With Battle of the Sexes featuring Emma Stone and Steve Carell set to overshadow another tennis centred film that was released this year in the form of Borg McEnroe starring Shia Leboeuf, and yet neither really blowing a hole in the box office, it highlights the fact that no matter how renowned the subject matter or incredible the story, sporting movies are one of the hardest genres to get right.
Often it’s those under the radar or unlikely stories that tend to resonate the deepest. In a list of all-time sporting movies of course you have Raging Bull, Rocky, The Natural, Escape To Victory, the list goes on but we here at The MALESTROM thought we’d look a little more left field and compile a list of joyous life-affirming, yet alternative sporting movies. Still full of triumph, tears and plenty of laughs, but perhaps less lauded in the sporting filmic canon.
This hilarious tale of down on his luck, one time promising bowler Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) would warrant a place on a list of the best comedies of the last thirty years, let alone our alternate sporting movies rundown, thanks in large part to a star turn by Bill Murray who is on top form as the insincere Big Ern.
It follows the story of Munson, a superstar of the seventies bowling scene who is taken under the wing of his fierce rival Big Ern, who shows him how to supplement his income by hustling small town bowling enthusiasts. Roy comes a cropper when a couple of locals take exception to the scam and irreparably damage his bowling hand.
In the years that follow, Munson now a broke deadbeat used car salesman spots the talents of Amish bowling prodigy Ishmael (Randy Quaid), whom he befriends and proceeds to take him on a journey to a million dollar winner take all tournament. Directed by the Farrelly brothers it’s full of crude and less than subtle at times distasteful humour that’s held firmly in place by the superb Harrelson and Murray.
An alternative sporting movie with a difference that has delivers strike after strike of genuine laugh out loud moments.
The Foul King (Banchikwang) (2000)
This little known gem – outside of South Korea that is, has an element of the superhero movie about it, although it’s dial is firmly set to black comedy with a hint of drama. Song Kang-Ho plays a bullied bank clerk who leads a double life. This unassuming skinny chap who’s sick of his boss getting him in headlocks begins training, dons tights and a mask and takes out his daily frustrations as a villainous wrestler, ‘The Foul King’.
He trains obsessively, inside and out of the ring, with pull-ups on the tube and getting up in the middle of the night to get in some press ups, he’s the model of dedication as he fights to earn respect on the mat. But his success in the ring, unfortunately, doesn’t translate quite as well to the real world and events get out of hand in a violent manner.
It’s slightly different from your typical underdog triumphs over adversity style film. Song’s character changes into a meaner, darker figure and we’re left to wonder, was throwing himself into the world of wrestling with such commitment a good thing after all? It also leads to questions of identity with Song becoming a different person behind the mask.
You don’t have to be a fan of profound messages or indeed one of grappling to enjoy this great film and its dizzying final scene that shows the sheer brutal beauty of professional wrestling.
Teen Wolf (1985)
Apart from being one of the best 80s movies of all time, Teen Wolf is a top feel-good sports film that sends out that important age-old message, be yourself. Michael J. Fox plays Scott Howard an average joe kid trying his hardest to be a competitor on the school basketball team and to fit in with the cool guys, and failing miserably at both.
But it turns out like his father, he’s not actually so average, he’s a werewolf! Who knew? What follows plays out as a metaphor for puberty, with Scott transforming into the wolf with hair sprouting from strange places.
Unlike most teens through Michael J. Fox gets a full covering of fuzz and goes on to become the coolest student in school. Mostly for his newfound basketball skills that sees him run amok on the courts and make all the other players look useless in comparison, he can even do backflips on the top of his friends moving van to the strains of The Beach Boys.
He’s also become a big hit with the ladies, something that passed him by when he was ‘normal.’ But as ever with great power comes great responsibility and Scott has to decide who he really wants to be. Soul searching, heartwarming and with one of the best teen prom dance scenes in movie history, Teen Wolf is a howling good sports movie.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Cameron Crowe’s brilliant comedy-drama follows slick wheeler-dealer sports agent to the stars Jerry Maguire played by Tom Cruise, in what is for many a career standout performance. Uber successful sports agent Maguire has it all a great job, money, a beautiful fiancée but after an epiphany, he proceeds to send a memo to his company colleagues outlining the dishonesty in the business and is promptly fired.
What follows is the story of a man who in order to regain what was once his empire must first regain some semblance of identity while facing some harsh truths. Cruise is outstanding as the once successful agent struggling to keep a grip on reality in the most desperate of circumstances. Renee Zellweger puts in a breakthrough performance as the understated love interest who helps Maguire to understand what really matters in life.
A feel-good movie with an outstanding cast and script, Jerry Maguire was an enormous box office success and was nominated for five academy awards, while Cuba Gooding Jr walked away with the best supporting actor gong.
Shaolin Soccer (2001)
This over the top underdog story centres on Shaolin Monk Sing, played by Stephen Chow and his band of highly skilled fighting brothers as they transfer their unique skills to the world of football and a tournament offering a huge cash reward.
It’s very much a conventional Hong Kong Kung Fu movie in that at the forefront of the plot narrative are the nefarious Team Evil, a group of footballing thugs who have been injected with steroids.
Team Shaolin as they are appropriately named must overcome their enemy using superior martial arts skills and with players such as Steel Leg, Iron Head, Empty Hand and Light Weight Vest there’s every chance they can do it.
Jam packed full of the most outrageous action-packed sequences, this charming, slapstick comedy extravaganza is huge amounts of fun and Stephen Chow is in stellar form as writer, director and star.
Cool Runnings (1993)
Cool Runnings is (very) loosely based on the true story of a Jamaican bobsleigh team and is the epitome of the underdog triumphantly overcoming adversity. When a group of incredibly talented Jamaican sprinting rivals allow their competitive nature to get the better of them, it results in a spectacular and unexpected failure to qualify for the 1988 Olympic track and field team.
With their hopes and dreams dashed they put their egos to one side and set about becoming Jamaica’s first bobsleigh team (the actual true version of events was that a group of men were recruited from the Jamaican army and formed the bobsleigh team, but that’s Hollywood for you).
Overseen by controversial ex-US gold medal bobsledding champion Irv Blitzer, played brilliantly by the enormous acting presence of the late, great John Candy, the team set about overcoming more obstacles than an episode of Ninja Warrior.
Uplifting and at times dramatic, there is a real cohesion between the lead protagonists, with humour and tension in equal measure, Cool Runnings while following a traditional plot line of pursuing your dreams is massively helped along by the outrageous nature of the story.
This 1955 classic British film starring Bill Travers in the lead and among others the superb Alistair Sim is a must see for all lovers of feel-good sporting movies. The film follows the incredible journey of Geordie MacTaggart from his rudimentary existence up in the remote Highlands of Scotland all the way to the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne.
As young boy ‘wee’ Geordie is known throughout his village for his diminutive stature and plagued by a desire to have a physique as big as his heart and growing tired of being looked down on – literally.
He spots an advert in the paper for the Henry Samson fitness and bodybuilding program. Skip forward a few years and the training has well and truly paid off as ‘wee’ Geordie is now a giant of the hills where he works as a gamekeeper.
On Henry Samson’s recommendation Geordie takes up Hammer throwing and with his natural size and strength shows enormous potential. What follows is a wonderful tale of how the underdog became an unlikely national treasure. Full of comedy and drama and some standout feel-good moments Geordie was well and truly a film ahead of its time.
It’s a must see for all classic movie lovers, there’s also a fantastic musical score.
Do you have a favourite alternative sporting movie? Let us know in the comments.
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