Winning Isn’t Everything: A Sports Movie Symposium


Robert Redford & Camilla Sparv in DOWNHILL RACER (1969)

This week millions of viewers will tune in to watch the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London so I thought it would be a good time to discuss sports movies here at the Movie Morlocks. To be frank, I’m not a big sports fan. I don’t watch or follow any sport but I can still appreciate a good sports film.

One of my favorite sports movies is LE MANS (1971) starring Steve McQueen as a professional race car driver taking part in the 24 Hours Le Mans race in France. The film beautifully captures the intense focus and determination that these skilled drivers must devote to the track. In LE MANS racing is an endurance test and a commitment to excellence where one mechanical malfunction or wrong turn can cost a driver their life. Another sports film that I’m extremely fond of is DOWNHILL RACER (1969) starring Robert Redford as an ambitious member of the U.S. ski team competing for Olympic gold. Both LE MANS and DOWNHILL RACER contain strong performances from their male leads and spectacular cinematography that literally transports you into the mind of an athlete. They also offer viewers an intimate and provocative look at how competitive sports can challenge individuals and strain personal as well as professional relationships.

To get further insight into the appeal of sports films and more viewing recommendations for Movie Morlock readers I decided to contact some fellow writers and ask them to share a few of their favorite sports movies. Their opinions are diverse, thoughtful, occasionally challenging and make for an interesting read.


The cast of CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)

SCOTT JORDAN HARRIS

(Film critic, sportswriter and Roger Ebert’s UK correspondent. Editor of the books World Film Locations: New York and World Film Locations: New Orleans. His work can be found at The Telegraph and you can follow him on Twitter @ScottFilmCritic)

“As I am English and this is London’s Olympic year, the film I have to mention here is CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981). It demonstrates the perfect way to build an inspirational sports movie out of real-life events: dozens of small facts are changed or omitted but the most important truths are retained and amplified. No film ever made being British quite so exciting, and my biggest hope for the 2012 Games is that members of Team GB achieve something so extraordinary they inspire a sequel.

WHEN WE WERE KINGS (1996) is the sports film I have watched most often. It’s not the best sports documentary – that, surely, is HOOP DREAMS (1994) – but it is among the greats, as befits a film chronicling the legendary heavyweight title fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. The cast is incredible. Besides Ali and Foreman, there is Don King, James Brown and President Mobutu. And besides them there are the talking heads, including George Plimpton, Norman Mailer and Spike Lee, whose insights are as fascinating as the fight footage.

It’s easy to make a good documentary about Ali: he is such an interesting subject, with such a captivating personality, that so long as a film contains footage of him it will be interesting too. But it is difficult to make a great documentary about Ali, because that requires a film to teach us something new and significant about the most studied and celebrated athlete of the 20th Century. Miraculously, WHEN WE WERE KINGS does this throughout. The only aspect of The Rumble in the Jungle it didn’t illuminate for me was what Ali said to Foreman in the moments before the fight. (In the film, he can be seen speaking but his words aren’t clear.) In the most enjoyable piece of research I’ve ever conducted, I asked Foreman to tell me. The answer: “George, you were just a kid in school when I fought Liston. You can’t beat me.”

Like sports films, professional wrestling presents sport that follows a script, so it’s fitting that one of my favorite sports films is about it. So often in movies we are shown a believable loser and then suddenly shown his unbelievable redemption. In THE WRESTLER (2008), we just watch a self-destructive has-been being a self-destructive has-been. And the result is astounding. That Mickey Rourke didn’t win an Academy Award for his role as Randy “The Ram” Robinson still upsets me. No performance of its decade deserved an Oscar more.

Finally, I always like to point out that perhaps the first film ever made – Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 short SALLIE GARDNER AT A GALLOP – was a sort of sports movie. Shot to prove that horses lift all four legs off the ground at top speed, it only lasts three seconds and only shows a racehorse running, but I like to think there was something in the glorious motion of that handsome animal that first suggested to filmmakers how scintillating sports films could be.”


Robert Redford in THE NATURAL (1984)

TONY DAYOUB

(Has written for Indiewire’s Press Play blog, Slant Magazine’s The House Next Door blog and Nomad Editions Wide Screen. You can read more of his work at Cinema Viewfinder)

“It sends chills down my spine. When it comes to sports flicks, it usually comes down to that one moment when the underdogs somehow manage to turn it around and win big. Whether it’s Rocky’s ambiguous moral victory against Apollo Creed or Hickory’s clear last-second win of the 1952 Indiana State Championship in HOOSIERS (1986), the movie moment most of us remember is that final, big win against overwhelming odds. And for me, no film pulls that off better than Barry Levinson’s THE NATURAL (1984). This fable focuses on Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), a gifted player sidetracked from a promising career after a disturbed fan shot him. He returns – older, but not necessarily wiser – to play with the struggling New York Knights. Over two hours, Levinson slowly, diligently lays the foundation for what will be one of the most pregnant moments in cinema, the seconds before Hobbs gets one final chance to win the pennant for Knights coach Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley).

Levinson stacks this moment with incredulities. Hobbs’ old wound bleeds through his jersey, his stomach threatening to explode under the strain of his powerful swing. The Judge (Robert Prosky), the Knights’ corrupt co-owner, has bribed Hobbs into throwing the game, cheating the cantankerous Fisher out of his chance to buy the Judge out. Hobbs’ childhood sweetheart (Glenn Close) has just informed him he’s the father of her son, and the young man is in the stands watching the game. As if that weren’t enough, the bases are loaded at the bottom of the ninth with two outs, and Hobbs has only one more shot before he is called out. The sound of the cheering fans spikes before it fades to silence. A shot of the ball heading right towards the frame is followed by the crack from Hobbs’ bat, and the ball soars into the stadium lights. They explode, sending a shower of sparks down on the now darkened stadium as Hobbs rounds the bases. Yes, it’s a cornball climax that runs counter to the cynical ending of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel but, as jaded as I’ve become when it comes to movies, THE NATURAL’s cathartic finale still makes me tingle.”


Paul Newman in SLAPSHOT (1977)

ELISABETH RAAPE

(Has written for Film.com, The Spectator Arts Blog, MTV’s Next Movie, Cinematical and CHUD. She’s also contributed to World Film Locations: New York and New Orleans. You can keep track of her on Twitter @ElisabethRappe)

“I went through a bizarre jock phase in the last gasp of my teens. I abandoned film – well, almost – in favor of watching, playing, and obsessing about ice hockey. During that brief and violent time, I discovered SLAPSHOT (1977). It remains my favorite sports movie to this day, in part because it reminds me of nervously lacing my skates in dim and icy locker rooms, but also because it’s one of those deliciously grubby slices of ’70s cinema. It’s foul-mouthed, gloriously adult, a bit weird, and endlessly quotable. It has the sour vibe of a low rent locker room, and yet it’s bursting with a love of hockey and team camaraderie that’s genuine. (I don’t know if the film and its characters even want to admit that, but it’s true.) It seems impossible that a film this off-beat and niche stars Paul Newman, but it does, and that only makes it absolute perfection.

While I’m tempted to put MIRACLE (2004) in the number two spot, I just don’t think I’ve watched it enough to truly sell it as a favorite. So, I have to give that coveted slot to a recent gem, WHIP IT! (2009). It’s a bit twee in its mix tape motif, and I don’t have a lot of patience for its romantic interlude, but I’m a sucker for girls who encounter a hard-hitting, beer-soaked culture and fall instantly in love. That girl was me once, and so I find myself re-watching this one more than I should, and psyching myself up to play roller derby as Dirty Harriet. The truly great sports movies transcend athletics altogether – but it’s a darn good one that gets your blood going, and insists you ought to go out there and play, even if it’s at the smallest scale possible.”


Kevin Costner & Tim Robbins in BULL DURHAM (1988)

SQUIRE HARRINGTON

(Weekly writer for the Glasgow Celtic Football blog LostBhoys and editor/writer for Offensive Indifference, a San Francisco Giants Blog)

“It is actually rather hard to set a specific role for sports in film. Is the sport itself the star of the movie? Is it simply a vehicle to get a shady collector for the mob, to boxing notoriety? Sports in film have always had presence ranging from the fringe suggestions as in THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), how the cooler king (Steve McQueen) was able to pass countless days with a glove, a baseball, and a wall to bounce it off of, or as in the buddy film THE VAN (1996), where two pals manage to laugh and fight their way around Ireland, while in the background Ireland itself is enjoying an incredible run at the 1990 World Cup. In 1975’s ROLLERBALL we learned that one man can be larger than the sport he plays when the sport itself is perverted to unbelievable ends by global corporations in an attempt to prevent it from happening. In a sports film one could use a game in nearly any way they wish to further sell an idea.

The list of movies that feature sports or a single sporting event are too many to even begin a count on. To put it bluntly; if it’s a sport, there’s been a film about it. Unfortunately with sports and thereby sports films, my own interests change with the seasons. During Hockey season, SLAP SHOT, would be high up on the top sports films totem, while in spring CADDYSHACK would compete. It’s currently summer so baseball it is. There have been some incredible baseball films over the years and two will always stand out as iconic examples for me.

