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Olympics on Screen: the Best Movies Inspired by the Games

Olympic Movies
Foxcatcher (2014) tells the story of two wrestlers’ preparation for the Olympics. Credit: Global Panorama, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Olympics have long fascinated audiences and Hollywood producers alike, and many critically acclaimed movies about the games have been produced over the years.

Competitive spirit, athleticism, and iconic Olympic athletes have all been depicted and explored on the silver screen. Here are some of the best movies inspired by the Olympics that should be on the list for your next movie night.

The best movies inspired by the Olympics

I, Tonya (2017)

“I, Tonya,” starring Australian actress Margot Robbie, depicted the controversial Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. Robbie’s performance and physical likeness to Harding was highly praised, but the movie itself proved as divisive as its subject matter, with many coming to Harding’s defense and denying her culpability in the scandal with fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan.

However, the movie does attempt to show a lot of Harding when she is at her best: on the ice. The scenes which portray the young figure skater working tirelessly to land a triple axel and succeed at the Olympics are some of the strongest in the film.

Munich (2005) 

Steven Spielberg’s film “Munich” recounts the most tragic event in the Olympics’ history: the kidnapping and subsequent murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group, was found to be culpable for the massacre. This gripping story, which follows a Mossad agent assigned to retaliate against the Palestinians, develops into a rich, contemplative drama as the agent begins to reflect on the desire for revenge and the seemingly endless course violence takes.

Foxcatcher (2014)

“Foxcatcher” tells the unbelievable but true story of eccentric millionaire John du Pont’s quest to transform brothers Mark and Dave Schultz into Olympic wrestling champions. Steve Carell is unrecognizable as du Pont, a businessman whose desire to use athletes as a surrogate for glory spirals into deeply unhealthy territory. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo star alongside him as Mark and Dave, two brothers who think they can use du Pont as a springboard for their gold medal aspirations at the 1988 Olympics. What transpires is dark and unforgettable — you’ll just have to watch it for yourself.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

“Chariots of Fire,” the winner of the Best Picture Award in the 1981 Academy Awards, poetically depicts British athletes Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, real-life runners at the 1924 Olympic Games. Liddell was a Scottish Presbyterian and Abrahams an English Jew. The film shows how the two came together despite their religious differences, each motivated by their faith for different reasons, but ultimately sharing the same passion for athleticism and competition. The film draws its title from a line from a William Blake poem that reads “Bring me my chariots of fire.” The line was adapted from a biblical description in the Book of Kings alluding to “chariots of fire.” One of the most feel-good stories of all time.

Olympia (1938)

This classic documentary transcends its troubling political context. Made by Leni Reifenstahl and commissioned in Nazi Germany, the film documents the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin, Germany. The film’s troubling origins are overshadowed by its documentation of the iconic African-American athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the Games. Time magazine listed “Olympia” as one of its 100 greatest films of all time, a testament to the film’s ability to capture legendary moments for posterity.

Cool Runnings (1993)

This 1993 comedy is one of the most famous Olympics movies ever made. The movie takes its premise from the actual Jamaican national bobsled team’s unlikely appearance at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. A disgruntled Jamaican sprinter reaches the end of his rope when he fails to qualify for the men’s 100 meters at the Summer Olympics and decides on a whim to attempt to compete at the Winter Olympics by assembling a bobsled team. Another great feel-good movie for this Summer.

Miracle (2004)

“Miracle” shows how the American men’s hockey team overcame huge odds to beat the heavily favored Soviet team, leading the media to call the match the “Miracle on Ice.” The film is a highly accurate dramatization of the events of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. “Miracle” cements coach Herb Brooks’ legacy in ice hockey — Brooks, played by Kurt Russell, is a veteran player turned coach who is determined from the outset of his tenure with the hockey team to defeat the Soviets. The movie follows his journey with the team as they prove skeptics wrong at every stage of the battle and end up winning one of the greatest athletic competitions of all time.

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