5 Great Sports Biopics
Like sporting events in general, sports movies have their following. But for every sports fan there’s the opposite – the one who couldn’t care less. While sports movies certainly feel predictable (who would make a movie about a bad team/player?), I still appreciate a great number of them.
Since Ron Howard’s Rush releases in limited theaters this weekend (and in full September 27th), I thought I’d compile a list of five great sports biopics.
As for rules, it must be mostly nonfiction. I realize there are “creative liberties” in all “true” stories, so I’m not trying to be a stickler. This still eliminates a great deal of sports movies.
Here are the results:
Seabiscuit gets a lot of points for not only being effective as a sports movie (and with Tobey Maguire), but for being effective as a sports movie about horseracing. I still remember seeing Gary Ross’ 2003 film as a team during my high school football days, and if that can motivate a football team, it can motivate anyone. For those that don’t know, Seabiscuit is about an oversized racehorse that became an icon during the Great Depression. Good stuff about overcoming the odds.
Critically speaking, Chariots of Fire may take the crown for sports biopics. Based on the story of two runners during the 1924 Olympics, Chariots of Fire simultaneously shows the motives of two different characters in a tumultuous times. Overcoming prejudice is a big theme throughout sports biopics (look at this year’s 42 as one example), but this 1981 Academy Award winner was one of the firsts.
I wanted to include a baseball film in the mix, but the vast majority that came to mind weren’t exactly biopics. However, 2011’s Moneyball (directed by Bennett Miller) gave a great insight into one of the biggest thinkers in modern baseball. It does take some baseball knowledge and some appreciation for the game, but Moneyball also explores more than just the sport. Sports, like any industry, exist for profit, and baseball is one of the toughest leagues to win without having a giant budget. Brad Pitt does a great job playing Billy Beane, but there’s a lot more to it than just performances, in the well-rounded picture.
I talked earlier about overcoming prejudice and there’s no better example than Remember the Titans. Based on the true story of Herman Boone (played the Denzel Washington), it captures the essence of Southern racism during the early 1970s. High school students, of all the groups, seem like the worst people to put at the center of the civil rights controversy. However, perhaps it’s the most powerful group? Taking all things into account, Remember the Titans is the best of both worlds, creating an entertaining football film, but more importantly, an emotional tale of changing our way of thinking.
The Fighter is definitely the least known, at least in terms of source material, because the bulk of the emotional resonance comes from a secondary character. The main athlete isn’t actually the best part of the film, and that’s what makes it such an effective film. It’s easy to forget about the people around a famous figure (in this case, an athlete), but David O. Russell’s The Fighter doesn’t let us forget. Christian Bale nails the role, too, and it’s an up-and-down roller coaster ride through the true story of professional boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half-brother Dicky (Bale). If you box sports movies into a corner, be sure to check out The Fighter because it’ll change your stance.
As for honorable mentions, I seriously contemplated Miracle, 61*, Cinderella Man, and the aforementioned 42. There were a couple movies I simply hadn’t seen, so I couldn’t include them (like Raging Bull and Ali).
What else did I miss?
Follow me on Twitter @jmacle