The Winner Takes All: Movies About Sports That Inspire & Uplift

Sports movies often entail rooting for the underdog, or present accounts of great courage and human achievement.

By Yong Shu Chiang        9 June 2022

The best sports stories resemble tales of old: of David versus Goliath perhaps, or of greatness born out of dedication, God-given talent and indomitable spirit.

By another measure, some of the best such movies or series are not just about the sport that’s featured, be it high-octane racing, football, surfing, basketball, bobsledding or e-sports.

They are remarkable for successfully holding up a mirror to life, to observe the overcoming of tremendous odds in order to achieve legendary status, and the circumstances behind these achievements. Or they explore a simpler story, such as a meet-cute romance against the backdrop of gaming.

While some of the accounts here are pure fiction, two – The Damned United and Cool Runnings – are rooted in historical events, but have been imagined to a large extent for artistic licence and to be far more entertaining than the real-life events might have been.

Then there is the gripping documentary film about Ayrton Senna, possibly the greatest Formula One racer there ever was, and a thrilling docu-series about the best surfers on the planet today.

Truth or fiction, the winner, when it comes to watching these great stories, is you.


Available now, Google Play Movies

Stars: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Frank Williams

Before there was Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher, the most exciting driver in Formula One, an undisputed champion, was Ayrton Senna. The mercurial Brazilian was undoubtedly talented, an all-time great, but he could also be controversial. Most famous for a fierce rivalry with his one-time teammate, the Frenchman Alain Prost, Senna’s life and career tragically ended in a racing accident in 1994. This award-winning documentary chronicles this maverick’s life, cut short at 34, and brilliant career.

The Damned United

Available now, Google Play Movies

Stars: Michael Sheen, Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall

A young, title-winning football manager in the old English First Division – the predecessor of the English Premier League – Brian Clough (Sheen) arrived at Leeds United in 1974 eager to take charge of the reigning champions. To say that his time at the helm was a disaster is an understatement as the outspoken manager struggled to impress his players, alienated nearly all the stars, and swiftly got himself fired. A fictional, and at times comical, account, this film speculates on how Clough’s doomed 44-day stint might have played out.

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Make Or Break

Available now, Apple TV+

Stars: Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore, Gabriel Medina

The world’s best surfers, including Gilmore, Medina, Tyler Wright, Italo Ferreira, Tatiana Weston-Webb and the legendary Slater, gather to compete on the 2021 Men’s and Women’s World Surf League Championship tour. Shot in the United States, Australia and Mexico as the championship carries on in the midst of a global pandemic, this seven-part docu-series takes a closer look at the culture of surfing, the physical and mental demands of the sport, and the thrills and spills of competition that climaxes in a one-day Finals event.

The Way Back

Available now, Netflix

Stars: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Janina Gavankar

A former high school basketball star, Jack Cunningham (Affleck), is now a has-been. A construction worker with a drinking problem, he is estranged from his wife and floundering in life. Then he gets an unexpected call to step in for the ailing basketball coach at his alma mater. As he begins to bond with his players and improve them as a team, Jack has to confront his own demons, as the reasons behind his failed athletic career and troubled marriage start to emerge, and his dependence on alcohol returns.

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Cool Runnings

Available now, Disney+

Stars: John Candy, Leon Robinson, Malik Yoba

The idea of a bobsled team from a tropical island-nation competing in a Winter Olympic Games is probably as far-fetched as the idea of a Singaporean competing at an edition of these Games. Yet, both scenarios have actually occurred, for Singapore in 2018 with speed skater Cheyenne Goh and for Jamaica in 1988 with their underdog bobsled team. Based on fact but decidedly fictional, Cool Runnings is a comedy about how a Jamaican team competed valiantly and won the hearts of many fans from around the world.

Falling Into Your Smile

Available now, Netflix

Stars: Xu Kai, Cheng Xiao, Zhai Xiaowen

A successful, all-male esports team suffers a blow when one of their star players is injured. When an amateur female gamer, Tong Yao (Cheng), emerges as an unlikely choice to replace him, the team’s captain Lu Sicheng (Xu) is sceptical about her abilities, believing her recruitment to be a public relations move. In time, however, the newcomer starts to prove her worth, and she and her captain start to become friends – and perhaps something more. To add to the drama, her ex-boyfriend Jian Yang (Zhai) is a rival gamer.

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