I think everyone has been in a similar situation; your enthusiastic best friend/colleague/sibling is ranting and raving about this amazing film that “you need to watch. Right now!” You have no intention of watching it, especially given that the last recommendation they gave you was rubbish. More to the point, this film features what? Figure Skating?
So, you put it off, and off, and off, until you finally give in and give it a go! And, begrudgingly, that’s right: Margot Robbie smashes it out of the park with a fantastic performance of a disgraced figure skater.
My knowledge of figure skating could be written on the back of a stamp…five times, with enough room to include the script of I, Tonya. But that got me thinking, it can’t just be me that has avoided a great film due to the sport it depicts. I present, in no particular order; 10 Sports Films You’ll Enjoy Even If You Hate Sports.
Disclaimer: I have no doubt I have left out some classics and someone’s favorite film, but I tried to get a nice, wide range of sports and movie genres at the expense of some obvious choices (Sorry, Rocky).
10 Slap Shot
Hockey is a sport I know little about. Slightly more than figure skating, in so far as they carry a big stick, right? But I have been made to watch Paul Newman’s films for as long as I can remember, and I have enjoyed them for as long as I can remember. So, it was no surprise he put in as charming and funny a performance as usual in this movie.
The plot of Slap Shot (1977) centers on a declining town and its failing ice hockey team, who in desperation turns to violence on the ice to boost ticket sales and popularity. Special mention has to be made of the brutal Hanson brothers, who provide a lot of the laughs (and winces) as they crash, bludgeon, and batter most of their opponents. IMDb trivia states this was one of Newman’s favorite films, and it comes across on screen. He must have had a ball filming it as many parts, especially those involving the Hanson brothers, were unscripted and improvised on set.
9 Million Dollar Baby
Okay, so most of the films on this list I have watched two or more times. Not with this one. Please understand, that is not reflective of the quality of the film: It is a great film, worthy of the Oscar it received, and proof, if needed, Hilary Swank is an amazing actress and can more than hold her own against screen veterans like Morgan Freeman AND Clint Eastwood!
In the 2004 film, an old boxing trainer reluctantly agrees to train a female boxer, Maggie Fitzgerald. Despite odds stacked against her, Maggie shows endless determination and heart as she rises to every challenge put in her way.
That is where I’m going to stop talking about the story as I remember the reason I have never watched it again. The injustice of what happens will be etched firmly in the memory of the people who have seen it; it is heart-breaking. Seriously, no spoilers, but keep some tissues close by and maybe treat yourself to some ice cream—lots and lots of ice cream.
8 The Wrestler
If you are wanting the glitz and glamour of WWE (WWF for those of us past a certain age), avoid this film. The Wrestler (2008) follows an ailing wrestler at the tail end of his career as he travels between small venues and tries to survive. But not in stretched limos or flown in by helicopter. Instead, he travels with all his possessions stuffed to bursting in a car that, much like himself, has seen better days. It is a gritty tale of a man who is too old to adjust to life outside the ring, struggling with menial jobs and an alienated family.
There is a surprisingly convincing performance from Mickey Rourke as Randy the Ram, and many people have drawn parallels with his and his character’s careers. The real star of the show for me, though, is the (channeling my inner Costanza here) wonderful and understated Marisa Tomei, whose self-aware and worldly, past-her-best-days stripper makes this a great watch.
7 The Blind Side
I was going to pick Any Given Sunday for my American football choice, but you are more likely to need at least a passing interest in American football with that one. With The Blind Side (2009), you just need to be human.
This touching true story of Michael Oher is a heart-warming tale with laughs and tears in equal measures. There is a bit about American football in there, too, I guess…if that’s your thing. I am under no illusions this story may have been embellished, and some events and people might have been romanticized, but I think it is wonderful.
Like a lot of people in the UK, my interaction with horse racing happens once a year at the Grand National. Yep, apologies to everyone in the bookies; I will be the one holding up the line trying, poorly, to fill out a betting slip. So, what reason could hold my interest in a two-plus-hour film about horse racing?
