Films

10 best Olympic Movies

Posted by
Dave Fawbert
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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, but there are still enough classics to watch to get you in the mood for this summer'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)

OLYMPIA (1936)

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. Focusing 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. 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 (2004)

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?

MUNICH (2005)

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.

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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.

EDDIE THE EAGLE (2016)

Just as we thought Olympic movies might be a thing of the past, finally someone had the good sense to commit the story of arguably Britain's greatest Olympian to film. Boasting a great cast featuring Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Iris Berben and Jim Broadbent, as well as Taron Egerton as Eddie, it was a commercial success - and a critical one too, as normally cynical pundits allowed themselves to get caught up in a feelgood story that enabled one rather bad, but determined, skiier to capture the heart of a nation in 1988. And by the way Hollywood, we're keen for an Eric The Eel movie too.

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Dave Fawbert

ShortList.com staff writer Dave’s primary passions are pop, prose, punning and power ballads (and alliteration). A lower division football enthusiast and long-suffering cricket fan, he is one of only 110 people followed on Twitter by Chas Hodges from Chas ‘n’ Dave. Follow Dave on Twitter like Chas: @davefawbert

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