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Notes on fiction movies about the Olympics

If someone asked you to name the greatest sports movie of all time, what would you say? Rocky? Rudy? Rollerball? Okay, maybe not Rollerball, but chances are you would name a movie that does not take place at the Olympics. That’s not a knock at movies that take place or feature an Olympic event, it’s an eye opening statistical probability revealing the slim slice of sports movies about them.

With the Winter Olympics set to being next week in Beijing, here are 9 interesting facts about movies that take place on global sports’ center stage:

1. The majority of the fiction films about the Olympics do not feature gold medal winners, or athletes that medal at all for that matter.

2. Not including documentaries, historical or completely fiction films only make up roughly one percent of all sports movies ever made. For comparison, there are over 150 fiction films about American Football alone (since like roughly 1930).

3. Cool Runnings and Race are the only Olympic films with BIPOC main characters.

4. American athletes make up the majority of Olympic films, with outliers Cool Runnings, Chariots of Fire, and Eddie the Eagle.

5. I, Tonya and Cutting Edge are the only movies about the Olympics to feature female olympians. And cutting edge isn’t even based on a true story! Le sigh.

6. Speaking of Cutting Edge, the film is one of two commercially ‘successful’ movies that is NOT based on a true story. The other? Another pairs skating film, Blades of Glory.

7. Collectively, Olympic films feature 12 different events across eight movies. The actual Winter Olympics feature 100 events, the summer olympics have 340. Every film about the summer Olympics is about track and field male athletes. 90% of the films fictionally taking place during the Winter Olympics are ice sports, mainly hockey and figure skating. Bobsledding and ski jumping are highlighted in Cool Runnings and Eddie the Eagle respectively, both taking place during the ‘88 Calgary Olympics.

8. Awards and accolades are actually high for Olympic movies, but purely because there aren’t that many films to begin with. Chariots of Fire is arguably the most notable Olympic film with Academy Award wins for Best Picture, Best Score, Best Costume Design, and Best Editing, with seven nominations overall. The film was the first Best Picture win for Warner Brothers since 1947 with My Fair Lady, another famed British tale. I, Tonya also boasts Oscar nominations with a Best Actress nod to Margot Robbie and a Best Supporting Actress win for Allison Janey.

9. At the end of Eddie the Eagle, real footage from the closing ceremonies of the ‘88 Calgary Olympics plays. The speaker specifically mentions Eddie in his closing address, telling the athletes that “even some of you flew like an eagle.”

Notes and references: The films discussed in this article are not the only fiction Olympic films ever made, but they are the most recognizable by American audiences. There are a few more foreign films that are out there but I wasn’t able to find a way to stream them. There are also loads of documentary films about the olympics and specific athletes. Actually, the largest amount of Olympic films were made during the 30’s by a little known German director called Adolf Hitler as extremist Nazi propaganda in advance of the ‘36 Berlin Olympics.


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