10 movies to help inspire your inner athlete

Brian Bell

| 5 min read

It happens to everyone: You hit a wall.
Your workouts aren’t getting better. Your reps aren’t going up in number. The weights you’re lifting are not increasing. Your times aren’t getting lower. Your scores aren’t improving. You need inspiration.
And few things inspire more than Hollywood’s magic!
Hollywood sports and fitness movies are usually better than any true-life stories that may have inspired the films.
When we’re in need of a pick-me-up, here are the top 10 inspirational sports and fitness flicks A Healthier Michigan’s staff watches to get us into our A-game state of mind.
  1. Bend It Like BeckhamEvery movie list needs at least one great foreign film on it and you should be grateful this one is in nearly understandable U.K.-English dialects. This fantastic dramady isn’t just a typical underdog story. It’s also about a second-generation immigrant fighting her way to victory over her family’s and society’s traditionally sexist expectations, with standout performances by its then really young cast of Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
  1. Breaking AwayThe classic tale of underdog townies vs. college kids, this coming of age film features the competitors fighting it out with a bicycle race while looking for ways to better their lives. The action comes to a head when injured and exhausted Dave, the hero, is forced to finish the race with his feet taped to the pedals. This movie features Dennis Quaid in an early-career role, too.
  1. Hoosiers Hoosiers is David vs. Goliath on a basketball court in Indiana in the 1950s. It features great performances by Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, and a great young cast as a small-town high school basketball team. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t really a true story. It rings true as it places great importance on the values of honesty, discipline, hard work and teamwork over just winning. Of course (SPOILER ALERT!), they do win, too!
  1. CaddyshackSometimes, A Healthier Michigan staff needs more than drama to lift the spirits. The entire cast delivers uplift in this hysterical golf film with performances by comedy greats Bill Murray, a young Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight. Before some armchair movie critic dares to question this selection, I challenge them to name a better movie about golf. Don’t even mention dreck like Bagger Vance. In addition to featuring a great underdog story, Caddyshack is most notable for featuring the greatest sports fantasy monologue by Bill Murray that all of us weekend warrior athletes tell ourselves – that Cinderella story is our secret inner voice!
  1. Slapshot Yes, it’s another comedy, but this one manages to sneak in a message that no matter how old you are, no matter how many chances you’ve blown, that you’re never too old to turn a new leaf and win. It’s The Wild Bunch on ice in the ‘70s, with Paul Newman playing the role of a better-looking, less criminal and less personally violent William Holden. Sure, it seems to condone dirty play, but it is hockey. In today’s sports world of steroid-fueled cheats, it’s practically a paen to hockey’s sense of fair play. This also happens to be the greatest hockey movie in the world. Forget Miracle or Miracle On Ice, the true story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team’s gold-medal triumph over cold-war adversary the Soviet Union. Those movies really don’t capture just how massive that victory was. Instead, the most inspiring and greatest hockey movie is Slapshot! Winning isn’t always pretty, but it’s not too late to eke out your victory!
  1. Seabiscuit American historical period drama piece. The usual underdog story. Triumphing with the handicap story. Redemption story. Cute animal story. This movie has it all, including the original Hollywood Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and the Big Lebowski (Jeff Bridges). It never demeans itself like that other great cute-animal story, Air Bud, either. And like all good stories, Seabiscuit is true!
  1. A League Of Their Own Easily overlooked-by-the-critics and movie fans, this Penny Marshall-helmed comedic drama is a true story about professional women’s baseball, a nearly forgotten chapter in American sports history. The ensemble cast delivers and ought to be notable if only for being Madonna’s best movie appearance, while also starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Rosie O’Donnell.
  1. Remember The Titans Inspired by the real-life school integration story of T.C. Williams High School of Virginia, Remember The Titans follows the trials and tribulations of Head Football Coach Herman Boone and his 1971 state champion football team on their way to victory. This is America as viewed through gridiron, coming to grips with what it’s been and how great it can be when we work together.
  1. Rudy Rudy is the almost-completely-true Hollywood account of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger’s college football career – if it could be called that – at the University of Notre Dame. This nearly totally factual film proves that you can achieve your dreams if you work hard enough.
  1. Rocky For the training montage alone, nothing inspires like Rocky, the story of a hard-luck boxer who nearly makes it to the top and in doing so, redeems his life. No matter what Sylvester Stallone did to try to follow this movie in its sequels and throughout his movie-making career, nothing he created since Rocky soars like this triumphant tear-jerker that paradoxically, technically ends in (SPOILER ALERT!) a loss! No matter the ending, it would take quite an act of cynicism to watch the training scene and not want to get out there and get in shape yourself!
What are your favorite inspirational sports, health and fitness movies?
Photo credit: yuquantan

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