by Aaron Peck
If you're like me you've been glued to your television set (and computer screen) watching every single piece of Olympic competition your mind can possibly take in. Even as I write this article the U.S. men's basketball team is pounding Nigeria into the ground 132 to 66 on my minimized Internet browser window. It's a brutal game to watch (especially if you're Nigerian), but it's the Olympics and the Olympics are great no matter what the sport. We decided to put together a must-see list of Olympic-themed movies that you can watch in between those blistering handball matches.
There are a few problems with the field of Olympic movies though. Many of them are really old, really obscure, or both. There aren't nearly enough movies focused on the more unknown events of the Olympics (you're not going to find a thrilling edge-of-your-seat sporting drama about skeet shooting). Instead, most of the movies are centered on inherently dramatic sports like figure skating or track and field.
Olympic Movies On Blu-ray
Another problem with Olympic-themed movies is the fact that not too many of them have had Blu-ray releases. Only a select few have been given the HD treatment, for that reason, we've had to be a little creative in developing this list.
Sure it's Olympic satire, and the games here are called something generic like the World Winter Sport Games, but it's one of the handful of movies that has actually found its way to Blu-ray. 'Blades of Glory' is a love it or hate it type of movie. You can love it for all of the Will Ferrell antics (him lifting Jon Heder up by the crotch is a personal favorite), or you can hate it for Heder's "I'm really trying to leave 'Napoleon Dynamite' behind me but I just can't shake it," acting style. I prefer to travel along the Love It route though, if not simply for Jenna Fischer winning a gold medal in the Lingerie Wearing event.
Sometimes I find myself wondering why 'Chariots of Fire' is as highly regarded as it is. I really don't understand it's huge appeal, but my personal reservations aside it's one of the most memorable Olympic-themed films, not to mention it spurred one of the most iconic movie scores ever. Just sitting here writing this, I can't help but hum dun, dunnn, dunnnn, dunnnnn; dun, dunnn, dunnnn, dunnnnn, … to myself...
Does anyone else think "Hey, Paul Rudd is in an ice skating movie?" when they see the cover for 'The Cutting Edge'? Is it just me? D.B. Sweeny could easily stand in for Paul Rudd or vice-versa. Now I'm thinking of how great a Paul Rudd ice skating movie would be. Please make it happen Hollywood. Please.
My favorite weird fact about 'The Cutting Edge,' an over-the-top dramatic figure skating movie, is that it was penned by 'Bourne' writer Tony Gilroy. No, really. It was.
This, for my money, is the best Olympic-themed movie of the bunch because it features the most improbable Olympic wins of all time. A win that was tailor-made for a feel-good Hollywood sporting drama.
Why is 'Miracle' so awesome? Well, just think of the original Miracle on Ice. A team of Americans defeated the big bad Russians, a group of hockey players who were considered by EVERYONE to be the best players in the world. The Americans winning that gold medal game seemed just as improbable as poor Nigeria beating up on the U.S. men's basketball team. If those teams played ten times you'd bet that the Kobe, LeBron and the rest of the gang would win all ten games. You could say the same thing about the 1980 U.S. ice hockey team against the Russians.
Desperately Needs a Blu-ray Release
"Feel the rhythm. Feel the rhyme. Get on up its bobsled time! Cool runnings!"
Thanks 'Cool Runnings' for producing the best "Why Did I Just Quote That?" quote of all time. It's a quote that spontaneously rolls of the tongue at the weirdest times. All you need to do is hear someone talking about rhythm or rhyme and it automatically pops into your head like a particularly annoying Justin Bieber song. Suddenly you start saying it, then everyone around you begins saying it with you, then you suddenly have an urge to watch a movie about Jamaicans bobsledding.
Crap, now I want to watch it.
Every once in a while I'll start up the "Quack! Quack! Quack!" chant while my wife is doing dishes or folding laundry. It usually leads to a confused look, and I simply reply "It's from 'Mighty Ducks'. I'm cheering you on." A scowl follows.
Sure the guys compete in the Junior Goodwill Games in this movie, but it exudes the "America Doesn't Take Any Crap from Anyone, Even Bully Icelanders" spirit more than any other movie out there. Or if you want to break it down into easier term, 'D2' has buttloads of Olympic spirit. They even have a fictional Olympic figure skater join the team, "Woo, woo, woo! Kenny Wu!"
Perhaps one of the most overlooked Olympic films, but one that should eventually find itself on Blu-ray in the somewhat near future. I say that because 'Downhill Racer' starring Robert Redford, already has a Criterion DVD release, so it's only a matter of time before they get around to releasing it on Blu-ray. Maybe when the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia roll around.
Yes, this movie stars 30 Seconds To Mars lead singer Jared Leto as Steve Prefontaine a long distance runner hoping to make it to the Olympics. It's got everything a dramatic sports story needs: budding young athlete trying to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, and a mustache that would make any 70s porn star proud.
Want to do a Steve Prefontaine double-feature night? Well, after watching 'Prefontaine' stick in without limits. This time Billy Crudup is sporting the porn-stache, but the rest of the drama is there. You can't really go wrong if you need a track-and-field double-header and you end up choosing 'Without Limits' and 'Prefontaine.'
