I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts.
The very first sport alphabetically is one that will illustrate to you rather quickly that there are two ways you can see a sport portrayed in a film: direct (e.g. sports movies) or indirect (wherein the sport is a component of the film but not the focus). Archery is an ancient practical discipline, which is rather visually appealing. Thus, it makes cameos in myriad ways: whether the super-human precision of Hawkeye in The Avengers or the cold brutality of Kevin, as in the one who needs talking about.
Films about the sport itself are harder to come by but with all the Robin Hoods there should be something that tickles your fancy.
My official pick will by Walt Disney’s Robin Hood, though of course Disney/Pixar’s Brave also features a prominent competition, and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is quite skilled too.
Another permutation of the sports movie you get is that of the biopic. This seems to be a particular purview of Athletics, specifically track and field events. Clearly, Chariots of Fire is the first title that comes to mind. Then there are the lesser known but still worth looking out for like Prefontaine and Saint Ralph.
Here is the first of the challenging sports on this list. In looking into it I was reminded that badminton, like so many other things, has been included on The Simpsons. In film terms, I learned of two features that involve it, one I’d be interested in seeing and one not so much. The first is National Lampoon’s Golddigger, a newer and prior to this unknown to me installment of the series, and then an Indonesian biopic about Liem Swei King simply called King, which is clearly more appealing for the purist.
Basketball is one of the sports that has most frequently made for popular or entertaining films. Now, the two that jump immediately to mind are Hoosiers and Blue Chips. Having said that, since there are so many basketball titles, such that you can specifically cite the Olympics in some; I’d choose HBO’s documentary :03 from Gold about the ’72 Gold Medal Game between the US and USSR.
It was incredibly difficult to parse beach volleyball films from traditional volleyball ones. Beach ones are clearly more popular, but rather than being crass and to respect the differences between the two disciplines, they will each get their own films. The beach volleyball choice is Side Out, which I do believe I’ve actually seen Side Out (so help me God).
Boxing is the sport where I’m sure you’ll find the most movies to choose from. Of course, a movie about Olympic boxing is disqualified since the scoring system instantly introduces plot holes and confusion, but you can pick among the classics here Rocky, Raging Bull or whatever your preference may be you’re spoiled for choice with this sport.
Any of the paddle sports will be rarely found on screen and usually as a background element. In the Social Network the Winklevoss twins were part of a crew legacy, which could qualify that as a rowing movie.
With regards to the canoeing/kayaking end of the spectrum that’s where you get to fudging it a little. The first thing that came to mind was White Water Summer, that was immediately followed by more Kevin Bacon in The River Wild, which is a rafting film but less all around odd and not at all ’80s. You could also turn to A River Runs Through It.
With regards to paddle sports it all depends on how ensconced you want to be. If you want just a hint of it you can certainly fudge a movie in in easily.
With many of these films I’m discovering them and wanting to find them at some point, with some they are oddities that I have seen and want to recommend. When it came to cycling I’ve seen two of the bigger cycling movies Breaking Away and American Flyers thanks to a family member who is obsessed with the sport.
They have their moments but have also bred some inside jokes based on the fact that it’s a “shown movie,” as in a “You should see this” kind of thing. However, in fairness, they seem to be the go to choices for enthusiasts.
One of those sports that pops up at the Olympics that grabs my interest are the track cycling events, which are more intriguing to me that the other disciplines. The Flying Scotsman seems to be a popular choice for that particular modality.
Diving, whether it be platform or springboard, is usually an affectation wherein we witness the externalization of a protagonist’s fear and his overcoming it, and rarely the focus of a film.
Perhaps the most notable examples are Greg Louganis: Breaking the Surface, and now with the games in London, Tom Daley four years on from a debut at the age of 14, wherein he finished 7th and 8th in his two events; has a BBC documentary about him to his credit along with being a serious medal threat.
I’m not going to say I’m a horse whisperer or even any kind of an expert, but what invariably ends up bugging me in some horse movies is the whole nature of them participating in a sport. A notable example being The Black Stallion. The beginning, say the first 40 minutes is a gem, a perfect replica of a silent film. Then the horse becomes a racehorse and it’s kind of trite from there. I think that’s one of the greatest things about the handling of Secretariat, it makes it seem like the horse is more willful than his jockey.
When it comes to equestrian disciplines that’s less of a concern because I believe that typically it’s the rider facing more danger and if the horse doesn’t want to jump, he won’t jump; or whatever maneuver is intended. That and watching these maneuvers is rather hypnotic at times.
A recent film I saw that dealt well with equestrian if nothing else was Harley’s Hill. In reading a similar list I was enlightened towards International Velvet. If you can’t drop your reservations about equine sports, and are a member of the Disney Movie Club, you can look up The Littlest Outlaw wherein a boy frees a showhorse.
Fencing is another sport wherein you can shoehorn many a film into your viewing to suit your taste. Any Zorro, Three Musketeers, Peter Pan will feature fencing-like swashbuckling. You can take your pick from those oft told tales or you can be a little more literal with something like By the Sword, a 1991 film featuring Mia Sara, Eric Roberts and F. Murray Abraham. Or perhaps The Fencing Master, there was one in 1915 and 1992, I suspect the latter would be easier to find.
However, if you want to get creative I suggest Theatre of Blood. Not only does Vincent Price play a crazed, thought-to-be-dead Shakespearean actor seeking vengeance on a critics circle but he recites the Bard as he kills and once such scene is a fencing duel!
That’s all for now. Suggestions are more than welcome, and tomorrow’s films start with those about or involving football (aka soccer).