 1:12
- Someone I Know - 2:20
- Empty Inside - 1:43
- The Gym - 2:42
- The Finals - 15:19
Hoosiers received positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 88% based on reviews from 43 critics, with an average score of 7.5/10. The critical consensus is that "it may adhere to the sports underdog formula, but Hoosiers has been made with such loving craft, and features such excellent performances, that it's hard to resist."
Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert praised the film, writing:
Ebert closed his review with the comment, "It's a movie that is all heart."
The New York Times' Janet Maslin echoed Ebert's sentiments, writing,
Washington Post critics Rita Kempley and Paul Attanasio both enjoyed the film, despite its perceived sentimentalism and lack of originality. Kempley wrote,
Attanasio pointed out some problems with the film:
Time magazine's Richard Schickel praised the performance of Gene Hackman, writing that he was
Variety wrote that the
Pat Graham of the Chicago Reader was the rare dissenter, writing of the film that
Hoosiers has been listed by many publications as one of the best sports movies ever made.
Hoosiers was ranked number 13 by the American Film Institute on its 100 Years... 100 Cheers list of most inspirational films. The film was the choice of the readers of USA Today as the best sports movie of all time. In 2001, Hoosiers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten" — the best ten films in ten classic American film genres — after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Hoosiers was acknowledged as the fourth best film in the sports genre.
A museum to commemorate the real life achievements of the 1954 Milan team has been established.
In July 2015, MGM partnered with the Indiana Pacers, and together, they revealed that the Pacers will wear Hickory uniforms inspired by the film during select games in the 2015-16 NBA regular season in honor of the film's 30th anniversary.
In April 2017, Vice President Mike Pence said that Hoosiers is the “greatest sports movie ever made" while traveling on a flight from Indonesia to Australia with a pool of journalists.
American Film Institute ListsAFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers - #13
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - Nominated
AFI's 10 Top 10 - #4 Sports Film