1988’s BULL DURHAM gave cinema goers a look inside the locker room of an AAA ball club, the Durham Bulls, and the relationships formed, forced, and fought over during one season in the minor leagues. Kevin Costner has done several baseball films, most notably FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) and FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (1999), and each with their own charms, but his role as Crash Davis in BULL DURHAM had some real depth to it and was fueled by Costner’s true athletic abilities. An aging catcher brought in to the team to simply teach a young soon to be star what the game and life therein is really all about. There are outbursts, voodoo, sex, laughs, baseball and even a glimpse into what all those guys really talk about mid game on the pitcher’s mound. It’s a fantastic baseball movie and well worth a re-visit, especially during these lazy summer days.

My other great not to be missed classic is from 1976; THE BAD NEWS BEARS. Walter Matthau stars as a burnt out pitcher turned cigar smoking, alcoholic pool cleaner, tasked with coaching a little league baseball team full of misfits. The film itself shatters the image of organized sports for kids, and hosts myriad borderline horrific behavior from the kids as the film goes along. It has foul language, chain smoking, lechery, racism, sexism, kids with beers, elitism, violence, and is still hilarious to the day. There are other meaningful lessons hidden in the film but why spoil the fun? … Did I mention kids with beers?”


The cast of THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976)

DENNIS COZZALIO

(Dennis continues to try to find time to write his P.U.-litzer Prize-winning blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. He has also written about the 2010 and 2011 editions of the TCM Classic Film Festival (His 2012 adventures at the festival are Coming Soon to a Computer Near You!) and is a proud member of that not-so-secret organization known as the Horror Dads.)

“Sports movies tend to be too formulaic—not much else matters other than the build-up to the big, redemptive win—or too sloppily sentimental for my taste. And assaults on tear ducts are especially prevalent in baseball movies. Many who ought to know better seem convinced that because phony, manipulative movies like THE NATURAL or FIELD OF DREAMS get them all choked up, well, then they must be great movies. But the baseball movies I love appeal to my curiosity about what the game says, good and bad, about us as people, about our perspectives on the nature of character and heroism as defined within the diamond, and of course the ramifications of baseball—and American– history.

Ron Shelton has written and directed many terrific movies, including BULL DURHAM. But his crowning achievement is COBB (1994), an unsparing, difficult dissection of the psychology of baseball’s most repellent Hall of Famer, Ty Cobb (embodied with anger and deep wells of self-righteous bombast by Tommy Lee Jones). The movie is a gift to fans who like portrait of troubled historical figures straight up– Jones’ magnetic performance hurtles full speed away from the usual concerns about whether an audience can bear to be in the company of such an unrepentant bastard for two hours, yet it holds us anyway, and the actor slides into home plate cleats up. Shelton uses Cobb’s story as a portal to probe the nature of the relationship between athletes and their followers and what true heroism in baseball means when the ones who play best might also be the biggest sons of bitches of all.

COBB was released in 1994, the year of the baseball strike that canceled the World Series for the first time in the game’s history, and just four years before the advent of the Steroid Era. And so was Ken Burns’ epic, flawed, yet utterly compelling and definitive documentary BASEBALL, to which Shelton’s movie serves as a bitter, essential companion. Burns’ film, segmented into nine chapters (or innings), has since been augmented to include the specious and spectacular events in the game’s history since it was first aired on PBS, and I’d love to think that the director will continue adding extra innings to it. What other sport has been so thrillingly, maddeningly documented? This is the movie that yanked me from the status of casual observer and placed me squarely on the base path of lifelong fandom.

Finally, I don’t think there’s a better, more deserving candidate to wear the mantle of Best Baseball Movie Ever than Michael Ritchie’s THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976). Shelton’s overwhelming concerns are directly descended from Ritchie, who made competition—in sports, politics, even beauty pageants—his great American subject throughout the ‘70s. In the Little League Bears and their besotted, worn-out coach Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) Ritchie finds the perfect representation of American pluckiness, cynicism, dirty play, and yes, even redemption. But that redemption arrives in unexpected fashion, after this raucous, graceful, unforgiving movie has demonstrated how creeping national distrust in our most favored institutions are projected by adults and then reflected back in the faces of these pint-sized ballplayers, who only want to play the game. Turns out baseball is a microcosm of American life, and these three movies honor their subject with the passion and honesty it truly deserves.”


The cast of SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001)

ROWENA SANTOS AQUINO

(Senior Film Critic, Next Projection; contributor, Asia Pacific Arts and you can follow her on Twitter @FilmStillLives)

“Despite their surprisingly small number against the expansive context of film history, films that address football (Editors note: often referred to as Association Football or soccer by American fans) have done so in rather startling ways; so much so that they challenge what a “sports film” can mean—or put another way, make more dynamic what a sports film and representations of sporting bodies can be. What may be more surprising is the diversity of locales in which these films take place, in dialogue with the transnationality of the game.

From Hong Kong: Comic actor/filmmaker extraordinaire Stephen Chow’s kung fu-meets-football SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001) is absolute riotous fun in the way it merges these two systems of movement, defying the laws of football and gravity in the process, to present the tale of the underdog via a group of former kung fu masters applying their skills to the beautiful game.

From Mexico: RUDO Y CURSI (2008; Alfonso Cuarón) is a hilarious, scathing satire-fable of different tiers of national culture and society (media, fame, narco) through the lens of football and football fandom, with two of Mexico’s most popular transnational stars, Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, reveling in a comic turn as football-playing brothers who become famed rivals.

From France: In 2006, legendary French Algerian footballer Zinédine Zidane retired and Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon premiered their experimental documentary ZIDANE, A 21ST CENTURY PORTRAIT, a really stunning tribute to the man that inquisitively and sensually follows Zidane in an actual match in real time and simultaneously deconstructs and mythifies him, accompanied by a stunning sound design.

From Iran: In THE TRAVELER (1974) and LIFE AND NOTHING MORE (1992), Abbas Kiarostami explores different aspects of life and football’s subtle role in them: in the former, he tells the tale of a boy’s dream of watching his favourite football team—and the shenanigans he concocts to fulfill it, with ironic consequences—and in the latter, he journeys to post-earthquake northern Iran in 1990 and discovers among the inhabitants that even in the midst of tragedy, suffering, and mourning, life somehow goes on, which includes keeping up with the World Cup, which occurred in the same year.”


Al Pacino in BOBBY DEERFIELD (1977)

JEREMY RICHEY

(Jeremy’s work can be found at his personal blog Moon in the Gutter and at Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience)

“In her absolutely scathing review of Sydney Pollack’s BOBBY DEERFIELD (1977) legendary film critic Pauline Kael wrote that if the film’s star Al Pacino had sent his agent to “search the world for the role that would call attention to all his weaknesses”, they, “could not have come up with an unholier grail” than this race-car driving themed film that broke Pacino’s astonishing winning streak of the seventies. It was a bitter failure for Pollack and Pacino as they had put their heart and soul into the film, centered on a lonely American driver who falls in love with a Swiss woman stricken with cancer. Pacino would later admit that he felt as close to the role as any he had ever played but BOBBY DEERFIELD remains the most maligned film of his greatest period.

Adapted from the 1961 novel Heaven Has No Favorites by Erich Maria Remarque, BOBBY DEERFIELD viewed more than three decades after its initial release plays as a cinematic enigma. Part existential art-film, part love-story and part race-car spectacle, BOBBY DEERFIELD is one hell of a hard film to pin down. Guided by one of Dave Grusin’s most melancholic scores, Pollack’s sensitive direction and Pacino’s haunting shell-shocked performance, BOBBY DEERFIELD is a strange picturesque travelogue into a man’s self-absorption and doubt. It stands in stark contrast to the inspiring (ROCKY) and funny (SLAP SHOT) sports films audiences were flocking to in the late seventies and, in hindsight, it’s easy to see why it failed, even though its pleasures ultimately far outweigh the faults Kael and other critics spotted.

Despite the authentic racing footage filmed throughout the 1976 Formula One Season BOBBY DEERFIELD stands as one of the loneliest ‘sports films’ ever made. This isn’t a film with a triumphant second act that will have audience members cheering, this is instead a work where the playing field has become a prison and the only victory is a chilling final moment where Deerfield realizes that the only person he can truly let inside his fractured shell is someone guaranteed to slip away.

For those willing to overlook its faults, like its lethargic pace and its miscast romantic interest Marthe Keller (one can only imagine how the film would have been received had Catherine Deneuve snagged the role she petitioned for), BOBBY DEERFIELD is available on Region 1 DVD, although it is missing the audio commentary that the much-missed Sydney Pollack recorded for the earlier European disc.”

. . .

Have a favorite sports movie that didn’t get mentioned above? Feel free to share your own viewing recommendations in the comments below!

Further Reading:
- Sports movies: The top 50 sports films of all time from Time Out New York.

