I was over at Bill’s Topicless blog a while back, and something that popped up was the topic of sports movies. I’ve noticed that some people tend to tune out whenever they hear people talk about sports movies – mostly people who don’t like sports.
But you know what? I think that anybody should be able to enjoy a good sports movie. To say that you have to be a sports fan to enjoy a sports movie is like saying you have to be really enthusiastic about law enforcement to appreciate Die Hard, or you need to be a Wall Street suit to enjoy Wall Street.
As irrefutable proof, I offer you the example of hardcore porn fanatics. Those guys usually know nothing at all about what it’s like to actually have sex!
You see, a good movie always has deeper themes that lie below the surface – themes that viewers can subconsciously relate to. Aliens is not just about Sigourney Weaver leading a bunch of marines to kill a lot of aliens. How does the average viewer relate to that?
But the underlying theme of Aliens is about the parental need to protect their children. You see it in the relationship between Ripley and Newt, and how protecting this newfound surrogate daughter is her self-imposed penance for abandoning her own biological daughter. You see it in that stand-off scene where Ripley and Newt face off against the alien queen and her eggs – mother and child vs mother and children.
And that is what almost anybody can relate to.
(I say almost anybody because we all know that there are parents out there who don’t give a damn about their kids. You know, parents who ignore their kids and then blame Eminem and Marilyn Manson when their kids become cat-killing junkies.)
This concept of deeper themes applies to sports movies too.
Any Given Sunday
One of my favorite movies (of all time!) is Any Given Sunday, and on the surface it’s about American football and male egos – concepts that would probably turn off any non-sports fan.
But dig under the surface, and it’s really about greed. The team would screw its players over to make a quick buck. The free-agent runningback goes for risky dives in order to score contract bonuses. The new starting quarterback doesn’t care about the traditions and spirit of football, as he just wants to milk his time in the limelight to secure a bigger contract next season.
You don’t need to know what a running back or a first down is to understand greed, because you see that shit all around you. It’s in your boss, your spongey friends, your friend’s irritating free-loading girlfriend. So you’ll really relate to those scenes of football players and managers screwing each other over. And when it comes to the sports scenes in the movie, just relish in the crunch of helmet-to-helmet contact and those bone-breaking tackles, the same way you soak up those scenes of Bruce Willis shooting at terrorists.
Oh, and that speech Al Pacino makes that compares playing football to living life? Pure gold!
Here is another movie about American football, this time about a team of replacement players who finally get a shot at professional football while the actual players are on strike.
But what is it really about? Redemption. Getting a second chance to right an old wrong, to effect a change in your life that you weren’t able to the first time around.
Once again, you don’t need to know the difference between a touchdown and a touchback to understand this movie.
The plot of The Replacements could’ve been rewritten to be about that relationship that you messed up the first time, and getting a second chance to make things right. If so, it might be just as entertaining… though that movie wouldn’t have given you the chance to see Brooke Langton in a cheerleader outfit.
Likewise, if You’ve Got Mail was rewritten with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as hockey players in opposing teams, would it have been any less romantic? I don’t think so!
Friday Night Lights
I know we’re talking about movies, but I just have to mention this TV show. Friday Night Lights was a really good movie too, but the best part about that movie was that it spawned an amazing TV series. Seriously, it’s one of the best TV shows ever made, and it is honestly NOT about football at all. It’s about people, dreams, and life in small town America. Hell, it’s about life, period!
My wife and I just devoured this show. Its portrayal of life in a small Texas down transcends just the usual sports themes of underdogs, teamwork and dreams. What the show really does is examine the education system, the lack of career opportunities that small-town kids face, racism, family issues, and even discrimination against the handicapped… although my wife’s favorite part of it is watching Tim Riggins doing crunches with his shirt off.
The football backdrop is merely a stage to set up these issues, much like Danish politics was just a backdrop for Shakespeare to look at uncertainty, death, misogyny, and latent desires to have sex with one’s own mother.
If you were to say that Friday Night Lights was just a TV show about football, you’d also have to say that Hamlet is just a play about some Danish prince who’s as indecisive as Dr Dre.
So yeah, before you write off the next sports movie just because it’s a sports movie, take a second thought. Ponder about it a little, and give a shot. You might be surprised.
PS Note that what I’ve said excludes movies about cricket, because it is impossible to package entertainment and cricket in the same movie.
Update: Here’s a quick list of other really good sports movies that even non-sports fans will enjoy. Drop a comment if you’ve got one to add!
- The Fighter
- Remember the Titans
- The Waterboy
- White Men Can’t Jump
- A League of Their Own
- Jerry Maguire (not really a sports movie, but it’s got a ton of football in it)