'I, Tonya' (2017)
Enough time has passed to afford us some perspective on the 1994 figure skating scandal in which American skater Nancy Kerrigan had her knee bashed by an assailant hired by the ex-husband of the titular Tonya Harding. The controversy came as a breath of fresh air after so many doping and bribing scandals, and the world (well, the U.S. at least) took pleasure in watching the drama unfold. The laughs continue in "I, Tonya", albeit from dark and clever humour that eschews the typical biopic formula of representing a misunderstood celebrity.
'Chariots of Fire' (1981)
You forgot that this was originally a film, not just a soundtrack or a trope in TV and film played when characters run in slow-motion, didn’t you. Though Vangelis’s award-winning score overshadows the film, you should remember that it won both Best Picture and Best Screenplay at the 1982 Oscars, and shouldn’t be written off by those who only recognize its title theme. Like many films on this list, “Chariots of Fire” proves how sport can transcend issues of nationality, race, and, in its case, religion, in its examination of how two British runners – one Jewish, the other a Christian – approach the sport and the role it plays in their respective lives ahead of the 1924 Olympics.
'Cool Runnings' (1993)
The inspiring story of the Jamaican bobsled team that won the hearts (but no medals unfortunately) of the world with their perseverance and all that at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. John Candy shines in a semi-serious role as the disgraced coach who is tasked with introducing the team to snow. The lovable Canadian would die a year after the film was released.
'Eddie the Eagle' (2016)
Calgary was quite the inspirational city in 1988. Like “Cool Runnings”, this “underdog” story took place at its Winter Olympics but traded the bobsled for a pair of skis, strapped to the feet of Eddie Edwards, the Brit (hardly a snow-based juggernaut nation) who proved his own country – and the world – that his never-say-die attitude, however cliched, brought him his own brand of success (unfortunately that brand was inferior to all the other skiers’ more conventionally successful brands and Eddie finished in the 50s).
'The Cutting Edge' (1992)
Absolutely no new ground being broken here, no new trails being blazed, as this 1992 film relies on so many film tropes (i.e., opposite underdogs attract) to tell a very predictable tale. Nevertheless, this “cult” classic has a fervent enough fanbase to warrant several straight-to-video sequels, with each sporting different leads (except for one actor) but probably telling the same story (I’m guessing, based on the title “The Cutting Edge: Fire and Ice”)
'Blades of Glory' (2007)
Kinda like ‘The Cutting Edge’ in that two disparate figure skaters must work together if they want to realize their dream of Olympic gold. Except instead of a burgeoning romance you have Will Ferrell at his brash best and “Napoleon Dynamite”’s Jon Heder pairing off in a multitude of garish costumes. One of the few films on this list that is definitely NOT based on a true story.
Notable for a few things – not the least of which is funnyman Steve Carell’s transformation into John du Pont, the erratic millionaire-cum-wrestling coach whose potential self-implosion threatens the success of the brothers Schultz (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo), wrestlers with high hopes for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Even we Canadians must concede the story of the U.S. Men’s hockey team at the 1980 Olympics as nothing short of astonishing. The focus of ‘Miracle’ is Kurt Russell’s Herb Brooks, the coach (and impetus) behind the extraordinary team many had written off when compared to the Canadian and Russian squads. For hockey fans (natch) who can tolerate Team Canada without the gold.
An all-star team in front of and behind the camera tell the true story of the aftermath of Black September, in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the Munich Games in 1972. Steven Spielberg continues his examination of what it means to be a Jew, while Eric Bana plays one of the five assigned with getting retribution. Clearly not the kind of sports movie to watch alongside, say, “Major League”.
'Personal Best' (1982)
Acclaimed screenwriter Robert Towne sat in the director’s chair for the first time in this 1982 film starring Muriel Hemingway. Track and field take a back seat to the soap opera-esque relationships among the leads. In fact, the film ends before the athletes even make it to the Olympics. Kinda like how “Jerry Maguire” is ostensibly about football but really, about Jerry’s maturation, “Personal Best” is really a love story that takes place on asphalt.
Bizarrely, the first of two films (1998’s “Without Limits” being the second) released in quick succession about U.S. runner Steve Prefontaine. This one should be praised for its portrayal of amateur sports ahead of the 1972 Olympics in Munich (though some might argue little has changed) and its insistence that Prefontaine be portrayed as the self-centered, “win at all costs” glory-hound that he was. A welcome change from the feel-good sports movies intended to make grown men cry.
Thought-provoking title puns aside, this 2016 film serves more as a political history lesson than a showcase for sport. Unsurprising, then, that it is situated in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, where Jesse Owens, a young black American athlete, must compete amid nascent tensions of race and religion in Munich, soon to be the focus of the world’s attention for the ensuing wartime years. Features a serious Jason Sudeikis and Carice von Houten (“Game of Thrones”) as Hitler documentarian Leni Riefenstahl.