My Favorite Sports Movies; 6 Through 10; Tomorrow 1 through 5

by Fred Pahlke | Posted on Sunday, June 14th, 2015


Rush_UK_posterBy Fred Pahlke

The number of great sports movies is numerous, representing most every sport that matters. To make a “Best” list one can go many different ways. I will give you my Top Ten “Best” with only one criteria in mind, that being would I want to watch the movie over and over and never tire of it. The list will not be the one others will agree upon. We all have our own opinions and that in it self that is what makes lists interesting. I would never try to come across as all knowing. Sure, “Raging Bull” might be the best critically acclaimed movie of the 1990’s and Martin Scorsese one of the two or three greatest directors of our time, but after watching this masterpiece a few times, I might or might not have an interest to view the film for the foreseeable future. Yet, a movie on my list might be from an inferior director with inferior production values but put it in front of me and I will view it until the end credits…..every time. My list is not to convince anyone to like these movies, jus to give you my personal tastes in sports films. Please post your lists if you would like to participate in the comment sections. These are my personal favorites as I repeat myself. I would like to know your favorites. (there will be 3 articles of 5 films in this series, this being the second one)

10. RUSH (Universal-2013)
9. Grand Prix ((Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer-1966)
During my teens and early adulthood I followed the Gran Prix Formula One racing scene as the best race car drivers in the world raced on that circuit. I was a Jim Clark fan and I thought he was the best driver during his time. A Formula 1 champion, Clark ws also an Indy 500 winner and his death was significant in that the world had lost another great driver of a time much different than today.

In the movie RUSH, set in 1976, Clark had been dead from a crash for over seven years, a stretch of time that I could tell you who won which race, where the races in Formula 1 were staged, and who had the best and fastest cars. As mentioned in Ron Howard’s RUSH (2013), at the beginning race of the 1976 season, of the 25 drivers to start that first race, two would be killed by the end of season. That was normal for F 1. Driving a F 1 car was as dangerous a job you could have, ranking up there with being an astronaut. Like riding on a bomb waiting to exploded as referred to in the movie, it took a special man to guide the bomb down the track, turn after turn, all in accordance with a precise skill of hand, eye, and foot coordination. Jim Clark was just one of the great drivers not to live to an old age, and like the others that raced in Formula 1, the thought of death was always present, like being a soldier in a war that was asked to lead the charge.

John Frankenheimer directed Grand Prix (MGM 1966) and it was, at the time, the most exciting movie I had ever viewed.
Attending a screening here in OKC, the wide screen production was an event of historical significance worldwide.

In a future viewing forty-five years later from that first look, Grand Prix presents itself as a fully encapsulated microcosmic look of the time and period of 1965 Formula 1 racing spectacle and pageantry. With appearances of many of the F 1 drivers of the era, along with real race footage interwoven with make believe shots, Grand Prix holds the test of time, providing a film still fresh and beautiful as the day it opened in the theaters almost a half a century ago. Not as personal a movie as RUSH, the epic Grand Prix is still the greatest film on auto racing ever made, and also the most visually handsome of any. It puts you in the seat of an F 1 car and never relents in the spine tingling exhilaration of power of the experience mixing with the terror of a sudden catastrophe. RUSH, on the other had, gets into the soul of two men in their pursuit of greatness in F 1 and their drive to better the other. The better acted movie, RUSH gives its’ two protagonists enough differences to try to make you pick one over the other, yet allowing both to have good and not go good attributes in the way they live their lives. Ron Howard is as fine a director as Frankenheimer, but RUSH lacks in the racing scenes where Grand Prix excels. Real footage always, well usually, bests make believe, and in this comparison, RUSH comes in second place. One significant difference that gives RUSH a positive advantage over Grand Prix is the finality of the accident. Not that the accidents shown in RUSH are better shot or more exciting, the gory frames that you are required to view are horrific in nature, realistic to the point of nausea. A driver’s body, minus his head, sitting in a wrecked F 1 race car; a driver burning in race car while trying to free himself; and another driver being loaded into a meat wagon with injuries that you really don’t want to look at. I will give Ron Howard credit that he didn’t prolong the savagery, cutting away in enough time to allow the viewer get away from such nastiness, but leaving a lot to ponder in the future.

I liked RUSH very much. A movie I will see again, many times, to enjoy the acting skills of the various “faces” of the beautiful people, including Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda, Olivia Wilde as Suzy Miller and Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene Lauda. Director Howard tries to get us into the head of the Hunt and Lauda, how they tick, how they as race car drivers, take the sport as individuals who were on different time clocks. Fascinating work by Howard and outstanding performances by Hemsworth and Bruhl. As for Garner and the rest of the cast of Grand Prix, routine and workmanlike performances, yet putting those actors into real race cars and having them in truth, drive the F 1 race tracks, you cannot take away from their bravery.

The race car genre in movies is littered with some good, some not so good, and some really bad. In my book, there is noting worse than a bad race car movie. Both Grand Prix and RUSH are outstanding movies. Two movies on the same track ten years apart, but in reality, not one second apart in taking the checked flag.


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Grand Prix


8.  Slap Shot (Universal-1977)  The funniest movie of any genre I think I have ever viewed.  I remember sitting in the North Park multi-plex in Okla. City  in 1977 on it’s opening and hurting my hand as I hit the theater wall as I fell out laughing so hard.  Paul Newman and cast were marvelous, the Hansen brothers were the best trio ever in a comedy, the music pure 1970’s, and the hockey was ever so freaking un-realistic yet spot on.  Never a dull moment, the strip-tease on ice is totally over the top.





7.  Hoosiers (Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer-1986)  Atmosphere of small town basketball circa 1951, Indiana, State Championship.  Roger Dale (Gene Hackman) magnificent in his ” other character” role of his life, completes the best basketball movie ever.  Barbara Hersey as his fellow teacher at the small high school that oozes believability.  If you want Dennis Hopper as a drunk, a loveable one, the best assistant coach in movie history.  The on-court action was never done better and you can forget the other hard court movies.  Hoosiers is not only one of the finest films on sport but one of the finest films on the human condition.



© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Dennis Hopper and Gene Hackman in Hoosiers-no photo credit




6.  Without Limits (Warner Brothers-1998)  Their are two Steve Prefontaine movies.  Prefontaine (1977) and Without Limits a  year later.  Of the two, I think the second one is better for a couple of reasons, named Sutherland and Crudup.   And that is not a knock against R. Lee Emery and Jared Leto.   The movies are about two people, the runner and the coach.  The interaction between Donald and Billy were outstanding, giving Without Limits the edge.  The last minutes of the Robert Towne (Chinatown) screenplay in Without Limits is priceless and gives Donald Sutherland the words to give his tear jerking performance the best in his career. Those last minutes deserved an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  Holding the fastest time in the 2 mile in high school history for 43 years (set in 1968 by Pre and broken in 2011),  he was on track to be an Olympic champion and quite possibility the greatest long distance runner in the history of track.   Death in a car accident in 1975, the man is a legend. He would be 64 today if living.  Both movies on his life are must see films.



Billy Crudup as Steve Prefontaine in Without Limits-no photo credit

 The final 5 will be listed on Monday.  Comments are welcome.


About the Author

Oklahoma native has viewed over 10,000 sporting events in his 61 years. A season ticket holder of the Oklahoma City Thunder and expert in both professional and college basketball and football. A graduate of Oklahoma City University. Elementary School Principal in the Oklahoma City Public Schools for 31 years.

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