Bull Durham—A Great Sex Movie Turns 35

Share This Article

“She was a High Priestess who could lead us into a man’s world, and shine a light on it. And she would be very sensual, and sexual, yet she’d live by her own rigorous moral code. It seemed like a character we hadn’t seen before.”

That’s how screenwriter and director (and former minor league baseball player) Ron Shelton describes Susan Sarandon’s character Annie in his 1988 film Bull Durham.

Starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, Sports Illustrated ranks the film as the “Greatest Sports Movie”. The New York Film Critics’ Circle named it the Best Screenplay of 1988. While it’s easily the best movie about baseball ever made, you can love it without knowing a thing about the game.

That’s partly because it’s also one of the greatest sex movies ever made.

Here’s how Annie introduces herself as she introduces the movie: “I’ve tried every religion, and I now worship at the church of baseball. There’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring—which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer who’s slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career.”

The movie is about a minor-league baseball team in Durham, called the Bulls (in real life, named after the Bull Durham Tobacco Company). Again, quoting Annie, “Each season I give my heart and body to one young player. More than making him a better ball player, I teach him lessons that last a lifetime.”

And how does she do that? Says Annie, “Making love is like hitting a baseball: you gotta just relax and concentrate.” It’s still true about baseball, and it’s still true about sex.


Tim Robbins plays a young stud (Nuke) with a blazing fastball and no clue about how to control it—or himself. So Annie goes about taming him, both sexually and athletically. She reads him poetry during foreplay, slowing him down. She gets him to wear a garter belt when pitching, to focus his attention. She ties him up—literally—to get him to relax when he’s, well, blazing.

For most of the movie, she uses sex with the young stud like a master violinist—teasing her instrument, slowing the tempo, focusing on fewer and fewer notes, squeezing ecstasy out of the slightest motion. He starts the movie thinking he’s going to primitively enrapture this beautiful, slightly older groupie. He ends up submitting to her sexual (and life) wisdom.

He has less sex than he anticipated, and it’s slower and more focused than he expected. But he learns to control his fastball, learns the world is bigger than he thought, and…well, I can’t quite give away the ending.

Meanwhile, Crash (Kevin Costner), the world-weary minor league catcher who was in the Big Leagues a few years ago for exactly 21 days (“the 21 greatest days of my life”), is signed by the Bulls specifically to tutor Nuke. He tries. Nuke resists. He tries more. Nuke resists. He gives the kid a few lessons—including telling a few opposing batters which pitch is coming, which of course results in mammoth home runs. As with Annie, Nuke begins to submit to his catcher’s lessons, both about baseball and about life.

Everybody can see Nuke’s potential, but can it be harnessed by these two wily veterans? Annie wants to succeed in her Nuke project, but as she watches Nuke resist Crash’s teaching, she realizes she can’t do it alone. As she gets close to Crash, she’s gradually drawn to the gruff grownup.

The climax of the movie takes place on Annie’s couch, where she puts the matter to the two men: she needs to choose between them, “So I thought I’d interview you both together, and then pick.” But Crash, always true to himself (even it means not getting what he wants), challenges her model:

Crash: Why don’t I get to pick? Why doesn’t Nuke?
Annie: Um, that’s just how it is. But anyway, nobody really picks. It’s about pheromones and quantum physics…
Crash (interrupting): I don’t believe in quantum physics in matters of the heart.

Fed up, he starts to leave. Annie calls out plaintively: What do you believe in? And Crash says straight into the camera, right to her, and right to us,

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curveball, high fiber, good scotch and that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas eve, and I believe in long, slow, deep soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

As he turns to leave, all Annie can do is sigh “oh my.”

The interplay between sex and baseball and life is done so deftly, we sometimes aren’t sure which is the foreground, and which the background; which the melody, and which the harmony.

And as in the best sex (and as on the best baseball teams), everyone involved changes.

Bull Durham turns 35 this week. It is definitely not over the hill.

Like short videos about sexual subjects like desire, Viagra, infidelity, menopause, and “normal sex”? See my video quickies at www.youtube.com/@Marty_Klein/videos

Share This Article

Previous Post
Next Post