Movies based on sports have always endeared to us, because of its emotional as well as realistic portrayal of athletes. Sportspersons are very enigmatic to us in real life, them being permanently relegated to television screens and magazines. Here we present you 11 of the most critically acclaimed movies based on sports, in no specific order of how good the movies are, as they are well, just too good. We have tried to break out of the mainstream by keeping this list as diverse as possible.
1. Raging Bull
Director: Martin Scorcese
Maestro Scorsese’s boxing biopic tells the story of the famous middle weight boxer Jake LaMotta, portrayed by Robert De Niro. Raging Bull is now considered to be one of the greatest sports drama films of all time, besides being a masterpiece of cinema.
The fight scenes shot in film were very innovative, as during the 1970’s and before, a boxing match was shot from the perspective of the spectators. To convey realism, Scorsese shot from the perspective of the boxers in the ring, which allowed us to see the expressions on the boxers’ faces. The Fighter and Cinderella Man have come close, but Raging Bull remains the best dramatic representation of boxing in cinema.
2. Chariots of Fire
Director: Hugh Hudson
Sports: Track and Field
The two protagonists in this movie come from very contrasting parts of the class-obsessed and religiously divided early 20th century United Kingdom. One runs for God, the other runs against prejudice. These two determined athletes aim for glory at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Fans will remember the touching theme composed by Vangelis and performed by John Williams, which has been played out for decades since the movie was released.
Director: James Strong
One of the best movies on football, produced by BBC, this film retells the story of the Busby Babes of Manchester United and the 1958 Munich air disaster, in which they lost 8 squad members and 3 club staff, while returning from a European Cup match from Belgrade.
As Matt Busby, the team’s manager recovers from injury, his assistant Jimmy Murphy takes on the reins of the team. Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton, only 17 years old during the accident, mulls over whether to hang up his boots, but eventually chooses not to. Although, not shown in the movie, this story eventually culminates in the 1968 European Cup win for Manchester United.
Director: Bennett Miller
Moneyball breaks the traditional baseball-movie mould by steering away from the usual formula- intrigue, romance and the big-match climax. It shows the nitty-bitty of the insides of a professional sports team, where the protagonist is not an athlete but the general manager, and the action takes place in the offices and tactics room, instead of a stadium or training grounds.
Brad Pitt portrays a failed-prodigy-turned-coach, who hires an economic graduate as his talent scout, portrayed by Jonah Hill. These two apply a brand new sabermetric approach to build a competitive baseball team, despite strong opposition from the team owner, played by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Although they miss out on the championship, sabermetrics goes on to become the future of competitive baseball.
Director: Ron Howard
Sports: Formula One Racing
The slickest racing movie ever made, it was lauded by sports-nuts and cinephiles for the realism of the racing scenes, credit to Ron Howard’s direction and Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography.
Although lacking on personal drama, as the characters of Hunt and Lauda do not evolve over the story, essentially remaining the same from start to finish, their portrayal by Hemsworth and Bruhl respectively, is very compelling. The movie remains notable as it is one of the rare movies to break the mould of usually American Football being portrayed in sports dramas.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Morgan Freeman plays the role of newly elected President Nelson Mandela, faces a South Africa that is racially and economically divided, before the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which is going to be held in South Africa. Believing he can unite his countrymen through the universal language of sport, Mandela entrusts Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, portrayed by Matt Damon, to rally and unite a nation.
Clint Eastwood brings his sons Kyle and Scott to the team, where Kyle composed the theme, and Scott played the role of fly half Joel Stransky.
7. Greatest Game Ever Played
Director: Bill Paxton
Shia LaBeouf plays Francis Ouimet, the 1st amateur to win the 1913 US Open golf tournament, during an era when golf was a sport of the very wealthy few. While being employed as a caddy at the exclusive golf club, Francis hones his skills when he is off-duty. Despite disapproval from his father, Francis is able to enter the 1913 U.S. Open with the help of newly-gained admirers. The story is played out as the underdog competes against his boyhood idol, British star Harry Vardon, and goes on to win the US Open.
8. The Hustler
Director: Robert Rossen
Paul Newman plays Eddie Nelson, nicknamed Fast Eddie, and what is different about this movie is that it does not showcase his final victory, but highlights his defeats in life, and his lack of character. Also, this movie is more about a person’s inner strength, than a game of billiards.
This movie catapulted Paul Newman to stardom, and he went on to star in many Hollywood classics. A sequel named The Color of Money was released in 1986, in which Newman reprised his role as Fast Eddie, playing mentor to a rookie hustler portrayed by Tom Cruise.
9. Searching for Bobby Fischer
Director: Steven Zaillian
Based on the real life story of Josh Waitzkin is discovered by his parents to be gifted in chess. So, parents hire an aggressive instructor, played by Ben Kingsley, but the boy is heavily influenced by a completely different mentor, a chess hustler named Vinnie, who uses an in-your- face approach and uses unorthodox methods to throw off opponents.
In a memorable scene, Josh’s gifts are highlighted in a sequence that shows him casually making chess moves from everywhere else but next to a chessboard. His father follows his instructions at the chessboard, and remains dumbstruck at his son’s prodigal abilities.
10. Breaking Away
Director: Peter Yates
This movie will instantly remind us of a 90s Bollywood classic, Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar, in many ways. Four friends fresh out of high school, ponder what to do with their life. One of them, Dave, dreams of being a bicycle racer, and meets heavy opposition from his family. His friends decide to make his dream come true in an annual bicycle endurance race.
Despite featuring then unknown actors, and a director without proven box-office pedigree, the movie became a sleeper hit, and still enjoys cult status. Although cycling remains a central theme, it is more of a coming-of-age movie, and remains one of the very best of those.
11. Slap Shot
Director: George Roy Hill
Sports: Ice Hockey
Slap Shot is any heavy contrast with other sports-flicks, its protagonists are not the example of idolised athletes. It features a mining town in recession, whose only source of drama in their lives is the local ice-hockey team, which is about to fold due to constant failure. Paul Newman stars as the coach of the ice-hockey team, who chooses to reshape his team based on newer players. He switches the team’s style to a violent one, which surprisingly draws more crowds, and makes the movie insanely funny.
Despite featuring Paul Newman in the lead, the performance of every single actor in this ensemble is impeccably good, thanks to the writing of Nancy Dowd, who based her script on her brother’s early career as an ice-hockey player.