With the MS Dhoni biopic right around the corner, we’re all excited to see what director Neeraj Pandey, star Sushant Singh Rajput and their team have put together. After all, we haven’t really got a great, homegrown sports biopic yet – despite there being no shortage of great, homegrown sportspersons.
But this Dhoni film is different. There’s something promising about it. Most importantly, it looks like a real movie, and not a Bollywood romantic musical drama pretending to be a sports film like so many other ‘sports biopics’ end up being (we’re looking at you Azhar).
So even if it doesn’t have much of a standard to live up to domestically (the biopic is a young genre in India), MS Dhoni: The Untold Story does have decades worth of Hollywood sports movies and their legacy looming over it.
So, with just a couple of days to go, we thought: ‘why not take a look at some of the best sports biopics ever made?’ We’ve tried to compile an unusual list, one that you would ideally find nowhere else – with maybe even a surprise or two along the way.
Note: These movies are listed randomly, and not, as one would expect, based on a ranking. It’s just better this way.
Raging Bull (1980)
No list of great sports biopics is complete without Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece of a film about boxer Jake LaMotta. There’s so much going on in Raging Bull, so many layers and so many resonant themes, that it’s easy to forget that it’s a sports movie. But then again, it’s so much more than that. It’s a classic that does just what it’s supposed to: It makes Jake LaMotta immortal.
The Fighter (2010)
So while we’re at it, why not nudge another boxing movie in there? Also, can we all just stop arguing and agree that boxing movies are the best sports movies? And The Fighter is one of the best boxing movies ever made. So if you’re keeping up with this logical train of thought, what this also means that The Fighter is… the cream of the creamiest crop?
You remember how this is supposed to be an unusual list? So now that we’ve got the obvious choices out of the way, let’s get down to it. Senna is a documentary (not the only one you’ll see on this list) about Ayrton Senna, possibly the most celebrated Formula 1 driver to ever grab a steering wheel. What’s so amazing about this film is that minutes into watching it two things will happen: One, you’ll forget you’re watching a documentary and two, you’ll become an F1 fan (if you aren’t already, that is).
Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)
Yes, chess is a sport. And Bobby Fischer is the greatest chess player ever. At least for the purposes of this list. This entry is unusual for two reasons: A) It is also, like Senna, a documentary, and B) Well, it’s about chess. No one was expecting a chess movie here. It’s about Fischer’s famous 1972 World Championship match against Boris Spassky of the USSR, and how one man became a symbol, and – ahem – a pawn in his country’s Cold War strategy. It combines interviews of several chess grandmasters, rare archive footage, and it is, all in all, unmissable.
The Damned United (2009)
A biopic of a football player makes sense, but one on a football manager? There was no reason for The Damned United to be as good as it was, but thanks to a thrilling story (Leeds United manager Brian Clough’s ill-fated 44-day tenure at the club), an outstanding performance by Michael Sheen and lines like this: “I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the country. But I’m in the top one,” The Damned United is the best, and most unexpectedly brilliant football biopic you’re likely to see.
Who says only human beings are great sportspeople (except perhaps the definition of ‘sportspeople’ of course). But Seabiscuit, about the undersized thoroughbred horse who became a hero to thousands affected by the Great Depression, a symbol of hope in terrible times, is a special movie. So much so that when you Google the term ‘crowd-pleaser’ you’re probably going to find Seabiscuit’s warm eyes staring back at you.
In the mood for more? How about some of these other films that almost made the cut?
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