Everybody needs inspiration from time to time. Many of us athletes look to sports movies to inspire us as well as to entertain us. However, watching the same movies over and over can be as dull as an hour on the treadmill. To keep you focused through rest of the fall sports season, we have compiled a list of our favorite little-known movies featuring Football, Cycling, Soccer, Boxing, Martial Arts, and Hockey. Take a gander and see if one or two of these gems can help you get you out of a slump, inspire you in your training, or at the very least entertain you.
If you liked Rudy (1993), Remember the Titans (2000), Any Given Sunday (1999), and Brian’s Song (1971) ...You're going to love North Dallas Forty (1979)
A film ahead of its time, North Dallas Forty is the story of Phil Elliott, played by Nick Nolte, an aging and underappreciated professional football player in the twilight of his career. His love for the game has not faded over the years, but he is weary of pro football and team politics. His body is falling apart from years of wear and tear and the medicinal drug abuse that kept him on the field. You'd think this background would make for a depressing or cautionary movie; however, the film is well balanced with hilarity and thought provocation: the wise-cracking Nolte keeps you laughing while still thinking about the long-term health ramifications of playing the sport of modern-day gladiators. While not a blockbuster like some other football films, the film is highly entertaining and should not be missed.
...And you shouldn't miss Quiet Victory: The Charlie Wedemeyer Story (1988) This gem is based on the true story of a man who struggles to coach football while suffering from Lou Gherig’s Disease. This movie has stood the test of time. After all, how often does a made-for-TV movie remain relevant for over 25 years? Perhaps it was the amazing true story on which this film is based. Perhaps it was the incredible cast—Pam Dawber (Mindy from Mork & Mindy), Dan Lauria (Mr. Arnold from The Wonder Years), Reginald VelJohnson (Mr. Winslow from Family Matters), a young Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights), and a prepubescent Stephen Dorff (known for lots of things like… well… vaping commercials) make appearances. Perhaps it was a mixture of the two, or maybe something else entirely. It’s an inspiring tale of overcoming and fighting on in life. Sure, it’s a little dated (strength training from the Stone Age and horrible 80s fashion...I'm talking about Cosby sweaters, football jerseys that look like night gowns, stone washed jeans, etc.), but it is an important movie that at times inspires you and at times breaks your heart. This is a movie you should see, and it’s streaming on Netflix at the moment.
As an aside, speaking of Friday Night Lights (2006-2011) and stellar football entertainment...if you haven't devoured every minute of that series, stop reading now and get watching!
If you liked A Sunday in Hell (1977), The Flying Scotsman (2006), and Chasing Legends (2010) ...You're going to love American Flyers (1985) This is the story of two brothers who train for and compete in a world-class cycling race across the Rocky Mountains. Marcus, the elder brother played by Kevin Costner, is a sports physician who wants to compete in one last race with David, his younger brother played by David Marshall Grant. David has what it takes to match and maybe even beat his brother in the race; however, Marcus has a deadly secret and agenda that he is keeping from David.
Kevin Costner proves to be a step above the other actors in this early film. He starred in Silverado and Fandango the very same year—where did he find the time?! The film features thrilling cycling sequences, amazing camera work, and a touching, yet sometimes bitter, sibling rivalry.
...And you shouldn't miss Breaking Away (1979) The comedic drama and coming-of-age story of Dave Stoller, a talented bike racer and townie from Bloomington, Indiana—home of Indiana University—who, at age 19, wants nothing more than to be a professional bike racer with the Italian National Team. His obsession runs so deep that he, for a good portion of the film, dresses, acts, and sometimes speaks Italian. Dave spends most of his non-racing time with his three townie friends, one played by a young and (at the time) relatively unknown Dennis Quaid. Dave's buddies have no discernible ambition for the future and often find themselves competing with and harassed by a few snobby frat boys from IU. On this quest for bike racing fame, Dave falls for a college girl, drafts an eighteen-wheeler on his bike at over 70 miles per hour, and reexamines his life after an unexpected moment during a race. This movie is so fabulous that it was nominated for the 1979 Best Picture Oscar and won the Oscar for Best Writing/Screenplay that same year.
If you liked Goal! The Dream Begins (2005), Bend It Like Beckham (2002), and Pelé: Birth of a Legend (2016)...
...You're going to love Victory (1981) This is a fun movie, featuring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydow, and soccer legend Pelé, about an Allied prison camp during World War II that fields a soccer team with prisoners to play a match against the German National Team in a Nazi-occupied Parisian stadium. The band of prisoners has competing goals: they want to trounce their German opponents, but also use the match as an opportunity to escape. The movie is loaded with soccer sequences, all choreographed by Pelé himself. When this film was released, critics posited that Victory is an amalgamation of the movies The Great Escape (1963) and Rocky (1976); once you’ve seen it, you’ll know why.
