10 sports movies that will get you excited for the Olympics

Don’t just jump into watching the 2016 Olympics without a warm-up!

Unbroken, Jack O'Connell (center), as Louis Zamperini, 2014.

Every two years, the nations of the world set aside their differences and come together for the Olympic games. In a sprawling event where athletes and fans unite for the glory of sport, we as a world can experience the satisfaction of Olympians’ journeys, the heat of competition, and the thrill of victory.

But you don’t want to just dive into the summer games. Every great athlete will tell you warming up is crucial. Consider us your coach, prepping you for the Rio Olympics with this winsome batch of movies, sure to get your pulse racing and your heart soaring.

Much like the Olympics, sports movies have a unique power. Even if you don’t know all the ins and outs, even if you don’t know the players’ names, there’s something nakedly exhilarating in witnessing the triumph of spirit that comes with the climax of every great sports story. In some resonant way, these stories are our own, writing our own struggles in daily life into an epic tale of overcoming adversity and earning success.

For our training regimen to get you ready for the big games, we’ve tirelessly searched for inspirational movies about a wide variety of sports, ranging from basketball and baseball to bobsledding and ski jumping. But no matter how different their details, they all revel in the unique excitement of sport.

A League of Their Own (1992)

A League of Their Own, Rosie O’Donnell, Freddie Simpson, Geena Davis, 1992.

A League of Their Own, Rosie O’Donnell, Freddie Simpson, Geena Davis, 1992. Columbia Pictures | Courtesy Everett Collection

Inspired by remarkable women who pitched in on the World War II effort by playing ball in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, this heartwarming story boasts a wide array of colorful characters including a resilient farm girl (Geena Davis), an unrepentant tomboy (Rosie O’Donnell), a plucky rebel (Lori Petty), a meek wallflower (Megan Cavanagh), a brazen flirt (Madonna, naturally), a flustered mom (Bitty Schram), and a cranky yet lovable coach (Tom Hanks). Alive with humor and heart, this tale of a motley crew of misfits coming together is both inspirational and aspirational.

Appropriate for ages: 7 and up (rated PG)

Viewer discretion: Some language, some sexual content (kissing, no nudity), visible drunkenness.

Best message: On top of the importance of teamwork, A League of Their Own has a poignant subplot about sisterhood that reminds us that family matters more than differences, or baseball.

More Than a Game (2008)

MORE THAN A GAME, from left: Sian Cotton, LeBron James, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Willie McGee, 2009.

More Than a Game, from left: Sian Cotton, LeBron James, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Willie McGee, 2009. LionsGate |Courtesy Everett Collection

Before Lebron James was an NBA All-Star, he was a high schooler with such astounding talents on the court that Sports Illustrated dubbed him “The Chosen One.” Sure, you know how this particular tale of an Akron kid’s “Hoop Dreams” turns out. But this powerful hip-hop-fueled documentary not only captures the excitement of the “Lebron Phenomenon,” but also explores the stories of his on-the-court brothers—and how basketball was so much more than a game to them.

Appropriate for ages: 10 and up (rated PG)

Viewer discretion: Some language, including occasional use of the “n” word, but not employed as a slur.

Best message: There’s a strong emphasis on the importance of teamwork and family, both those we are born into and those we create with friends. As one of the film’s subjects explains, “This team was like a family. You play your heart out for your family.”

The Cutting Edge (1992)

The Cutting Edge, Moira Kelly, D.B. Sweeney, 1992

The Cutting Edge, Moira Kelly, D.B. Sweeney, 1992. MGM | Courtesy Everett Collection

Imagine the dynamic of a Tracy & Hepburn rom-com set amid the excitement of the 1988 Winter Games. That’s the dizzying spin this opposites-attract tale takes, following an “ice princess” and a blue-collar bruiser who could bring home Olympic gold … if they don’t tear each other to pieces first. Moira Kelly stars as a perfectionist skater whose frigid reputation forces her to team with a hot-blooded, has-been hockey player (D.B. Sweeney). For all their differences, they share a passion for winning—and each other—that leads to one of the most exhilarating finales any sports movie has ever offered.

Appropriate for ages: 13 and up (rated PG)

Viewer discretion: Some sexual content, some language, a scene of drinking to excess (shown as a character flaw). All violence is sports-injury related.

Best message: The main focus of this film is the value of overcoming fear. Both characters take huge personal risks to team up, and when they finally risk trusting each other, it’s a hop, skip and terrifying Pamchenko twist to Olympic glory.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Bend It Like Beckham, Keira Knightley, Parminder Nagra, Shaznay Lewis, 2002

Bend It Like Beckham, Keira Knightley, Parminder Nagra, Shaznay Lewis, 2002. 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved

In this charming coming-of-age comedy, the chief drama doesn’t occur on the field, but in the home of its soccer-loving heroine. London-teen Jess (Parminder Nagra) dreams of soccer stardom, but her Punjabi Sikh parents worry the sport is not meant for girls. But with the encouragement of her bubbly best friend (Keira Knightley) and her dashing coach (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Jess not only finds victory on the field, but also happiness at home.

Appropriate for ages: 13 and up (rated PG-13)

Warnings About: Some sexual content (kissing). Some drinking, but not underage (in the U.K., where it’s set). Some strong language.

Best message: Be true to yourself, and honest with your parents.

