Top Ten Sporting Films

By Sunday, August 12, 2012 15 , , , , Permalink 0

In the words of the great Sanka Coffie; I am feeling very Olympic today.

The nation has been in the grasp of Olympics fever before Danny Boyle’s amazing opening ceremony graced the BBC. Even though I am one of the least co-ordinated, least sporty people around (saying that I did dust off my Jubilee-esque firework patterned roller skates the other day; I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not); I am never one to miss out on a themed list, so in true Movie Writing style here are my top ten favourite sports related films.


RELEASED:  September 9, 2011  |  DIRECTOR:  Gavin O’Connor  |  CERTIFICATE:  12  |  RUN TIME:  140 minutes  |  CAST:  Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Noah Emmerich, Kevin Dunn

When Warrior came out last year, critics and audiences alike went crazy for Gavin O’Connor’s latest cinematic offering. Maybe because it was the second fighting film released recently, or maybe it was just because only a short time ago I completely wrote off sporting movies as utterly uninteresting. Either way, I didn’t catch Warrior at the cinema; something I sincerely regret now.

Staring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as sparing brothers, Warrior avoids sporting cliches and focuses more on the emotion of the sport; resulting in an honest, powerful story combined with some serious action shots. O’Connor’s fusion of brutality with the dramatic, heartfelt story line is certainly a winning combination making Warrior one of the best fighting movies around.



A League of Their Own

RELEASED:  July 1, 1992  |  DIRECTOR:  Penny Marshall  |  CERTIFICATE:  PG  |  RUN TIME:  128 minutes  |  CAST:  Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell

Any film staring Madonna is instantly pooh-poohed by me, no more so than A League of their Own; the story of the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League set in war time America. Despite one of her songs forming the soundtrack to the credits (thankfully it’s not in the same league as W.E), the film is in no way hindered by Madge’s presence.

A fantastic ensemble cast consisting of but not limited to Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Bill Pullman; A League of their Owen is incredibly light hearted and surprisingly charming. A lot cheesier than more contemporary takes on women in sport (I’m thinking of Million Dollar Baby in particular, which I saw after formulating this list), it still holds its own in any top sporting film list; largely because of the chemistry between the solid, impressive troupe.



Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

RELEASED:  June 18, 2004  |  DIRECTOR:  Rawson Marshall Thurber  |  CERTIFICATE:  12  |  RUN TIME:  92 minutes  |  CAST:  Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn, Justin Long, Stephen Root, Alan Tudyk

No list is complete without a bit of carefree stupidity, and Dodgeball provides enough silliness for the whole article. Far preferable than BASEketball, which after a recent re-watch I didn’t find funny in the slightest (perhaps a worrying sign that I am finally growing up), and much more entertaining than the overrated (in my household at least) The Benchwarmers; Dodgeball is a daft delight.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoy Ben Stiller’s films. The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my favourites, and I will readily profess my adoration for Zoolander (it’s no David Lynch but hey, give me a break).  Whilst Chas Tenenbaum will always be Stiller’s best performance, his role of egomaniacal fitness Goliath White Goodman is one of his most iconic parts to date. Although Dodgeball isn’t quite the film that Rawson Marshall Thurber initially intended to create, the post test-audience changes certainly make the movie much better; after all, everyone loves an underdog.



The Fighter

RELEASED:  December 10, 2010  |  DIRECTOR:  David O. Russell  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME:  115 minutes  |  CAST:  Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo

The second fighting film in the list so far, The Fighter is one of the finest films of 2011. Amy Adams shone as the role of Charlene; boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward (Wahlberg)’s girlfriend. Incredibly different to previous roles in Enchanted and Julie and Julia, this is her most notable role since Sister James in the magnificent Doubt. However credit cannot only go to Adams, as Wahlberg gives one of the greatest performances of his career to date, whilst Bale once again lost a considerable amount of weight to fit his part; it is a role that he is perfect for.

It was The Fighter that really changed my opinions on sports films. Only seeing it on Valentine’s Day because Paul had sold out, I was certain I would not enjoy; writing it off as a “boy’s film”. Not only was I completely engrossed from opening to ending credits, I adored every moment of it. The Fighter provided an edge-of-your-seat form of entertainment I hadn’t experienced in quite some time.


