Whenever Hollywood aims to inspire moviegoers, oftentimes it turns to films centered on sports to get the job done. After all, there’s nothing like a story about a scrappy underdog who, through hard work and determination, manages to achieve his or her dream of winning that elusive championship, big game, or other pivotal contest. Even decades after its creation, the Rocky franchise still accounts for some of the highest-grossing sports films in history, effectively typifying the genre.
However, when it comes to sheer epic scale, few types of sports films can compete with those that center on the Olympics. This large-scale competition propels the stakes to international levels and has brought dramatizations of some of history’s most compelling success stories to the big screen. Countless films have done just that, and in this article we’re taking a look at some of the most inspiring ones ever made. For the record, we’re only considering dramatic films on this list, so don’t expect your favorite Olympic documentaries to pop up here.
1. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Perhaps the most iconic entry on this list, this Oscar-winning drama — which tracks the competition between two British men at the 1924 Olympics — features two indelible performances by Ian Charleson and Ben Cross as the track athletes. The film includes one of the most iconic film scores of all time from composer, Vangelis. Its legacy has remained just as strong in the decades since its release, and it was employed as a key promotional fixture of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
2. Cool Runnings (1993)
For children growing up in the 1990s, this release about a Jamaican bobsled team’s debut competition at the 1988 Winter Olympics became a favorite. Though it takes significant liberties with its story, Cool Runnings remains a fun and uplifting tale of a group of men with an impossible dream and the courage to pursue it. John Candy also turns in a winning supporting performance in one of his final roles. Whether you’ve never seen Cool Runnings or if it’s simply been a while, this Olympic season might be the perfect chance to give it a watch.
3. Without Limits (1998)
One of two films made about distance runner Steve Prefontaine in the late 1990s (the other being Prefontaine starring Jared Leto), this one barely edges out its 1997 counterpart due to its higher production values and greater impact within the industry. Though it was a financial flop at the box office, the film earned praise for Billy Crudup’s lead performance as well as that of Donald Sutherland as his coach. Co-produced by Tom Cruise, the film offers a complex portrait of the unforgettable Prefontaine.
4. Miracle (2004)
For many years, Disney has relied on inspirational sports films like Remember the Titans and The Rookie to unite families and turn a reliable profit at the box office. These releases are largely well-received, but few have managed the widespread love of Miracle, which chronicles the U.S. men’s hockey team’s gold medal-winning triumph at the 1980 Winter Olympics. The film was a modest box office success and earned strong reviews across the board, especially for Kurt Russell’s memorable performance as head coach Herb Brooks.
5. Munich (2005)
While most of the films on this list center on a team of athletes targeting an Olympic win, this Steven Spielberg historical drama takes a very different approach to the games. Infusing the director’s penchant for real-life stories with the tone of a political thriller, Munich chronicles the secret operation organized by the Israeli government in response to the massacre that claimed the lives of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, and Daniel Craig led the film’s ensemble cast, and it earned five Academy Award nominations in 2006 for its effort, including Best Picture.
6. Eddie the Eagle (2016)
The most recent addition to this list also stands as one of the most underrated films to arrive in theaters this year. Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service) stars as the titular Eddie Edwards, who became the first athlete to represent the Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping in decades. Hugh Jackman and Christopher Walken lend their considerable talents in the film, and director Dexter Fletcher delivers perhaps his best effort to date. It’s definitely one to seek out if you missed the film during its initial theatrical run.
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