|British athletes train for the 1924 Games in the opening scene from "Chariots of Fire."|
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Few sporting events capture the world’s attention as do the Olympics, and few have its international flavor.
That makes sense considering 10,490 athletes from 204 countries are expected to compete in 26 sports for a chance to win one of 302 medals that will be given out at the London Games, which kick off Friday.
London is the first city to host the Games three times since they were revived in 1896. The British capital hosted the Games in 1908 and again in 1948.
Although the Olympics have not inspired filmmakers the way sports such as baseball or football have, there have been plenty of movies made about the Games and the athletes.
Cary Grant stars in “Walk, Don’t Run,” about a race walker at the Tokyo Games in 1964. “Wee Geordie” is about an undersized Scottish athlete training for the hammer throw at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. “It Happened in Athens” is a film about the effort to bring back the Olympics.
Many movies have focused on individual athletes and their lives or accomplishments. “The Bob Mathias Story” was a bio-pic about the 1948 and 1952 decathlon champ. He starred as himself. “Berlin 36” is a film about Gretel Bergmann, a female Jewish German athlete trying to compete in the 1936 Games in Berlin. “Forever the Moment” is a film about the South Korean women’s handball team that lost to Denmark in a shootout at the 2004 Games in Seoul.
Some movies about the Olympics are just plain silly or stupid. Chinese detective Charlie Chan uncovers a spy ring in Berlin while watching No. 1 son compete in the 1936 Games in “Charlie Chan at the Olympics.” Susan Anton is the daughter of an ex-Nazi scientist who has been pumping her full of secret drugs to make her an Olympic hero in “Goldengirl.” Dolph Lundgren portrays an American penthathlete who foils bad guys at both the 1992 and 1996 Games in "Pentathlon."
Here are six films about the Summer Olympics available on video, DVD, on demand and streaming that can get your juices flowing until the real Games start on Friday, or that can get you through the lean days of canoe slalom and synchronized swimming over the next two weeks.
Chariots of Fire (1981) – This is an epic film about two British track stars – one a Jew and the other a devout Christian – who take different paths to the 1924 Games in Paris. Stars include Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams, Ian Charleson as Eric Liddel, Ian Holm, Alice Krige and John Gielgud.
Running Brave (1983) – A heartwarming film about the shocking upset by U.S. Marine Billy Mills in the 10,000 meters race at the 1964 Games in Tokyo. Robbie Benson stars as Mills, a Sioux who must fight prejudice and his own coach to be a champion. Other stars include Pat Hingle, Graham Greene and Claudia Cron.
Without Limits (1998) – Billy Crudup stars as the University of Oregon track star in this film that traces his life leading up to the 1972 Games in Munich and his untimely death in 1975 at age 24 in a car crash. Other stars include Donald Sutherland as his college coach Bill Bowerman, Monica Potter and Jeremy Sisto. “Prefontaine” is another bio-pic starring Jared Leto as the runner.
Personal Best (1982) – Mariel Hemmingway stars as a talented but naïve pentathlete in this film about two young women fighting for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team leading up to the 1980 Games in Moscow. Complicating matters is that both her teammate and coach fall in love with her. Other stars include real-life pentathlete Patrice Donnelly and Scott Glenn.
The Jesse Owens Story (1984) – Dorian Harewood stars as the African-American athlete who demolished Hitler’s notion of Aryan superiority with a string of track victories at the 1936 Games in Berlin. Other stars include Levar Burton, Tom Bosley, Georg Stanford Brown and Norman Fell.
Jim Thorpe – All American (1951) – Burt Lancaster stars in this bio-pic of Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, who won both the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Games in Sweden and then had his medals stripped when he was discovered to have played semi-pro baseball. Thorpe is considered one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. He went on to play college and pro football as well as pro baseball and basketball. In 1983, the International Olympic Committee restored his Olympic medals. Other stars include Charles Bickford as Pop Warner, Steve Cochrane and Phyllis Thaxter.