Gregory’s Girl

RELEASED:  July 1, 1992  |  DIRECTOR:  Bill Forsyth  |  CERTIFICATE:  12  |  RUN TIME:  91 minutes  |  CAST:  John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn, Clare Grogan

I couldn’t possibly write a film about sports and not include Gregory’s Girl; not only is it a wonderful movie, it also briefly featured in the opening ceremony (the thick Scottish “she’s gorgeous!”, good old Danny Boyle). The oldest film featured in this list, director Bill Forsyth’s first international hit features some excellent hairstyles and questionable eighties fashions. Winning a BAFTA for Best Screenplay in ’82, the recognition goes further than just the aesthetic of the film; and rightly so.

Endearing, quirky and wonderfully British; Gregory’s Girl is one of the best movies about football around. Featuring a strong female with a love of the beautiful game long before Bend it Like Beckham; Forsyth’s film is wonderfully refreshing, especially as football is often associated with boys. A coming of age film with a whimsical portrayal of teenage angst and unrequited love set against the backdrop of a school football pitch; Gregory’s Girl has something relatable to all. Let’s just hope that today’s viewers don’t share quite the same fashion sense.



The Damned United

RELEASED:  March 27, 2009  |  DIRECTOR:  Tom Hooper  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME:  97 minutes  |  CAST:  Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent

As discussed on the Movie Talking Biopic Podcast; The Damned United is a firm favourite over at Movie Writing HQ. Directed by the great Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, the forthcoming Les Miserables), and based on the novel by David Peace; The Damned United takes a look at Brian Clough, previous Derby County manager, as he takes over Leeds United. With a fantastically British cast (Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham) providing faultless performances all around; it’s not just a film about sport. It’s about friendship, loyalty and disappointment.

Despite knowing nothing about Brian Clough (played brilliantly by the great Michael Sheen) and even less about football; The Damned United is proof that you don’t need to have a prior knowledge of the sport to enjoy one of the finest biopics to come out of this country.



TT: Closer to the Edge

RELEASED:  April 22, 2011  |  DIRECTOR:  Richard De Aragues  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME:  104 minutes  |  CAST:  Guy Martin, Ian Hutchinson

Released close to the Formula One documentary Senna, it was difficult to decide which of the two excellent films to place in the list. Thanks to the likability of Guy Martin and Ian Hutchinson, the leading riders in 2010’s race; TT: Closer to the Edge (shot and screened in 3D) is an entertaining, exhilarating and emotional account of the world famous Isle of Man TT motorcycle race that takes place, and takes lives, every year made the final cut.

In the way that The Damned United isn’t just about football; TT: Closer to the Edge isn’t just about racing. Honest, hilarious and at times horrendous; it explores the lives and families of the participants with some stories significantly sadder than others.


Whip It

RELEASED:  September 13, 2009  |  DIRECTOR:  Drew Barrymore  |  CERTIFICATE:  12  |  RUN TIME:  111 minutes  |  CAST:  Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern

I hold this film entirely accountable for my ludicrous urge to get my roller skates out. Since I first saw Whip It in 2009 when it was released, I have been eyeing up skates and blades without knowing a thing about the sport other than it looks cool. When my parents had a bit of a clean out, they found some roller skates I had since I was younger. Unfortunately for the world they still fit, and I discovered (in the kitchen, might I add) that I cannot skate. At all. Still, I’d like to think that I one day may be as cool as Ellen Page is as Bliss Cavendar in Whip It.

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It is the perfect indie sports film. A fantastic female cast teamed with a brilliant soundtrack consisting of Tilly and the Wall, Ramones and The Go! Team; Whip It ticks pretty much all the boxes and only adds further fuel to my girl crush on Ellen Page. Despite its many charms, the film often misses the mark; the portrayal of Cavendar’s relationships in particular. I love it nevertheless.



RELEASED:  September 23, 2011  |  DIRECTOR:  Bennett Miller  |  CERTIFICATE:  12  |  RUN TIME:  133 minutes  |  CAST:  Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt

Prior to seeing Moneyball only recently, the structure of my favourite sporting films was a little different. Thanks to the limited release of Bennett Miller’s baseball hit based on a true story, it missed our local cinemas and has been on my To Watch list for some time. It was certainly worth the wait.

