Swingers deserves more love in the ‘best hockey movies of all time’ conversation.
In the grand scheme of things, the NHL – and hockey in general – is pretty well represented in the world of Cinema.
From Slap Shot, to Miracle, Goon, Youngblood, and even the best kids movie of all time, The Mighty Ducks, a certain segment of the film industry can’t seem to keep their minds off the rink – much to the appreciation of hockey-loving audiences the world over. Heck, there are even decidedly non-hockey movies with heavy hockey elements, like Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore, where the main character attempts to take the PGA Tour by storm in a black and gold Bruins jersey.
But do you want to know what movie has a fantastic hockey scene that almost never gets brought up alongside the Slap Shots, Goons, and D2s of the world? Swingers.
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That’s right, Swingers, the 1996 low-budget dramedy written by Jon Favreau and directed by Doug Liman about a motley crew of 20-something aspiring somebodies yucking it up in Los Angeles during the bizarre mid-90s Swing-revival. While many remember the movie for its inside jokes, its casino scene, and for launching the careers of Vince Vaughn, Favreau, and Liman, the film also has one of the best hockey scenes ever captured on film, even if it technically never takes viewers to a rink.
No, this scene revolves around Vaughn’s Trent Walker, Favreau’s Mike Peters, and Patrick Van Horn’s Sue playing a game of NHLPA Hockey ’93 on the Sega Genesis with one, strangely fascinating goal: To make Wayne Gretzky bleed.
Yup, you read that correctly; as the guys point out in the film, while you can’t have players drop their gloves and straight-up brawl like in previous iterations, in NHLPA Hockey ’93, a player can cause another to fall to the ice and (presumably) crack their head open.
Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself here.
This sounds like a rather straight-forward idea for a scene – simply point a camera at a television, hit record, and pull off the hit – but per Liman in a conversation with Ben Lindbergh and Jason Concepcion on the unfortunately defunct Ringer podcast Achievement Oriented, that was not the case. As strange as it may sound now in the era of Youtube let’s plays and Twitch, the Swinger filmmaking team had to literally pull off the hit themselves to get it in the film, which apparently is a lot harder than it sounds. They tried for hours to get the very specific shot on film and even reached out to Nintendo for advice on how to make Gretzky bleed.
Granted, I’m not quite sure why the crew called Nintendo for help with a game on the Sega Genesis, but hey, maybe after directing such hits as ‘The Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘The Bourne Identity’ Liman got his 30-year-old systems wrong?
Though the group returns to the game later on for an admittedly funny callback involving a crew of street toughs (just watch the movie), that first, enchantingly weird scene rises above the rest and cements the film’s place in the hockey movie Hall of Fame, even if it gets there in quite possibly the strangest way imaginable.
When Jon Favreau, Doug Liman, and Vince Vaughn got together for 18 days during the Swing Revival of the mid-90s to film an ultra-low-budget film, it’s pretty safe to assume they couldn’t have imagined anyone would still be writing about it some 25 years later. But hey, that’s just how things work out sometimes. It’s also safe to assume that no one assumed that a minor, borderline impossible to execute scene involving a Sega Genesis, some post-production wizardry, and a digitalized Wayne Gretsky would capture the imagination of hockey fans the world over and capture a weird little place in the storied history of the NHL on film. That’s Vegas, baby.