The Tokyo games are in full swing and if you want more action, or to deepen your knowledge we’ve got 10 iconic Summer Olympic movies. Featuring some of the greatest – fictional and non-fictional – Olympians to have ever taken part and with compelling stories our list should certainly go the distance. So on your marks… set…
Tokyo Olympiad (1966)
A vivid portrait of the last time Tokyo held the Summer Olympics in 1964. This wonderful documentary not only captures the excitement of the competitive events, but also leads us into the stories behind the workers putting the whole spectacle together. One really interesting story within this follows the fortunes of runner Ahamed Isa from Chad. Who incredibly was representing a country younger than he was.
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Chariots of Fire (1981)
Da da da dah dahh dahhh… of course, you know the theme tune, from Vangelis’ iconic soundtrack. You can’t leave this one out from a list of Olympic movies. The film follows two determined young British runners Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), as they overcome class snobbery and anti-semitism to go for glory at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
Director: Hugh Hudson
When rich wrestling sponsor John du Pont (Steve Carrell) invites Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to his estate to form a wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics, Mark spots an opportunity to surpass his more charismatic brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). But when du Pont increasingly starts to favour Dave, the brothers are set on a collision course. Based on a true story and with Steve Carrell excelling in a role you wouldn’t normally expect to see him in, this is a must watch.
Director: Bennett Miller
Personal Best (1982)
Considered to be way ahead of its time in terms of representing the LGBTQ+ community, the film follows young athlete Chris Cahill (Mariel Hemingway) as she struggles to reach her potential as a sprinter. When she falls for fellow athlete Tory Skinner (Patrice Donnelly), their love becomes complicated as they compete for a place on the Olympic team.
Director: Robert Towne
Without Limits (1998)
Based on the real-life story of long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine (played by Billy Crudup). Without Limits tracks his humble beginnings as an unlikely track star at the University of Oregon. Despite clashing with his coach Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland) over his unorthodox running style, their strengthening bond helps carry him all the way to the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Director: Robert Towne
Jesse Owens (played by Stephen James) was already a track and field sensation at Ohio University in the early 1930s. He knows he’s the fastest runner alive. With guidance from his coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), and battling against racism at home and abroad, he’s ready to show the world his talents at the infamous 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Top Spin (2014)
This exhilarating documentary film shows that yes, ping pong can be thrilling when you’re watching incredible players. It follows three super-talented teenage table tennis players: Ariel Hsing, Michael Landers and Lily Zhang, as they prepare to compete in Olympic trials. It’s one of the best sports documentaries ever made, so, er, give it a spin.
Directors: Mina T. Son, Sara Newens
One Day in September (1999)
Awarded an Oscar for Best Documentary, this gripping film recounts the terrifying and tragic events surrounding the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Where an extremist Palestinian group named Black September held eleven Israeli athletes hostage in the Olympic village, while the world watched on, captivated and horrified by the unfolding events.
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Not quite in the sports movie genre(!), Munich dramatises the aftermath of the terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympic Games. Starring Eric Bana as Israeli government operative Avner Kaufman, who’s tasked to carry out a series of retaliations for the atrocity. With the help of a driver (Daniel Craig), a forger (Mathieu Kassovitz) and a former soldier (Ciarán Hinds), the team sets about targeting 11 individuals around the world for assassination…
Director: Steven Spielberg
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013)
Based on the legendary real story of ‘the Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh (Farhan Akhtar). This docu-drama follows one of India’s most famous athletes as he overcomes a series of agonising disappointments and obstacles. Will he realise his dream of competing and winning in the 400m at the 1960 Olympics?
Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Hopefully, this has got you limbering up to watch some great films about the Olympics (or even think about re-watching some of them). Agree? Disagree? Which films would you recommend? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a comment on our socials.