104 Responses Winning Isn’t Everything: A Sports Movie Symposium
Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : July 26, 2012 1:20 pm

Thanks, Kimberly, for being so kind as to invite me to participate in this symposium alongside writers I already admire like Tony and Jeremy, and everyone else who I’m less familiar with but whose company I am honored to keep here.

In light of Tony’s well-articulated appreciation of THE NATURAL, I regret that I was so dismissive of those who like the movie in my piece. I still don’t much like it, but Tony expressed as well as anyone why it works for him, and I have the highest respect for that.

My favorite entries, however, might just be Scott’s mention of SALLIE GARDENER AT A GALLOP and Elizabeth’s personal rapture over SLAP SHOT.

Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : July 26, 2012 1:20 pm

Thanks, Kimberly, for being so kind as to invite me to participate in this symposium alongside writers I already admire like Tony and Jeremy, and everyone else who I’m less familiar with but whose company I am honored to keep here.

In light of Tony’s well-articulated appreciation of THE NATURAL, I regret that I was so dismissive of those who like the movie in my piece. I still don’t much like it, but Tony expressed as well as anyone why it works for him, and I have the highest respect for that.

My favorite entries, however, might just be Scott’s mention of SALLIE GARDENER AT A GALLOP and Elizabeth’s personal rapture over SLAP SHOT.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : July 26, 2012 1:36 pm

Not a sports film in the traditional sense, but Offside by Jafar Panahi, about young Iranian women doing whatever it takes to see a live soccer match.
Also affection for The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : July 26, 2012 1:36 pm

Not a sports film in the traditional sense, but Offside by Jafar Panahi, about young Iranian women doing whatever it takes to see a live soccer match.
Also affection for The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 2:00 pm

Dennis – Your kindly welcome. I know your a big baseball fan and I tried to reach out to a group of diverse folks who were sports fans or had written about sports movies. I hope folks will appreciate the wide variety of opinions and films discussed.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 2:00 pm

Dennis – Your kindly welcome. I know your a big baseball fan and I tried to reach out to a group of diverse folks who were sports fans or had written about sports movies. I hope folks will appreciate the wide variety of opinions and films discussed.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 2:02 pm

Peter – I’m surprised by the number of football/soccer films that have been made in Iran. I didn’t realize until I read Rowen’s recommendations how popular the sport was there.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 2:02 pm

Peter – I’m surprised by the number of football/soccer films that have been made in Iran. I didn’t realize until I read Rowen’s recommendations how popular the sport was there.

Posted By Vanwall : July 26, 2012 2:15 pm

I’ll go with “Bull Durham” for reality, I learned a lot about baseball (and swearing) as a kid when I’d sneak down to the outfield fence during spring training games and heard them talking. Then we’d hang around the Pink Pony in Scottsdale watching them pick up girls – Annies, they call ‘em – it was a life lesson.

“Slap Shot” was only a little overboard, I grew up on minor league hockey, too. My first game, the parents told us to behave and not get rowdy. We were sitting behind a little old lady who was knitting Booster Club tam-o-shanters, and early on one opposing player got checked hard and sprawled on the ice right in front of of one of our charging players. The old ladie leapt to her feet and shouted viciously, “SKATE OVER HIS FACE!!” then sat down and continued knitting. Mom and Dad said, “Oh well, never mind what we told you earlier.”

As for “Le Mans”, I’ll take “Grand Prix” over it, even for cinematography, but both suffered from what Phil Remington, a race car guy from back in the day, who commented on “Grand Prix” that it was way too serious – not enough humor, which he knew went wih the territory. He worked with the Scarab racers, and they didn’t call them that because it was mystical, they were making a sly comment on Mustangs, Firebirds, and other animalistic names for cars. The common joke in the pits back then, and prolly now, was “How’s your shit box runnin’?” – Phil said they chose Scarab because it was a “goddam shit beetle.”

Nice list, tho. I’d add “Pastime” with William Russ, about minor league ball in 1957, and “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings” a comedy about the Negro Leagues. “The Green Helmet” is a good racing film from the old days.

Posted By Vanwall : July 26, 2012 2:15 pm

I’ll go with “Bull Durham” for reality, I learned a lot about baseball (and swearing) as a kid when I’d sneak down to the outfield fence during spring training games and heard them talking. Then we’d hang around the Pink Pony in Scottsdale watching them pick up girls – Annies, they call ‘em – it was a life lesson.

“Slap Shot” was only a little overboard, I grew up on minor league hockey, too. My first game, the parents told us to behave and not get rowdy. We were sitting behind a little old lady who was knitting Booster Club tam-o-shanters, and early on one opposing player got checked hard and sprawled on the ice right in front of of one of our charging players. The old ladie leapt to her feet and shouted viciously, “SKATE OVER HIS FACE!!” then sat down and continued knitting. Mom and Dad said, “Oh well, never mind what we told you earlier.”

As for “Le Mans”, I’ll take “Grand Prix” over it, even for cinematography, but both suffered from what Phil Remington, a race car guy from back in the day, who commented on “Grand Prix” that it was way too serious – not enough humor, which he knew went wih the territory. He worked with the Scarab racers, and they didn’t call them that because it was mystical, they were making a sly comment on Mustangs, Firebirds, and other animalistic names for cars. The common joke in the pits back then, and prolly now, was “How’s your shit box runnin’?” – Phil said they chose Scarab because it was a “goddam shit beetle.”

Nice list, tho. I’d add “Pastime” with William Russ, about minor league ball in 1957, and “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings” a comedy about the Negro Leagues. “The Green Helmet” is a good racing film from the old days.

Posted By Vanwall : July 26, 2012 2:17 pm

Opps, I meant Remington said “Le Mans” was too serious, sorry.

Posted By Vanwall : July 26, 2012 2:17 pm

Opps, I meant Remington said “Le Mans” was too serious, sorry.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 2:51 pm

Vanwall – I think LE MANS is superior to GRAND PRIX in many ways. First & foremost, GRAND PRIX is just too formulaic for my tastes but I must confess that I hold a bit of a grudge against the film too due its sketchy history. The way Warner Bro. along with Frankenheimer went about derailing Steve McQueen & John Sturges planned racing film (I believe DAY OF THE CHAMPION was the working title) to focus studio publicity, money, etc. on GRAND PRIX is one of those unfortunate Hollywood stories that I find particularly bothersome.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 2:51 pm

Vanwall – I think LE MANS is superior to GRAND PRIX in many ways. First & foremost, GRAND PRIX is just too formulaic for my tastes but I must confess that I hold a bit of a grudge against the film too due its sketchy history. The way Warner Bro. along with Frankenheimer went about derailing Steve McQueen & John Sturges planned racing film (I believe DAY OF THE CHAMPION was the working title) to focus studio publicity, money, etc. on GRAND PRIX is one of those unfortunate Hollywood stories that I find particularly bothersome.

Posted By swac44 : July 26, 2012 2:59 pm

Although I’m not a big fan of sports movies either, Slap Shot has to be at the top of the pile for me, it really captures the ambience of sweaty locker rooms, travelling the roads at the worst time of year, and male cameraderie wrapped up in childish pursuits and violence.

Glad to see Bingo Long get a couple of mentions in the comments, I’d also like to put a nod towards Richard Pryor’s portrayal of stock car racer Wendell Scott in Greased Lightning. I haven’t seen it in years, but I recall enjoying this offbeat biopic, and thought that Pryor acquitted himself well in a film that wasn’t a flat-out comedy. Doesn’t hurt to have Beau Bridges or Pam Grier along for the ride either.

My favourite baseball movie though, still has to be Damn Yankees, followed closely by Eight Men Out.

Posted By swac44 : July 26, 2012 2:59 pm

Although I’m not a big fan of sports movies either, Slap Shot has to be at the top of the pile for me, it really captures the ambience of sweaty locker rooms, travelling the roads at the worst time of year, and male cameraderie wrapped up in childish pursuits and violence.

Glad to see Bingo Long get a couple of mentions in the comments, I’d also like to put a nod towards Richard Pryor’s portrayal of stock car racer Wendell Scott in Greased Lightning. I haven’t seen it in years, but I recall enjoying this offbeat biopic, and thought that Pryor acquitted himself well in a film that wasn’t a flat-out comedy. Doesn’t hurt to have Beau Bridges or Pam Grier along for the ride either.

My favourite baseball movie though, still has to be Damn Yankees, followed closely by Eight Men Out.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 3:05 pm

swac44 – Thanks for mentioning GREASED LIGHTENING. I haven’t seen it in years (decades even) but I remember enjoying it and liking the cast.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 3:05 pm

swac44 – Thanks for mentioning GREASED LIGHTENING. I haven’t seen it in years (decades even) but I remember enjoying it and liking the cast.

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 3:10 pm

‘Downhill Racer’ and ‘Chariots of Fire’ are two of my all-time films in their depictions of people, and the game of life, aside from being great sports films. And I’m also very partial to ‘Grand Prix’, for racing. It’s lush, the photography, performances and some of the ideas in it are great — existential, in fact. Huge fan of that one. I didn’t know anything about its history (that the filmmakers meant to derail ‘Le Mans’) but I think in looking back at films, it’s also about how the film holds up over time that matters, and the work that was done on ‘Grand Prix’, in which the actors drove in some shots, is pretty substantial. It’s also a different race setting, which to me sets them apart.

