Ranveer Singh’s 83 is in the theatres. So, if you are planning on watching that, good for you. But in case you are in the mood for good sports biopics that don’t involve poor caricatures of real people, you can just scroll down.
1. Ford Vs Ferrari
Carroll Shelby, an automotive designer, and Ken Miles, a race car driver, come together to build a new vehicle that could compete against Ferrari’s might. Both Matt Damon and Christian Bale are brilliant in the film but it’s Bale’s Ken Miles that stays with you. It is a grounded portrayal of a man who was rough around the edges but just loved making great cars and then racing them.
From those tired of Bollywood copy-pasting Wikipedia pages for biopics, Dangal was a breath of fresh air. The characters of the film were relatively unknown people at the time of the film, which allowed the filmmakers to humanise the characters as they were, flawed individuals just really trying their best to make it in a sport generally reserved for men in our society. What resulted was the culmination of good drama, humour, action and some amazing music, making it arguably the best sports biopic to have come out of the Hindi film industry.
Starring the late Chadwick Boseman, 42 is the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player to feature in major league baseball. Robinson faces racism from the stands, from the opponents, and even within his locker room at first, but eventually overcomes them to become one of the best in the sport. It’s a banger of a film that makes you laugh at times, cry at others but it’s one of those movies that you just never forget.
This Brad Pitt film is a lot more about maths and the men doing them. It’s a sports movie, yes. But don’t walk in thinking about 2 hours of adrenaline-rushing action. Instead, it is slow and challenging, especially if you don’t understand baseball. That said, it’s the ultimate underdog story that grips you tight and just doesn’t let you go. You will find yourself Googling terms and phrases during the film and you will make an effort to understand the sport. It’s that engaging.
5. The Greatest Game Ever Played
This 2005 American biographical sports film is based on the early life of amateur golf champion Francis Ouimet. Ouimet was a working-class immigrant who fell in love with the sport but soon realises that golf is not for the poor with the many class boundaries at play. But he perseveres…
6. Coach Carter
The film is based on the true story of Richmond High School basketball coach Ken Carter who made headlines in 1999 for suspending his undefeated high school basketball team due to poor academic results. But this is not just a film about basketball or suspending students. This Samuel L. Jackson film talks about racism in the USA and how it continues to affect the lives of the people of colour in the country, people who can’t afford private schools and sooner or later end up on the streets because there’s normally no one to show them the way.
There was a point in time where the Russian team were the invincibles in the world of Ice Hockey. It revolves around Herb Brooks, a player-turned-coach who leads the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team to victory over Russia. Of course, being an American film with Russia in the theme, Miracle couldn’t be separated from the ultimate American Dream charade but it is a good movie regardless.
8. Paan Singh Tomar
Quite possibly the only critically acclaimed Indian sports biopic, Paan Singh Tomar is about an Indian athlete who has to turn into a dacoit to protect his family as the government abandons him to suffer at the hands of local cops and goons alike. The film takes you on a journey of how athletes that are not cricketers or come from privileged classes are actually treated by society.
9. Remember The Titans
Based on the true story of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, Remember The Titans stars Denzel Washington as coach Herman Boones, an African American man in charge of one of the first racially integrated teams in the USA. It’s dark but hopeful and allows its characters enough space to tell a good story while getting the point across. Note, there will be events in the film that will end up breaking your freaking heart.
Following the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, President Nelson Mandela tries to unite his people by endorsing the Rugby team in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. This is at a time when racial tensions were still high in SA but the social structure of the country was fundamentally about to change. It’s a sensitive, other than Matt Damon’s accent, of course, well-rounded story that successfully manoeuvres its way through a very sensitive topic.
Look, you can still go watch 83 if you haven’t seen all the million and a half interviews, conclave panels, book launches etc where members of the 1983 World Cup-winning team share stories about the tournament. If you have seen these interviews, your time will be better spent picking any one of these films instead.