Eddie The Eagle (2016)

Eddie the Eagle, Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, 2016

Eddie the Eagle, from left: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, 2016. 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved | Courtesy Everett Collection

Based on a remarkable true story, this quirky comedy follows tenacious Englishman Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. As a boy, Eddie knew he was destined to be an Olympian. No matter what the doctors warned about his bum leg, or how the experts snarked about his gawky appearance, Eddie knew he “just needed to find right sport.” Taron Egerton stars as the fearless ski jumper that made everyone watching the 1988 Winter Olympics feel that if he could fly, so could they. Hugh Jackman co-stars as his crass but charismatic coach.

Appropriate for ages: 12 and up (rated PG-13)

Viewer discretion: Some language and suggestive talk. All violence is sports-injury related. Also, adults drink.

Best message: Believing in yourself is the most important step to success.

Cool Runnings (1993)

COOL RUNNINGS, Malik Yoba, Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis

Cool Runnings, Malik Yoba, Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, 1993. Buena Vista Pictures | Courtesy Everett Collection

Eddie wasn’t the only confounding contender at the ’88 Olympics. A few snowy courses away, a quartet from the tropical island of Jamaica was raising eyebrows and making history as the nation’s first ever bobsled team. This vibrant and funny fish-out-of-water comedy is fit for the whole family. So like the movie says: “Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it’s bobsled time! Cool Runnings!

Appropriate for ages: 8 and up (rated PG)

Viewer discretion: Some language. Mild violence is sports injury related, though there is one comical bar brawl. Adults are shown drinking.

Best message: Winning isn’t as important as being true to yourself, having pride in what you do, and staying loyal to your friends.

Miracle (2004)

Miracle, Kurt Russell, 2004

Miracle, Kurt Russell, 2004. Buena Vista |Courtesy Everett Collection

This rousing drama depicts the path to victory chiseled by the American hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. They were not “the best players, but the right ones,” underdogs who united an entire nation behind them. Here, Kurt Russell, starring as passionate coach Herb Brooks, delivered one of the most epic pep talks of all time. Your heart will beat like a drum as he roars, “If we played them ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight … Tonight we are the greatest hockey team in the world.”

Appropriate for ages: 8 and up (rated PG)

Viewer discretion: Mild sexual content. Violence is sports related. Some language. Adults are shown drinking.

Best message: “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”

Seabiscuit (2003)

Seabiscuit, 2003

Seabiscuit, 2003. Universal |Courtesy Everett Collection

An inspirational story on four fronts, this biopic on the Depression-era racehorse who raised the spirits of an ailing nation also unfolds the story of the men his victories saved. Tobey Maguire stars as a scrappy jockey in need of a chance. Jeff Bridges portrays a heartbroken millionaire desperate for something to believe in. And Chris Cooper plays the weathered horse trainer in need of a purpose. Through this team, this seven-time Oscar nominee spins a story of salvation that’s sure to make your spirit gallop.

Appropriate for ages: 12 and up (rated PG-13)

Viewer discretion: Mature content includes parental abandonment, the death of a child (car accident), drinking, some sexual content, and sports-related violence, including boxing.

Best message: Never give up. Or, as Cooper’s folksy cowboy would say, “You don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause it’s banged up a little bit.”

Creed (2015)

Creed, from left: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, 2015.

Creed, from left: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, 2015. Barry Wetcher | Warner Bros. |Courtesy Everett Collection

A thoughtful and powerful sequel to the boxing classic Rocky, Creed follows the son of the late Apollo Creed into the ring, where he’ll try to fight his way out of his famous father’s shadow. Reprising the role that made him a legend, Sylvester Stallone brings a pounding heart to the film as Balboa. But it’s leading man Michael B. Jordan who shoulders this exhilarating drama as a sharp young man with a mountain-sized chip on his shoulder, and determination to match. By the time you hear that classic theme song, Creed‘s already got you primed for the knockout.

Appropriate for ages: 13 and up (rated PG-13)

Viewer discretion: Some language and swears. Some sexual content, including pre/post sex scenes, but no nudity. Violence is boxing-related. A character is diagnosed with cancer.

Best message: No man is an island. To thrive, we all need a team, supporting us and loving us in highs and lows.

Unbroken (2014)

Unbroken, Jack O’Connell, as Louis Zamperini, 2014

Unbroken, Jack O’Connell, as Louis Zamperini, 2014. David James | Universal Pictures | Courtesy Everett Collection

Angelina Jolie directs this biopic about the incredible life and remarkable resilience of Louis Zamperini, an American runner who ran in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Following that moment of glory, Zamperini joined the World War II effort, becoming a bombardier. Shot down over the Pacific, he was captured by Japanese forces and tortured a prisoner of war. Yet, for all this, his will would not be crushed. He not only survived, he thrived.

Appropriate for ages: 14 and up (rated PG-13)

Viewer discretion: Some language. Threatening and violent at points: the hero endures a bad plane crash, being stranded at sea, sharks, and abuse at the hands of a sadistic Japanese corporal. It may be too scary for younger children.

Best message: End title cards reveal how Zamperini dedicated himself to Jesus Christ following WWII, and as part of that devotion forgave his captors for their cruelty. His life serves as a radiant example of the peace and joy that faith can offer. As well as the joy, grit and determination found in the trials of athletics, and life.

Leave a comment: