Best sports films: 13 inspirational Hollywood, Bollywood and international movies to watch this month

If you’re left feeling inspired by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, choose from a selection of amazing sports biopics

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics now finished, after being delayed for a year due to Covid-19, we finally had our summer of sporting inspiration.

These Hollywood, Bollywood and international films celebrate some extraordinary athletes with unique stories and backgrounds, depicting their journey’s and the struggles before their victory.

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With films in English, Polish, Hindi and Cantonese, we have a selection of sports biopics for you to choose from.

Mary Kom (2014)

Film Poster for the Mary Kom Movie

This Hindi language biopic is based on the life of boxer Mary Kom. Nicknamed ‘Magnificent Mary’, Kom is the only female Indian boxer to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.

Kom is played by Priyanka Chopra Jones with the film focusing on her childhood to her early career, while navigating her love for boxing with familial disputes and societal norms. Mary Kom won the National Film Award For Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment.

  • Director: Omung Kumar
  • Starring: Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, Darshan Kumaar, Sunil Thapa
  • Where to watch: Netflix

Breaking the Limits (2017)

A Polish biographical film following the life of Jerry Górski as he navigates a life around loss and addiction to winning the double Iron Man triathlon.

The film follows Górski from his early life, and we watch as his addiction spirals out of control and cheer as we see him slowly gain back control. This inspirational film won six awards at the 42nd Polish Film Festival.

  • Director: Łukasz Palkowski
  • Starring: Jakub Gierszał
  • Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Dangal (2016)

  • Director: Nitesh Tiwari
  • Starring: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Zaira Wasim, Sanya Malhotra
  • Where to watch: Netflix
Official Poster Dangal (Facebook)

Dangal translates to wrestling competition in Hindi, and this film centres on exactly that. Dangal follows the story of the Phogat family, a family of Indian wrestlers. Mahavir Singh Phogat, played by Aamir Khan, is an amateur wrestler with a dream to win gold for India.

After an altercation at school, he finds his dreams can be fulfilled through his two eldest girls, Geeta (young; Wasim, older; Shaikh) and Babita (young, Suhani Bhatnagar, older Malhotra). An international smash hit, this film was the first Indian film to be screened at the 7th Beijing Festival.

I, Tonya (2017)

I, Tonya Official Poster (Facebook)

I, Tonya follows figure skater Tonya Harding’s (played by Margot Robbie) early life and her connection to the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) – Tonya’s ‘“rival’” and Olympic teammate.

This film takes the form of a mockumentary, with Tonya and her ex-husband, played by Sebastian Stan, having interviews and breaking the 4th wall. As a black comedy, this film will leave you laughing and informed about the two-time Olympians career and its unfortunate and rapid demise. This film earned nominations for Best Actress and Best Film Editing.

  • Directed: Craig Gillespie
  • Starring: Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Steven Rogers, Bryan Unkeless
  • Where to watch: Rent on Amazon Prime

Saina (2021)

Sania 2021 Film Official Poster (Twitter)

Saina follows the true story of Indian badminton player Saina Nehwal (played by Parineeti Chopra) from her childhood as a middle-class girl from Haryana to Olympic bronze medal winner.

Winning over 24 international titles, and a former world number 1, Nehawal’s journey is outlined with hard work, dedication and ambition. Her well-deserved biopic was initially scheduled for September 2020 but was pushed back due to Covid-19 and was released on 26 March 2021.

  • Director: Amole Gupta
  • Starring: Parineeti Chopra
  • Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The Best of Men (2012)

The Best Of Men Film (BBC 2)

This television film centres around the pioneering work of Dr Ludwig Guttmann, played by Eddie Marson, who worked with paraplegic patients at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Guttmann’s work with paraplegic patients led to the creation of the Paralympic Games.

The Best of Men follows Guttmann as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and his unique and controversial methods (at the time) with working with paraplegic residents. Inspiring and informing, this unique and underrated film won the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival Best Narrative Audience Award.

  • Director: Lucy Gannon
  • Starring: Eddie Marsan, George Mackay, Rob Brydon
  • Where to watch: Netflix

Budhia Singh – Born to Run (2016)

Born To Run Official Poster

This extraordinary film follows the journey of Budhia Singh, the world’s youngest marathon runner, who ran 48 marathons at the age of five. Coming from a rocky background, Singh, played by Mayur Patole, was forced to run as a punishment.

