From ‘Ali’ to ‘Seabiscuit’: Greatest movie depictions of real-life underdog victories
Many of us have used the opportunity of quarantine to turn back to some old cinema favorites, and there is nothing more heartwarming or uplifting than a good underdog sports movie. If you have been spending your time in quarantine doing baking, learning a new language, or enjoying the benefits of a Golden Nugget online promo code, now is the time to switch gears and sit down for a quality underdog victory film.
You may not know this, but many of the best underdog sports films were based on real-life events. These athletic legends smashed through expectations and plowed through the hurdles and challenges in their way to triumph. Below are just a few of the many sports films that are based on the trials, tribulations, and victories of real-life athletes and sports teams.
Often considered one of Martin Scorsese’s best films, Raging Bull is a masterpiece of the genre. The film follows the highs and lows of its pugnacious protagonist, Jake LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro in one of his best performances. LaMotta, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 95, was a vicious, tough boxer who was nicknamed “The Bronx Bull” or “Raging Bull” because of his savage beatings of opponents in the ring.
Although the film depicts his rise to fame, glory, and victory, it also shows the darker side of the story as LaMotta beats his wife, brother, and anyone else who just happens to trigger his vicious temper. Although parts of the film may be difficult to watch, this is one film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
For those who watched the 2006 film Seabiscuit, it was hard to believe the story was true. Seabiscuit was a champion thoroughbred racehorse who beat the odds, smashed records and was voted the American Horse of the Year in 1938. Seabiscuit was smaller than his fellow racehorses and experienced an unlucky start to his racing career, winning just a fourth of his first 40 races. For Americans suffering immense poverty during the Great Depression, Seabiscuit’s rise to prominence against the odds became an inspirational touchstone.
The 2006 film Seabiscuit tracks the unlikely success of the unlucky horse and his eventual rise to victory with his talented jockey George Woolf and trainer Tom Smith.
Chariots of Fire
Even if you have never watched the 1981 classic Chariots of Fire, you will have heard the music. This film’s epic, main theme by Vangelis, has become synonymous with overcoming obstacles and attaining victory. The film follows two track stars Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, as they compete in the 1924 Olympics. Abrahams is running to fight back against Anti-Semitism, and Liddell is running to honor his Christian faith and glorify his god.
The two main characters in the film are based on real people who did compete in the 1924 Olympics and whose religious beliefs and differences affected their performances at the Olympics.
Michael Mann’s 2001 film Ali certainly competes with movies like Raging Bull and Cinderella Man as one of the best boxing movies ever made. This sports biopic follows the life of the legendary Muhammed Ali. It begins with the boxer’s humbler beginnings as Cassius Clay. It then follows him through his career ups and downs, his conversion to Islam, his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, and his other controversial actions and activism.
Will Smith delivers a winning performance as the famed boxer and leads a star-studded cast of actors including Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Mario Van Peebles.
Remember the Titans
While we all “Remember the Titans”, we might not remember the real story behind the film. This 2000 film following a high school football team’s unlikely path to glory became an instant hit for its incredible performances and a riveting plot.
Denzel Washington depicts the real-life high school coach Herman Boone who worked to integrate the T.C. Williams High School football team. While the film may be riddled with clichés of the genre, Denzel Washington’s masterful performance alone carries the film.
These are just a handful of the many sports films that were inspired by the unlikely victories of athletic underdogs. If these films have piqued your interest, there are many more to add to your list like Moneyball, Cobb, Friday Night Lights, Without Limits, Eight Men Out, Brian’s Song, Cinderella Man, and Rudy.