The Olympics should be prime territory for movie-makers: naturally occurring stories of triumph and disaster, and the human elements that create them. In reality, surprisingly few have been made (we're still patiently waiting for Eddie the Eagle: The Movie), but there are still enough classics to watch to get you in the mood for this winter's festivities.
We list 10 of the best below, let us know any we might have missed...(sadly D2: The Mighty Ducks was ineligible, as they compete in the Goodwill Games, not the Olympics)
Where else to start but the first great Olympic film? This epic was directed by Leni Riefenstahl and was the first documentary feature film of the Olympics ever made. Focussing on the 1936 Berlin games. The film is not without controversy, as it includes 3 minutes of footage of Adolf Hitler, whilst Riefenstahl allegedly had Nazi links; the film affords heroic treatment of the black American athlete Jesse Owens, who dealt a huge blow to Hitler's Aryan propaganda of the time by winning four gold medals. On a technical level, Olympia featured the use of pioneering filming techniques, many of which were groundbreaking at the time.
COOL RUNNINGS (1993)
From the sublime to the ridiculous...ly amazing. No list of great Olympic films would be complete without Cool Runnings, the tale (based loosely on real life) of the Jamaican bobsleigh team at the 1988 Winter Olympics (and they're back in real life, racing in the 4-man event after an internet campaign gathered funding for them to compete in Sochi). Hilarity, tenderness, an epic performance by John Candy and some nasty Swiss, culminating in the greatest slow handclap of all time and some Jimmy Cliff, who couldn't love this film?
PREFONTAINE (1997) / WITHOUT LIMITS (1998)
Two films released a year apart, which document the tragic real-life tale of American long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine: the former, starring Jared Leto as the eponymous hero, tells the story from the point of view of his assistant coach, Bill Dellinger and his girlfriend Nancy Alleman; whereas the latter sees things from the viewpoint of his University coach, Bill Bowerman. Both brilliantly showcase the tale of a talented but headstrong athlete, who dies just as he was about to reach his sporting peak.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)
You can't really not have Chariots of Fire can you - if only for the utter magnificence of Vangelis' soundtrack. Fortunately the rest of the movie more than justifies inclusion, following the tale of two heroic athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Christian whose faith conflicts with his career, and Harold Abrahams, a Jew who runs to challenge anti-semitism. Bonus fact: Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and Kenneth Branagh were all crowd extras.
Miracle, a true story, contains all the ingredients for a classic Hollywood sports film: initial infighting, the underdog, a passionate coach and Russian rivals. Can the US men's hockey team regroup, become a team, and overcome all the odds to bring home the gold in the 1980 Olympics? What do you think?
A Spielberg-directed epic, this film deals with the Israeli government's secret mission against the Black September terrorist group, responsible for the horrific massacre of eleven Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics. The film has attracted controversy for its authenticity on such a sensitive subject: the movie is a work of fiction, but features many actual events and figures from the era. Regardless, it remains a powerful work.
THE CUTTING EDGE (1992)
The first rom-com on this list and about time too. Rich, spoilt figure skater Kate is paired with working-class hockey player Doug. Their personalities clash at first, but slowly over time....oh you can guess the rest. The finale features the 1988 Winter Olympics and de rigeur Russian opponents. Bonus fact: 3 sequels of diminishing returns were made, and one brave man watched them all in one sitting.
TOKYO OLYMPIAD (1965)
A film similar in nature to Olympia, this is also comparable in terms of the high regard that it is now held in. Specially commissioned by the Japanese government in order to present a new, post-World War II image of Japan to the world, this epic was directed by Kon Ichikawa and is considered a milestone in documentary filmmaking. Ichikawa concentrates more on the human and emotional side of the athletes, rather than the facts and figures, resulting in a masterpiece of cinematography.
DOWNHILL RACER (1969)
A story of a self-centered, arrogant and ambitious skier with talent, but the wrong attitude, featuring a couple of Hollywood heavyweights in Robert Redford and Gene Hackman, this is a classic sports movie. Dave Chappelet joins the US Olympic team as an outsider but gradually becomes their best medal hope after an injury to a teammate. We won't give it away other than to say it's all downhill from there...(sorry).
(Images: All Star)