Coronavirus Outbreak: As lockdown extends, here are 10 sports movies to watch while you stay indoors

With India extending the country-wide lockdown due to coronavirus outbreak till 3 May, and in the continued absence of live sports in our lives, here is a list of 10 sports movies to keep our readers engaged.

FP Sports April 14, 2020 14:10:48 IST
Coronavirus Outbreak: As lockdown extends, here are 10 sports movies to watch while you stay indoors

Sports movies have given us memorable stories over decades. Sports and films are two of the biggest and most prominent sources of mass entertainment and when these two merge to tell a good story, they can work wonders on screen. Not all sports movies are worth the time and it's difficult to list the 'best' sports films because it is highly subjective in nature.

Therefore, Firstpost's sports writers have gone with their personal favourites.

With India extending the country-wide lockdown due to coronavirus outbreak till 3 May, and in the continued absence of live sports in our lives, here is a list of 10 sports movies to keep our readers engaged. In case you want more, we have already published a list of our favourite sports documentaries and books.

Cool Runnings (Directed by Jon Turteltaub)

If you want to watch the perfect underdog story about the Olympics, this is it! The movie is based (very loosely) on the real-life exploits of the Jamaican bobsled team which competed at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

The movie shows a bunch of rag-tag sprinters from Jamaica forming an unlikely partnership as the Jamaican national bobsled team. This bunch goes on to the Olympics ― under the guidance of a disgraced bobsledder who acts as their coach ― and wins hearts of seasoned veterans with their grit and charm.

As the enduring chant in the movie goes, “Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s bobsled time.”

Invictus (Directed by Clint Eastwood)

Invictus (based on the book 'Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation' by John Carlin) captures the events pre and post 1995 Rugby World Cup with South Africa still reeling from the effects of the apartheid era. Matt Damon plays the captain of the team (Francois Pienaar) and Morgan Freeman as the inspirational figure Nelson Mandela.

Based on real events, the movie is about the South Africa rugby team (nicknamed the Springboks) that is not considered real competition at the World Cup, being held in their own country. The movie brings out emotional moments such as that of Pienaar visiting Mandela's cell on Robben Island and also shows the joy it brings to the people when the team beats a much-fancied New Zealand for the trophy.

Watch Invictus for the underdog story coupled with society coming together despite their differences and for incredible performances from both Damon and Freeman.

Remember the Titans (Directed by Boaz Yakin)

Remember The Titans is a biographical sports film based on true events that transpired in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971. Starring Denzel Washington (as Herman Boone) as the chief coach of a high school American football team, he has the tough task of bringing together players from a white school and a black school to play cohesively. Will Paton (as Bill Yoast) is the assistant coach and has a different style of managing players.

Watch for the sport but stay for the triumph of humanity over man-made prejudices such as skin colour and the biases that come with it.

Million Dollar Baby (Directed by Clint Eastwood)

Million Dollar Baby revolves around three central figures: Frankie Dunn (played by director Eastwood himself), Eddie Dupris (Freeman) and Margaret "Maggie" Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank). Maggie aspired to become a professional boxer but Dunn, a trainer, initially refuses to take her on declaring "she's too old". Amidst all this, Dupris, an employee at the boxing gym and the film's narrator, encourages and helps her.

Frankie eventually and reluctantly takes Maggi on as a protege and sees her rise through the lightweight division. She makes her way to a blockbuster fight which proves fatal following an illegal punch from the opponent and a landing on the corner stool which leaves her ventilator-dependent and ends her boxing career.

Through the course of the journey, the trio form an emotional connect and see what's lost in the other: Frankie sees Maggie as a daughter while his is estranged and Fitzgerald considers Dunn a father-figure with her own family looking to make money out of her assets.

Million Dollar Baby is a fantastic watch for the drama, the boxing and above all for the incredible acting by all three stars.

Coach Carter (Directed by Thomas Carter)

The American biographical sports drama starring Samuel L Jackson as real-life high school basketball coach Ken Carter talked about all the right things through its lead character. The players on the basketball team at Richmond High School, living in a notorious American neighbourhood, have little going for them.

The school manages to graduate just 50 percent of its students, out of which, just 6 percent make it to college. The numbers are even more dismal for those on the basketball team, who give little priority to academics. Ken Carter changes all that, makes the indisciplined bunch address him as ‘Sir’, also asking them to sign contracts which say that if they don’t attend their classes, they’ll be kicked off the team.

Carter’s unique coaching methodology – using the names of his sisters to help the players remember the various on-court plays and formations – and his unflinching dedication to bringing about reform among the students, not just coaching them to be better basketball players but better men, make the movie an entertaining watch.

Coach Carter also set a benchmark in terms of choreographing basketball sequences for movies. This author doesn’t recall any other Hollywood movie where basketball was shot better than in Coach Carter. More than that, one should watch the movie for it shows its characters, the players on the team undergoing a realisation, bringing about a subsequent transformation in their actions. From believing that playing basketball in High School will be the best it ever gets for them, to actively pursuing their dreams of going to college by maintaining a good grade, the characters are believable, yet inspirational.

Rocky (Movies 1-6, Creed 1 and 2) 

Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallone who also wrote all the films and directed four of them, is the perfect tale of the underdog fighting all odds stacked against him to emerge a winner. The movie starts with Rocky Balboa (Stallone) a small-time boxer in Philadelphia who works as a collector for a loan shark and fights in sleazy clubs for low pay.

