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Weekend Binge: Liked Borg McEnroe? Watch these 4 movies about sports’ greatest rivalries

Most sports movie play by the rules, but like Borg McEnroe, here are four that put up a challenge. They’re all based on some of the greatest real-life sports rivalries of all time.

weekend binge Updated: Dec 13, 2017 13:15 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Borg McEnroe,Weekend Binge,Bjorn Borg
When can we expect a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal biopic?

Every week, we will curate a collection of titles - movies, TV, general miscellanea - for you to watch (and in some cases, read, or listen to), in a series we call Weekend Binge. The selection will be based on a theme which binds the picks - which could be extremely blunt in certain instances, or confusingly abstract in some. No rules apply, other than the end goal being getting some great entertainment to watch.

While the idea is to base the theme on the week’s major events -- it could be the release of a new movie, or show -- we could also use this opportunity to comment on our world in general, and turn to art to wrap our heads around some of the more difficult stories of the past seven days.

With sports movies, there’s a formula, and with time, we’ve come to expect this formula -- perhaps subconsciously. The rules have so firmly been set in stone that alarms go off every time a movie dares to deviate from them. A fair warning then: Each of the movies we’re going to talk about here, have in some way broken the rules. Two of them are documentaries. They’re all, however, about some of the greatest real-life sports rivalries ever -- like our inspiration for the week, Borg McEnroe.


People often complain about The Tree of Life or Donnie Darko being movies that have to be seen multiple times to be truly appreciated (and indeed, understood), but no one ever mentions Senna. Why would they? How often have you re-watched a documentary, much less a documentary that is, on paper, a straightforward biopic about one of the most legendary Formula 1 drivers of all time. But Senna, directed by Asif Kapadia, is more than just a cradle-to-the-grave story. It’s one of the most frighteningly personal peeks into the life of a rather mysterious man, a man who died tragically doing the only thing he loved doing. And it’s all wrapped around his ‘rivalry’ with French driver Alain Prost, his hunger to attain greatness and his stubbornness to never give up.


While it may not be as insightful (or as personal) as Senna, Ron Howard’s film about the James Hunt-Nicki Lauda rivalry hits the nail on the head as far as a couple of things go. Like Borg McEnroe, it’s empathetic enough to understand the complicated relationship most sports rivals share: At the end of the day, when the chequered flag has been waved and every car is in the pits, the only person who understands the psychology of a winner is the man who has just been beaten. One wouldn’t be complete without the other. But besides adopting a thrilling approach to telling a freewheeling story, Rush also happens to signal a new phase in Ron Howard’s career. Notice the over-stylised visuals, the precise sound editing and a particularly fine Hans Zimmer soundtrack.

Bobby Fischer Against the World

There have been several films made about Bobby Fischer - and honestly, how could there not? Even today, years after he died, he remains one of the most enigmatic characters in recent history, if not of all time. Think about it, for most of his youth he was supposed to do just one thing: Become a Grandmaster. For most of his professional career, he was burdened by his overwhelming talent, and more than a few mental illnesses. Then, at the peak of his career, he disappeared. For decades there were rumours that he was living a reclusive life, occasionally popping up online to challenge unsuspecting strangers to games. This documentary is about his famed 1972 World Chess Championship match against the USSR’s Boris Spassky - a momentous event in which both players were used as pawns by their nations as they manoeuvred the Cold War.

The King of Kong

What makes for a perfect sports movie? Remember the rules we discussed a few minutes ago? Two contrasting personalities, two opposing world views, clashing styles and beliefs at odds with the other’s. An underdog, for sure. The King of Kong is a remarkable documentary that has it all: A mild-mannered challenger and his larger-than-life adversary, betrayals, back-stabbings and sabotage. The only thing it doesn’t have, ironically, is sport. You see, it isn’t a movie about football or tennis or even chess, it’s about Donkey Kong - the arcade game - and one man’s obsession to play the perfect game, to achieve the highest score mathematically possible, and to overcome the obstacles (both literal and metaphorical) that come in his way.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Dec 09, 2017 08:49 IST