For every great game, for every mile run, every hill conquered, and every orb tossed about, you can be sure it has been turned into a movie. Great sporting movies range from cult comedies to Oscar-winning epics, yet as different as they can be in style, all great sporting films must inspire and excite. The good guy must always defeat the odds and win in the end. Here’s one to the underdogs…

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
(1999)
Quite possibly one of the most underrated sports films in recent years, Oliver Stone’s contemporary look at the ins and outs and cutthroat politics of American Football is perhaps the most complete film about any sport. With Al Pacino as a thirty-year veteran coach at the helm of the fictitious Miami Sharks, and an ensemble cast featuring Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, and LL Cool J, the film portrays a team in turmoil; plagued with sports injuries, teammate rivalry, bureaucracy, and ego. Yet, in the finale, when everything seems lost for the Sharks, Pacino delivers one of the greatest motivational speeches in all of cinema.

 

CADDYSHACK
(1980)
According to Time and ESPN, the funniest sports movie of all time. We love Caddyshack because it broke Bill Murray into the big time. If that is not reason enough to laud this silly fairway escapade, the film is endlessly quotable (“It’s in the hole!,” “We are all going to get laid!”) and pokes fun at what is possibly the most detestable sporting culture. As long as golf still discriminates, exploits its players with exorbitant prices, and causes gentlemen to dress like twits, we will continue rooting for the gopher.

 

CHARIOTS OF FIRE
(1981)
Best Picture winning Chariots of Fire is the true story of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, two competitive runners during the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. The epic tale follows the two runners down different paths; Abrahams running in spite of anti-Semitism, and Liddell running for his own religious convictions. With more soul than many Olympics themselves, Chariots of Fire proves that it is not always only about the gold. It also has an epic soundtrack by Vangelis.

 

 

 

INVICTUS (2009)
Based on John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus is well known by most South Africans. Starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as Springbok Captain François Pienaar, it reveals the pressure on both men in the build up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The rest is history, as they say. What makes Invictus great is that it manages to capture the euphoria experienced by South Africans when the Springboks lifted the Web Ellis trophy for the first time.

 

 

RAGING BULL
(1980)
We love the slugfest of Rocky, the tragedy of Million Dollar Baby, the realism of The Fighter, he grittiness of Cinderella Man, and Will Smith as the Greatest in Ali, but for our money, Raging Bull is the greatest boxing movie. However, Martin Scorsese’s black and white biopic of the self-destructive former middleweight World Champion Jake LaMotta is not just a great boxing movie. Although it was initially panned for its violence, it came to be regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made by critics like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Robert De Niro earned an Oscar for portraying the volatile and masochistic LaMotta.

 

LE MANS
(1971)
Le Mans failed to generate buzz and critical acclaim the way Grand Prix did five years prior. It was during the final years of the golden age of motor racing when Le Mans was released, and perhaps due to the American unawareness of the La Mans 24-hour endurance race itself, or the fact that the film has fairly little plot and even less dialogue, it was a box office flop. But, what it does have is some of the most realistic and intense driving footage of any film, and Steve McQueen. Shot at the actual 1970 Le Mans, its main plot element is the rivalry between the Porsche and Ferrari teams. For its racing footage alone, Le Mans became a cult classic, and should be watched by anyone who loves speed.

Published in Playboy South Africa May 2013