Sports on Screen

I’ve never been a fan of sports. I’m a pretty competitive person by nature, but something about organized sports has never appealed to me. I truly do not understand how some people live, breathe, and sleep sports; it makes no sense to me. However, as an avid cinephile, it has always surprised me to say that I do enjoy the occasional sports movie. Sports movies can offer depictions of intense friendships and bonds of teams which can be interesting, and they additionally offer insight into what goes on behind the scenes in the lives of the athletes who partake, which is so much more interesting to me than actually watching sports. I’d rather know what’s happening in a football player’s life and how the game functions in the bigger picture for him rather than simply watching a football game. I’m interested in the intersection between someone’s personal world and the sports world. Below, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite sports movies over the years, as someone who does not care for sports off screen.

Varsity Blues (1999)

In Varsity Blues, director Brian Robbins uses high school football to explore themes of rebellion, abuse of power, and responsibility in small town USA. The film is set in West Canaan, Texas, where football is everyone’s favorite pastime. When the high school team’s star quarterback (Paul Walker) is injured, benchwarmer Mox (James Van Der Beek) is forced to take the lead. Mox clashes with the team’s abusive coach (Jon Voight) and struggles with the pressure from the entire town as well as his own dreams for his future. It’s a classic late 90s teen film with a good message, and it’s equal parts fun and bittersweet. Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

Bring It On (2000)

Up next is another classic teen film. This time, we’re focused on the world of high school cheerleading, as we follow Torrance (Kirsten Dunst), the newly elected captain of the Toros, her school’s cheer squad. When she finds out that, at the hands of the squad’s former captain, the Toros’ routines were stolen from another cheer squad, the Clovers, Torrance is forced to give it her all in order to win the Nationals competition. This one isn’t necessarily a super meaningful portrayal of the sports world, but it’s fun and mindless, and features some impressive choreography as well. Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

Whip It (2009)

Not many people have heard of this film, which makes me sad because it’s truly phenomenal. Directed by Drew Barrymore, Whip It tells the story of teenager Bliss Cavendar (Elliot Page) who lives in a small town in Texas with her family, headed by her over-controlling mother. Bliss finds her calling in the world of women’s roller derby, and joins a local team while keeping it a secret from her family. It’s a sweet coming of age story, and it offers an interesting look into the raw world of roller derby, a sport which hasn’t been depicted much on film. Also, the cast is full of badass, strong women, so you really can’t go wrong there. Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

The Fighter (2010)

The Fighter was nominated for seven Oscars at the annual awards ceremony in 2011, and is based on a true story. Set in Lowell, Massachusetts and starring Mark Wahlberg as boxer Micky Ward, the film is interesting to me because of the family dynamics it focuses on. Melissa Leo, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, plays Ward’s mother (who is also his manager) and she’s fantastic. Christian Bale plays the older half-brother Dicky, who was once a famous boxer himself. The film chronicles Ward’s journey as he attempts to stand on his own away from his family while also trying to establish his name in the world of boxing. I, for one, know absolutely nothing about boxing, and I found myself loving this film and its captivating characters. Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.

I, Tonya (2017)

I, Tonya is a fantastic movie centered in the world of competitive figure skating. Margot Robbie stars as famous figure skater Tonya Harding, the subject of one of the most infamous sports scandals of all time. In 1991, Harding’s now ex-husband led a dangerous attack on Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s competition for the Olympics. Kerrigan was gravely injured and had to withdraw from competition. The film depicts the events in Harding’s life that shaped her as a person leading up to the attack, and then shows the aftermath and the effect the event had on her career. The film is a perfect blend of drama and black comedy, and additionally has the fabulous Allison Janney in the scene stealing (and Oscar winning) role of Harding’s mother. Currently available on Hulu.


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