As we head into another edition of the Summer Olympics, here’s a List of Olympics-related film dramas and comedies to get us in the mood. No documentaries, though – the Games will provide all the reality we need for the next two weeks.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)
Let’s start with the gold medalist. While it’s debatable whether “Chariots of Fire” deserved its Oscar for Best Picture, the fact that it is a classic character study told with grace and dignity is undeniable. The film presents running in the 1924 Olympics as a matter of religious faith, personal struggle, patriotic duty and elite frolic, depending on the individual.
JIM THORPE — ALL-AMERICAN (1951)
This one is more of a tragedy. Burt Lancaster plays the great Jim Thorpe, who won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics, only to have the medals taken away because he’d been paid once to play summer baseball. In the 1980s, after his death, Thorpe’s medals were reinstated. This movie, in some of the action scenes, used actual footage of Thorpe.
DOWNHILL RACER (1969)
Now for a little Winter Olympics action, with plenty of star power. Robert Redford is excellent as an aloof, driven Olympic skier. What I like so much about “Downhill Racer” is the way it showcases the rivalries, politics and competitiveness among athletes and even coaches on the same team.
PERSONAL BEST (1982)
Mariel Hemingway stars in this drama set around the 1980 Olympic games. The story works on two fronts. First you have the various personal relationships involving women’s track and field athletes. Then you have the emotional aftermath of President Carter’s decision to boycott the 1980 games.
COOL RUNNINGS (1993)
Highly enjoyable, Disney version of the Jamaican bobsled team that took the Olympics – and the world – by storm in 1988. Far from being a documentary, it stars John Candy, Doug E. Doug and the always-charismatic Leon Robinson.
WALK DON’T RUN (1966)
The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo is the backdrop for this old-fashioned romantic comedy. Cary Grant, in his final film role, plays matchmaker to speed walker Jim Hutton and Samantha Eggar. It’s very sweet.
WITHOUT LIMITS (1998)
“Without Limits” was one of two films in the 1990s to profile Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine, who ran in the 1972 Munich games. I prefer this one, which stars the fine actor Billy Crudup as Prefontaine and Donald Sutherland as his coach. As a side note, “Without Limits” also features the legendary runner Frank Shorter – although he doesn’t play himself (Jeremy Sisto plays Shorter).
I think this is one of Steven Spielberg’s great films. It starts with an extended recounting of the brutal terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich games and continues forward with a story of Israeli agents responding to the attack in the years that followed. Eric Bana and Daniel Craig star. The movie ends with a visual that some might find cliched, but I found to be among the most haunting I’ve ever seen.
We finish on an inspirational note. “Miracle” gives us one of the truly joyous moments (for Americans) in sports, with the U.S. hockey team’s incredible run at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Kurt Russell is perfect as coach Herb Brooks.
Did I leave any good ones out? Add them to The List!