If you love sports and are a fan of action movies, there are a wealth of movies out there to satisfy your tastes. But what makes a great sports action movie? And which ones are the best?
Sports movie producers face the difficult task of trying to combine all the elements of real sport in a package that is palatable to film-goers. Real sports events can produce incredible drama and unforgettable scenes that are spontaneous and unscripted. Reproducing that on the big screen is an unenviable task but plenty of top directors have given it a go. This is backed up by the fact, there are so many sports movies out there.
From major sports such as baseball, basketball and soccer to more niche sports such as ski-jumping, darts and bobsleigh, almost all angles have been covered. There have even been films featuring totally fictional sports (the Harry Potter series being the most obvious ones).
But a great sports movie needs to be a great movie, period. Regardless of any sporting element. A great sports movie can keep you gripped. It can move you in a profound way. And it can leave you breathless and wanting more. So without further ado, let’s take a look and some of the greatest sports action movies ever to hit the silver screens.
When you talk about sports action films, there is really only one place to start. And that is with the 1976 masterpiece Rocky. There have been other films about boxing, the most striking being Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull released in 1980 and starring Robert De Niro, but no boxing movie has ever captured the imagination of cinema audiences like Rocky.
Sylvester Stallone was relatively unknown at the time of release and film critic Roger Ebert suggested his Oscar-nominated performance reminded him of a young Marlon Brando. That comparison might seem a little off the mark with hindsight but the budding actor certainly made the most of his big break and put in the performance of his life. Like Raging Bull, Rocky is about more than boxing. It’s about being the underdog. It’s about how everyday people who do what’s necessary to get by. And it’s about making the most of the breaks that life presents you.
While it is not as action-packed as the sequels, Rocky has the most substance of any of the movies and retains classic status to this day. It was nominated for ten Oscars and won three, including Best Picture. More than 40 years after its release, the eighth movie in the Rocky franchise (Creed II) was released, proving the enduring popularity of the character. Stallone’s other sporting exploits include playing the roles of Captain Robert Hatch in the 1981 wartime soccer movie Escape to Victory, and former CART champion Joe Tanto in the 2001 flop Driven.
The real-life events behind the movie Rush are so remarkable that it would take a real feat to do them justice but director Ron Howard managed to pull it off with this 2013 release. The film follows the rivalry between legendary Formula One drivers James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Both men were controversial characters with very different personalities, the only thing common being their ability behind the wheel. It is a warts-and-all movie that shows how sporting ambition can consume those at the top of their game, often to the detriment of those around them.
The movie also highlights how much the sport has changed over the years. Between 1973 and 1982, nine different drivers won the World Championship and six different teams took the Constructor’s title. Compare that to the last nine seasons when two drivers have taken eight of the titles, with Lewis Hamilton favourite to land his sixth title in 2019. Thanks to his consistency over the last five seasons, the Brit has become a favourite amongst bettors looking to make the most of early prices and bookmakers’ promotions. But predicting the race and championship winners back in the 70s was a much tougher task and this movie captures that competitiveness perfectly.
But the real beauty of Rush is how well it handles the relationship between the two men which shifted from a bitter rivalry to a friendship based on mutual respect. That friendship was cemented further by the Lauda’s recovery from a horrific accident that ranks as one of sport’s greatest comebacks and is handled impeccably by Howard.
Released in 1991 and directed by academy award winner Kathryn Bigelow, Point Break has become firmly established as a cult classic. It is a cop movie first and foremost but explores the complicated relationship between the good guy and bad guy characters against a backdrop of maverick surf culture.
The film stars cult actors Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, with the former putting in a standout performance as the leader of a group of bank robbers who use crime to fund their surfing activities. The chemistry between the two stars surprised critics and filmgoers alike and the film remains a favourite action movie from the era.
Scenes from the film were recreated in the 2007 buddy cop comedy Hot Fuzz starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. And in the 2012 Avengers Assemble movie, Tony Stark gives Thor the nickname “Point Break”, a reference to the similarity between the haircuts of the superhero and Patrick Swayze’s character Bodhi. Unfortunately, someone made the awful decision to remake the film in 2015, with predictably dire consequences.
This 1975 sci-fi classic tells the tale of a world divided and controlled by powerful corporations who use the ultra-violent sport of Rollerball as a way of dispelling thoughts of individualism.
James Caan plays Jonathan E, the captain of a team based in Houston whose fame unsettles the corporations and their aims, prompting them to try and force him to retire. He refuses to oblige, so they change the rules of the game to make it more violent than ever, in the hope that he will be killed in the World Championship match against New York. It is revealed that Jonathan’s growing popularity and longevity in the sport threatens the sport’s intention to demonstrate the futility of individualism.
The Rollerball player attempts to access the world’s central supercomputer in order to uncover information about the history of the corporations and how they operate. However, his investigations are thwarted. An attempt by his wife to talk him into retirement convinces him the corporations are behind everything and he decides to play the game in the knowledge it has been set up to kill him.
The match descends into chaotic and bloodthirsty violence with many players being killed or badly injured. The violence starts to unsettle the usually hysteric crowds who watch as the teams are reduced to just three competitors: Jonathan for Houston and a skater and biker for New York. The battle ends with the hero refusing to make the final kill, preferring instead to win by the fair means of scoring a point for his team. Despite being based on a fictional sport, Rollerball is one of the most exciting and brutal sports film ever made.
Outside of the top picks, there are plenty of other great sports action movies. Some standout titles include Remember the Titans, Warrior, Ali, Cool Runnings, I, Tonya, Borg vs. McEnroe, TT3D: Closer to the Edge, The Wrestler and Senna. Beyond that, there are many more sports films that may lack some action but are still worth a watch.
But what about the future? Well, given recent events, a film depicting Tiger Wood’s dramatic comeback should not be ruled out. With any luck, it will be better than the 1998 effort, The Tiger Woods Story, which director LeVar Burton shot straight into the bunker.