Not Exactly the Olympics, But Use Your Imagination
Because there aren't nearly enough Olympic-themed movies out on Blu-ray, we thought we'd pick out a few titles that don't necessarily have anything to do with the Olympics, but just might remind you of them if you give them a chance:
Give Spider-Man a high bar and some dangling rings and the guy would be the world's greatest gymnast. Sure, he'd most likely be ridiculed by the superhero community for becoming a male gymnast, but Peter Parker would be able to use all his amazing abilities without having to actually wear his suit.
There aren't enough movies about archery, so we had to go with the next best thing, Hawkeye. You've seen the archers at the Olympics, decked out in all their archery gear, hoisting their high-tech bows encumbered with so many attachments they've stopped looking like bows at all and have taken on more of an alien appearance. It'd be a relief to let Hawkeye compete in the Olympics, because while his bow and arrows are certainly high-tech, you can always tell what they are. Plus, he'd be able to shoot targets without even looking and, if he felt like it, blow up the targets with a well-placed bomb-tipped arrow.
Table tennis simply doesn't get enough love. So, if you love the sport and you also love dopey comedies written by Thomas Lennon then 'Balls of Fury' is a movie you can watch right before you take in a world-class ping-pong match where screaming women hit the ball as fast and as hard as tennis players. If Walken doesn't bounce your balls, you can always go with 'Forrest Gump.'
How come movies featuring archery almost always feature an arrow splitting another arrow down the middle? I have yet to see this happen in the Olympics! Has the arrow splitting ever happened? Or is that simply a dramatic Hollywood concoction?
These games are a bit more deadly, but they require just as much (if not more) athletic ability. Imagine how hard the hurdles are, then imagine how hard it would be to hurdle hungry tigers while some giant dude is waving an axe in your face. Or try to visualize being stuck in the middle of the equestrian field, surrounded by blood-thirsty chariot riders trying out their new archery skills on you. Maximus deserved a gold medal, not a knife to the kidney.
Speaking of deadly games… During the Olympic opening ceremonies there was a point where a group of young athletes carried lit torches to the final leg before lighting the caldron. I turned to my wife, as one of the NBC announcers talked about these young athletes being the future of the Olympics, and wondered out loud, "Here are the contestants for this year's Olympic 'Hunger Games.' Get a good look at them, all but one will be dead by the end."
Take a cue from Simon Pegg. If you want to win back the love of your life, or you simply want to get in shape, running a marathon can simultaneously complete both goals. Or it could end up killing you during the training stage.
I can hear your audible, "Huh!" as I type this. What does a silly movie about an age-old fraternity starring Joshua Jackson and Paul Walker have anything to do with the Olympics? The answer: rowing! One of the least represented sports in cinema. Usually relegated to quick shots of a rowing team gliding down a river and then back to the movie without a second thought. At least the rowing scene in 'The Skulls' actually discusses the sport. Not a Joshua Jackson fan? Then check out the "Winklevii" in 'The Social Network.'
Don't you think Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte can get just about any girl they want? Don't you think they have? Don't you think that it's quite possible that out of those hundreds of hot adoring fans there's at least one psycho like Madison Bell? Phelps and Lochte probably have stalkers stealing their Speedos regularly.
It's like the Olympics, but in the computer with bytes, Identity Discs, and derezzing. Maybe in the distant future, when we've reached something like the hundredth Olympiad, the Olympics will include light cycles, and neon-lit uniforms. We can only hope this is the case. If we're still prancing around doing somersaults a few hundred years from now I'll be rolling in my grave.
Corny, But HD Couldn't Hurt (Also it Stars Dolph Lundgren so it's Already Awesome)
There are only six things you need to know about 'Pentathlon' (spoiler warning):
1. Dolph Lundgren stars as a German gold medalist who defects to the U.S. to get away from his abusive coach.
2. The tagline is: "Play to win. If you lose, you die."
3. Dolph joins the American Olympic team to compete in, yep you guessed it, the pentathlon.
4. Dolph has time to kill a bunch of neo-Nazis and still compete in the Olympics.
5. The movie deftly blends Olympic tension with action movie tension as Dolph is forced to kill his abusive coach at the finish line as he's about to win the race.
6. The movie can only be found on laser disc and VHS, so some kind soul that goes by the screen name n1les uploaded the entire movie to YouTube.
7. If watching the whole thing on YouTube, in 10 separate parts, annoys you then you can import this awesomely awesome movie on Blu-ray from Amazon UK.
There you have it, High-Def Digest's Olympic Games Movies List. It's an obscure collection of films. One has to wonder why not too many movies have been centered around the Olympics. It's only one of the most watched events in the entire world! You'd think that a little more thought would go into creating movies about any Olympic feel-good story. Apparently, it's one of the great untapped movie markets.
Do you have any favorite Olympic-themed movies that we missed? Come on over to the forums, by clicking the link below, and discuss Olympic movies, or simply talk about how awesome Dolph Lundgren is. It's up to you!