For all the pomp, circumstance, and media attention that the Olympics get, there really haven’t been a lot of movies about the games. Luckily, they’ve all been pretty good ones – and, even better, we have two more potential canon entries the have come out in back to back weeks (the Jesse Owens story Race, and the Winter Olympics story Eddie the Eagle).
Since we were in the Olympic spirit, we’ve compiled this list of our favorite Olympic movies to prepare you for the upcoming Rio de Janeiro summer games (a scant few months away).
Chariots of Fire (1981)
A lovely, stately film – probably not deserving of the Best Picture Oscar, but not entirely underserving, either – that chronicled the lives of Englishmen Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams as they trained for the 1924 Olympics. The movie is perhaps most famous for its inescapable Vangelis (he also did Blade Runner) theme music, which was hilariously referenced at the start of the last Berlin Olympics.
Personal Best (1982)
An overlooked gem from the 1980s, this passion project from Robert Towne (who penned Chinatown) might just have been a little early for a wide audience – particularly in the portrayal of the love between young track star Chris (Mariel Hemingway) and older woman Tory (Patrice Donnelly). It flopped at the box office, but it’s definitely worth a new look for modern audiences. Scott Glenn has a nice role as a track coach.
The Cutting Edge (1992)
This is an utterly charming and endearing movie, as evidenced by the cookie-cutter, direct-to-video / Family Channel sequels that keep rolling out every year or two. The screenplay, by Tony Gilroy (of Michael Clayton fame) is sharper and wittier than most, pitting up a fish-out-of-water, washed-up hockey player (D.B. Sweeney) with a temperamental figure skater (Moira Kelly) to train for the Games. It’s pretty damn irresistible, with the two leads sparking with undeniable chemistry and some fine skating scenes. Oh, yeah, and it was directed by Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky from Starsky and Hutch).
Cool Runnings (1994)
It was a given that there’d be a movie made about the Jamaican bobsled team’s valiant effort in the 1988 Winter Olympics; thankfully, this Disney picture is entertainingly efficient, with an extraordinarily likable cast and meaty role for John Candy (as their disgraced American coach). For those who grew up in the 1990s, this was a perennial VHS favorite. Don’t expect any historical accuracy, though.
This rousing recreation of the famed 1980 “Miracle On Ice” – which saw the underdog, amateur U.S. hockey team storm pass the vaunted Russian squad – is a faithful recreation that hits all the sports-movie clichés so well that you have to succumb to its mission. Gavin O’Connor (director of Warrior) has a skill for filming on-ice action, and Kurt Russell is fantastic as usual as the crusty American coach Herb Brooks. Everything is top-notch here, down to the famed Al Michaels “Do you believe in miracles?” call (which he re-created for the movie).
For about 95% of Munich, you could make a case that it’s one of Steven Spielberg’s three or four best films. Right up until the slap-your-head-dumb, metaphor-heavy finale, the movie is taut, engrossing, and absorbingly deep – raising big questions about the nature of vengeance and justice. Spielberg’s recreation of the kidnapping of the Israeli wrestling team at the 1972 Munich Olympics is terrifyingly gripping, and his examination of the retribution campaign that followed, led by conflicted commando Avner (Eric Bana) is nuanced and provocative. A fine cast here, too, with Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig, and Mathiew Amalric.
Do you have a favorite movie inspired by the Olympics? Give it a shoutout in the comments below.