There's nothing better than a good sports drama. Whether a biopic based on true events or a work of fiction, we as viewers and sports fans love to be entertained, but also inspired, by our athletes, coaches or everyday people.
Here's a look some sports films we find truly inspiring.
The story about the inspiring friendship between two Chicago Bears running backs was a major hit as ABC's "Movie of the Week." James Caan starred as the outgoing Brian Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams the soft-spoken, but more talented, Gale Sayers. They went from unlikely pals to an inspiration to each other in this classic tearjerker that left us all mumbling "I love Brian Piccolo."
Obviously, the "Rocky" franchise has spawned several movies — some good, some bad. However, the original is the still the best and by the far the most realistic from an inspirational standpoint. It's easy to like the underdog, undereducated Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, a Hollywood underdog himself at the time). Stellar supporting work from Burgess Meredith, Carl Weathers and Burt Young, plus that memorable soundtrack and training montage, still lists "Rocky" among the greatest movies of all time.
There's also some endearing comedy in this fantastic Peter Yates coming-of-age film with Indiana University's popular "Little 500" bicycle race as a partial backdrop. Four townies, led by cycling junkie Dave Stohler (Dennis Christopher), try to figure out what to do with their lives after high school graduation and prove their worth amid the snobby college kids who look down on them. Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley and Daniel Stern, in their younger days, plus the sensational Paul Dooley, all shine in supporting roles.
It's the Academy Award-winning, fact-based inspiring story of two Olympic runners from Great Britain — Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams — who balance their running talents with their beliefs. The film is probably best known for its famed running-on-the-beach scene and notable theme ("Vangelis") song, which helped the film take the Oscar for Best Original Score.
The movie is based on the 1950s novel of the same name and centers around baseball phenom Roy Hobbs, who is not real but is one of the great sports film characters of all time. His story is quite compelling, as he mysteriously grew up loving the game, made his own bat (Wonderboy) from a tree, survived being shot and managed to deliver that memorable light-standard-smashing home run.
Another stellar work of sports fiction that gives outcasts or the new kid in town hope that he/she can make it. "The Karate Kid" is a film that truly stands the test of time, especially in this day with bullying and social anxiety in the spotlight. Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) used karate as tool for acceptance but more importantly self-confidence. Macchio and the franchise are still thriving today.
This is the first of two times we will showcase the work of screenwriter Angelo Pizzo, who was raised in Bloomington, Indiana. Inspired, and loosely based, on the 1954 Indiana state basketball champions from tiny Milan High School, "Hoosiers" is often regarded as the greatest basketball movie ever. The David vs. Goliath tale is Hollywood at its best and truly encapsulates what prep sports can mean to a small town. Now, who's ready to go out back and run the picket fence?
Who says sports fantasy can't be inspiring? This classic Kevin Costner baseball vehicle is one of the most beloved movies of all time, allowing the viewer to remember that second chances are possible. And it's important to make the most of the time we have with our loved ones — though they might not appreciate blowing your savings on building a baseball field in the backyard. The lasting effects of the movie are still being felt, as a game between the Yankees and White Sox will be played at the "Field of Dreams" movie set in Iowa on Aug. 13.
The late Penny Marshall does a fine job of showcasing the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with a fictional story about sisters experiencing life outside their Oregon farm. The great Tom Hanks is fantastic as Jimmy Dugan, a washed-up slugger-turned drunk-turned manager of a girls team. Always remember: "There's no crying in baseball."
There might not be a bigger individual sports underdog than Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger — in real life or on film. It's Sean Astin's career-defining role (in another memorable film written by Angelo Pizzo) as the undersized, undertalented wannabe Notre Dame football player. Of course he defied the odds and the naysayers to fulfill his dream of attending the prestigious university and playing for the Fighting Irish.
While football is the obvious backdrop of this classic, the true inspiration is coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and his ability to integrate a team and turn the players into winners. Will Patton also shines as assistant coach Bill Yoast, who swallows his pride and shuns his prejudice for the greater good of the team, school and community — much like most of his players — to come together for a common purpose.
It's not easy to capture the aura and larger-than-life personality that was the great Muhammad Ali. Will Smith, though, did a pretty good job, even though the picture did not do all that well at the box office. That said, it's still worth a look just to check out all that Ali was about, even if the depth of the film is questionable.