And that reminds me of two other films that came out, about the same topic — this time about one man — in the same year. Steve Prefontaine (!) I’m from Portland and attended University of Oregon (even ran on that same wonderful track called Hayward Field) so that story has a particularly special meaning for me. And in that case, ‘Without Limits’ with Donald Sutherland as Coach Bowerman is far superior to the Tom Cruise-produced ‘Prefontaine’. And I remember there was an epic battle going on between those two films, as their respective studios raced to complete the exact same story about one guy’s life. So strange! ;)

I highly recommend ‘WITHOUT LIMITS’ — Prefontaine even ran in the Munich Olympics. You should check it out :)

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 3:10 pm

‘Downhill Racer’ and ‘Chariots of Fire’ are two of my all-time films in their depictions of people, and the game of life, aside from being great sports films. And I’m also very partial to ‘Grand Prix’, for racing. It’s lush, the photography, performances and some of the ideas in it are great — existential, in fact. Huge fan of that one. I didn’t know anything about its history (that the filmmakers meant to derail ‘Le Mans’) but I think in looking back at films, it’s also about how the film holds up over time that matters, and the work that was done on ‘Grand Prix’, in which the actors drove in some shots, is pretty substantial. It’s also a different race setting, which to me sets them apart.

And that reminds me of two other films that came out, about the same topic — this time about one man — in the same year. Steve Prefontaine (!) I’m from Portland and attended University of Oregon (even ran on that same wonderful track called Hayward Field) so that story has a particularly special meaning for me. And in that case, ‘Without Limits’ with Donald Sutherland as Coach Bowerman is far superior to the Tom Cruise-produced ‘Prefontaine’. And I remember there was an epic battle going on between those two films, as their respective studios raced to complete the exact same story about one guy’s life. So strange! ;)

I highly recommend ‘WITHOUT LIMITS’ — Prefontaine even ran in the Munich Olympics. You should check it out :)

Posted By robbushblog : July 26, 2012 3:16 pm

The Pride of the Yankees is and always will be my favorite sports movie. It’s old fashioned and hokey, but I just don’t care. It has Gary Cooper playing one of the game’s greatest legends, a perfect supporting wife portrayal by the ever adorable Teresa Wright, a former world weary reporter turned optimist portrayed by Walter Brennan and the Babe himself. Great stuff.

Posted By robbushblog : July 26, 2012 3:16 pm

The Pride of the Yankees is and always will be my favorite sports movie. It’s old fashioned and hokey, but I just don’t care. It has Gary Cooper playing one of the game’s greatest legends, a perfect supporting wife portrayal by the ever adorable Teresa Wright, a former world weary reporter turned optimist portrayed by Walter Brennan and the Babe himself. Great stuff.

Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : July 26, 2012 3:32 pm

Good call on WITHOUT LIMITS, Klara! As a fellow Duck, I should have remembered that one!

Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : July 26, 2012 3:32 pm

Good call on WITHOUT LIMITS, Klara! As a fellow Duck, I should have remembered that one!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 4:38 pm

Klara, Rob & Dennis – I haven’t seen or even heard of WITHOUT LIMITS. I have seen THE PRIDE OF YANKEES but I’m afraid I don’t remember it much. That’s partially due to my natural ability to avoid baseball movies & my inability to appreciate Gary Cooper as much as I probably should.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 4:38 pm

Klara, Rob & Dennis – I haven’t seen or even heard of WITHOUT LIMITS. I have seen THE PRIDE OF YANKEES but I’m afraid I don’t remember it much. That’s partially due to my natural ability to avoid baseball movies & my inability to appreciate Gary Cooper as much as I probably should.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 4:46 pm

On a side note, there are two films that weren’t mentioned above or in the comments yet I’d like to recommend.

BIG WEDNESDAY (1978) is my probably favorite surfing film. It stars Jan-Michael Vincent and like DOWNHILL RACER and LE MANS it features some amazing cinematography!

I also appreciate BREAKING AWAY (1979). Its focus is on bike racing. It’s sort of another young adult take on the ideas found in BAD NEWS BEARS (outcasts trying to break into mainstream sports) and even features Jackie Earle Haley.

The ’70s was really a stellar decade for sports films. There was something occurring in Hollywood that made competitive sports movies one of the defining aspects of the “me decade.”

I wonder if we could qualify JAWS as a fishing movie? How about KING KONG as a hunting film? Once your imagination starts working overtime just about any film can be called a “sports movie.”

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 4:46 pm

On a side note, there are two films that weren’t mentioned above or in the comments yet I’d like to recommend.

BIG WEDNESDAY (1978) is my probably favorite surfing film. It stars Jan-Michael Vincent and like DOWNHILL RACER and LE MANS it features some amazing cinematography!

I also appreciate BREAKING AWAY (1979). Its focus is on bike racing. It’s sort of another young adult take on the ideas found in BAD NEWS BEARS (outcasts trying to break into mainstream sports) and even features Jackie Earle Haley.

The ’70s was really a stellar decade for sports films. There was something occurring in Hollywood that made competitive sports movies one of the defining aspects of the “me decade.”

I wonder if we could qualify JAWS as a fishing movie? How about KING KONG as a hunting film? Once your imagination starts working overtime just about any film can be called a “sports movie.”

Posted By Kingrat : July 26, 2012 4:52 pm

So far no one has mentioned my favorite sports film, NORTH DALLAS FORTY, which to me is one of the best films of the 1970s. This is a realistic film about the business of pro football which turns the expected cliches on their head (the locker room speech and prayer, for instance). Great part for Nick Nolte, Mac Davis is terrific as the Don Meredith character, G. D. Spradlin is equally good as the Tom Landry character.

Posted By Kingrat : July 26, 2012 4:52 pm

So far no one has mentioned my favorite sports film, NORTH DALLAS FORTY, which to me is one of the best films of the 1970s. This is a realistic film about the business of pro football which turns the expected cliches on their head (the locker room speech and prayer, for instance). Great part for Nick Nolte, Mac Davis is terrific as the Don Meredith character, G. D. Spradlin is equally good as the Tom Landry character.

Posted By robbushblog : July 26, 2012 4:52 pm

Kimberly- My reply to you regarding Gary Cooper is: “Gasp!”

Posted By robbushblog : July 26, 2012 4:52 pm

Kimberly- My reply to you regarding Gary Cooper is: “Gasp!”

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 4:58 pm

Rob – Believe it or not, like everyone I have my favorite and not-so-favorite actors and I’m afraid Gary Cooper falls into the not-so-favorite category. Mea culpa!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 4:58 pm

Rob – Believe it or not, like everyone I have my favorite and not-so-favorite actors and I’m afraid Gary Cooper falls into the not-so-favorite category. Mea culpa!

Posted By Tom Nassisi : July 26, 2012 5:23 pm

I think “Long Gone” with William Petersen and Virginia Madsen is a much-neglected movie about baseball. Maybe because it was made for TV. For what it’s worth, I think it’s better than “Bull Durham.” And Miss Madsen is quite wonderful.

Posted By Tom Nassisi : July 26, 2012 5:23 pm

I think “Long Gone” with William Petersen and Virginia Madsen is a much-neglected movie about baseball. Maybe because it was made for TV. For what it’s worth, I think it’s better than “Bull Durham.” And Miss Madsen is quite wonderful.

Posted By Jenni : July 26, 2012 5:27 pm

Love Chariots of Fire. Another baseball film I’ve always enjoyed, and not mentioned is Angels in the Outfield. I’ve seen both versions(earlier one from the 50′s stars Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh),(later Disney version stars Danny Glover, Brenda Fricker, Tony Danza, Ben Johnson, Christopher Lloyd, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) AITO follows a down-on-their-luck underdog pro baseball team, depicting the frustration of the manager and players, the owner demanding something be done to cause wins to begin happening, and the trust and belief of one child, through prayer, that the team will begin winning again. Help is sent via angels, which adds to comedic elements in the plot, but the help does turn around a bunch of losers into folks who believe in themselves again, via heavenly intervention. The casts and directers in both films make this idea work, and by the end, one is glad that the hapless team has become winners, as well as the positive turn of events for the children protagonists in each film.

Posted By Jenni : July 26, 2012 5:27 pm

Love Chariots of Fire. Another baseball film I’ve always enjoyed, and not mentioned is Angels in the Outfield. I’ve seen both versions(earlier one from the 50′s stars Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh),(later Disney version stars Danny Glover, Brenda Fricker, Tony Danza, Ben Johnson, Christopher Lloyd, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) AITO follows a down-on-their-luck underdog pro baseball team, depicting the frustration of the manager and players, the owner demanding something be done to cause wins to begin happening, and the trust and belief of one child, through prayer, that the team will begin winning again. Help is sent via angels, which adds to comedic elements in the plot, but the help does turn around a bunch of losers into folks who believe in themselves again, via heavenly intervention. The casts and directers in both films make this idea work, and by the end, one is glad that the hapless team has become winners, as well as the positive turn of events for the children protagonists in each film.

