Good sports movies are few and far between. For every Caddyshack there are a dozen Mike Bassett: England Managers. But they do keep churning them out. In the last ten years there have been no fewer than three table tennis movies, and a glut of lacrosse movies too. On the flipside, it’s high time for another bowls movie, because it’s been a decade since the last one. Whilst we’re waiting for that one, here’s a rundown of what must surely rank as the top ten greatest sports-related movies of all time. So incontrovertible is this list, in fact, that we might not even bother to leave the comments open at the end.
10. Field of Dreams
In A Beautiful Mind the voices tell Russell Crowe that he can break Soviet encryption codes and he gets committed for it. In Field of Dreams the voices tell Kevin Costner to build a baseball field and everybody just goes along with it. It’s hard not to be cynical about a movie that ends with you introducing your dead dad to your kids before running off to play catch with his ghost.
Such a splendidly triumphant movie about complete and utter failure that when it first came out the Daily Mail review supposedly questioned whether British bobsledders had been changed into Jamaicans (because of political correctness, of course). And yes, everyone misses John Candy, but what would he be doing if he was still around? He’d have had a gastric band inserted and married Lindsay Lohan, that’s what.
8. Fever Pitch
Nick Hornby’s novel was filmed twice within the space of ten years, one starring rent-a-drip (sorry, rent-a-dripping-shirt) Colin Firth, about Arsenal doing all right in the late 80s, and the other starring some American, about the Boston Red Sox. A baseball team. It is directed by the geniuses behind Dumb and Dumber, with a script written by a man whose pen name is Babaloo. Stick with the British version.
Shockingly, Michael Sheen doesn’t play Tony Blair for the fourth (fifth?) time in this fictionalised version of Brian Clough’s time at Leeds United in the mid Seventies. He spends most of his time attacking his own team, his own team spend most of the time attacking him, and then he gets booted out. Actually, maybe Sheen is playing Blair again after all.
Slightly less plausible than Field of Dreams, this one sees Tom Cruise’s agent develop a conscience and walk out of his lucrative career because he doesn’t like how big business has corrupted sport. He’s followed by a desperate single mother with a weird-faced kid and they all go on to make millions of dollars for Cuba Gooding Jr. But this money is good money, unlike the other money, which was bad money. You had me at vomit.
5. Raging Bull
Watching many of Martin Scorsese’s films feels like being punched in the head for three hours, so here you can enjoy a little postmodern thumping watching Robert de Niro bleed in glorious black and white instead.
Clint Eastwood not only produced, directed, starred and wrote the music for this bleak boxing drama, he also made the sandwiches for everyone on set. Nice guy. He’s not in the sequel, which got released direct to DVD and starred Angela Lansbury and Dick van Dyke as two amateur detectives (one a writer, the other a doctor) who get together to investigate the murder of a young female boxer. They pin it on Morgan Freeman, but he’s not in it either.
Followed by more sequels than Friday the 13th (Rocky 7 will apparently see a reincarnated half-cyborg version of Signor Balboa going up against killer boxing robots on a space station in the far future too), it’s often easy to forget the original was classic feel-good schlock for men. Apparently Adrian was originally going to be played by Dustin Hoffman.
Rowan Atkinson’s interpretation aside, the famous Vangelis theme is now hated by everyone who had to go to the London Olympics and got stuck behind someone who thought they were not only being very funny but also highly original when they started walking in slow motion whenever the theme started being piped over the loudspeakers. That doesn’t detract from the film, however, which is protected by a law banning dislike of it throughout England and Scotland.
Good surfing films are rare, so this luminous assault on the modernist idea of the city, depicting what happens along the Californian coast after a major earthquake, is an underrated classic. It’s also a poignant allegory for the rise of the Third Reich as prescient as Brecht’s Arturo Ui. Critics are divided over whether the bereaved grandmother who escapes her nursing home to seek revenge on the Surf Nazis with guns and hand grenades represents a complacent British Empire or isolationist America. Perhaps it is testament to the film’s depths that it can be seen to represent both.This is a guest post and views expressed here are entirely of the author, and can largely be considered tongue-in-cheek.
The tittering schoolboy version of the history of the Olympic Games would have us believe the Ancient Greeks used to strip naked, oil themselves up and then fight to the death in a stadium at Olympia. And believe them we should, because there’s an element of truth to all of that. London’s Olympic Games in 2012 might have billions of spectators (if only thanks to television), but the Ancient Olympic Games of 776BC onwards make Seb Coe’s pet project look decidedly staid.
The Ancient Olympics was originally established as a religious festival to worship the mightiest of Greek gods, Zeus. A colossal statue of him, built to preside over the stadium, was later designated one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Only Greeks were allowed to participate. After all, everyone else was a barbarian. This didn’t change for 500 years, until the Roman Empire conquered Greece, stomped its collective feet and demanded their own supermen be allowed to join in.
Naturally only men could compete. Some women were allowed into the stadium to watch, but only if they weren’t married or betrothed (which was probably for the best, given the Team Greece kit – see below).
Originally the Games only lasted for a single day, but then, they only consisted of a single event – the stadion race. This was a short sprint of about 700ft, which was the length of the stadium (the word ‘stadium’ actually having come from the name of the race). Eventually the Ancient Olympics were extended to five days and incorporated multiple events. Most fell by the wayside in the intervening 1,500 years between the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games (most lamentably chariot racing), but the javelin and discus have both remained staple events, whilst others have evolved.
In case modern boxing isn’t brutal enough, the boxers of the Ancient Olympics could weight their hard leather hand coverings with metal for extra pain infliction. There weren’t any rules against hitting a competitor when he was down either. Matches had no rest periods and no time limits – they went on until one of the men gave up, or died. Killing your opponent was not advised, however, because the dead guy automatically won the contest.
Pankration is another event that has disappeared from the schedules. Worryingly there would probably be plenty who would relish the chance to bring this fighting sport back, but health and safety officials would never allow it. The rules of pankration were quite simple. No eye gouging. No biting. And that was it. Spleen-rupturing kicks to the belly were allowed. Choke holds were recommended. Digging thumbs into your opponent’s trachea was an acceptable winning move. Elements of pankration have made it into mixed martial arts, but that pales in comparison on the violence front.
The more cynical amongst us might take a bemused look at Stella McCartney’s kit for British competitors and suggest the Ancient Greeks did it better when they competed in their birthday suits. However, nudity was not in fact the official uniform of the Ancient Olympics for the first 50 years, only being introduced by decree in 720BC. The Games were partly about celebrating the human body, after all. Competitors would rub olive oil over their bodies, both for cleaning and aesthetic purposes. Only in one event was anyone allowed to wear clothes – the armoured race. But even then, the only armour they could wear was a helmet and shin guards. There was still plenty of flesh flapping around in the sun. Interestingly, the word ‘gynasium’ comes from ‘gymnos’ – the Greek word for ‘nude’.
There were no gold, silver or bronze medals for the winners in the Ancient Olympics, just a crown made from an olive wreath, along with an olive branch and supplies of more olive oil. Bertolli, sponsors of the original 776BC Olympic Games, continue to prosper to this day, apparently.
Unfortunately it all came to an end in AD393 (or AD435, depending upon whose version of history you would shed blood over) when the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (or II, depending upon – etc, etc) embraced Christianity and banned the whole thing for being just a little too pagan for Jesus. It wasn’t until 1896 that the ancient ideal of an international celebration of sporting prowess was born again, but that’s another story altogether.