Well, I’ll give you three reasons: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, and Chris Cooper. Seabiscuit (2003) offers flawless performances and a tale that covers loss, redemption, and overcoming adversity. This is what makes these two hours and twenty minutes fly by. Side note, I think this is one of the best performances of Chris Cooper, second to his July Johnson in Lonesome Dove.
5 Purely Belter
One of the two football films that made this list. And, as it happened with I, Tonya, another example of me being proved wrong.
One night I was coerced into watching this 2000 film by a friend who supported, of all teams, Sunderland. It puzzled me why a Sunderland fan would want to watch the struggle of two young kids trying to score tickets to watch their beloved Newcastle United. Not long into the film, it becomes clear; genuinely hilarious, affectionately made, and good acting from the child stars make a feel-good film you won’t be sorry you watched.
4 The Boxer
Less to do with boxing and more to do with the Troubles. Daniel Day-Lewis is a newly released prisoner who shuns his old world of violence to open a non-sectarian boxing gym in a divided Belfast.
Watching this 1997 film again, I was reminded of the absolute, heavyweight cast of Daniel Day-Lewis, Ken Stott, Brian Cox, and Emily Watson, who proves she has always been able to act in tough, challenging parts the entire length of her career.
Boxing legend Barry McGuigan was on set and had the job of training Daniel Day-Lewis to look and move like a fighter. Day-Lewis immersed himself fully in the role and committed to the training so sincerely that McGuigan stated he could fight professionally.
3 Looking for Eric
I love this film, and for the life of me, I cannot understand why more people have not seen it. Regardless of your preference of sport, allegiance to a football team, or locality in the world, there is something for you to enjoy in this film. People might be put off by the main character being an obsessive Manchester United fan; however, this film has very little to do with football and more to do with love, friendship, poverty, class, loneliness, family, mental health… Trust me, there is no way this can be pigeonholed as just a sports film.
Naturally being set in a poor community in Manchester, the 2009 film drew a comparison from critics to other northern dramas such as Brassed Off and The Full Monty. However, Looking for Eric is in a league of its own (I know, I’m sorry) and isn’t scared to touch on the subject matter the previous films mentioned shied away from.
Steve Evets doesn’t put one foot wrong in the lead role and delivers some cracking lines: “I’m up to here with your philosophy. I’m still getting over the f**king seagulls!”
2 The Big Lebowski
I know, I know, tenuous at best to call this a sports film, but it does feature bowling and a bowling ball features on the cover… So, I guess we’re okay? Full disclosure on this one, I have not seen the film in years, and I only saw it once, so I am hoping it is as good as I remember. If not, please go and watch Looking for Eric instead.
It’s kind of hard to explain the plot, but in short, a guy named Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges’s second showing on the list) is mistaken for a millionaire who wants to get reimbursed for a rug that got ruined at the same time as retrieving his namesake’s missing wife. As one reviewer explains it, The Big Lebowski (1198) is a “stoner crime comedy about bowling, Vietnam, and the critical importance of having that one interior-design element that ties the whole room together.”
As I remember, it is as bizarre as it sounds, and one thing I do remember is a foul-mouthed John Turturro stealing the scenes in the bowling alley.
1 The Descent
Okay, okay, I know! And you thought we were stretching it with the last one. I did want another obscure sport, and I did want to add a horror movie to the mix; we have covered a lot of sports and genres so far. Now, let’s all agree caving/spelunking/potholing is a sport for this list. Or at least sport-adjacent!
In this 2006 film, a group of friends decides to go caving. Unfortunately, things are not good from the start as betrayals start to surface, accidents happen, and it ultimately seems the group is not alone in the darkness.
I don’t know about you, but I am not a fan of being stuck in small spaces, in the dark, with potentially deadly creatures. Goodness knows why I watched this in the first place, and I’m not too sure why it is on this list. But, now and then, I do like a good scare, and this certainly fits the bill.
I am led to believe the U.S. and UK versions have different endings; however, not wanting to watch this in a hurry, please can someone add the difference in the comments.