Directionless and broke, Rocky lands the fight of his life when world champion Apollo Creed, looking for a new boxer to fight to change his reputation amongst the media and the public, chooses Rocky as his opponent. While initially, Rocky appears confused about what to do with the opportunity, he soon reunites with long-time coach Micky who believes in keeping his methods old-school, like chasing chickens to develop speed.

Rocky’s charm lies as much in its over the top fight scenes – Rocky is pummelled in all rounds but holds on to deliver the knockout punch in the final round – as it does in the dialogues. The character makes lame knock-knock jokes to woo a painfully shy girl Adrian but lashes out at his coach Mick for losing faith in him. What makes the movies extremely watchable is that Rocky is far from perfect. When he earns a lot of money after his first fight, he chooses to splurge and soon enough, we see him on the verge of bankruptcy. After becoming the world champion, you see an air of arrogance in him and he duly pays for that when he is knocked out by a hungry challenger in Clubber Lang, in the third movie of the series.

While it is difficult to pick the best movies in the series, one should watch Rocky 1 and 2 for their heartfelt dialogues, 3 and 4 for the best fight scenes, and 6 for its legendary monologues. Then there’s the equally appreciable spinoff series – Creed – which sees Rocky donning the coach’s hat. All in all, the series is a must-watch for every movie buff.

Lagaan (Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker)

Using cricket as the means, Lagaan portrays the battle between British, the oppressors, against the impoverished mass of farmers, the Indians.

Plenty is at stake for both sides, especially as their reputation is on the line. The British, led by Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne), attempt to establish their supremacy as rulers and inventors of the gentleman's game but the villagers, led by a spirited Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), have everything to gain since Russell promises that the 'lagaan' or the land tax paid by local farmers will be cancelled for two years if they beat the British in a cricket match.

The film also touches on a number of other themes. Till the very end, one is not sure about the fate of Bhuvan's love life and whether he'll side with Elizabeth (Rachel Shelly), Russell's sister, who surprisingly falls in love with a defiant villager or Gauri (Gracy Singh), his childhood sweetheart.

Highlighting the caste distinctions prevalent in the Indian society, the team Bhuvan assembles is composed of a Muslim and an untouchable, thereby overcoming the social stigma attached with outcasts. The section involving Kachra (Aditya Lakhia), the untouchable, who is slightly handicapped as far his right hand is concerned, yet bamboozles everyone with his spin, is particularly interesting.

The icing on the cake is the climatic and nail-biting cricketing match. While the run-time is close to four hours, you're never short of action. It is a compelling watch for the number of themes it throws at you and the fact that it does so in a typical Bollywood-ish, larger than life manner.

Chennai 600028 (Directed by Venkat Prabhu)

Not much was expected when Chennai 600028 was getting ready to hit the theatres in 2007. The film was helmed by a first-time director, the cast was unknown and it was about street cricket. By the time the Tamil film completed its theatrical run, it became a sleeper hit, the director received plenty of plaudits and the actors earned their fame. All were well deserved.

The title Chennai 600028 comes from the pincode of Mandaveli, a suburb of Chennai and it tells the story of street cricket in the city, focussing on rivalries between two teams and everything in between. There's cricket but there's also love, friendship, betrayal and also a good dose of comedy. The film works mostly because of the realistic portrayal of life in the city, credit should go to the actors for doing a fabulous job and also thanks to the script hitting all the right emotional notes. It's a proper entertainer. It serves as a good example of why a film should be made in a way where it achieves its main objective – to entertain the audience wholeheartedly. Also, the climax of the film is not something you would've expected and therein lies the magic of this movie.

Iqbal (Directed by Nagesh Kukunoor)

Cricket is India's most popular sport and no wonder it is used as so many times as backdrop to tell stories on celluloid. Iqbal, released in 2005, is another film to use cricket to tell a coming-of-age story about a deaf and mute boy who dreams of playing for the national team. It's a standard story trope of an underdog conquering all the odds to pull off an impossible dream but at the same time, it's also not a standard run-of-the-mill sports drama. This film has its heart in the right place thanks mainly to a brilliant script and actors playing their parts to perfection.

Iqbal, portrayed by Shreyas Talpade in his debut Bollywood feature, aspires to become a fast bowler, but he's discouraged by his father. He thinks his son's dream is unrealistic so it's better for Iqbal to become a farmer, just like his father. But Iqbal finds support from his sister, mother and a drunk ex-cricketer (an excellent Naseeruddin Shah) who help him in his cause. The makers wanted to inspire the audience and by the end of its 132-minute run time, the film certainly does achieve its goal.

Race (Directed by Stephen Hopkins)

The 2016 Stephen Hopkins film Race draws a cinematic portrait of one of the greatest athletes the world witnessed in action - Jesse Owens. Owens was an American track and field athlete and his legend is famous for the four gold medals he clinched at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The film tracks Owens' journey from his beginnings to the Berlin Games, where he did not only defeat his competitions at four different track and field events, but destroyed Adolf Hitler's ego as well. Hitler believed that nobody had the talent and guts to take on the Aryan supremacy. With four-gold medals clinched, Owens did not only make history at the Olympics, but went on to make a strong political statement in the Nazi Germany, where racism was at its peak.

The film also reveals his self-doubts, while he considers participation in the Games due to the pressure imposed on him by a coloured people community in America, his overcoming of the mental challenges and his will to look beyond the peripheries of hate politics.

Race is an apt title for the film, for its undercurrent deals with a social evil, while on the top, the film is about a sporting journey of a sprinter and long jumper. Owens was not just an athlete who had the talent to run races and win. He was a coloured man in the United States and his challenges were different and more, and he came out on top every time, which made him one of the greatest athletes of all time.

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