Posted By Qalice : July 26, 2012 5:30 pm

Back in my TV days, I worked on three documentaries about sports movies, and for all of them we spoke to professional sportsmen. The baseballers loved Micky Mantle best, and Bull Durham was their favorite baseball movie. The footballers loved Jim Brown best, and The Longest Yard was their favorite football movie. The racers never settled on a favorite driver, but Grand Prix was their favorite racing film. How did nobody mention The Longest Yard? I don’t even like football, but that’s a great movie.

Posted By Qalice : July 26, 2012 5:30 pm

Back in my TV days, I worked on three documentaries about sports movies, and for all of them we spoke to professional sportsmen. The baseballers loved Micky Mantle best, and Bull Durham was their favorite baseball movie. The footballers loved Jim Brown best, and The Longest Yard was their favorite football movie. The racers never settled on a favorite driver, but Grand Prix was their favorite racing film. How did nobody mention The Longest Yard? I don’t even like football, but that’s a great movie.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 6:06 pm

Kingrat & Qalice – I was surprised by the lack of American football films mentioned as well but I assume that probably has more to do with the season, as Squire mentioned in his contribution, than lack of interest or appeal. Lots of people are watching baseball right now so they probably have baseball on their mind.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 6:06 pm

Kingrat & Qalice – I was surprised by the lack of American football films mentioned as well but I assume that probably has more to do with the season, as Squire mentioned in his contribution, than lack of interest or appeal. Lots of people are watching baseball right now so they probably have baseball on their mind.

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 6:11 pm

How did I forget BREAKING AWAY, Kimberly! Another one of my favorite films, it is so near perfect in every way. Just a sweet movie. I love that one!

That’s cool @Dennis, go Ducks! And do watch WITHOUT LIMITS if you can, Kimberly, it’s 70′s Oregon goodness & a very accurate account — and he was just a cool, semi-rebellious guy who died too young (he’s been considered the James Dean of sports.) If you look at Prefontaine’s photo, you won’t believe this guy was actually a long distance runner, looks like he could have been in a 70′s rock band. Oh, and it also tells the story of the beginning of a little running shoe brand — called Nike ;) Donald Sutherland’s Coach Bowerman made those shoes with a waffle iron…! There’s a lot of energy in the story and in the film that anyone can enjoy, runners/Oregonians or not. (Had planned on writing a blog post about it last year, might have to do that ;) )

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 6:11 pm

How did I forget BREAKING AWAY, Kimberly! Another one of my favorite films, it is so near perfect in every way. Just a sweet movie. I love that one!

That’s cool @Dennis, go Ducks! And do watch WITHOUT LIMITS if you can, Kimberly, it’s 70′s Oregon goodness & a very accurate account — and he was just a cool, semi-rebellious guy who died too young (he’s been considered the James Dean of sports.) If you look at Prefontaine’s photo, you won’t believe this guy was actually a long distance runner, looks like he could have been in a 70′s rock band. Oh, and it also tells the story of the beginning of a little running shoe brand — called Nike ;) Donald Sutherland’s Coach Bowerman made those shoes with a waffle iron…! There’s a lot of energy in the story and in the film that anyone can enjoy, runners/Oregonians or not. (Had planned on writing a blog post about it last year, might have to do that ;) )

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 6:19 pm

And I have a guilty pleasure sports movie: TIN CUP. Anyone? :) I just think it’s fun to watch and I’m not ashamed to be a Kevin Costner fan.

I do wish there was a really good tennis movie! Tennis is my favorite sport, one that I myself partake in (other than running & ballet.) ‘Wimbledon’ just wasn’t very good. I think a good tennis movie might never happen.

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 6:19 pm

And I have a guilty pleasure sports movie: TIN CUP. Anyone? :) I just think it’s fun to watch and I’m not ashamed to be a Kevin Costner fan.

I do wish there was a really good tennis movie! Tennis is my favorite sport, one that I myself partake in (other than running & ballet.) ‘Wimbledon’ just wasn’t very good. I think a good tennis movie might never happen.

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 6:55 pm

@Qalice, interesting to get that perspective from athletes themselves, and I can see why the racers cared for ‘Grand Prix’. For me, the character of Sarti makes one of the most profound points about competitiveness I’ve ever seen or heard — in any film. Especially since racing is extremely dangerous — which the film captured well, along with its beauty (and that stunning musical score.)

@Kimberly, I think you have another look at ‘Grand Prix’ for its own merits sometime… it won’t affect your love for ‘Le Mans’ :)

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 6:55 pm

@Qalice, interesting to get that perspective from athletes themselves, and I can see why the racers cared for ‘Grand Prix’. For me, the character of Sarti makes one of the most profound points about competitiveness I’ve ever seen or heard — in any film. Especially since racing is extremely dangerous — which the film captured well, along with its beauty (and that stunning musical score.)

@Kimberly, I think you have another look at ‘Grand Prix’ for its own merits sometime… it won’t affect your love for ‘Le Mans’ :)

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 7:54 pm

Klara – I’ve tried to watch GRAND PRIX a couple of times over the years but it didn’t captivate me like LE MANS does. I should try and give it another look with fresh eyes but it’s hard to shake off all the baggage I associate with it. My blind love for McQueen undoubtedly colors my view. I associate the film with a negative turn in his career. His attitude towards Hollywood became increasingly hostile and his friendship with James Garner was deeply scarred in the aftermath of GRAND PRIX. On the other hand LE MANS was overlooked for decades because it was so ahead of its time but today it’s revered among many professional drivers as well as film fans like yours truly.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 7:54 pm

Klara – I’ve tried to watch GRAND PRIX a couple of times over the years but it didn’t captivate me like LE MANS does. I should try and give it another look with fresh eyes but it’s hard to shake off all the baggage I associate with it. My blind love for McQueen undoubtedly colors my view. I associate the film with a negative turn in his career. His attitude towards Hollywood became increasingly hostile and his friendship with James Garner was deeply scarred in the aftermath of GRAND PRIX. On the other hand LE MANS was overlooked for decades because it was so ahead of its time but today it’s revered among many professional drivers as well as film fans like yours truly.

Posted By robbushblog : July 26, 2012 8:43 pm

Klara- I like Tin Cup, despite Kevin Costner. I think it’s a pretty good golf movie and a decent, adult romantic comedy.

And, though it might not technically be about tennis, Strangers On a Train is a great movie about a tennis player. And they show tennis being played…creepily…

Posted By robbushblog : July 26, 2012 8:43 pm

Klara- I like Tin Cup, despite Kevin Costner. I think it’s a pretty good golf movie and a decent, adult romantic comedy.

And, though it might not technically be about tennis, Strangers On a Train is a great movie about a tennis player. And they show tennis being played…creepily…

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 9:15 pm

Your feeling unenthusiastic about it is understandable Kimberly, since GRAND PRIX moves so languidly (that’s also what I like about it) and it’s looong. So it’s a small commitment to watch it — especially if you’ve had that baggage with it. We should make a film swap, I’ll watch LE MANS, which I never really ventured into since I already had GRAND PRIX in my favorites list ;) BTW, that’s really too bad about McQueen and Garner’s friendship, I can see them getting along… Love them both. And James Garner’s always struck me as a pretty upstanding guy, I’ve only read great things about him from his fellow actors.

Since you mention Strangers On a Train, @robbushblog, I guess I’ll submit the mimes playing tennis in BLOW UP as the most strange/interesting use of the sport in film :) Tennis as a sport doesn’t get much coverage in films other than character’s playing it during the film. Even MATCH POINT isn’t about tennis ;)

Posted By Klara : July 26, 2012 9:15 pm

Your feeling unenthusiastic about it is understandable Kimberly, since GRAND PRIX moves so languidly (that’s also what I like about it) and it’s looong. So it’s a small commitment to watch it — especially if you’ve had that baggage with it. We should make a film swap, I’ll watch LE MANS, which I never really ventured into since I already had GRAND PRIX in my favorites list ;) BTW, that’s really too bad about McQueen and Garner’s friendship, I can see them getting along… Love them both. And James Garner’s always struck me as a pretty upstanding guy, I’ve only read great things about him from his fellow actors.

Since you mention Strangers On a Train, @robbushblog, I guess I’ll submit the mimes playing tennis in BLOW UP as the most strange/interesting use of the sport in film :) Tennis as a sport doesn’t get much coverage in films other than character’s playing it during the film. Even MATCH POINT isn’t about tennis ;)

Posted By robbushblog : July 26, 2012 9:27 pm

Match Point is about something better than tennis: Scarlett Johanssen! If it had co-starred Anna Kournikova I would also have watched it with as much rapt attention as I did.

Posted By robbushblog : July 26, 2012 9:27 pm

Match Point is about something better than tennis: Scarlett Johanssen! If it had co-starred Anna Kournikova I would also have watched it with as much rapt attention as I did.

