Films which centre around team sports have long been a staple of popular cinema. Often the sport in question is an integral part of the story being told, these films making good use of a sporting event as a way to actualise the drama. Escape to Victory is a strange and wonderful example of this, with its well known (and slightly ridiculous) football game which closes the film (something it was sold on too, with real life footballers Bobby Moore, Pele and Ossie Ardiles appearing). Over the years we’ve seen films such as Raging Bull, The Color of Money and A League of Their Own all using the inherent passion and spectacle to their narrative advantage.

escape to victoryAs can be seen in some of those examples already mentioned, real life has inspired many a sporting cinematic outing, with Fighting with My Family, the magnificent I, Tonya, Ron Howard’s Rush and Michael Mann’s Ali being fairly recent examples of this. We are fixated by the people behind the achievement, the player behind the play. It is a well run path for sporting films to focus on the slings and arrows turned against a single individual, with crowds gathered to see them rise in triumph or fall in defeat.

i tonyaA cursory glance at IMDb will give you lists of sporting films teeming with films focusing on football, usually its American variant, baseball, boxing and so on. The more popular the sport, the more films, naturally, are made about them. But today we’re looking at films based around the less obvious athletic pursuits. Sports that, while requiring as much athletic prowess and capable of rousing thousands of voices in passionate pursuit, often get overlooked by movie makers. Ready? Game on…

Cricket

BodylineBodyline/Lagaan

With matches that last for days, eclectic nomenclature such as Silly Mid Off, Googlys, a Duck and Dibbly-Dobblys, the gentleman’s game of cricket may not immediately jump out as a magnet for dramatic cinema. And so it has proved – while the game has never been more popular (nor more beloved around the world), there are only a handful of big and small screen entertainments which feature the game.

Back in the ’80s there was an acclaimed miniseries from Australia called Bodyline, a dramatisation of the 1932-1933 Ashes tour. Featuring a young Hugo Weaving, the tagline was a slightly over the top ‘The day England declared war on Australia’, and the miniseries benefitted no doubt from the (sometimes less-than-playful) rivalry between the contemporary England and Australia cricket teams.

lagaanBut if you’re looking for a slightly more upbeat evocation of the game, you can do no better than Ashutosh Gowariker’s 2001 epic Lagaan. Set in the time of the British Raj, the film sees a small village in India struggling learning the game in order to beat and humble the arrogant British soldiers. The prize – to not have to pay their mountainous taxes.

It was nominated for an Academy Award and was a huge hit across the world, at the time the most expensive film of its kind. It’s well worth seeking out if you have a love of the game, as is CricTips for all the latest news and tips for the game around the world.

Bobsleigh

Cool-Runnings-DI2Cool Runnings

You may well have expected this one on a list like this. It’s a classic, properly beloved by millions across the world, and one which still stands up almost thirty years on. Cool Runnings is a heightened version of the true story of the 1988 Winter Olympics Bobsleigh team from Jamaica, the first of its kind.

If you’ve seen the film then you’ll know the dramatic events which tentpole the film. In fact, early in the film’s inception the plan was to make this a straight dramatic telling of the story. Enter John Candy, and the team of Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis and Malik Yoba never looked back.

It was a respectable hit, certainly more so than was expected at the time, but over time a genuine fondness for the film has grown. It’s a classic tale of strangers in a strange land, underdogs under a washed-up mentor against the world. And it’s got a great soundtrack too.

Darts

heartlandsHeartlands

Growing up in the UK during the ’80s, the game of darts was everywhere. Though mainly confined to smoke-filled pubs and a well-remembered TV game show, there were televised World Championships that gripped the nation and made household names of its top players. Easy to pick up, ridiculously hard to master, the game hasn’t found too many avenues onto the big screen, though a recent episode of Ted Lasso featured a wonderful moment of triumph on the oche.

Back in the early 2000s, Damien O’Donnell used the game as a basis for his often overlooked comedy road movie Heartlands. Spurred on by a rivalry and a host of marital troubles, a disparate darts team head to the Regional finals to overcome their problems and triumph. It’s a far more sedate offering than the others on their list, but the film succeeds because of a fine cast, led by the always great Michael Sheen.

heartlandsSheen is joined by Mark Addy, Mark Strong, Celia Imrie, and a reunion of Ruth Jones with James Corden and, of course, Eric Bristow turns up to give the loyal dartists a touch of authenticity. Also features a rare film appearance from Hi-De-Hi’s Ted Bovis, Paul Shane. And if that doesn’t convince you – nothing will.

Roller Derby

whip itWhip it

This film will always have a special place in our hearts, as it was on the first films we discovered while working on HeyUGuys. We reviewed it twice (! – here and here) and there is an infectious sense of fun to the film which still holds up today.

This 2009 film was Drew Barrymore’s debut (and thus far – only) feature directorial outing, and she stars alongside a considerable cast including Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Jimmy Fallon, Kristen Wiig, the great Zoë Bell and Juliette Lewis. But the jewel in the crown is Elliot Page, whose discovery of the sport is as uplifting and joyous as any other coming-of-age drama of the time.

whip itWhip It! has great fun with its depiction of the sport, and revels in the overturning of pre-conceived notions of what young women of that time and place should be doing with their time. It has been somewhat forgotten, but rewards on rediscovery – you’ll be cheering along the whole time.