A George Clooney directorial, ‘The Boys in the Boat’ is a 2023 sports film based on a non-fiction novel of the same name by Daniel James Brown. The movie transports us back to the 1930s into the post-depression era, where a group of debt-ridden, working-class students join the rowing team of their university as a part-time job. One of their coaches, boatbuilder George Pocock, quickly realizes their hidden potential and begins to tap into it. Despite their humble backgrounds, the underdogs quickly rise through the national ranking, having a shot at the Olympics.
‘The Boys in the Boat’ presents a gripping underdog story, made all the more compelling because of its true origins. The 1930s and 40s era presents a nostalgic canvas upon which Clooney crafts a powerful story of friendship, brotherhood, and patriotism in the darkest of times and against the greatest of odds. There are certain sports movies like ‘The Boys in the Boat’ that present similarly inspiring narratives and underdog narratives.
10. Foxcatcher (2014)
Directed by Bennett Miller, ‘Foxcatcher’ navigates a chilling true story involving wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell), who aspires to create a world-class wrestling team, leading him to recruit Olympic gold medalist brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). As the trio forms an uneasy alliance at the du Pont estate, tensions escalate. John’s erratic behavior and obsession with Mark sow seeds of manipulation, leading to turbulent relationships between them.
The plot delves into the complexities of power dynamics, delusion, and the impact of wealth on interpersonal relationships. John, with his fragile psyche, becomes increasingly controlling, revealing the dark underbelly of his philanthropic pursuits. Mark, yearning for validation, succumbs to John’s influence, straining his bond with brother Dave. Much like the team from ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ the brothers begin training out of financial need. With both films being based on true events, they contain an underlying realism and dark character which grows further in ‘Foxcatcher’ as the film meticulously explores the psychological unraveling of du Pont and the consequences of unchecked ambition.
9. Without Limits (1998)
With Robert Towne in the director’s chair, ‘Without Limits’ presents a biographical drama centered on the legendary runner Steve Prefontaine. The film vividly captures the life of the iconic athlete, from his college years at the University of Oregon to his rise as one of America’s most celebrated long-distance runners. Towne skillfully navigates Prefontaine’s journey, portraying his intense training, fierce competitive spirit, and complex relationships. The narrative delves into Prefontaine’s dynamic with his coach, Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland), and his romantic involvement with fellow athlete Mary Marckx (Monica Potter).
Similar to ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ ‘Without Limits’ artfully combines exhilarating race sequences with intimate moments, offering a nuanced portrayal of the characters’ personalities and challenges. The films explore themes of perseverance, ambition, and the profound impact of their sport on the athletes themselves.
8. The Damned United (2009)
Based on true events, ‘The Damned United’ follows the tumultuous 44-day tenure of renowned football manager Brian Clough as the head of Leeds United. The narrative unfolds in a dual timeline, juxtaposing Clough’s successful spell with Derby County and his stint with Leeds United. Michael Sheen delivers a compelling performance as Clough, capturing the manager’s charisma, wit, and the internal struggles that defined his career.
The film, directed by Tom Hooper, explores Clough’s die-hard ambitious personality and his often contentious relationships with players and staff. Central to the plot is his rivalry with the previous Leeds United manager, Don Revie, and upper management. Their tussles, coupled with Clough’s desire to reshape Leeds’ playing style, lead to a dramatic tenure. If you were inspired by George Pocock’s ambition and beliefs regarding his team, ‘The Damned United’ will provide a humourous and charming experience into the unassailable psyches of successful sports coaches and managers.
7. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Directed by Hugh Hudson, ‘Chariots of Fire’ is an inspiring tale set against the backdrop of the 1924 Paris Olympics. The film revolves around two British runners, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, whose contrasting backgrounds and motivations drive their pursuit of Olympic glory. Harold, a determined Jewish sprinter, faces prejudice and discrimination, channeling his frustration into a relentless pursuit of victory. On the other hand, Eric, a devout Scottish Christian, believes his running is a divine gift, choosing faith over fame.
As the Olympics approach, their paths intersect, leading to a showdown that transcends sports. The film is considered by many to be one of the golden standards for sports movies, exploring beyond its scope and into more fundament discussions of spirit, identity, and the human desire for greatness. It is sure to invigorate those who enjoyed ‘The Boys in the Boat’ as a riveting true story based around a similar time period, which captures the resilience of the human spirit.