Posted By Cary Watson : July 26, 2012 10:00 pm

Wow! I can’t believe no one’s mentioned THE DAMNED UNITED with Michael Sheen. I know next to nothing about English football of that era, but it would have to go on my own top ten list of sports films. As to GRAND PRIX, it’s really two films clumsily welded together: the racing sequences are stone cold brilliant and the personal/romantic drama bits are absolute crap. I think Frankenheimer was only interested in directing the former. I’ve got a longer piece on GRAND PRIX on my blog. Here’s the link:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/08/film-review-grand-prix-1966.html

Posted By Cary Watson : July 26, 2012 10:00 pm

Wow! I can’t believe no one’s mentioned THE DAMNED UNITED with Michael Sheen. I know next to nothing about English football of that era, but it would have to go on my own top ten list of sports films. As to GRAND PRIX, it’s really two films clumsily welded together: the racing sequences are stone cold brilliant and the personal/romantic drama bits are absolute crap. I think Frankenheimer was only interested in directing the former. I’ve got a longer piece on GRAND PRIX on my blog. Here’s the link:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/08/film-review-grand-prix-1966.html

Posted By Ozvaldo : July 26, 2012 10:04 pm

Don’t forget two fine baseball movies:
Fear Strikes Out (1957-Tony Perkins, Karl Malden)
It Happens Every Spring (1949-Ray Milland)

Posted By Ozvaldo : July 26, 2012 10:04 pm

Don’t forget two fine baseball movies:
Fear Strikes Out (1957-Tony Perkins, Karl Malden)
It Happens Every Spring (1949-Ray Milland)

Posted By Ozvaldo : July 26, 2012 10:14 pm

And also, the fine rugby film with Richard Harris, This Sporting Life (1963).

Posted By Ozvaldo : July 26, 2012 10:14 pm

And also, the fine rugby film with Richard Harris, This Sporting Life (1963).

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 10:25 pm

Klara – I like your idea of a “film swap.” I’ll have to see if GRAND PRIX is available at Netflix soon. ;)

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 10:25 pm

Klara – I like your idea of a “film swap.” I’ll have to see if GRAND PRIX is available at Netflix soon. ;)

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 10:31 pm

Ozvaldo – THIS SPORTING LIFE is one of my favorite films but it never even crossed my mind when I was compiling this. How is that? I can’t explain why I overlooked it as well as THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER. I suspect I somehow conditioned myself out of thinking of these two films as “sports movies” somehow. My bad! Thanks so much for mentioning the Harris film. His performance in that is just brilliant and the film itself is a gem.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 26, 2012 10:31 pm

Ozvaldo – THIS SPORTING LIFE is one of my favorite films but it never even crossed my mind when I was compiling this. How is that? I can’t explain why I overlooked it as well as THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER. I suspect I somehow conditioned myself out of thinking of these two films as “sports movies” somehow. My bad! Thanks so much for mentioning the Harris film. His performance in that is just brilliant and the film itself is a gem.

Posted By Rowena Santos Aquino : July 27, 2012 2:19 am

Peter & Kimberly – Offside is a terrific film that blurs the line betw documentary and fiction, as Panahi filmed it w/ non-professional actors while an actual match was taking place in Teheran.

Cary – agreed w/ regards to The Damned United; really wonderfully acted and a nice departure from player-centered narratives.

Klara – love the mention of the tennis mimes in Blow Up.

Not necessarily a boxing film, but Visconti’s use of boxing in Rocco & His Brothers (1960) to physicalise the complex issues of postwar migration from southern to northern Italy is notable.

Posted By Rowena Santos Aquino : July 27, 2012 2:19 am

Peter & Kimberly – Offside is a terrific film that blurs the line betw documentary and fiction, as Panahi filmed it w/ non-professional actors while an actual match was taking place in Teheran.

Cary – agreed w/ regards to The Damned United; really wonderfully acted and a nice departure from player-centered narratives.

Klara – love the mention of the tennis mimes in Blow Up.

Not necessarily a boxing film, but Visconti’s use of boxing in Rocco & His Brothers (1960) to physicalise the complex issues of postwar migration from southern to northern Italy is notable.

Posted By BleedingRed : July 27, 2012 2:05 pm

Man, I got to this article too late. After reading, I had a wonderful list of sports films that hadn’t been mentioned…until the Comments stole my thunder! North Dallas Forty was one I grew up with in the early days of cable. I was too young to really appreciate it in full, but as an adult found an original first edition in a Goodwill book bin and read that engrossing semi-autobio in one sitting. Nolte portrays the aging receiver (and writer of the book) about as perfectly as anyone could hope to imagine. And the things they got away with in the 70′s! I was also going to mention Breaking Away as a great film combining social/class commentary with leaving youth and becoming mature, and dynamic cycling as well, with that great 70′s actor Dennis Christopher and the always cool leader of Christopher’s group of lower class buds, Dennis Quaid. As is evident by his many mentions here, we no longer need to apologize for enjoying Kevin Costner, at least not in sport-themed films (in which he is so comfortable and real). I will add one more, though I haven’t seen it since my youth, another cycling movie with Costner, American Flyers. He sports an awesome moustache and is the lesser cycler of two brothers competing, but as the elder, truly pushes and aides his brother/teammate, with both of them understanding that a victory by either is a victory for both. I think that’s right, it’s been a long time. Was gonna mention the original The Longest Yard and COBB, but you have already heard it. Also original Rollerball, but was again beaten to the punch. For Car Racing films, how about the true depiction of gender breaking driver Shirley Muldowney in an illuminatingly strong performance by Bonnie Bedilia in Heart Like A Wheel (also has the wonderful Beau Bridges forcing us to love him, hate him, then love him again)? As for soccer films, not one mention of VICTORY? Michael Caine, Max Von Sydow, a restrained Sly Stallone, not to mention a gaggle of true, professional players most notably the leader of the German team and the greatest player of all time (and the only reason soccer was accepted as a sport in America) PELE. I remember seeing it in the theaters as a tag along to my 3 years older than me brother’s 10th birthday party. As the Allied team started seizing momentum and the German players started beating Pele in his injured ribs without penalty (he continued to juke the ball around them) and the powerful musical score beginning to swell, I remember my love of Pele and 7 year old’s sense of justice could take it no longer, with tears in my eyes I yelled at the screen “stop hurting PELE!!!”..more Dennis Quaid in “Everybody’s All American” and later in the inspiring biopic “The Rookie”…SlapShot one of my favorites of all time, but what about Youngbloood? American football films, not one mention of RUDY-perhaps to sweet and sentimental? Then what about All The Right Moves with Tom Cruise beginning to distinguish himself from his Brat Pack peers? Also, though it hardly qualifies, LUCAS with Corey Haim and Charlie Sheen both as pure and full of goodness as we would ever see them again…Hope I didn’t take up too much space, I loved the article as well as everyone’s comments (I took notes even!), and am excited to check out the several films suggested that I haven’t seen. BTW, there was one rugby movie mentioned, anybody see “Invictus” (I have yet to)? Also, Hoosiers is the only basketball movie worth mentioning (I have been straining to think of another myself-”Coach Carter” with Sam Jackson or “The Winning Season” with Sam Rockwell are both on my want to see list)? Thank you for all your beautiful writing and analyses everyone!!!

Posted By BleedingRed : July 27, 2012 2:05 pm

Man, I got to this article too late. After reading, I had a wonderful list of sports films that hadn’t been mentioned…until the Comments stole my thunder! North Dallas Forty was one I grew up with in the early days of cable. I was too young to really appreciate it in full, but as an adult found an original first edition in a Goodwill book bin and read that engrossing semi-autobio in one sitting. Nolte portrays the aging receiver (and writer of the book) about as perfectly as anyone could hope to imagine. And the things they got away with in the 70′s! I was also going to mention Breaking Away as a great film combining social/class commentary with leaving youth and becoming mature, and dynamic cycling as well, with that great 70′s actor Dennis Christopher and the always cool leader of Christopher’s group of lower class buds, Dennis Quaid. As is evident by his many mentions here, we no longer need to apologize for enjoying Kevin Costner, at least not in sport-themed films (in which he is so comfortable and real). I will add one more, though I haven’t seen it since my youth, another cycling movie with Costner, American Flyers. He sports an awesome moustache and is the lesser cycler of two brothers competing, but as the elder, truly pushes and aides his brother/teammate, with both of them understanding that a victory by either is a victory for both. I think that’s right, it’s been a long time. Was gonna mention the original The Longest Yard and COBB, but you have already heard it. Also original Rollerball, but was again beaten to the punch. For Car Racing films, how about the true depiction of gender breaking driver Shirley Muldowney in an illuminatingly strong performance by Bonnie Bedilia in Heart Like A Wheel (also has the wonderful Beau Bridges forcing us to love him, hate him, then love him again)? As for soccer films, not one mention of VICTORY? Michael Caine, Max Von Sydow, a restrained Sly Stallone, not to mention a gaggle of true, professional players most notably the leader of the German team and the greatest player of all time (and the only reason soccer was accepted as a sport in America) PELE. I remember seeing it in the theaters as a tag along to my 3 years older than me brother’s 10th birthday party. As the Allied team started seizing momentum and the German players started beating Pele in his injured ribs without penalty (he continued to juke the ball around them) and the powerful musical score beginning to swell, I remember my love of Pele and 7 year old’s sense of justice could take it no longer, with tears in my eyes I yelled at the screen “stop hurting PELE!!!”..more Dennis Quaid in “Everybody’s All American” and later in the inspiring biopic “The Rookie”…SlapShot one of my favorites of all time, but what about Youngbloood? American football films, not one mention of RUDY-perhaps to sweet and sentimental? Then what about All The Right Moves with Tom Cruise beginning to distinguish himself from his Brat Pack peers? Also, though it hardly qualifies, LUCAS with Corey Haim and Charlie Sheen both as pure and full of goodness as we would ever see them again…Hope I didn’t take up too much space, I loved the article as well as everyone’s comments (I took notes even!), and am excited to check out the several films suggested that I haven’t seen. BTW, there was one rugby movie mentioned, anybody see “Invictus” (I have yet to)? Also, Hoosiers is the only basketball movie worth mentioning (I have been straining to think of another myself-”Coach Carter” with Sam Jackson or “The Winning Season” with Sam Rockwell are both on my want to see list)? Thank you for all your beautiful writing and analyses everyone!!!

