It’s like the Olympics to regular sporting events, and it’s like a sports movie to a regular sports movie. Even though they’re both essentially the same — a celebration of spectacle and a feast of human drama – the stakes are always higher when discussing the Olympics. Because they only happen once every four years, this is a big drawback. Furthermore, unlike our so-called World Series, they bring together the entire world in a worldwide tournament to identify who is truly the best in every sport. The Olympics, even in our fractious and distracted modern times, is something that pulls everyone together. As a result, it comes as no surprise that the films based on the Games are just as spectacular.
With the 2018 Winter Olympics in full swing, we decided to rank the top 15 Olympic movies of all time. If you’ve ever wondered what a figure-skating judge looks like, we’re here to tell you. Criterion’s “crazily exhaustive” 100 Years of Olympics Films box set, which was released at the end of last year, includes three documentaries that are among the best. Finally, we decided not to rate the films on the basis of their Olympic content: One Day in September received as much thought as Munich.
In the meantime, peruse our list of events, which includes everything from hockey to curling. When it comes to bringing the country together, the Winter Olympics may be second only to outraged commenters who take issue with an online film ranking.
1. Blades of Glory (2007)
Rather than focusing on Will Arnett and Amy Poehler’s figure-skating rivalry, this Will Ferrell comedy focuses on the real-life relationship Will Arnett and Amy Poehler. When Ferrell started experimenting with the surrealism aspects of his comedy, this was a far cry from the family-friendly version we see today. If you like Anchorman or Step Brothers, you’ll like this, but it doesn’t quite have the same level of anarchy. Fun fact: This is one of numerous films unable to gain the rights to the Olympic name itself; the target here is “the World Wintersport Games.””
2. Without Limits (1996)
Steve Prefontaine: A True Story is the only film about the long-distance runner that didn’t star Jared Leto. In Robert Towne’s better film, starring Billy Crudup as Prefontaine, this sports biopic successfully avoids the cliches that Leto’s film does not. In addition, Donald Sutherland shines as Bill Bowerman, the devoted trainer and coach, in a role that has become as clichéd in sports movies as the Big Game itself. As a result of Leto’s film being released first, and its subsequent box office failure, this one had little chance of succeeding. Two films about Steve Prefontaine were a no-go for moviegoers unwilling to see the first.
3. The Cutting Edge (1992)
When you think about it, it’s probably the only way you could possibly make a romantic comedy about skating. After suffering a concussion and being forced to retire from the sport of hockey, D.B. Sweeney (a former hockey player) is forced to compete in the Olympic pairs competition alongside spoiled figure skater (Moira Kelly). Despite the film’s implausibility, the two stars have enough chemistry to make it work. Irrational, but unquestionably jovial and finally victorious! Michael Clayton’s Tony Gilroy wrote it, and it was his first script to be produced.
4. Cool Runnings (1993)
This is probably the first movie that comes to mind when you think of the Winter Olympics. This is a bobsledding-themed Rudy, in that the objective isn’t to win, but rather to remain competitive. The Jamaican bobsled team is the movie’s hidden weapon, with John Candy as the grizzled coach with a dark background and a chance to redeem himself. (However, Candy being a bobsledder defies credulity.) – As it was the final of his films to be released before he died, it hinted to a future for Candy that we would never get to experience.
5. Personal Best (1982)
It’s Robert Towne’s third appearance on this list, and the narrative of a squad of women (headed by Mariel Hemingway) preparing for the 1980 Olympic Games is no exception. This film is about a group of ladies who realize that their Olympic ambitions have been shattered, and thus have to settle for their “personal best” scores as a measure of success. It’s worth mentioning that this was a popular studio film from 1982 that depicts its protagonist in a delicate, mature love triangle as a bisexual. (The film’s failure at the box office was maybe inevitable.)
6. I, Tonya (2017)
Aside from criticisms of the film’s tendency to stretch the truth about Tonya Harding’s life and her involvement in the murder of Nancy Kerrigan, I, Tonya is a fun, wacky watch that never quite decides whether or not we’re supposed to take this seriously. As a result, the audience is as befuddled as the film itself. With Margot Robbie’s devoted performance and Allison Janney’s withholding, harsh mother, there is still some grandeur here. Ice skating scenes themselves are also rather good. The rest of the film isn’t very well-shot, but Tonya, like the film, seems most at ease while it’s moving.
7. Visions of Eight (1973)
Production executive David L. Wolper had an idea: why not bring in a number of international filmmakers to cover the same sporting event in their respective short films? It was the 1972 Munich Olympics that brought together Milos Forman, Arthur Penn, and John Schlesinger in Visions of Eight. Visions of Eight, like many omnibus films, has sections that are better than others. Director Claude Lelouch chose to focus on losers in his film A Man and a Woman, giving audiences a rare look at utter failure in a sports film.) There is an allure to the approach’s novelty since it suggests that various people can watch the same show and derive completely different conclusions from it. To be fair, Visions of Eight doesn’t go into great detail on how 11 Israeli athletes and instructors were kidnapped at the Munich Olympic Games and murdered. (Don’t be alarmed: There are two additional films on this list that deal with it in greater detail.)
8. Miracle (2004)
There are a lot of feel-good underdog sports movies out there. In the rare occasion when a film hits the mark, it does it with true suspense and real emotion, overturning all preconceptions and preconceptions. The ecstatic portrayal of the 1980 Winter Olympics gold-winning U.S. men’s hockey team by director Gavin O’Connor, who overcame the odds to upset their strongly fancied competitors, is a superb example of how to properly make one of these documentaries. With Kurt Russell playing cantankerous coach Herb Brooks, Miracle tells the story of a scrappy group of no-name sportsmen who put their own egos aside to help the team succeed. Despite the fact that most people were familiar with how Miracle ended — the title alludes to the Americans’ semifinal upset of the Russians, dubbed the “Miracle on Ice” — few sports films convey a sense of community and the individual personalities within it as well as O’Connor did. The ending, on the other hand, is just fantastic.