- Published on Tuesday, August 07 2012
- Written by Sarah Osman
The first week of the 2012 London Olympics have gotten off to quite an exciting start! The Opening Ceremonies were arguably some of the greatest -- and quirkiest -- ever done, and seemed to celebrate everything British, from the Industrial Revolution to the creation of Voldemort. I personally enjoyed Rowan Atkinson’s star moment, and his re-imagining of the classic film, Chariots of Fire.
To help you get in the spirit of the Olympics, I have decided to compile a list of my top ten favorite Olympic movies. When you’re not watching races that are so close you can barely make out the winner, or gymnasts spin through the air, take the time to check out one of these classics and feel inspired enough to go out there and go for the gold! (Whatever your interpretation of going for the gold is...)
1. Chariots of Fire (1981): Featuring easily the most epic theme song for a sports film ever made, Chariots of Fire tells the tale of British athletes competing in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, a pious Jew who runs to help overcome prejudice. The 1981 film went on to win a Best Picture Oscar and has, of course, been noted for its emphasis on determination, honor, and great music. There has been much debate over just how historically accurate the film is, but in the end, Chariots of Fire truly embodies the winning spirit of the Olympic Games.
2. Cool Runnings (1993): My personal favorite, Cool Runnings tells the true story of the most unlikely team to ever compete in the Winter Olympics: a Jamaican bobsled team. One of the sweetest Olympic movies ever made, John Candy stars as the team’s tough coach as they train to compete in the 1988 Calgary Olympics, despite all of the naysayers they encounter along the way. The film does differ a bit from real life events -- unlike the negative fellow bobsledders in the movie, other teams were actually very supportive of the Jamaicans and even lent them a back-up sled so that they could compete. Still, Cool Runnings will certainly make you laugh (my favorite moment: watching one of the Jamaicans put on all of the contents of his suitcase -- including his suitcase -- when he arrives in Canada) and may even inspire you to do something as seeminly crazy!
3. Munich (2005): Possibly one of the most depressing Olympic films made, Munich follows the aftermath of the 1972 Summer Olympics, where 11 Israeli athletes were captured and killed. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film shows how former Mossad agent Avner (Eric Bana) tracked down and killed the Black September members thought to be responsible for the attacks, and the Israeli’s government response to these actions. Munich went on to be nominated for five Academy Awards and received mostly positive reviews, although a few felt that the film equated the Israeli assassins with terrorists. For the most part, Munich is a beautifully made film but not the best one to watch if you are looking to feel inspired.
4. Miracle (2004): Miracle is one of those movies where, at the end of it, you want to jump up and cheer! The heartfelt film tells the real-life tale of how the United States hockey team, led by coach Herb Brooks, won the gold medal over the heavily favored Soviet team in 1980. The film featured all of the traits often associated with sports films: grueling drills, a tough coach with a can-do spirit, lovable underdogs, and a vicious opponent who you badly want your beloved heroes to beat. To really get into the Olympic spirit, cheer on the Americans in Miracle.
5. The Cutting Edge (1992): The Cutting Edge proves that fictional, flirty Olympic movies can be just as fun as those based on fact. The adorable romantic comedy follows a prima donna figure skater (Moira Kelly) who pairs up with a brash, has-been hockey player (D.B. Sweeney) for figure skating in the 16th Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France. The two do not exactly get off on the right foot, but over time, they win each others hearts -- and win the gold! While the film is a little on the predictable side, it is oddly endearing and a great one to watch not only in preparation for the Olympics, but in preparation for the holidays as well.
6. Olympia (1936): The first film to ever document the Olympics, Olympia was made in 1938 and documented the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Olympia featured many advance film techniques--including smash cuts, unusual film angles and extreme close-ups, was widely praised by critics--and continues to be to this day. Director Leni Riefenstahl captured many infamous moments of the 1936 Olympics--including the triumph of African-American Jesse Owens and the powerful and terrifying shadow of Adolf Hitler. The film did later garner negative criticism due to Riefenstahl’s association with Hitler’s progrom. However, in 1955, the film was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York with three minutes of Hitler footage removed, which is how the film is shown today. To truly see one of the best Olympic films ever made--and boundary pushing documentaries as well, do yourself a favor and watch Olympia.
7. Million Dollar Legs (1932): Inspired by the 1932 Olympics held in Los Angeles, Million Dollar Legs is a goofy slapstick comedy about a fictional country called Klopstokia that decides that, in order to remedy their financial woes, they will enter the 1932 Olympics. Oddly enough, the country’s men are particularly good at weightlifting and decide to board a steamship to America. Along the way, they have to fight the advances of Mata Machree, the Woman No Man Can Resist (Lyda Roberti), who is finally defeated by a fellow lovely lady. The film is particularly strange; it has an odd avant-garde style that has yet to be attempted by another filmmaker. Co-written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who would later achieve success with All About Eve, the film features abrupt sequences and silly love speeches and is actually more nonsensical than most Marx Brothers films. However, this is what makes Million Dollar Legs so wonderful -- the fact that, unlike most Olympic movies, which are meant to inspire and awe, Million Dollar Legs is simply just supposed to make you laugh, and a great comedy can be just as rewarding as winning the gold.
8. Nadia (1984): An inspirational Olympic film for aspiring gymnasts and families alike, Nadia is the rare TV film that is actually quite good. Following the story of Nadia Comaneci, the first female gymnast to be awarded a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event, Nadia focuses on her humble beginnings, when she was discovered by Béla Kárloyi, and her journey to the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The film also focuses on Kárloyi’s relationship with his wife Martha, and the struggles and discipline that gymnasts go through to reach the top. Real-life U.S. gymnast Marcia Frederick stars as Nadia, while choreographer Geza Pozar plays himself in the film. (Noted bonus on this one: a lot of the film is on YouTube!)
9. Running Brave (1983): It’s always great to see movies about a sole underdog beating out the odds, especially in an Olympic movie. That’s exactly what Billy Mills did in the 1964 Olympics, when he became the best distance runner in the world. Running Brave focuses on Mills's journey, from growing up on a Native American reservation to overcoming adversity as he sprinted from 3rd place and took the gold medal in the 10,000 meter race. Mills remains the only American to have accomplished this feat. The film is noted for its strong racing sequences and for just how darn inspiring the entire story is.
10. Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937): If you have never seen a Charlie Chan film, brace yourself for a truly nonsensical-yet-great film for how much of a complete fiasco it is. In this 1936 adventure, Charlie busts an international spy ring, all while his “Number One Son” Lee (who finally gets a name -- for quite a few of the films, Chan‘s children do not have names) competes in swimming. The film is filled with Charlie’s usual witty remarks, such as “Fish in sea like flea on dog -- hard to catch”, and Charlie’s two sons (son #2 is simply known as "Charlie Jr.") banter with one another. Actual shots of the 1936 Olympics are incorporated into the film, and, unlike certain Charlie Chan films, this one actually sort of makes sense. For some spy fun and the chance to laugh at some truly ridiculous one-liners, this is your movie.
- Sarah Osman, YH Staff