We hear from Dennis Quaid again, this time as high school teacher-turned-major league pitcher Jim Morris. It's another case of defying the odds and following a dream one thought was long dead. A young Angus T. Jones is stellar as Morris' son, Hunter. It's a feel-good movie that inspires many to believe, once again through baseball, that anything is possible — and not too late to try to accomplish.
It's girl power at its finest, with some English football and the Spice Girls to boot. One of the surprise hits of the early 2000s, "Bend it Like Beckham" officially introduced the cinema world to Keira Knightley. Her character, Jules, and pal Jess (the underrated Parminder Nagra) showed that girls can shun female stereotypes and use sports as a empowering way toward a well-rounded life, no matter where they come from and what they believe.
We've touched on a few underdogs thus far, but what about a horse in that role? The characters in this fact-based film about one of the greatest race horses of all time are what truly make the film. Tobey Maguire (jockey Red Pollard), Jeff Bridges (owner Charles Howard) and Chris Cooper (trainer Tom Smith) are a brilliant trio, and their relationship with the famed, volatile horse inspires them to find meaning in their own fragile lives.
Now, this wasn't the first movie about what's arguably the greatest sports moment in United States history. However, Disney's take on the "Miracle on Ice" does a solid job of getting to know main characters like fiery coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) and goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill). Those who lived through the real-life event probably got chills once again when the U.S. stunned the Russians in this movie version.
Based on the real-life story of California prep basketball coach Ken Carter, Samuel L. Jackson is sound as expected in the starring role. Though the true-life tale of putting academics and discipline before sports is fit for Hollywood, there is plenty of inspiration to draw from this movie — via Carter and his players — and the concept, real or fiction, is timeless.
Ron Howard delved into the sports world with the rags-to-riches story of boxer James Braddock. Both Russell Crowe in the starring role and Renee Zellweger, as his wife, Mae, are excellent, not to mention Paul Giamatti in a supporting role. Howard, who sensationalizes Braddock's story, the fight scenes and hype for effect, still does a quality job with his take of this everyman fighter bucking the odds to be a champion.
Another true-life sports tale that was just begging to be put on the silver screen, this story of Don Haskins and his groundbreaking Texas Western team, made up of five African-American starters in the 1960s, remains one of the most inspirational and important in all of sports. However, some University of Kentucky basketball fans were not pleased with the way legendary coach Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight) was portrayed as a perceived racist in the film.
Another Disney foray into sports. The story of Philadelphia everyman Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) takes its fair share of creative liberties, but it's harmless and shows that even when times are tough, good things can happen with hard work — or with being good at football for a bad team, in this case. Greg Kinnear could have been a little more animated as coach Dick Vermeil.
Done on a budget of $100,000, this film made more than $10 million at the box office. Still, this Christian-based tale of a struggling high school football coach (versatile director, writer, actor Alex Kendrick) coach and his team who turn around their fortunes on and off the field with the help of the Lord, was probably missed by many. It often pops up on basic cable and despite being schmaltzy, it is family-friendly and wholesome. Plus, the cameo by former Georgia and Miami, Florida, football coach Mark Richt is a nice touch.
Another film that took a great deal of creative license with a true story. Yet, "We Are Marshall" does a respectful job of bringing out the collective emotion in the aftermath of the tragic 1970 plane crash involving the Marshall University football team, coaches, staff and other dignitaries. Matthew McConaughey is jolly as coach Jack Lengyel, and the story is inspiring enough while paying homage to those lost and those who rallied to revive the program and university morale.
The movie that won Sandra Bullock an Oscar, as the outspoken, feisty Leigh Anne Tuohy, has blossomed into one of the all-time feel-good sports movies. The story of Michael Oher's rise from his impoverished Memphis dwellings to the NFL was pretty much made for the big screen and scored a touchdown with audiences.
With Clint Eastwood directing and Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in the starring roles, "Invictus" was a heavyweight production. Both Freeman as South African president Nelson Mandela and Damon as Francois Pienaar, captain of the nation's rugby team, are pretty special. The true inspiration of the movie is Mandela and his ability to get his national rugby team to help unite a fragile country in a post-apartheid world.
AnnaSophia Robb is quite good in her portrayal as Bethany Hamilton, the promising teenage surfer who had her arm bitten off during a shark attack. Not to be denied or held back due to her new disability, Hamilton gets back on the board. But she also gains more self-confidence and purpose as a person, following her accident, than she ever could have imagined. It's another sports flick featuring Dennis Quaid.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.
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