Posted By BleedingRed : July 27, 2012 2:14 pm

I can’t stop, so sorry. RAGING BULL of course is an obvious great sports movie with innovative boxing scenes by the master Scorcese. What about FAT CITY with Stacey Keach based off of the tough, wonderful novel of the same name? Did John Huston direct that too? The Champ from the 30′s with Jackie Cooper as the boy as well as The Champ from the early 80′s(?) with Rickey Schroeder as the boy. I remember watching the Schroeder film with my Mom as a young kid and at a certain point my Mom started crying, which started me crying. My brother and dad walked in from retrieving a pizza for us all and were utterly baffled at the emotional wreckage they walked into with both my Mom and me making each other wail at the other’s sadness even louder and more vigorously with each moment. I remember my brother surveying the scene for a moment and with humored contempt exclaiming “Oh Geez! You guys are crazy, I’m gonna eat pizza!” Truly one of my favorite experiences in my nearly 38 years…

Posted By BleedingRed : July 27, 2012 2:14 pm

I can’t stop, so sorry. RAGING BULL of course is an obvious great sports movie with innovative boxing scenes by the master Scorcese. What about FAT CITY with Stacey Keach based off of the tough, wonderful novel of the same name? Did John Huston direct that too? The Champ from the 30′s with Jackie Cooper as the boy as well as The Champ from the early 80′s(?) with Rickey Schroeder as the boy. I remember watching the Schroeder film with my Mom as a young kid and at a certain point my Mom started crying, which started me crying. My brother and dad walked in from retrieving a pizza for us all and were utterly baffled at the emotional wreckage they walked into with both my Mom and me making each other wail at the other’s sadness even louder and more vigorously with each moment. I remember my brother surveying the scene for a moment and with humored contempt exclaiming “Oh Geez! You guys are crazy, I’m gonna eat pizza!” Truly one of my favorite experiences in my nearly 38 years…

Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : July 27, 2012 2:25 pm

One of the reasons why I love pieces like this is the comments which inevitably kick loose LOTS of other worthy candidates that would certainly qualify as favorites. Excellent calls on BREAKING AWAY, NORTH DALLAS FORTY and THE LONGEST YARD, which really do belong among my top five favorite sports movies. But further salutes are due to Klara for mentioning TIN CUP– Shelton yet again!– and to Cary for quite rightfully pointing out just how incredibly good is THE DAMNED UNITED.

I’ll throw out three more– Ron Shelton yet again with his terrific, underrated boxing comedy PLAY IT TO THE BONE, and two movies, both related to a sport that is quite close to our host’s heart– THE BIG LEBOWSKI and KINGPIN.

Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : July 27, 2012 2:25 pm

One of the reasons why I love pieces like this is the comments which inevitably kick loose LOTS of other worthy candidates that would certainly qualify as favorites. Excellent calls on BREAKING AWAY, NORTH DALLAS FORTY and THE LONGEST YARD, which really do belong among my top five favorite sports movies. But further salutes are due to Klara for mentioning TIN CUP– Shelton yet again!– and to Cary for quite rightfully pointing out just how incredibly good is THE DAMNED UNITED.

I’ll throw out three more– Ron Shelton yet again with his terrific, underrated boxing comedy PLAY IT TO THE BONE, and two movies, both related to a sport that is quite close to our host’s heart– THE BIG LEBOWSKI and KINGPIN.

Posted By BleedingRed : July 27, 2012 2:28 pm

Just to be clear, PELE was NOT the leader of the German team, I just am not remembering the gent’s name right now (back then he was the captain of the New York COSMOS. Maybe his name was Werner?) and typed too fast without proof-reading before submitting. So sorry. To be clear, Pele was definitely on the Allied squad, not a member of the German team. It should be noted that John Huston directed this as well…Old, old classic boxing film, “The Ring”, early Hitchcock starting to show his developing ingenuity and skill with camera work, should be watched if only for that alone…

Posted By BleedingRed : July 27, 2012 2:28 pm

Just to be clear, PELE was NOT the leader of the German team, I just am not remembering the gent’s name right now (back then he was the captain of the New York COSMOS. Maybe his name was Werner?) and typed too fast without proof-reading before submitting. So sorry. To be clear, Pele was definitely on the Allied squad, not a member of the German team. It should be noted that John Huston directed this as well…Old, old classic boxing film, “The Ring”, early Hitchcock starting to show his developing ingenuity and skill with camera work, should be watched if only for that alone…

Posted By BleedingRed : July 27, 2012 2:35 pm

Dennis, great mentions of Lebowski and Kingpin (both of which I love), and Tin Cup is just about as good as anything Shelton did. Which reminds me, “White Men Can’t Jump” is still wonderful to me. Really looking forward to viewing The Damned United and Play It To The Bone. Which reminds me of the Hudlin Brothers ridiculously funny “The Great White Hype” with the fabulous Peter Berg at his dimwitted naive best, windswept and along for the ride, knowing that he doesn’t know what any of it all means, but going for it just the same!

Posted By BleedingRed : July 27, 2012 2:35 pm

Dennis, great mentions of Lebowski and Kingpin (both of which I love), and Tin Cup is just about as good as anything Shelton did. Which reminds me, “White Men Can’t Jump” is still wonderful to me. Really looking forward to viewing The Damned United and Play It To The Bone. Which reminds me of the Hudlin Brothers ridiculously funny “The Great White Hype” with the fabulous Peter Berg at his dimwitted naive best, windswept and along for the ride, knowing that he doesn’t know what any of it all means, but going for it just the same!

Posted By robbushblog : July 27, 2012 2:49 pm

A few more…Remember the Titans, Glory Road and Invincible are all Disney movies based on real life stories. They are kind of schmaltzy and manipulative…and I don’t care. I think they’re pretty darn good.

Continuing on…Moneyball, though it doesn’t show much baseball, is a good movie about stats for those who are into baseball stats. I used to be crazy about stats, but I still liked the movie.

If someone hadn’t already mentioned Rocky I would have thrown in Rocky, but also Rocky III because Mr. T was a mean SOB and will never be forgiven for killing Mickey.

And finally, a couple of movies set during the depression: Seabiscuit and Cinderella Man. Both are probably hanky movies, but the acting and photography are beautiful adn the stories are much more touching than your typical movie because they are based on true stories.

Oh…The Hustler, anyone?

Posted By robbushblog : July 27, 2012 2:49 pm

A few more…Remember the Titans, Glory Road and Invincible are all Disney movies based on real life stories. They are kind of schmaltzy and manipulative…and I don’t care. I think they’re pretty darn good.

Continuing on…Moneyball, though it doesn’t show much baseball, is a good movie about stats for those who are into baseball stats. I used to be crazy about stats, but I still liked the movie.

If someone hadn’t already mentioned Rocky I would have thrown in Rocky, but also Rocky III because Mr. T was a mean SOB and will never be forgiven for killing Mickey.

And finally, a couple of movies set during the depression: Seabiscuit and Cinderella Man. Both are probably hanky movies, but the acting and photography are beautiful adn the stories are much more touching than your typical movie because they are based on true stories.

Oh…The Hustler, anyone?

