A few years ago I set out to write a list of my top ten sports movies. I rapidly came to the conclusion that my list was full of Baseball and Boxing movies and little else. I gave up on the idea and published lists of my favourite Baseball and Boxing movies. Returning to the same idea from a different direction, my favourite sports movies limited to one movie per sport:
Rugby (league): This Sporting Life (1963): A grim and often brutal tale of Rugby in northern England. I has its problems and hasn’t aged that well in places but is still a powerful film with some great moments.
Ice Hockey: Slap Shot (1977): To the uninitiated (like me) ice hock is a sport that breaks out occasionally when the fighting subsides. It is therefore fitting that the most iconic movie to depicts the sport portrays a team that resorts to violent play to gain popularity.
Cycling: Breaking Away (1979): Like so many other sports movies, Breaking Away is as much about growing up as it is about sport. It sits as well with Fandango or American Graffiti as it does with a sports movie and is all the better for it.
Boxing: Raging Bull (1980): Martin Scorsese’s tale of Boxer Jake LaMotta is so much more than a sports movie but along the way it manages to be the best sports movie ever made. The American Film Institute voted it the best film of the 80’s, its hard to argue with them.
Golf: Caddyshack (1980): originally well received and like so many 80’s comedies Caddyshack gained a cult status. It has more recently had a bit of a backlash as people suggest it isn’t as funny as they remember. Whatever your thoughts, its worth seeing for Bill Murray’s performance alone.
Athletics: Chariots of Fire (1981): I saw the reissue of this movie at the cinema earlier this year. Telling the true story of two athletes and what they did to get to the 1924 Paris Olympics, it has lost none of its impact in the thirty years since its release.
Pool: The Color of Money (1986): The Hustler (1961) is the obvious choice but I prefer Martin Scorsese’s sequel to the original. The greatest triumph and the reason the movie works so well is the brilliant way Newman and Cruise play off each other.
Skiing: The Blizzard of AAHHH’s (1988): Speed skiers often reach speeds in excess of 125mph, early in this seminal documentary we are told that Glen Plake gave it up because he found it boring. This movie tells of what he and others did instead and thus began the extreme skiing movement.
Football: Fever Pitch (1997): Football is near impossible to get right in movies, Fever Pitch gets it right by not actually showing football. Based around real events and telling what it is to be a fan.
Skateboarding: Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001): Catherine Hardwicke’s 2005 movie Lords of Dogtown was told the story of the Zephyr skateboard team and was a pretty good movie. This documentary directed by original Z-Boy Stacy Peralta is even better.
Climbing/mountaineering: Touching the Void (2003): Two climbers successfully reach the summit of the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande in Peru, things don’t go as smoothly on the way down. Using a lot of re-enactment the movie falls somewhere between a feature film and a traditional documentary.
American Football: Friday Night Lights (2004): High school and college sport means so much more in America than in England, that is one of the reasons it is the subject of so many movies. This one is so good, that I would place it above any movie about the NFL.
Tennis: Wimbledon (2004): The story of a journeyman English tennis player who SPOILER ALERT wins Wimbledon contains all the themes of underdog you would expect from a sports movie. A likable leading man help make this lightweight rom-com more enjoyable than it should be.
Wheelchair Rugby: Murderball (2005): Murderball is the name given to the brutal sport of wheelchair rugby. Told from the point of view of Team USA and Team Canada in the two years leading up to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens this documentary of the sport is gripping, exciting and rewarding.
Wrestling: The Wrestler (2008): Is professional wrestling a sport? Probably not, but with a movie this good I can’t leave it off the list. Darren Aronofsky has a way of making any subject interesting, he is aided by a great cast including the ever dependable Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei who are both at their best.
Mixed-Martial Arts: Redbelt (2008): Warrior (2011) is a better known movie about Mixed-Martial Arts, I prefer David Mamet’s film Redbelt. With all the complexity and nuance you would expect from Mamet but with an unfamiliar setting.
Roller Derby: Whip It (2009): Going into this movie I had no idea what Roller Derby was, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut is an enjoyable film in its own right but is also a great advert for the sport.
Motor racing: Senna (2010): A fantastic and moving doc telling the story of Ayrton Senna, a man who was possibly the greatest racing driver of all time, the true greatness of the film is the number of none F1 fans who also enjoyed it. It featured in my top five movies from 2011.