As the Olympics wind down and you discover that other television programming still exists, you may need to be weaned off your sports-competition addiction. Slowly.
If that’s the case, there are lots of movies about various Olympic Games that may help you wind down as you get ready for the new fall TV schedule — you know, when “Castle” and “NCIS” and “Downton Abbey” return, and yet another Sherlock Holmes series begins.
You are no doubt aware of “Chariots of Fire,” the 1981 Oscar winner about two 1924 Olympic runners, and “Miracle” (2004), the retelling of the underdog U.S. hockey team going up against the favored Soviets in the 1980 Winter Games.
Both true stories are among the very best, most rousing sports movies ever made — and if you haven’t seen them, by all means put them at the top of your list. If we were giving out medals here, they’d both get the gold.
But there are many others, so here are a few you may or may not know about, all worthy of gold, silver or bronze, and all available on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming:
• “The First Olympics: Athens 1896” (1984) is an entertaining and informative two-part TV miniseries about the founding of the modern Olympics by Pierre de Coubertin (Louis Jourdan) as a way to promote world peace. The film focuses primarily on American athletes as they prepare for the 1896 Summer Games. Cast includes David Ogden Stiers, David Caruso and Angela Lansbury.
• “Olympiad”/”Tokyo Olympiad” (1938/1965). These are arguably the best documentaries on specific Olympic Games. The first is Leni Riefenstahl’s controversial chronicle of the 1936 Berlin Games, with groundbreaking film techniques and a focus on the human physique (with some nudity), the highlight being Jesse Owens’ four-medal triumph. The second is Kon Ichikawa’s widescreen, color look at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games, a gripping, artistic, emotional film that focuses on the athletes — and was not the newsreel-style chronicle Japan expected.
• “The Jesse Owens Story” (1984) is an exceptional TV movie with Dorian Harewood as the track star who wowed the world at the 1936 Berlin Olympics but discovered afterward he was still living in a racist country. Georg Stanford Brown, Tom Bosley, LeVar Burton and Ben Vereen co-star.
• “Running Brave” (1983) casts Robby Benson as Billy Mills, a Sioux raised on a reservation who earned a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Sentimental, Hollywood-style biography is nonetheless quite compelling with Benson in one of his best roles. Pat Hingle and Graham Greene co-star.
• “Prefontaine” (1997)/“Without Limits” (1998). These biographical films are both about Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine, who set records but failed to medal in the 1972 Munich Summer Games, then died in a car crash at 24. Jared Leto has the title role in the first film, which is so-so, but the second, with Billy Crudup, is much better, and gets a lift from Donald Sutherland as Prefontaine’s coach.
• “Cool Runnings” (1993), about four hapless Jamaicans (Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba) who wind up in the 1988 Calgary Winter Games in the bobsled competition with an even more hapless coach (John Candy). Formulaic, but also undeniably charming, funny and ingratiating.
• “Walk, Don’t Run” (1966) is a buoyant comedy about two Americans — a businessman (Cary Grant) and a competing athlete (Jim Hutton) — seeking lodgings during the housing shortage of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games. They coerce Samantha Eggar into letting them share her apartment and Grant plays matchmaker. Notable as Grant’s last film.
• “Downhill Racer” (1969). Robert Redford plays a top skier who lands a spot on the U.S. Olympic ski team under a coach played by Gene Hackman, but they are destined to clash since Redford’s arrogant, self-centered athlete doesn’t get along with anyone. Great ski footage and two terrific actors at their best but it’s hard to warm up to a film with a cold central character.
•“The Cutting Edge” (1992) is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy about disparate characters — a wounded hockey jock (D.B. Sweeney) and a snooty figure skater (Moira Kelly) — brought together as an unlikely and reluctant Olympic figure-skating team. The players are convincing enough to make it play.
• “Charlie Chan at the Olympics” (1937) has the indomitable detective (Warner Oland) at the 1936 Berlin Summer Games where No. 1 Son is on the U.S. swim team. Enjoyable entry in the mystery franchise, bolstered by real newsreel footage.
• “The Olympic Champ” (1942). OK, this isn’t a movie. It’s a seven-minute Disney cartoon with Goofy carrying the torch and then performing track-and-field events. Funny stuff — and you need to see a cartoon before the movie, right?
Unfortunately, my last favorite is not available on DVD, the off-the-wall W.C. Fields farce “Million Dollar Legs” (1932), about a crazy country entering the Olympics. Now that would be fun to see again.Comment on this story
And I’m sure there are more probably many more.
So many movies, so little time.
Hey, if badminton qualifies, maybe movie-watching could become an Olympic event.