Singh was still running five hours later, but a medical check found him to be fine. This extraordinary tale leaves you marvelling at the strength of the human spirit. Similarly, an Emmy nominated feature-length documentary called Marathon Boy was released in 2011 about Singh.

  • Director: Soumendra Phadhi
  • Starring: Manoj Bajpayee, Mayur Patole
  • Where to watch: Netflix

Fox Catcher (2014)

Foxcatcher: Channing Tatum and Steve Carell

Beginning in 1987, this film centres around the Schultz brothers (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo), both of whom are 1984 Olympic gold medal winners in wrestling. Millionaire wrestling enthusiast John du Pont, played by Steve Carell, attempts to recruit and train the two brothers for national, world and Olympic competition.

This film gives a shocking reality check to how life can be like for some athletes after the Olympics and just how far some people will go for glory. Fox Catcher was nominated for the Palme d’Or during the 2014 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Best Director award. Fox Catcher was also nominated for five Oscars and three Golden Globe Award nominations.

  • Director: Bennett Miller
  • Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Venessa Redgrave
  • Where to watch: Rent on Google Play and Apple TV

Zero to Hero (2021)

Theatrical Film Poster for Zero to Hero (2021)

This Cantonese language film follows the life of sprinter So Wa Wai, the first Paralympic athlete from Hong Kong to win a gold medal. Wai, played by Chung-Hang Leung, ran for Hong Kong for five Paralympic games, from 1996 to– 2012. With a tag-line of “Even if you start at a disadvantage, you can still be first across the finish line” this film exudes inspirational content.

  • Director: Chi-Man Wan
  • Starring: Louis Cheung, Chung-Hang Leung, Sandra Kwan Yue Ng, Sui-Ho Chin, Hoi-Pang Lo

Paan Singh Tomar (2012)

Paan Singh Tomar Official Poster

This Hindi biopic is based on solider, athlete and later rebel, Paan Singh Tomar. Tomar, played by Irrfan Khan, is praised for winning gold seven years in a row at the Indian National Games. But when his mother is murdered, and the police refuse to act, things change and Tomar finds himself rebelling against the system he once enforced.

Widely critically acclaimed, Paan Singh Tomar won Best Feature Film and Khan’s stunning skills in this film left him with Best Actor in the 60th National Film Awards 2012. This film is raw and honest, depicting life in India just shortly after the collapse of British India.

  • Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
  • Starring: Irrfan Khan, Mahi Gill, Vipin Sharma
  • Where to watch: Netflix

Ali (2001)

Official Poster for Ali (2001) starring Will Smith

This start-studded cast of Ali depicts the life of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, played by Will Smith, from the years 1964 to 1974. It features his conversion to Islam, the capture of his heavyweight title, his views on the Vietnam war and reclaiming his title from George Foreman.

Following his life, the film also touches on racial issues in the US including the assassinations of prominent black leaders, Malcolm X played by Mario Van Peebles, and Martin Luther King Junior, played by LeVar Burton. Smith and Voight received Academy Award Nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in Ali.

  • Directed: Michael Mann
  • Starring: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, LeVar Burton
  • Where to watch: Rent on Amazon Prime

Cool Runnings (1993)

Official Poster for Cool Runnings

Considered to be one of the best underdog sports stories of all time, Cool Runnings is a classic. This film is loosely based around the events of the first Jamaican national bobsleigh team in the 1988 Winter Olympics. This feel-good comedy film leaves you laughing and inspired after seeing four male athletes debut a bobsleigh team in Jamaica.

  • Directed: Jon Turteltaub
  • Starring: Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, Raymond J. Barry, John Candy
  • Where to watch: Disney+

Rising Phoenix (2020)

Netflix Documentary Rising Phoenix official poster

Rising Phoenix is not a biopic but a documentary outlining the story of nine Paralympic athletes and their journeys in the Olympic competition. It features stories from Tatyana McFadden, Jonnie Peacock, Ryley Batt, Jean-Baptiste Alaize and so much more. Although released on Netflix in 2020, this documentary film has received positive reviews from critics and is well worth watching.

  • Directed: Ian Bonhôte, Greg Nugent
  • Where to watch: Netflix

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