The First Olympics: Athens 1896, one of my very favorite sports movies ever, is a made-for-TV miniseries about the first modern-day Olympics. We take the Olympics as a given now, but there were 1500 years between the time of the ancient games and the establishment of the modern Olympics with countries from all over the world putting aside their political differences for athletic competition in the spirit of good sportsmanship and teamwork. Showing the origins of everything from the starting position for sprinters to the impulsive selection of the Star Spangled Banner as the U.S. national anthem, the story is filled with drama, wit, and unforgettable characters, sumptuously filmed and beautifully performed by a sensational cast that includes then-unknown David Caruso of “CSI,” one-time Bond Girl Honor Blackman, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, and Louis Jourdan. It was a Writer’s Guild and Casting Society award winner when it was first released. Though the events are summer games, it is a great introduction to the Olympics, a thrilling and inspiring story, and outstanding family entertainment.
The Cutting Edge A spoiled figure skater (named Kate as in “Taming of the Shrew”) and a working class hockey player team up in this romantic comedy on skates starring Moira Kelly and D.B. Sweeney. This was the first screenplay by “Michael Clayton’s” Tony Gilroy.
Miracle Sportscaster Al Michaels unforgettably called out “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” as the 1980 US Olympic hockey team beat the Russians. They then went on to win the gold medal. And so the team, the last group of amateurs sent by the US to play ice hockey, has been known ever after as the “Miracle on Ice.” Kurt Russell plays coach Herb Brooks and this movie shows us that the real story is better than a miracle because it is about a team that succeeded through heart and hard work and commitment. If it is a miracle, it is in the “God helps those who help themselves” category. Be sure to watch the documentary, “Do You Believe in Miracles?” as well.
Ice Castles A young figure skater on the brink of becoming a champion loses her sight in an accident and has to start all over. Melissa Manchester sings the hit theme song, “Through the Eyes of Love.”
Cool Runnings One of the biggest long shots in history was the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 winter Olympics. Yes, Jamaica is a tropical country and no, Jamaica does not have any snow. But a fast start is important in bobsledding and it does have sprinters. The actual footage of the real team’s crash is featured in the film. And while a lot of it is fictional, the grace and panache of the team is based on the real story. And they will be back for the 2010 games.
Downhill Racer Robert Redford plays an arrogant skiier who clashes with his coach (Gene Hackman) in this film, which captures the focus of the athletes and the exhilaration of the sport, filmed on location in the Alps.
Sonja Henie: Queen Of The Ice and It’s a Pleasure Real-life gold medalist Sonja Henie went on to become the highest-paid performer (we won’t say “actress”) in Hollywood for her very successful series of skating films. No one paid any attention to the plots even then, but the skating scenes hold up well and the documentary about her life as an athlete and performer is worth seeing.