Best Olympic films

During this challenging time in world history, one of the biggest challenges is for sporting fans around the world is the lack of sporting events. Everything has been put on hold, except horse racing and auto racing. 

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that the 2020 Tokyo Games were to be moved to 2021, you could hear fans growning around the world. 

More than any other sporting event, the Olympics provide an opportunity for people to care about sports they do not regularly follow during the year. Audiences watch events like javelin, rowing, equestrian and speed-walking because they want to cheer on their fellow countrymen and countrywomen. 

Even though the international sporting event garners viewers from all over the world, it is fascinating to think there are few films about the events. The Reel Dialogue team has tried to find the best of the Olympic films on offer. The necessity is to include both Summer and Winter Olympic films, because of the sparse choices.

These films are not in any particular order of value, especially since they represent different genres and levels of production quality. Also, some do contain more mature content which should be taken into consideration before viewing the film. *

Here is our top 10 list of the best Olympic films: 

1. Chariots of Fire (1981)

It’s the post-WWI era. Britons Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell are both naturally gifted fast sprinters, but approach running and how it fits into their respective lives differently. The son of a Lithuanian-Jew, Harold, who lives a somewhat privileged life as a student at Cambridge, uses being the fastest to overcome what he sees as the obstacles he faces in life as a Jew despite that privilege. His running prowess does earn him the respect of his classmates, especially his running teammates, and to some extent the school administration, if only he maintains what they consider proper gentlemanly decorum, which isn’t always the case in their minds. Born in China the son of Christian missionaries, Eric, a Scot, is a devout member of the Church of Scotland who eventually wants to return to that missionary work. He sees running as a win-win in that the notoriety of being fast gives him.

PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS LARGE/WALT DISNEY PICTURES

2. Miracle (2004)

The inspiring story of the team that transcended its sport and united a nation with a new feeling of hope. Based on the true story of one of the greatest moments in sports history, the tale captures a time and place where differences could be settled by games and a cold war could be put on ice. In 1980, the United States Ice Hockey team’s coach, Herb Brooks, took a ragtag squad of college kids up against the legendary juggernaut from the Soviet Union at the Olympic Games. Despite the long odds, Team USA carried the pride of a nation yearning from a distraction from world events. With the world watching the team rose to the occasion, prompting broadcaster Al Michaels’ now famous question, to the millions viewing at home: Do you believe in miracles? This is one of Kurt Russell’s best performances. 

3. Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Inspired by true events, Eddie the Eagle is a feel-good story about Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton), an unlikely but courageous British ski-jumper who never stopped believing in himself – even as an entire nation was counting him out. With the help of a rebellious and charismatic coach (played by Hugh Jackman), Eddie takes on the establishment and wins the hearts of sports fans around the world by making an improbable and historic showing at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Even though most of this film is fictionalised history, it is an inspiring story. 

4. Unbroken (2014)

The life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who joined the armed forces during the second world war. Only to be captured by the Japanese navy after a plane crash in the Pacific. During his capture, Louie must continue his fight by surviving through the war. Good movie, but great book and fantastic life story. 

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5. Cool Runnings (1993)

Irving Blitzer disgraced himself when putting extra weights into his team’s bob in the Olympics, resulting in his gold medal being taken away from him. Years later, Derice Bannock, son of a former friend of Irv, fails to qualify for the 100-yard sprint for the Olympics due to a stupid accident. But when he hears of Irving Blitzer living also on Jamaica, Derice decides to go to the Games anyway, if not as a sprinter, then as a bobsledder. After some starting problems, the first Jamaican bobsledding team is formed and heads for Calgary. One of the funniest and endearing choices on the list. 

6. I, Tonya (2017)

From the proverbial wrong side of the tracks in Portland, Oregon, former competitive figure skater Tonya Harding has never fully accepted in the figure skating community for not inherently being the image of grace, breeding and privilege that the community wanted to portray, despite she is naturally gifted in the sport athletically. Despite ultimately garnering some success in figure skating being national champion, a world championship medalist, an Olympian, and being the first American woman to complete a Triple Axel in competition, she is arguably best known for her association to “the incident”: the leg bashing on January 6, 1994 of her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, who, unlike Tonya, was everything that the figure skating community wanted in their representatives. Her association to that incident led to Tonya being banned from competitive figure skating for life.

7-8. Prefontaine (1997) / Without Limits (1998)

Two films released a year apart, which document the tragic real-life tale of American long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine: the former, starring Jared Leto as the eponymous hero, tells the story from the point of view of his assistant coach, Bill Dellinger and his girlfriend Nancy Alleman; whereas the latter see things from the viewpoint of his University coach, Bill Bowerman. Both brilliantly showcase the tale of a talented but headstrong athlete, who dies just as he was about to reach his sporting peak. In the world of running, no one is quite as captivating as the short, but the captivating legacy of Steve Prefontaine. 

9. Blades of Glory (2007)

When the rivalry between the world’s best men’s figure skaters – sex addicted, improvisational Chazz Michael Michaels and germophobic, precise Jimmy MacElroy – breaks into a fight on the awards platform, they’re banned from the event for life. Three years later, desire for a gold medal and a careful reading of the rules lead them to compete as skating’s first male-male pair. Can they overcome mutual dislike, limited time to prepare, their coach’s secret past, and the dirty tricks of their main opponents, the Van Waldenberg siblings? Exceptionally ridiculous, but too much fun not to add to the list.

10. Race (2016)

In the 1930s, Jesse Owens is a young man who is the first in his family to go to college. Going to Ohio State to train under its track and field coach, Larry Snyder, the young African American athlete quickly impresses with his tremendous potential that suggests Olympic material. However, as Owens struggles both with the obligations of his life and the virulent racism against him, the question of whether America would compete at all at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany is being debated vigorously.

Additional considerations – 

Running Brave (1983)

The story of Billy Mills, the American Indian that came from obscurity, to win the 10,000-meter long distance foot race in the Tokyo Olympics.

Munich (2005)

After Black September’s assassination of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Prime Minister Golda Meir okays a black-box operation to hunt down and kill all involved. A team of five gathers in Switzerland led by Avner, a low-level Mossad techie whose father was a war hero and whose wife is pregnant. It’s an expendable team, but relying on paid informants, they track and kill several in Europe and Lebanon. They must constantly look over their shoulders for the CIA, KGB, PLO, and their own sources. 

Arguably, this is not a film about the Olympics as much as it a historical drama that has the Olympics as the background. Still an excellent film and worth considering. 

Richard Jewell (2019)

Our world is inundated with news on terrorism and acts against humanity every minute on social media. To be reminded of a bombing that occurred in 1996 might be a stretch for some of us. For others, this event at the Atlanta Olympics may still be fresh in our memories. What might be less memorable was the media firestorm that occurred after the devastating act of terror. How the security guard who discovered the bomb went from a hero to a suspect in a matter of days and the events that made Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) into an unwilling media star. 

Does this list deserve a gold medal or merely a participation award?   

Since you cannot see the Olympics this year, here are some great options for your consideration to fill the time.

Thank you to IMDb for the commentary for the films.*