All sorts of movies attempt to provide some sort of emotional uplift, but one sub-genre especially associated with the sensation is the sports movie.
Offering both literal and emotional uplift, Eddie The Eagle is a fine addition to this tradition. To mark its New Zealand release this week, we shall cite here the five most uplifting sports movies ever, encompassing both fictional and non-fictional tales.
To prevent this list from being entirely comprised of films starring Stallone, Van Damme and Macchio, I am excluding movies featuring boxing or martial arts. And arm-wrestling. And quidditch. And golden retrievers.
5. The Bad News Bears (1976)
This cult classic about a scrappy Little League baseball team coached by a curmudgeonly drunk played to perfection by Walter Matthau is a great example of how sports films don't need to climax with a win to be uplifting. The elation at the end of The Bad News Bears comes not from our heroes taking the other team out with a superior performance, but from our heroes gaining some degree of self-worth from how hard they tried.
And by hurling a bunch of great trash talk at the victors. The 2005 Richard Linklater remake is not without merit, but lacks the teeth of the original.
4. Cool Runnings (1993)
Aside from the fact that Eddie The Eagle can't help but bring it to mind, Cool Runnings doesn't seem to have much of a presence in the popular culture these days. For filmgoers of a certain age, however, it stands out as one of the great feel-good movies of all time. The Disney film tells the very Disney-ish true story of Jamaica's first Olympic bobsled team. It's cheesy and predictable, but hella uplifting. And another great example of victory not necessarily equating to uplift in sports films. Also: John Candy.
3. Field of Dreams (1989)
The beauty of this Kevin Costner classic is that you don't need to have grown up with baseball to relate to the mythic qualities of the game that the film taps into. The universality of backyard sports (and father issues) forces the audience to invest in the fantastical elements of the story, which really shouldn't work as well as they do. The resulting uplift is borderline spiritual.
2. Miracle (2004)
Another true story tailor-made for the Disney treatment, this old-fashioned underdog tale dramatises the story of how the US overcame insane odds to challenge the historically dominant Soviet ice hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Former Disney child/teen star Kurt Russell - whose son, Wyatt (Everybody Wants Some) pursued an ice hockey career for some time - is at his most Atticus Finch-like (even more so than he was in Vanilla Sky) as Herb Brooks, the stern-but-fair coach who corralled a ragtag bunch of amateur hockey players into a competitive force. Miracle is something of a slow burner, but the straightforward treatment works for the story which doesn't need to lean on the Cold War thread for its power. This is about a team, first and foremost. The climax is delivered as a meal well-earned, and overflowing with uplift. Also features the best cinematic locker room speech ever.
1. Escape To Victory, aka Victory! (1981)
Yet still, one Stallone title sneaks in. He stars alongside Michael Caine and football icon Pelé (amongst an assortment of other real-life players) in this rainy Sunday afternoon classic. Caine plays a West Ham star in a German prison camp during World War II who agrees to lead a team of POWs in a demonstration match against a team of German soldiers.
The plan is to escape through a tunnel in the changing rooms at half-time, but with the Nazis leading 4-1, the Allies decide instead to head back out on to the pitch to try and finish the job, bless 'em. Essentially a mash-up of The Great Escape and England's collective World Cup fantasies, the ridiculously effective film still packs a powerful, eye-moistening punch. A youthful Stallone is pretty great in the Steve McQueen role ("This friggin' soccer game!"), and Caine fires on all cylinders ("Up yours!"). There was never a more perfect film to watch with your dad.
What are your favourite uplifting sports movies? Would it be possible to make one about rugby? Comment below!