Brad Pitt’s roles seem to age like a fine wine or good cheese; whenever he gives an excellent performance there’s always another one around the corner to top the previous. This sentiment applies wholeheartedly to the character of Billy Beane; a former professional baseball player turned general manager. Pitt plays Beane with such emotion and conviction; if the game isn’t enough to keep you enthralled, his performance undoubtedly will. Johan Hill as Yale economics graduate Peter, his right hand man who helps Beane challenge the system, is equally as impressive. The surprise appearance of Chris Pratt only encouraged my love for this film. Although I still know nothing about baseball.



The Wrestler

RELEASED:  December 17, 2008  |  DIRECTOR:  Darren Aronofsky  |  CERTIFICATE:  15  |  RUN TIME:  109 minutes  |  CAST:  Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Perhaps predictably, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is my number one sports related film. Featuring a perfect performance from Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, The Wrestler has certainly grown on me since I saw it last September. It is easily the best fighting film out there (sorry Sly fans), and balances the extremes of emotion; from violence to tenderness to loneliness, Rourke’s figurative and literal scars shine on screen.

Not one for the squeamish as there are some choice scenes, but don’t mistake this as one just for the boys. Aronofsky’s unique talent turns Randy’s career into an art form. A beautiful film with a beautiful score; I haven’t seen Rourke quite as exposed as he is in The Wrestler. I only hope he is able to tap into the same talent for his future roles.


  • Slick Nick
    August 12, 2012

    I love Warrior and The Wrestler. The former is better than The Fighter which I found a tad overrated.

    Dodgeball was crap.

    Omitting Karate Kid, Raging Bull and Rocky though?

    • Rob
      August 14, 2012

      There’s so many great films to choose from. Rocky’s good but I only watched it recently so I was expecting a lot from it, I will have to give it another go.

      Loved the Karate Kid when I was younger.

      Other great films that would be considered, White Men Can’t Jump, Kingpin and Million Dollar Baby. This genre of film is huge and there’s a lot of movies people should get round to watching.

      • Amy
        August 15, 2012

        I still have yet to see Kingpin. Million Dollar Baby is brilliant but brutal, and there’s enough brutality in my list already without revealing any spoilers to Eastwood’s modern classic.

    • Amy
      August 15, 2012

      Thanks for your comment as always Nick.

      I think I liked The Fighter so much because I was expecting to hate it.

      I saw Rocky just for this list and found it a little too hyped up. I’ve been hearing amazing things about it for years; it just didn’t live up to my expectations. I have yet to see Karate Kid and Raging Bull. I will try and watch them before the Paralympics and see if there are any edits to be made.

  • Andina
    August 12, 2012

    Nice list, Amy! Sorry that you didn’t watch Warrior at the cinema. It was one of my favorites from 2011 and I feel privileged to have watch them earlier (most non-blockbuster movies are a bit late). Also loved The Fighter. And have always wanted to watch The Damned United.

    • Amy
      August 15, 2012

      Thanks so much Andina, I’m glad you liked it! I really regret not seeing Warrior at the cinema. I think it really would have heightened the experience. I hope you get a chance to see The Damned United soon! Many people avoid i because it’s about football, but even though I don’t know anything about the sport or even like it; I loved the film!

  • Fernando Quintero
    August 14, 2012

    Excellent post, Amy! I especially love the inclusion of Warrior, Dodgeball, The Fighter and Whip It.

    • Amy
      August 15, 2012

      Thanks Fernando :) Really glad you like it. I love Whip It so much, despite it not being considered by many as a “proper” sporting film!

  • alleyandthemovies
    August 19, 2012

    Need to see so many of these! Especially Warrior. Great list, Amy!

    • Amy
      September 9, 2012

      Hope you manage to get around to them soon; they’re all brilliant. I only managed to catch Warrior recently but really loved it! Thanks :)

  • Courtney
    August 19, 2012

    Great roundup! I think ensemble casts are crucial to any film….but A League of Their Own, Whip It, The Fighter and The Wrestler all had some of the best casts of their years.

    • Amy
      September 9, 2012

      Thank you! I’m always a bit dubious about ensemble casts (too many cooks syndrome!) but I agree. They’re all great! :D

  • cassie
    September 13, 2012

    my mum is gregorys girl and this just made my day that she beat tom hardy, even if he is my hero! .. not as much as she is though, fantastic! x

    • Amy
      September 30, 2012

      Thanks for your comment, Cassie! That’s amazing that your mum is Gregory’s Girl, so cool! Glad that you liked her placing in the list :)

  • M.
    November 17, 2012

    Where are the classics? The Natural?

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