Posted By Klara : July 27, 2012 8:05 pm

Yes, Invictus was pretty good. And how did I forget one of my favorite sports movies — VISION QUEST? Louden Swain (played by Matthew Modine) is one of the best 80′s film characters, in my opinion! His buddy Kuch is great too, everyone in the story is just kind-hearted. It’s a moving story in a good way. It’s about how a simple sporting event (a HS wrestling match, at that) and one passionate kid on a special ‘quest’ can inspire hope in others. Love that one! I believe the full film is available to watch on YouTube if you haven’t seen it…

BTW, this has been a great topic & loads of fun to participate via the comments. Nice job, Kimberly & Co. on the symposium — and Kimberly for coming up with the idea :)

Posted By Klara : July 27, 2012 8:05 pm

Yes, Invictus was pretty good. And how did I forget one of my favorite sports movies — VISION QUEST? Louden Swain (played by Matthew Modine) is one of the best 80′s film characters, in my opinion! His buddy Kuch is great too, everyone in the story is just kind-hearted. It’s a moving story in a good way. It’s about how a simple sporting event (a HS wrestling match, at that) and one passionate kid on a special ‘quest’ can inspire hope in others. Love that one! I believe the full film is available to watch on YouTube if you haven’t seen it…

BTW, this has been a great topic & loads of fun to participate via the comments. Nice job, Kimberly & Co. on the symposium — and Kimberly for coming up with the idea :)

Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : July 28, 2012 3:18 pm

Bleeding Red: Ron Shelton co-wrote THE GREAT WHITE HYPE, or it may be more accurate to say that he reworked Tony Hendra’s script (they’re both credited), and it is good. Also, Shelton’s screenplay for THE BEST OF TIMES, with Kurt Russell and Robin Williams, was a very cutting and funny dissection of high school football dreams. Shelton is an amazing talent.

Posted By Dennis Cozzalio : July 28, 2012 3:18 pm

Bleeding Red: Ron Shelton co-wrote THE GREAT WHITE HYPE, or it may be more accurate to say that he reworked Tony Hendra’s script (they’re both credited), and it is good. Also, Shelton’s screenplay for THE BEST OF TIMES, with Kurt Russell and Robin Williams, was a very cutting and funny dissection of high school football dreams. Shelton is an amazing talent.

Posted By David : July 28, 2012 8:45 pm

A great post and wonderful comments.
What makes a ‘sports film’? I can think of 2 definitions; one is some sort of examination of a particular sport and the way it is played and lived by those participating in it, the other is that the film is really about something other than a sport but that sport is closely woven into the fabric of the film. Both definitions are happily on display in the comments I’ve read.
Is Wise’s THE SET-UP a sports film? Or Noir? Or both? For Gridiron movies (Australians have their own brand of football)what about ON ANY SUNDAY? For golf, BAGGER VANCE.

Posted By David : July 28, 2012 8:45 pm

A great post and wonderful comments.
What makes a ‘sports film’? I can think of 2 definitions; one is some sort of examination of a particular sport and the way it is played and lived by those participating in it, the other is that the film is really about something other than a sport but that sport is closely woven into the fabric of the film. Both definitions are happily on display in the comments I’ve read.
Is Wise’s THE SET-UP a sports film? Or Noir? Or both? For Gridiron movies (Australians have their own brand of football)what about ON ANY SUNDAY? For golf, BAGGER VANCE.

Posted By Heidi : July 31, 2012 12:05 pm

I love this topic! My husband and I met because of baseball, so baseball movies are very popular in our house. My problem is I don’t like Kevin Costner, so I am of two minds about his baseball movies. However, I would like to throw out one I don’t think got mentioned…it is MEN WITH BROOMS, a movie about Curling. I love curling, so thought this was a hoot. It does a pretty decent job explaining the sport, whit a silly story thrown around it.

Posted By Heidi : July 31, 2012 12:05 pm

I love this topic! My husband and I met because of baseball, so baseball movies are very popular in our house. My problem is I don’t like Kevin Costner, so I am of two minds about his baseball movies. However, I would like to throw out one I don’t think got mentioned…it is MEN WITH BROOMS, a movie about Curling. I love curling, so thought this was a hoot. It does a pretty decent job explaining the sport, whit a silly story thrown around it.

Posted By swac44 : July 31, 2012 2:33 pm

Nice to see a vote for the Canadian indie comedy Men With Brooms, with Due South’s Paul Gross and a nice supporting role by Leslie Nielsen (the film could have used more of his character, IMHO). One of my favourite songwriters, Sarah Harmer, wrote the lovely theme song Silver Road, which she performs with Gord Downie from great Canadian band The Tragically Hip. Here’s someone’s homemade video for it (there is a legit promo clip, but it’s not on YouTube):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iV3hixQo-Y

Posted By swac44 : July 31, 2012 2:33 pm

Nice to see a vote for the Canadian indie comedy Men With Brooms, with Due South’s Paul Gross and a nice supporting role by Leslie Nielsen (the film could have used more of his character, IMHO). One of my favourite songwriters, Sarah Harmer, wrote the lovely theme song Silver Road, which she performs with Gord Downie from great Canadian band The Tragically Hip. Here’s someone’s homemade video for it (there is a legit promo clip, but it’s not on YouTube):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iV3hixQo-Y

Posted By swac44 : July 31, 2012 3:33 pm

Just read a fine review of the Jacques Tourneur 1949 football movie Easy Living, an RKO title recently released by Warner Archives. Haven’t seen it myself, I’m sure it’s been on TCM in the past, but aside from the fact that Tourneur directed it, it’s got a cast that includes Victor Mature, Lizabeth Scott, Lucille Ball and Sonny Tufts, plus minor roles by Jim Backus and Jack Paar (!) which make it a must-see for me. Hopefully it shows up in the TCM lineup sooner than later.

Posted By swac44 : July 31, 2012 3:33 pm

Just read a fine review of the Jacques Tourneur 1949 football movie Easy Living, an RKO title recently released by Warner Archives. Haven’t seen it myself, I’m sure it’s been on TCM in the past, but aside from the fact that Tourneur directed it, it’s got a cast that includes Victor Mature, Lizabeth Scott, Lucille Ball and Sonny Tufts, plus minor roles by Jim Backus and Jack Paar (!) which make it a must-see for me. Hopefully it shows up in the TCM lineup sooner than later.

Posted By swac44 : July 31, 2012 3:33 pm

Just read a fine review of the Jacques Tourneur 1949 football movie Easy Living, an RKO title recently released by Warner Archives. Haven’t seen it myself, I’m sure it’s been on TCM in the past, but aside from the fact that Tourneur directed it, it’s got a cast that includes Victor Mature, Lizabeth Scott, Lucille Ball and Sonny Tufts, plus minor roles by Jim Backus and Jack Paar (!) which make it a must-see for me. Hopefully it shows up in the TCM lineup sooner than later.

Oops, here’s the link to the review: http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s3943easy.html

Posted By swac44 : July 31, 2012 3:33 pm

Just read a fine review of the Jacques Tourneur 1949 football movie Easy Living, an RKO title recently released by Warner Archives. Haven’t seen it myself, I’m sure it’s been on TCM in the past, but aside from the fact that Tourneur directed it, it’s got a cast that includes Victor Mature, Lizabeth Scott, Lucille Ball and Sonny Tufts, plus minor roles by Jim Backus and Jack Paar (!) which make it a must-see for me. Hopefully it shows up in the TCM lineup sooner than later.

Oops, here’s the link to the review: http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s3943easy.html

Posted By whynot47 : August 7, 2012 1:40 am

this is coming in late… but as a young man I instantly became a fan of football upon watching BRIAN’S SONG… absolutely loved the training camp hijinks and the sheer determination required to come back from such an injury as Sayers’!

Posted By whynot47 : August 7, 2012 1:40 am

this is coming in late… but as a young man I instantly became a fan of football upon watching BRIAN’S SONG… absolutely loved the training camp hijinks and the sheer determination required to come back from such an injury as Sayers’!

Posted By la peregrina : August 7, 2012 9:33 pm

I ditched school to go see Downhill Racer when it first came out and it is still one of my favorite sports movie. The only movie I’ve ever walked out on was Bobby Deerfield and that was at at a sixth run movie theater. I hated it so much I was tempted to as for my dollar back. I also slept though half of Chariots of Fire the first time I saw it because I had spent the day skiing. I really enjoyed it once I saw the whole film.

(Is that last one considered irony since I slept through a sports movie because I had participated in a sport beforehand?)

Posted By la peregrina : August 7, 2012 9:33 pm

I ditched school to go see Downhill Racer when it first came out and it is still one of my favorite sports movie. The only movie I’ve ever walked out on was Bobby Deerfield and that was at at a sixth run movie theater. I hated it so much I was tempted to as for my dollar back. I also slept though half of Chariots of Fire the first time I saw it because I had spent the day skiing. I really enjoyed it once I saw the whole film.

(Is that last one considered irony since I slept through a sports movie because I had participated in a sport beforehand?)

Posted By robbushblog : August 7, 2012 10:28 pm

No, it’s not irony, just happenstance.

Posted By robbushblog : August 7, 2012 10:28 pm

No, it’s not irony, just happenstance.

Posted By la pergrina : August 8, 2012 8:43 pm

robbushblog- I know, it was a facetious remark. ;)

Posted By la pergrina : August 8, 2012 8:43 pm

robbushblog- I know, it was a facetious remark. ;)

Posted By robbushblog : August 8, 2012 10:23 pm

Dang! Sorry. It’s sometimes hard to tell in online forums.

Posted By robbushblog : August 8, 2012 10:23 pm

Dang! Sorry. It’s sometimes hard to tell in online forums.

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