Sports movies are one of the mainstay genres in Hollywood. The more traditional ones tend to lean heavily into the inspirational elements, showcasing an athlete or a team who has to persevere through some hardship before becoming victorious in the end and all being better people for it. These kinds of movies are often beloved by people who are really into sports, and the best ones can even intrigue those who have little to no knowledge of athletics. Other times, however, the movies can focus a little too much on the sports jargon and end up alienating viewers who aren’t as interested in the subject.
There are quite a few “sports movies” out there that are a lot more palatable to non-sports fans because the sports are actually secondary to the story rather than the main focus. These kinds of movies often use sports or an athlete as a sort of framing device for a story about relationships or personal struggles that happen both outside of and around the sport itself. While some only loosely fit the description of “sports movies”, these are the films that are not often discussed when the genre is brought up, but they deserve just as much recognition for being sports movies that can even appeal to those who aren’t athletes.
This movie is a biopic about the infamous figure skater Tonya Harding, who was involved in a massive scandal around an assault of fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. I, Tonya tells Harding’s life story from childhood until the famous Kerrigan incident, and is more about Harding and her intense and frankly quite traumatizing life than it is about skating (though obviously skating still plays a fairly big role, because it was a big part of her life). Harding is a fascinating character to follow because of her personality, which is so different from the stereotypical “ice princess” persona that figure skaters are often forced into.
What makes the film most interesting is the way in which the story is told. There are multiple different narrators, and none of them seem completely reliable. Even when Harding tells her version of events, it’s never clear whether or not it’s the full truth (which is a smart way to approach this particular story that’s so wrapped up in controversy). This movie features a nuanced and heartfelt performance by Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, with Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan also being standouts from the cast. It’s a movie that’s an interesting watch for anyone, even if they know next to nothing about figure skating.
This is one that is very loosely a “sports movie”, and is really more of a romantic drama than anything else. Basketball plays a big role in the characters’ lives, of course, but it’s more about the relationship dynamics between the main characters. Love and Basketball tells the story of Monica and Quincy, childhood neighbors and friends who both have dreams of playing in the NBA one day. As they grow older and their relationship progresses, life challenges like parental drama and school come between them, and they have to learn how to navigate a relationship while still wanting to achieve their goals in the world of basketball.
Again, no basketball knowledge is required to watch this one, because the draw is the chemistry and dynamic between Monica and Quincy, and the complex situations they find themselves in. The interpersonal drama is what makes the movie, and the performances are realistic and compelling, all leading up to the iconic one-on-one basketball scene that just ties everything in the film together perfectly.
Yet another basketball movie (though it could perhaps also be classified as a golf movie or baseball movie at times), Space Jam is perhaps one of the most iconic and recognizable instances of a sports-movie-that’s-not-really-a-sports-movie. For anyone who might still be unaware of the existence of Space Jam (which seems unlikely at this point), the plot of the movie is that Michael Jordan has to play a game of basketball with the Looney Tunes against a team of space aliens…and that premise alone should make it worth the watch.
Space Jam isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy cinema, but it is a ton of fun, especially for anyone who was a kid when it was released and still has the massive nostalgia factor around it. The story does revolve around basketball quite a bit, but because it’s essentially a Looney Tunes movie, it’s still entertaining even if you don’t care about sports at all. The kind of basketball that the Looney Tunes play is much more fun to watch than any professional NBA, simply because of its zaniness.
Florence Pugh is one of the biggest names in Hollywood right now, and Fighting With My Family might be her most underrated movie so far. The film is based on the true story of the professional wrestler Paige (whose real name is Saraya Bevis) and her journey to make it to the WWE. It also follows her family, who make their living performing wrestling matches in small venues around England, and how they cope with Saraya’s burgeoning success. In particular, the movie also focuses on her brother Zak, who is trying to make his own career in professional wrestling but isn’t having as much success as his sister.
Again, the actual sports are only half of the story, and the rest is focused on the family drama. The film is entertaining not just because professional wrestling is such a spectacle, but Stephen Merchant’s script is both funny and heartfelt, which makes the story that much more engaging. This is the type of movie that would appeal to those who like the “based on a true story” genre, because knowing that the events are fairly true to life (even if artistic license is occasionally taken) can make a story much more interesting to watch.
This one is a teen classic for anyone who grew up in the 2000s. The movie follows Jess, an Indian girl who dreams of being a professional soccer player, despite her parents’ more traditional wishes for her future. She meets Jules (played by Keira Knightley), who convinces her to try out for the local women’s team, and both girls dream of one day joining the Women’s United Soccer Association, despite their parents trying to convince them otherwise.
The story is about following your dreams despite the expectations that have been laid out for your life, and though soccer plays a major role, it’s more focused on the family dynamics and the female friendship that’s present within the film. This is a perfect movie for anyone who has a dream that seems impractical (sports-related or not) and wants to keep pursuing it despite what the world might think.
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