Today marks the opening of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Athletes and fans from around the world have traveled far to see this year’s Games, which look to be exciting both on and off the playing fields.
Although normally, the Olympics stirs patriotic passion and sports zeal, Rio 2016 is faced with Zika outbreaks, deadly diseases and toxins in the water and a huge ban on Russian athletes plus the ever-present Rio problems of traffic, overcrowding and crime and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. In fact, any one of those could be the plot of a thriller or horror movie.
Unfortunately, almost all the movies about the Olympics (with the exception of MUNICH) are uplifting and emotionally charged, some fact, some fiction, lots of training montages. So in spite of preferring to focus on the negative – here are 11 movies that highlight and pay homage to the majesty of sport and athletic wholesomeness that the Olympics are supposed to be about, and one that doesn’t. Enjoy.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)
The ultimate Olympic movie, CHARIOTS OF FIRE tells the true story of two British athletes preparing to compete in the 1924 Summer Olympics. Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), who is Jewish, overcomes anti-Semitism to compete with Eric “Flying Scotsman” Liddell (Ian Charleson), whose devout Christian convictions drive him to race. The most memorable scene is the famous beach running complemented by Vangelis’ rousing score. CHARIOTS OF FIRE won four Oscars, including Best Picture.
The ultimate feel-good Olympic story. It tells the true tale of the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic ice hockey team which famously beat the heavily favored team from the U.S.S.R. (they’d won 42 straight games) in the medal round – the win was dubbed “the miracle on ice.” Kurt Russell stars as Herb Brooks, the Minnesotan player-turned-coach who leads his hand-picked team of hockey players to victory. The players must overcome old rivalries, and get their heads in the game if they’re going to seize Olympic glory.
RUNNING BRAVE (1983)
A true story about runner Billy Mills (played here by Robbie Benson), the underdog in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics who won gold in the 10,000 meter long distance foot race. Mills became the second Native American to win an Olympic gold medal.
INTERNATIONAL VELVET (1978)
This sequel to the 1944 Liz Taylor classic starred Tatum O’Neal and features great supporting performances by Anthony Hopkins and Christopher Plummer. O’Neal plays Sarah Brown, an American girl who goes to live with her aunt in England when her parents are killed in an automobile accident. The girl’s aunt, Velvet Brown, is the main character from the first film. Sarah and her aunt buy the last offspring of Velvet’s horse, The Pie, which Sarah names Arizona Pie after the state where she once lived. And of course, Sarah rides the new Pie straight to Olympic gold.
COOL RUNNINGS (1993)
When the Jamaican bobsled team made their debut at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, it didn’t take Hollywood long to come knocking. Five years later, Disney released COOL RUNNINGS, the story of four Jamaican men and their coach, played by the late-great John Candy, who struggle to learn the sport and compete for Olympic gold. The bobsledders, all loosely based on the real Jamaican bobsled team members, are played by Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Malik Youba, and Rawle D. Lewis.
PERSONAL BEST (1982)
Robert Towne’s film is the fictional story of a group of women who are trying to make the cut for the Olympic track and field team. Mariel Hemingway stars alongside IRL track star Patrice Donnelly. The pair play female athletes who fall in love in the run-up to the Olympic trials. Make no mistake though, PERSONAL BEST is not a puerile lesbian sports movie. Instead it paints a complex picture of Olympic athletes and showcases their abilities superbly. Towne displays considerable cinematic flare with the track event scenes.
CUTTING EDGE (1992)
This early ’90s romantic comedy stars Moira Kelly as Kate – a figure skating diva who is, much to her irritation, paired with washed up hockey player Doug (D.B. Sweeney) for the Olympic finals. Will the pair find love and win the gold?
In the first of two movies to highlight the career of long-distance track star Steve Prefontaine. Prefontaine was a tenacious competitor, he liked to party, he loved the ladies, and became a running sensation leading up the 1972 Olympic games. But while Prefontaine led in his race, he faded to a fourth place finish. Three years later the Olympian was killed in a car crash. Both films about him are entertaining, this one stars Jared Leto in the title role and FULL METAL JACKET’s R. Lee Ermey as his coach Bill Bowerman.
WITHOUT LIMITS (1998)
Filmmaker Robert Towne has the distinction of directing not one, but two Olympic-themed movies on our list, whose subject is on the list twice. WITHOUT LIMITS is Towne’s biographical drama about Olympic track star Steve Prefontaine. Produced by Tom Cruise, the film stars Billy Crudup as the Prefontaine. His coach, Bill Bowerman, is played here by Donald Sutherland. The film’s performances are what set it apart from PREFONTAINE including a great turn by Sutherland.
DOWNHILL RACER (1969)
Two bits of eye candy in this movie: a young Robert Redford and Michael Ritchie’s highly stylized cinematography. Like its protagonist, this film takes the gold.
WALK, DON’T RUN (1966)
Set during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, this “Odd Couple” scenario stars Cary Grant who, due to a housing shortage in Tokyo, becomes roommates with an American Olympic competitor. This film marks Grant’s final performance, which makes it worth watching.
And one bonus movie – just cause it’s funny…
BLADES OF GLORY (2007)
While not technically an Olympic film exactly, it is a great send-up of the kind of Olympic movies that populate the rest of this list, especially THE CUTTING EDGE. What could be better than watching two grown men wearing spandex and ice-dancing with each other? When rival figure skaters Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElroy (Heder) go ballistic in an embarrassing, no-holds-barred fight at the World Championships, they are stripped of their gold medals and banned from the sport for life. Now, three-and-a-half years on, they’ve found a loophole that will allow them to compete: If they can put aside their differences, they can skate together – in pairs figure skating.