The Buzz’s Top 5 Inspirational American Sports Movies
There are some things that Americans are able to do better than the British: high-cholesterol foods, starting wars and sports movies.
There are some things that Americans are able to do better than the British: high-cholesterol foods, starting unnecessary wars and sports movies.
As a general rule, a British film will not be successful unless it paints a portrait of how miserable life is in the northeast Atlantic. Whereas this previously manifested itself in the ‘It’s grim up north’ genre of film (see ‘Kes’ and ‘Billy Elliot’), more recently the trend has shifted towards the ‘Life in Urban London is a constant struggle for survival and everyone is played by Adam Deacon’ genre (see ‘Kidulthood’).
Pessimistic misanthropes that we are, the British cannot make a decent inspirational sports movie. Thankfully, our cousins across the pond have a winning formula for schmaltzy sports movies, and here are The Buzz's top five.
#5 – Coach Carter
Essentially ‘Dangerous Minds’ with Basketball, ‘Coach Carter’ is the true story (those two words are going to pop up a lot in this article) of a high school coach who begins with a disorderly mob of youths and moulds them into a cohesive unit (again, this is going to be a recurring theme). Along the way he teaches them the value of teamwork, friendship and never giving up (at this point, I’m considering just copying and pasting this synopsis for every entry on the list).
What makes this movie so inspirational? Well, the kids he’s coaching are *wait for it* poor inner city kids whose only hopes of going to college are basketball scholarships. Overcoming the odds is wholly unremarkable in a sports movie, but overcoming socio-economic boundaries? Now that is truly inspirational! Samuel L. ‘Motherf*ckin’ Jackson plays our eponymous coach who treats his players with tough love and, amazingly, this is one of the few films where you will hear Mr. Jackson condemning casual use of the ‘N’ word, whereas in most films he drops ‘N-bombs’ as if they were going out of style. Definitely worth a watch.
#4 – Cool Runnings
The movie that taught me what a bobsled was, ladies and gentlemen, ‘Cool Runnings’. If you want to talk about overcoming the odds, this film about the first Olympic Jamaican Bobsled team takes the cake. Again, based on a true story, the film concerns four Jamaican men and their coach, played by John Candy, who decide to compete in the Winter Olympics.
This is a true underdog story that has a lot of funny and genuinely touching moments as our team tries to prove that they belong at the Winter Olympics just as much as the other, more established, teams. Without giving too much away, the conclusion is unexpected yet satisfying and, thus far, the only thing I’ve ever seen make my father cry. If it gets too hot this summer and you want to cool down with a movie, I recommend this.
#3 – Rocky IV
Not based on a true story (though I wish it were), ‘Rocky IV’ is, obviously, the fourth film in the ‘Rocky’ series. I won’t go into too much detail regarding the plot, or lack thereof, as every ‘Rocky’ film is essentially the same. Rocky is a boxer, an opponent challenges him, Rocky doesn’t think he can win, MONTAGE! Rocky wins. The obligatory opponent in this installment is Soviet superman Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lungdren). What puts this film above the others in the series? For me, this was the moment when the series finally stopped trying to mimic the success of the unusually serious first film, and simply embraced what it was: pure, unadulterated cheese.
The villains are ridiculously over the top, Ivan Drago is portrayed as near indestructible and the whole thing reeks of the Cold War – but that’s what makes it so great. This film is so patriotic that it would make Uncle Sam blush, and the moment at the end where Sylvester Stallone slurs his way through a speech about how ‘we should all just get along’ skyrockets this movie to third place on my list.
#2 – Remember the Titans
This film reads like a recipe for an inspirational sports movie: based on a true story, underdog high school football team and a notable African-American actor playing the lead role (Denzel Washington). But what is it that pushes this film to the number two spot? Well this sports team has to overcome racial prejudice. That’s right! Whilst it contains all the textbooks elements of a schmaltzy sports movie, ‘Remember the Titans’ ups the ante by having a group of white and black students come together, rise above their differences and win the State Championship – all to the tune of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. This film shows what we can achieve when we forget about race and just view people as fellow human beings (though apparently not if they’re Hispanic or Asian).
In all honesty, this would be number one on the list if it had more nostalgic value for me. I only saw this for the first time a few years ago and, whilst I love it, the film that I put at number one pretty much set the bar by which I judge all other sports movies. If you think that’s unfair, go write your own list. ‘Remember the Titans’ is, in a word, superb. Whilst predictable and formulaic, its execution is handled marvellously. This has everything: great characters, great acting, and great half-time speeches – to name but a few of its strengths.
#1 – ‘The Mighty Ducks’ Trilogy
It may be cheating, but the top spot is filled by not one, but three movies. Whilst some may say that if I can single out a particular ‘Rocky’ film as the best I should be able to do it with ‘The Mighty Ducks’. The key difference is that while the ‘Rocky’ films all follow a basic formula, the ‘Mighty Ducks’ films are all basically the same movie. The setting, antagonists and characters may change, but there is almost nothing separating one film in the series from the others. Whilst this would normally be considered a weakness, in this case it’s the series’ greatest strength as the movies are just so damned good. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The plot is, like every other film on this list, unremarkable: an underdog peewee ice hockey teams gets a new coach whose unorthodox methods propel them to victory. In fact, everything about these films is incredibly typical. But what makes them so great is that they hold no pretensions about trying to be good movies, and simply focus on being entertaining movies. They’re clichéd – at one point the coach (played by Emilio Estevez) actually says ‘I came here to teach you, but you ended up teaching me’.
The antagonists are unnecessarily evil and the Ducks, the team win their games using cheap tricks which are intended to entertain the audience, but in a real hockey game would be considered borderline cheating. Nevertheless, it’s a film that doesn’t hold back, embraces every single sports cliché in the book and is tear-inducingly inspirational.
Leave your standards at the door and I guarantee that you will enjoy these films.