Best sports movies ever made
Hands up who secretly quite enjoys movies that are based around sport? I imagine quite a few of you are sitting on your hands in embarrassment, as there is something about the sports movie that is, well, uncool. It is the sort of guilty pleasure best enjoyed when the ball and chain is away from home- and then buried under a pile of cushions when they return.
Here at Best For Film we want to dispel the illusion that all sports movies are cliché-ridden drivel. Because we think actually there are some quite good movies based on sport, even for those of you who don’t like it. You just have to think outside the box, employ some amazing actors (preferably Clint and/or Morgan) and bingo- the riddle is solved.
Award winning sports films
Boxing leads the way for sports movies, being the only genre that generates Oscar buzz and actually goes home with the little gold statues. From Rocky back in the day, through to Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man and now The Fighter, boxing seems to have a wider appeal than many sports. Is it due to its protagonist being one person as opposed to a whole team of clodhoppers? Or just that everyone deep down is fascinated with the concept of people who get punched in the face voluntarily?
Take Million Dollar Baby. Hillary Swank excels as trailer park trash who turns her life around to become a pro boxer. Everyone can identify with the theme of trying to better yourself, just none of us lazy bones would have the balls to turn ourselves into a lean mean fighting machine. That Swank does this commands respect, and then the plot twists at the end wrench your heart strings until they break. The sport merely acts as a vehicle through which we get to see one woman’s courage and determination. And boxing is the sport to do this because it is the most physically punishing and as such, the most compelling to watch.
See also: Ali, The Blind Side
Bonkers sports films
Everyone has a secret dirty love for Cool Runnings, about the Jamaican sprinters who decided to compete at the Winter Olympics in the four man Bob. It is crazy from start to finish- and based on a true story. Then there is Blackball, the film that put bowls on the cinematic map. Surprisingly yet to spawn many spin-offs and copies, but brilliant nonetheless. And while we are on this bonkers subject, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and Whip It (the Drew Barrymore film, not Willow Smith’s freakily successful single) are both based on sports that might not be mainstream but are hilariously funny to the point of not being able to breathe.
Ridiculously mad sports film succeed because they act as comedies with a different backdrop. Plus, somehow it is easier to watch a sport of which you have no pre conceived notions. Standing out from the crowd and admitting a liking for curling seems diffident and cool, droning on about footy is dull and repetitive. These films have an edge- quirky yet tame (we are still in the realms of sport after all), they fill the Withnail and I canon for the lycra clad.
See also: A Knight’s Tale, Surfs Up, Balls of Fury, Racing Stripes
Thinking sport films
Sometimes, the sport isn’t enough. The dramatic tense moments must run parallel to other themes, culminating in a spectacular set piece, normally on a field/track/in a ring (delete as appropriate). In Invictus, we had the backdrop of Nelson Mandela being released from prison, post-apartheid South Africa and then- boom! the Rugby World Cup. Similarly, The Wrestler is a story of one man’s quest to right his life, against a longing for the ring that ultimately leads to his downfall. Although this one is slightly different- as the backdrop is more the redemption of Mickey Rourke the actor as opposed to what is going on in the film.
Either way, both these films excel in balancing athletic antics with the more mundane but important real world. Plus, with Invictus being a true story, and The Wrestler leaning heavily on the career of one Hulk Hogan, they both have that spine chilling sense of the inevitable that can only be obtained from movies that you know could come true. Or did.
See also: Chariots of Fire, Seabiscuit
Terrible sports films that are so bad, they become classics
Kevin Costner could have his very own subcategory here. Field of Dreams is now a cult (ish) classic, even though it is about a man who hears voices and is frankly a bit boring despite his ability to converse with long dead baseball players. He liked his baseball did Costner, starring in For The Love Of The Game, which was nowhere near as thought provoking as his first foray into sports movies. But please don’t mention Tin Cup– wrong on every level. If there is one sport that doesn’t translate onto the big screen, it is golf.
Terrible films work because either the sport is so ludicrous you have to believe that no one could make this up, or because they deliver such a curveball, you like them for not being mundane. The Mighty Ducks has Emilio Esteviz in it, coaching peewee ice hockey players with attitude problems. A few shaving cream gags aside, Esteviz sells the fact he does not want to be there so well that we can’t help but watch in a sadistic gleeful manner as he is forced to coach a bunch of delinquents. Truly terrible, but so compelling to watch.
See also: A League Of Their Own, The Longest Yard, The Flying Scotsman
So, it turns out sports movies aren’t as bad as they are perceived to be after all. Yes there are some shockers -no-one would ever suggest you go and watch Goal!- but there are actually quite a lot of very well made films too (and a bunch of Oscar winners to boot). So next time, do not hide your copy of Field of Dreams behind the bookcase. Sports films are becoming a genre in their own right, and a respected one at that.