This October, we celebrate 25 years since the incomparable ‘Cool Runnings’ came into our lives. I find it hard to believe that there’s a soul alive who hasn’t seen this film and that doesn’t love it. It’s Disney. It’s by Jon Turteltaub, the man who also gave us ‘The Meg’ and ‘National Treasure’. It’s funny. It has a man and his lucky egg. It features one of John Candy’s last performances before his untimely death. And there is only about 5% truth to this “based on a true story,” but it’s fantastic. A real-life fairytale stranger than fiction about outsiders and underdogs who learn that the key to winning is keeping true to yourself. You can see the dollar signs in the Disney executives’ eyes.
It’s a wonder that there aren’t more Olympic-based films. Every two years, we’re showered with heroes and miracle stories from gold medal winners to those who defied the odds to simply compete. As someone who has personally attended three in her short(ish) lifetime, I can attest that the “Olympic Spirit” is very much a real thing and is truly an ineffable entity to behold, so in an effort to inspire more glorious tales with those five rings as its backdrop and to usher in a quarter of a century of ‘Cool Runnings’, I’ve compiled a list of the best Winer/Summer Olympic films since 1993.
5. EDDIE THE EAGLE (2016)
Much like ‘Cool Runnings’, there’s not a whole lot of fact behind this very charming “true story”. Michael Edwards (the real Michael Edwards) competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics as the first British competitor in ski jumping since 1928. His lack of pedigree and skill endeared him to the public, even earning him a mention during the closing ceremony by International Olympic Committee president Frank King. But to insiders he was an embarrassment, and due to his efforts 1990 saw the introduction of the Eddie the Eagle Rule to ensure that neither Eddie nor anyone else of his “calibre” could compete in the Olympics again. The film world decided to focus on the “triumph over adversity” and fluffy side of the tale and manufactured a story to match it. Casting Taron Edgerton (‘Kingsman’) in the title role and inventing a tempestuous coach for Hugh Jackman (‘Logan’) to embody and you have yourself a funny, heartwarming film delightful enough to fool audiences into believing it was the real deal. Even knowing the true story, I still laughed and shed a tear or two. Never let the truth get in the way of good story - that’s what my dad always taught me. Thank heavens for movies then.
4. I, TONYA (2017)
There are always two sides to every story. This duality in no more present then in the sordid tale of Tonya Harding vs Nancy Kerrigan. In 1994, it was the whack heard around the world - the attack on darling figure skater and USA medal hopeful Nancy Kerrigan. All signs pointed to her biggest rival Tonya Harding - perhaps the better athlete, but no one wanted to see her on a Wheaties box or the cover of Time Magazine as an American hero. There are few people who truly know what happened during that time. The Academy Award-nominated (and winning for Best Supporting Actress Allison Janney) film ‘I, Tonya’ lets us in on one side of the story, with a couple grey areas as well. It’s gritty, funny, brilliantly told, and helps paint Harding in a different light than the one she’s been living under for the last 24 years. No one saw this one coming, but we sure are glad it’s here now.
3. MUNICH (2005) / ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER (1999)
While sporting a “inspired by real events” tag at the beginning, many have questioned the validity of such a statement. Regardless, a brilliant film was made, but if it’s hard facts you want we have something for you too. In 2005 the maestro Steven Spielberg, with a screenplay by Tony Kushner (‘Angles in America’) and Eric Roth (‘Forrest Gump’) tackled the hostage crisis and assassination of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Made with haunting visual accuracy, it was listed in the New York Times as the 16th Best Films of the 21st Century So Far, and is consistently listed as one of Spielberg’s best - not bad for a man with over 30 directing credits to his name. But while Spielberg and co. gave this tragic tale the old Hollywood treatment, for all you truth-seekers I suggest you turn your attention to 1999’s ‘One Day in September’. Not just the lyrics to ‘Up There Cazaly’, this documentary helps complete the picture to that September day and its aftermath.
2. COOL RUNNINGS (1993)
I know what you’re thinking: "Jessica, ‘Cool Runnings’ is the greatest Olympic film of all time! Of all time!” Well yes Kanye, while I do agree with you to an extent, I also happen to be writing this article in 2018, and if you continue to read said article then I hope you’ll understand why I’ve done what I’ve done. But for now let's just take a minute and let the happy ‘Cool Runnings’ memories wash over us. Let’s remember just how many times we’ve said, “Sanka, ya dead?” or had to stifle our laughter every time we’ve come across a woman called Talulah. Or stumbled across Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ video and gone, “Oh my god! Is that the guy from ‘Cool Runnings’!?” FYI - yes, yes it is. Hi Leon! By the time ‘Cool Runnings’ came about we’d already fallen in love with the Mighty Ducks and our thirst for winter sports underdogs stories was strong. Disney to the rescue once again. Ya mon!
1. SALUTE (2008)
If you’ve been watching red carpets or talkshows lately and wondered why some celebrities are rocking Nike while your social media is filled with idiots chopping up or burning their own Nike shoes and clothing - they call it patriotism while others call it racism, and it’s all because of a simple yet necessary act of protest. For the last two years, American football players have opted to kneel during the national anthem played at the beginning of games as a protest to the constant loss of black lives at the hands of police. As a result of this protest they have been met with violence, outrage and punishment. The plight and human rights abuses of African Americans is long, tragic and unjust. But something we need to understand it that it didn’t start with kneeling footballers, and nor will it end there. One of the most iconic moments in the civil rights movement came at the 1968 Mexico Olympics when African American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved fists in a symbol of black power on the medal podium. This image became iconic. This moment went down in the annals of history. The documentary ‘Salute’ tells this story and that of the Australian who stood beside them in solidarity. We continue to embrace and celebrate this stories in our cinemas yet out on the streets we tell a different story. Filmmakers can only continue to do what they do in the hope that one day their work will finally get through. Peace be the journey.