On February 4, athletes from around the world converged in Beijing to take part in the 24th annual Winter Olympic Games. With skaters spinning and dancing on ice, skiers leaping from unimaginable heights, and curlers — well — curling, this euphoric celebration of athletic achievement in frigid temperatures still manages to captivate a global audience in an age when viewership is increasingly fractured and focused on specialized offerings.
With the sporting event in full swing and currently airing on NBC and Peacock, there’s no better time to search your DVD library or browse various streaming channels in search of a good movie that captures that cool Olympic spirit. From parodies to rom-coms to true-life dramas, movies that feature the Winter Olympic Games each focus on a particular element that makes those films so watchable.
Blades of Glory (2007) – 6.3
Usually, the Olympics are tense affairs that contain very little humor. To alleviate the real-life anxiety of tense competition while still enjoying the pomp and celebratory nature of the event, there’s no better movie to watch than Blades of Glory. The 2007 comedy stars Will Ferrell (at his peak) and Jon Heder (still riding that Napoleon Dynamite high) as disgraced ice skaters who, through an obscure loophole, can compete in the World Winter Sports Games (a thinly veiled stand-in for the Olympics) if they enter as a duo. The comedy lovingly mocks the conventions of ice skating — the bombastic music, the outdated hairstyles, the neon-colored spandex uniforms — without judging it too harshly. The all-star supporting cast, which features Will Arnett and Amy Poehler as incestuous ice skating twins, is first-rate, and the ice skating scenes are surprisingly compelling in an absurdist way.
Downhill Racer (1969) – 6.4
For Olympic fans who want a movie that takes the heat of competition seriously, look no further than Downhill Racer. Considered by Roger Ebert as “the best movie made about sports,” the Michael Ritchie film was made at a time when Hollywood was experimenting with different styles of filmmaking to tell raw, honest stories that usually had a downbeat ending. With a terrific lead performance by Robert Redford, who was at his peak in 1969 with this film and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Downhill Racer excels at both depicting the excitement of skiing and the personal tribulations of athletes as they train and compete for years to earn a shot at Olympic glory. It’s the rare sports movie that sidesteps clichés and appeals to both sports movie fans and average moviegoers who just want to watch a compelling film.
The Cutting Edge (1992) – 6.9
It was only a matter of time before the rom-com genre, in full force in 1992 thanks to the earlier successes of When Harry Met Sally… and Pretty Woman, would find its way to the ice rink. And The Cutting Edge, a movie that centers on the unlikely professional and romantic pairing of a stuck-up ice skater and blue-collar ex-hockey player, would utilize every cliché the genre is known (and often derided) for. Two leads who initially loathe each other, but then grow to love one another? Check. An improbable finale that depends on a suspension of belief in time, logic, and the laws of physics? Check. Yet somehow, it all works, and that’s largely due to the chemistry by Moira Kelly and D.B. Sweeney as the unlikely couple, whose hatred for each other is matched only by their budding mutual attraction. Toe pick!
Cool Runnings (1993) – 7.0
This rousing film, a staple of the sports underdog genre, tells the true-life story of a Jamaican bobsled team, who overcame multiple obstacles to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. The film’s charm lies in the scenes depicting the team prepping for the games with their coach, played by John Candy in one of his final performances before his untimely death in 1994. The rare sports film where the heroes don’t win in the end, Cool Runnings emphasizes the importance of teamwork over success. It’s beside the point whether they earned a gold medal or not; what matters is that they stuck together and were able to compete in the first place.
Molly’s Game (2017) – 7.4
The only film that deals with life after the Winter Olympics, Molly’s Game opens with the titular heroine Molly Bloom, an expert mogul skier, losing in a qualifying event for the 2002 Games. The film then focuses on Bloom’s attempts to succeed as a manager of high stakes poker, which she organizes with the help of professional poker players and a movie star who plays only “to destroy people’s lives.” While Molly’s Game largely abandons any mention of the Olympics after the opening scene, it still embodies all characteristics of a typical sports movie: The underdog overcoming adversity, the tough-as-nails parent driving his child to succeed, and the climactic final match, or in this case, a poker game that will decide whether Bloom goes to jail or not. Molly may not have been able to compete in the Winter Olympics, but as the film gradually reveals, she contains the spirit and drive necessary to succeed on both ski slopes and at a dingy poker table.
Eddie The Eagle (2015) – 7.4
Another movie featuring an underdog who proves to be unsuccessful in winning an Olympic medal, Eddie the Eagle focuses on the real-life efforts of Michael David Edwards to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics as a ski jumper. Played by Taron Edgerton, Michael, nicknamed Eddie by his peers, is eventually coached by Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), who helps Eddie qualify for the Games despite impossible odds. While Eddie the Eagle falls prey to the creaky stereotypes that are commonly found in sports movies, what makes the film so winning is the charm of the two leads and the easy banter they share throughout the story. Jackman, in particular, shines as the exacting coach who holds Eddie to a standard even he didn’t know he could reach.
I, Tonya (2017) – 7.5
A rare biopic that’s both nasty and funny, I, Tonya showcases a notorious figure, Tonya Harding, in a raw and unflinching light, askewing judgment in favor of empathy. The film depicts Harding’s rough, working-class childhood and her antagonistic relationship with her mother LaVona, played by Allison Janney in a bravura, ice-cold performance that won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The infamous assault on Nancy Kerrigan is shown as well as Harding’s disastrous performance at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, where she came in eighth place.
More than just a sports film, I, Tonya is an unflinching look at the American class system, which favors competitors like Kerrigan over blue-collar people like Harding and her husband, Jeff Gillooly. It’s also a hilarious movie, with a razor-sharp script by Steven Rogers that provides Janney and lead star Margot Robbie (in a career-best performance) with plenty of barbed insults you’ll be quoting long after you’ve watched the movie.
Miracle (2004) – 7.5
A traditional sports movie told well with expert direction by Gavin O’ Connor and committed performances from Kurt Russell and Patricia Clarkson, Miracle depicts what some have called the “greatest sports moment in the 20th century.” At the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, the U.S. hockey team defeat the favored Soviet Union team in a semifinal match, allowing them to advance and ultimately win the gold medal. Since the story is so compelling to begin with, O’ Connor doesn’t embellish or indulge too much in genre conventions. Instead, he focuses on characterization, making Russell’s Coach Brooks a relatable figure who has his own backstory that he briefly explores. The highlight of the film, however, is the outstanding recreation of the climactic match between the Americans and the Russians, which manages to squeeze suspense out of a game with a well-known outcome. It’s no surprise that the film is highly ranked by IMDB users, as it’s a fantastic film that more than earns its feel-good ending.