...And you shouldn't miss Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006) This documentary recounts the true and entertaining story of the New York Cosmos: a professional soccer team backed and organized by TV tycoon Steve Ross, who brought soccer to the forefront of American sports in the late 1970s. The Cosmos were a phenomenon whose players and staff seemingly had it all: a reserved table at Studio 54, players with million dollar player contracts—back when $200 thousand was the highest salary in Major League Baseball, and even complimentary cars. Their games were selling out the 70 thousand seats at Giants stadium.
The Cosmos franchise fell from grace more quickly than it rose, but it is a scintillating story that is accessible to even a non-soccer (or even non-sports) fan.
If you liked Rocky (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Cinderella Man (2005), and The Fighter (2010)...
...You're going to love Hard Times (1975) Here's the story of Chaney (Charles Bronson), a drifter and a man of few words, during the Depression Era in New Orleans. Chaney is a fierce and indomitable bareknuckle boxer, which unfolds as he meets Speed, an illegal-boxing promoter with a gambling problem (James Coburn). Chaney and Speed enter into an often-strained relationship and take us on an entertaining journey about a couple of guys who are just trying to survive through a tough economic period in America, each in his own way.
...And you shouldn't miss The Real Rocky (2011) We all know Rocky, the 1976 Best Picture winner: a story of a small-time boxer who fights and goes the distance with the heavyweight champion of the world. But did you know that the story of Rocky was inspired by the true story of Chuck Wepner, who went 15 rounds with heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali in March 1975?
The Real Rocky is an hour-long documentary from ESPN films that tells the story of the Bayonne Bleeder, whose fight with Ali inspired Sylvester Stallone to write the screenplay for Rocky. So much of Wepner’s career is borrowed by the Rocky franchise, as seen in the documentary, that it’s hard to believe that Sylvester Stallone has reportedly denied how heavily he was influenced by Wepner’s life. The Real Rocky is a great little documentary, which entertains and inspires. In fact, the film’s director has had so much success with the Wepner story that he's gone on to co-write a screenplay for a feature film called The Bleeder, which is due out in early 2017.
If you liked Enter the Dragon (1973), Bloodsport (1988), Kung Fu Hustle (2004), and Best of the Best (1989)...
...You're going to love Redbelt (2008) It’s hard to believe that a film written and directed by the great David Mamet and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor isn’t more well-known. It is the story of Mike Terry (Ejiofor), who runs a small Jiu-Jitsu studio in California and who strongly believes that participation in organized martial arts competition weakens fighters. Despite his vow never to fight in an organized match, Mike is forced by terrible circumstances to compete in a prize fight in order to defend the honor and integrity of his craft. This movie is brilliant; however, I do have to warn future viewers that this is more of a drama than it is an action film. The theory and love of martial arts take center stage, with a moderate amount of action in the film.
...And you've gotta revisit The Karate Kid (1984) Odds are good that quite a few of you have seen this film. However, I had to include it; the next generation of athletes and cinephiles needs to see *this* film and not some money-grab remake. The title is lame, but the film is lightning in a bottle. It’s a simple story of a pesky, yet likeable, kid who gets bullied and does whatever he can to fight back and earn respect. The producers made magic with perfect music, an amazing cast of actors, wonderful dialogue, and the right mixture of action, comedy, and drama. Why else would the movie be referenced in several episodes of How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014), including multiple guest appearances on the show by two of the film’s star actors? If you haven’t yet, watch it!
If you liked Mystery Alaska (1999) and Miracle (2004) ...You're going to love Youngblood (1986) Who knew there was a hockey movie starring Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, and Keanu Reeves? Youngblood is the coming-of-age story of Dean Youngblood (Lowe), a young and talented American hockey player who is trying to make a name for himself on a minor league team in Canada in the hopes of getting drafted by the NHL. On his journey, Youngblood gets seduced by his landlady, falls in love with his coach’s daughter, and learns how to brawl on the ice. It’s a fun 80s film with some good hockey action and fine acting, although the story line is a bit predictable.
...And you DEFINITELY shouldn't miss Slap Shot (1977) The hilarious, vulgar, and rowdy story of the Charlestown Chiefs, a mediocre minor league hockey team located in a small town in New England. The Chiefs and their coach, Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman), have a problem: the steel mill in town is closing down, displacing 10 thousand workers, and the team will fold along with the local economy. Dunlop goes on a mission to save the team and his waning career. He incites the team to fighting and general violence in an effort to attract attention and popularity and ultimately get the team sold and moved out of the dying town. Whether you like hockey or not, this is just a good movie—it was ranked as one of the Top 50 Cult Films by Entertainment Weekly in 2003 and named The Best Guy Movie of All Time by Maxim in 1998.