Sports film has become such a big genre that it might have just spawned a sub-genre of its own: Olympics movies. With the whole world all psyched about the Rio Olympic Games, let’s take a look at some films about Olympians – past, present, and future. This is by no means a “best of” list, just a handful of films with something interesting to note and discuss.
Chariots of Fire
All right, let’s start with this one. You can call it obligatory, predictable, or downright boring to have Chariots on a list of sports films, but you simply cannot talk about cinema and the Olympics without at least mentioning this 1981 classic and its now legendary, omnipresent, and most recognizable piece of soaring music.
The film itself centers around two British runners training for the 1924 Paris Olympics, while grappling with their personal issues – one is a devout Christian who runs for the glory of God, and the other is an English Jew who runs to overcome anti-semitism. The film is hailed by many as an uplifting and triumphant tale of humanity.
Citius, Altius, Fortius factor: The film is now considered a classic and one of the most celebrated British films of all time, with four Academy Awards on its trophy shelf, including for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and, of course, Best Original Score. Its legacy is so enduring that a stage adaptation of the film was made in honor of the 2012 London Olympics.
Two young female sprinters – Chris and Tory – form a friendship when they are training for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, starring Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly. Tory is a better sprinter than Chris, and as she motivates Chris to become a better athlete, their friendship evolves into a romantic relationship. Things get complicated when Chris’ skills improve and they find themselves head to head as competitors to qualify for the Olympic team.
Citius, Altius, Fortius factor: Although a box office flop, the film received critical acclaim. In addition to its much praised realistic depiction of the sport of track and field – featuring many real life track and field elites playing in the film – it was also considered to be an important work to note when discussing queer cinema, for its frank and sensitive portrayal of a lesbian relationship, made in 1982. The film almost has an iconic reputation among queer films, and is still being referenced to decades later.
One Day in September
Now, when talking about the 1972 Munich Olympics tragedy known as the Black September, when 11 Israeli athletes were held hostage and eventually murdered by a group of Palestinians, the film that comes to mind is probably Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film Munich. However, that film deals with the aftermath of the tragedy, and if we want to take a closer look at what happened during the Munich Olympics, the go-to film would be this harrowing 1999 Academy Award-winning documentary by director Kevin MacDonald (who later went on to make the feature film The Last King of Scotland).
Citius, Altius, Fortius factor: Done as an hourly account of the ill-fated day (thus, the ironic, deceptively romantic-sounding title), combining archival footage, reenactment scenes, and interviews sewn together in kinetic editing, we get a look at the heart-pounding moments when the terrorists infiltrated the athlete’s quarter, hours of negotiation with the terrorists during the hostage situation, and the transferring of the hostages to the airport – resulting in an astounding documentary feat far more dramatic than any dramatization or work of fiction.
This cleverly-titled 2016 release is a biographical account of the legendary Jesse Owens, the African American track and field athlete, who made history when he won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, defying Hitler’s propaganda on Aryan racial superiority at the time.
Citius, Altius, Fortius factor: Although not making as much of a splash as expected, other than a modest box office success, the film is worth watching for the gravitas of the subject matter and the praised performance from Stephan James as Owens. We also get to see Jason Sudeikis in a rare dramatic outing, as well as Jeremy Irons and William Hurt. Although released in February, cinemas in Jakarta seem to be holding the film for a release around the time of the 2016 Olympics, so this month might be your chance to catch the film on the big screen, with a full blown Olympics hype.
This film may not be focusing on the Olympics, but it does center around two Olympic gold medalists: wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz, both of whom won their medals in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The film follows the brothers (played by Channing Tatum as Mark, and Mark Ruffalo as Dave) as they are invited by billionaire John Du Pont (Steve Carell) to move to his estate and train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. What follows is a dark and disturbing psychological drama as the characters unravel, leading to a shocking tragedy.
Citius, Altius, Fortius factor: The film may be one of the most compelling sports films in recent years, with a solid script, a haunting direction by Bennet Miller and stellar performances by Tatum, Ruffalo, and especially the creepy Carell, who exposes a revelatory dramatic chop in a career-changing turn. The performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, as well as a supporting nod for Ruffalo, and a Best Director nom for Miller. The film was also honored the prestigious Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival. After its critical success, the film caused a mild uproar when the real Mark Schultz got furious and publicly threatened Miller when he found out that critics detected some homosexual undertone in the film about his relationship with Du Pont. However, whether it is accurate in its portrayal of the characters or not, the film remains a mighty fine piece of work.
This upcoming local release celebrates the history-making Indonesian women’s archery team, who won Indonesia’s first ever Olympic medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. It follows the trials and tribulations of Nurfitriyana (Bunga Citra Lestari), Lilies Handayani (Chelsea Islan), and Kusuma Wardhani (Tara Basro), as they struggle to overcome challenges, under the spartan supervision of coach Donald Pandiangan (Reza Rahadian).
Citius, Altius, Fortius factor: This is certainly a promising if ambitious project, shedding a light on one of Indonesia’s proudest moments in history. Those from the generations not familiar with this success story will have a chance to discover it, and those who are familiar will want to revisit it and be entertained by a dramatized version of it. The film is headlined by three of Indonesia’s most productive and lucrative starlets, as well as the country’s most celebrated character actor. So the star power is pretty bright on this one.