6. Miracle (2004)
With director Gavin O’Connor at the helm, ‘Miracle’ recounts the true story of the 1980 U.S. men’s ice hockey team’s astonishing performance at the Winter Olympics. Kurt Russell, the team’s coach, employs unconventional methods to mold a group of diverse college players into a cohesive and formidable unit. The plot follows the team’s arduous journey, from the intense training sessions to the pivotal match against the seemingly invincible team from the Soviet Union.
Much like ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ the film masterfully captures the tension and camaraderie within the team, highlighting the individual struggles and triumphs that contribute to their collective success. Both films transcend sports, delivering stirring narratives of determination, unity, and the indomitable human spirit in the face of overwhelming odds.
5. Raging Bull (1980)
‘Raging Bull’ is a visceral and intense biographical drama that delves into the tumultuous life of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a middleweight boxer. The film is not just a sports story but a character study of a complex and self-destructive man. Shaped by director Martin Scorsese, the narrative unfolds as a series of brutal and unflinching scenes depicting LaMotta’s rise through the boxing ranks and the personal demons that threaten to consume him. If you were gripped by the flaws of the team members and their personal struggles in ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ ‘Raging Bull’ offers a multifaceted character-driven story sure to become a memorable sports film in your experience.
4. Remember the Titans (2000)
With director Boaz Yakin at the helm, ‘Remember the Titans’ narrates a riveting tale set in the racially charged early 1970s. The film unfolds in Alexandria, Virginia, where a high school integrates its black and white students. Amidst the tumult, Coach Herman Boone(Denzel Washington), is appointed to lead the Titans’ football team. Facing deep-seated prejudices, Coach Boone strives to unite his racially diverse players, fostering camaraderie against a backdrop of social unrest.
The narrative threads personal stories into the broader fabric of racial tension, and the team’s journey from discord to solidarity becomes a powerful metaphor for societal transformation. Through intense football sequences, the film depicts the physical and emotional challenges the Titans endure. As friendships blossom, they overcome adversity, proving that unity can triumph over division. Much like ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ the film deals with true stories of intense discord within the teams, ironed over by their shared ambitions and camaraderie.
3. Rudy (1993)
‘Rudy,’ is an inspirational sports film recounting the real-life story of Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin), an underdog with unwavering determination to play football for the University of Notre Dame. Rudy is in relentless pursuit of his dream to play for the university, despite everyone he knows advising him otherwise. Coming from a humble, working-class family, he isn’t accepted into the university. Not one to be easily deterred, he joins the campus as a staff member, cleaning and laboring away until his constant attempts give him a shot at joining the team.
Rudy’s burning passion for football propels him to overcome the disadvantages brought on by his small stature, and against all odds, he earns a spot on Notre Dame’s team. The film, by director David Anspaugh, beautifully captures the emotional journey of a young man with modest talent but an indomitable spirit. Those who cheered for the underdog team and their heartwarming story in ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ will find themselves compelled to root for the unbreakable will of Rudy.
2. Seabiscuit (2003)
Under the direction of Gary Ross, ‘Seabiscuit’ chronicles a poignant tale of an unlikely champion in the world of horse racing. The film centers on the lives of three men during the Great Depression: Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), the wealthy owner; Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), the enigmatic trainer; and Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), the troubled jockey. Together, they form an unassuming team around the undersized and overlooked racehorse, Seabiscuit.
The plot details their individual stories, revealing their struggles and personal battles, culminating in Seabiscuit’s remarkable racing career. The horse, dismissed for its appearance and origins, emerges as a symbol of hope and resilience. Both ‘The Boys in the Boat’ and ‘Seabiscuit’ are set in the Great Depression and trace the uphill battles of underdog teams, standing as testaments to the transformative power of determination and the unexpected sources from which greatness can emerge.
1. Cinderella Man (2005)
Helmed by Ron Howard, ‘Cinderella Man’ is a gripping biographical film that brings to life the remarkable true story of James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), a once-promising boxer turned underdog. The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of the Great Depression, portraying Braddock’s struggle to provide for his family and the toll it takes on his self-esteem. As the opportunity for a comeback emerges, Braddock, with the support of his wife Mae and manager Joe Gould, defies the odds to stage one of the most unexpected and inspiring comebacks in boxing history.
The film skillfully combines intense boxing sequences with the poignant depiction of Braddock’s personal journey, emphasizing resilience, love, and the indomitable spirit of a man determined to reclaim his dignity in the face of adversity. Like the protagonists of ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ Braddock is driven to the extreme by the fallouts of the Great Depression. Both films share a similar nostalgic feel and present heartfelt stories highlighted by their underdog appeal and adrenaline-fueled sequences.