Perhaps due to its propensity for victory sequences, sweeping soundtracks and comeback plot lines, the sport movie genre is densely populated and highly successful.
Here, we select 10 movies that each made an impact for different reasons – from the heartwrenching to the hilarious to that soundtrack.
1. Chariots of Fire
Director: Hugh Hudson
Stars: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, and Ian Holm
One of the few sports movies to ever receive an Academy Award for Best Picture, looking at the bare bones of the film it is inconceivable it would ever be created again, much less become a cinematic hit.
Against the backdrop of the 1924 Paris Olympics two athletes: one a devout Scottish Presbyterian, the other an English Jew, must overcome the prejudice of the British Athletic establishment and triumph for the sake of their own personal convictions.
Chariots of Fire features no Hollywood stars and was set amongst the dainty world of the Cambridge university establishment but still became a worldwide hit for the universality of its themes. The film features a legendary score from Greek composer Vangelis that sets the world of athletics in an atmosphere of grace and glory.
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Director: Gavin O’Connor
Stars: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte
A new addition to the sports movie canon is the criminally under-seen 2011 Drama Warrior.
Yes, the premise is derivative: two estranged brothers are forced to confront one another, and their own demons, in a mixed martial arts tournament. But director Gavin O’Connor attacks these clichés with such ferocity and depth of feeling that Warrior transcends the sports movie clichés and becomes a powerhouse drama about working class Americans struggling to save their lives and their souls.
The performances are excellent across the board. Tom Hardy plays fuming lump of rage Tommy. Joel Edgerton plays the steady, committed family man Brendan.
Between them is Nick Nolte, their recovering alcoholic father, desperate to redeem himself in the eyes of his sons.
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3. Raging Bull
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty
Perhaps the most poetic and artful sports movie of all time, and also the most slyly hilarious.
Starting off as a plucky middleweight, Jake La Motta finds early success only to lose it all, grow fat and conspire to destroy every relationship in his life.
Once Jake’s powers in the ring begin to wane, he turns his violent instincts to the home front: In what seems like an endless stream of scene La Motta grows increasingly paranoid that his wife is cheating on him – perversely actually driving her and everyone else in his life away from him.
Scorsese frames the story lovingly in the world of Italian migrants in New York of the 1940’s and uses boxing to explore the fighter’s relentless appetite for conflict and self-destruction.
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4. The Wrestler
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Mickey Rourke, Marissa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood.
Mickey Rourke is perfectly cast is Randy the Ram, an over-the-hill wrestler living in a trailer, spending his days working in a supermarket deli.
Aronofsky perfectly captures the desolate, dead end world of small time wrestlers eking out a living in local community halls and depicts, with grim realism, the physical toll exacted on performers for their craft.
The focus here is less on wrestling and more the performers instinct for adulation and the personal toll willing to exact in order to achieve it: a theme he would further explore in his companion film Black Swan. Mickey Rourke delivers a heartbreaking performance as a man desperate to fulfil himself in a cold and unforgiving world.
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5. The Fighter
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
David O. Russell’s crazy boxing drama centres on Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) an ageing boxer, who squanders his potential by his loyalty to his ridiculous, humongous family, in particular his scheming mother (Melissa Leo) and his crack smoking brother (Christian Bale).
Ward eventually meets a feisty local bartender (Amy Adams) who opens up his horizons and forces him to reassess his career – much to the chagrin of his mother.
In an all star cast, Bale’s star shines brightest in the film as a retired champion who now spends his days in a crack reliving his past glories: his relationship with Ward is at the film’s centre and gives it its heart and soul.
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6. Looking For Eric
Director: Ken Loach
Stars: Eric Cantona, Steve Evets.
Director Ken Loach has spent nearly five decades making films depicting the plight of the downtrodden and the poor. In Looking for Eric there might be his most light hearted and whimsical film ever.
Manchester postman Eric Bishop is a football fanatic whose life is slipping into crises: he is being brought into contact with his ex-wife and his stepson is being threatened by local drug lords.
One day, while smoking cannabis with some colleagues, salvation comes in the form of Manchester United star Eric Cantona, who offers up philosophical advice to Eric that drastically improves his life.
As the men bond through Cantona’s visits, Eric begins to have the self confidence to confront his demons with confidence and flair.
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7. The Damned United
Director: Tom Hooper
Stars: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney
Follows legendary British manager Brian Clough’s disastrous 44 days at the helm of Leeds United in 1974.
Clough is depicted as a conflicted genius: at once inspired and charming, but then always undone by his own arrogance and recklessness.
Damned shows us Clough’s early success at Derby County and his rivalry with Leeds manager Don Revvie, the man he would replace at Leeds – with disastrous consequences.
Director Hooper revels in recreating 70’s period details in all their glory: so many bad haircuts and cheap suits. Michael Sheen gives a dazzling performance as Clough: brash and neurotic but always sympathetic and very entertaining.
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8. Match Point
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Jonathon Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer
Chris Wilton (Jonathon Rhys Meyers) is a working class tennis pro, who ingratiates himself with a well-to-do British family before risking it all by taking a saucy mistress Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), who threatens his exciting new life.
Allen uses tennis as a metaphor to meditate on the nature of luck in shaping one’s philosophy, attitude and destiny and how sometimes the smallest twist of fate can have devastating consequences.
Upon its release Match Point was Woody Allen’s best-received film in over a decade and sparked his ongoing collaboration with Johansson.
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9. Happy Gilmore
Director: Denis Dugan
Stars: Adam Sandler, Carl Weathers, Christopher McDonald
The premise of a violent hockey player becoming thrust into the genteel world of golf works perfectly to lead star Adam Sandler’s strengths.
Carl Weathers also shines as Chubs Peterson, the one-armed golfing coach with vengeance on his mind against a wily alligator.
Ben Stiller is the ridiculous, nursing home owner who torments his elderly patients. And finally there is Christopher McDonald as Shooter McGavin (seriously how good are these names?) the smarmy, scheming golf pro, who becomes Happy’s nemesis, plotting to undermine his improbable rise.
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10. Rust and Bone
Director: Jacques Audiard
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts
Rust and Bone is an unconventional French drama with not one, but two obscure sports at its centre.
Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a drifter put in charge of his five year old son, moves to the south of France. One night moonlighting as a bouncer he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard): an orca trainer who will lose her legs in a horrible performance accident.
Over time the two form an unlikely friendship as Ali is seemingly oblivious to Stephanie’s self-consciousness about her new condition and draws her into his new profession of illegal bareknuckle fighting.
Rust and Bone is a scrappy, powerhouse film about the beaten down and the poor fighting their way back into the world.
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