Sports films are often inspiring, timeless and tap into the best aspects of the human spirit. Seeing an individual or team of people come together to rise above the odds rarely fails to leave the audience cheering while caught in the moment.
However, many sports films, more often than not, center on what some call the “big four”: football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Apart from these four sports, there are enough Rocky movies to make up a big chunk of the boxing movies out there, too. But there are movies about other, more underrated sports that are worth watching, even if their subject matter gets less attention.
The King of Kong: A Handful of Quarters (2007)
In 2007, movie audiences were introduced to the concept of esports long before it became a more popular competitive medium. This documentary focuses on the culture around the world champions of popular retro arcade cabinets, in particular Donkey Kong. The film centers on Steve Wiebe’s quest to overthrow longtime world record holder Billy Mitchell in order to be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records.
This film is an unexpected triumph for such a niche story. Wiebe is a believable outsider, and audiences also get a glimpse of what his obsession does to the people around him, making him a formidable villain in that setting.
Sailor Cookie (2003)
One of the many Oscar nominated films mentioned here, sea cookie is loosely based on a true story. The undersized racehorse who became a champion at the start of the 20th century, sea cookie was one of the few sports films nominated for Best Picture and boasts an all-star cast.
A unique element of the film revolves around more than the theme of the underdog that is present in so many sports movies. More than just overcoming obstacles, the story takes the angle of showing how someone (or something) considered broken can be restorative for other broken things. It’s inspiration from a different genre than what avid sports movie viewers are used to seeing, and that’s what makes it so special.
Cool Races (1993)
In 1993, the world discovered everyone’s favorite Jamaican bobsled team. Also loosely based on real events from the 1988 Winter Olympics, Cool races was one of comedy legend John Candy’s last films and it takes the “fish out of water” approach to the extreme in an unorthodox sports comedy.
Although marketed primarily as a comedy, Cool races depicts the strength, pride and dignity of its characters. The four bobsleigh athletes are stepping into uncharted territory, both competitively and climatically, and the results are both inspiring and hilarious.
Fox Catcher (2014)
Another Oscar nominated film, 2014 foxcatcher explores the fascinating and troubled life of the amateur wrestling team becoming world champions, made up of former Olympic gold medalists and an enigmatic head coach. The disturbing and tragic story features Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and a highly unusual performance by Steve Carell.
The performances are haunting and highly effective, in that they linger in the minds of the audience long after viewing. No performance is more memorable than that of Steve Carell, who earned a Best Actor nomination for the role. which also defines foxcatcher apart, however, is the exploration of family tensions that end up corrupting the journey to victory, rather than enhancing it.
A group of inner-city Philadelphia kids are turned into a competitive swim team by their driven and persevering coach in 2007. Pride. The team, coached by a couple portrayed by Terence Howard and the late great Bernie Mac, is not just tasked with developing a team of athletes, but developing young people to face and overcome the damaging adversities they see. day to day and in competition.
Jim Ellis’ story explores some familiar narratives of racial tension seen in other sports films set soon after the civil rights era. There is, however, a new aspect to this story, as it involves swimming, a sport less explored for films. Additionally, very real historical accounts of the treatment of black communities in swimming pools have the opportunity to be shown in a sports context.
Tackling the Sport of Rugby, 2009 Invictus tells the story of the South African national team’s bid to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the year they were also hosts. Matt Damon put in a solid performance as team captain, and the most memorable role was given by Morgan Freeman, who played South African President Nelson Mandela.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it surpasses in this film to go beyond the simple premise of a united team beyond their differences and rises to the task of portraying a country that still lives in the wake of apartheid. . Mandela’s vision of using sport as a great unifier is paying off and this depiction is one that endures today, with great help from the recitation of the poem that shares the film’s title.
Queen of Katwe (2016)
2016 Queen of Katwe has all the ingredients of a great sports story. Phiona Mutesi, a 10-year-old Ugandan living in poverty outside the capital Kampala, is rising to prominence as a chess player and struggling with the tension between life as a champion and a life of poverty.
Phiona embarks on a journey from obscurity to victory, but the way this film shines is that in portraying Phiona, she is so believable in any circumstance as a child would be. She and her teammates steal the show in this hidden gem.
Race tells the story of Olympic track and field star Jesse Owens as he strives to be champion. Owens not only confronted the forces of racism in his own country, but confronted Nazi Party propaganda at the 1939 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
The film does a good job exploring the various track and field events documenting Owens’ expertise. Additionally, it explores the complexities of Owens’ character but also much of the supporting cast, including a rival German athlete and Jesse’s coach – played by Jason Sudeikis in his role as the most inspiring coach who is not Ted Lasso.
In 2011, the mixed martial arts (MMA) film Warrior snuck onto the stage to put a new spin on a rock style narrative. Two brothers, a fallen family man and another war hero with a troubled past, find themselves on a collision course during a high-stakes MMA tournament. To top it off, their recovering alcoholic father, who has traumatized them both in the past, is caught in the middle.
This film succeeds in the sense that all of the main characters are given more layers than in the typical sports film, and they all possess qualities that cause the viewer to cheer and boo them at different times. The plot still manages to resolve the story into a satisfying and, as much as possible, heartwarming conclusion.
McFarland, USA (2015)
McFarland, United States is based on the true story of disgraced high school football coach Jim White, who moves his family across the country to a rural Latino community in California. There he learned to adapt to his new surroundings, uncover some of his own personal biases, and build a championship cross-country team.
At first glance, this film resembles others of its ilk when it comes to underprivileged athletes, racial tensions in the community, and overcoming obstacles. But McFarland, United States stands out as White learns true humility and demonstrates not only a desire to succeed but also to build community. He achieves a different kind of victory beyond sports by learning to see his community as the home he belongs to, instead of the neighborhood he had to choose as a last resort.
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