Philosophical Sports Films

As part of my contribution to Cesar Torres’ ‘Companion to the Philosophy of Sport’ (due out next year) I wanted to include a list of films that covered philosophical issues in sport. I use a few for a module I teach called ‘Sport, Meaning and Value’ as films and documentaries provide a real wealth of resource for discussion. I quickly discovered that there were far too many to include in a book chapter so decided to collate a list of as many as I could find, put it online, and provide an electronic link to the list.

So here’s the list: Sports films relating to philosophical issues

Many thanks to all my friends and colleagues that have provided suggestions to this list, particularly to members of the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport, and the British Philosophy of Sport Association.

Some of the films I would not rate at all but obviously other people do (otherwise they wouldn’t have suggested them to me) so I’ve included them anyway.

Nevertheless, here’s my top 5 and why:

  1. Dogtown and the Z Boys (2001) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0275309/ – There’s always been something about skateboarding that has fascinated me. The idea that within urbanisation there can be freedom and creativity. I’ve spent many an hour just watching skateboarders, either just hanging around at the South Bank in London, or in competitions on huge vert ramps. This film shows the history and development of skateboarding as well as the (often troubled) lives of some of the more famous names in the sport. It also highlights the relationship between technology, sporting performance, and creativity.
  2. Step Into Liquid (2003) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0308508/ – There are many good surfing films (and many that are more beautifully shot) but this is probably my favourite as it is so wide-ranging in the types of surfing that it covers, from the big (and I mean BIG) wave surfing, to children mucking about in the water. Coming from a surfing county (Cornwall) I grew up in the water so have first hand of the beauty, but also sheer power of the wave. Surfing really does have something to say about the sublime.
  3. Man on Wire (2008) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1155592/ – Technically this isn’t a sports film at all but I like to include it because it’s a very powerful and emotional demonstration of the human spirit and physical endeavour. You see this in the fact that those that took part are still brought to tears by the memories 35 years later. It is all the more poignant because it is set around the building of the Twin Towers in New York.
  4. Rollerball (1975) http://www.imdb.co.uk/title/tt0073631/ – Although many aspects of this film got the future (today) completely wrong, there is also a lot that does resonate with today’s world, particularly the power of multi-national corporations. There is also something to be said in the way that the commercialisation of sports feeds the base desires of the masses and that athletes are merely pawns in the entertainment world to be used and disposed of at will.
  5. This Sporting Life (1963) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057578/ – This is a dark and slow film that highlights the absurdity and mundanity of life (don’t expect any Hollywood special effects or fast action). It slightly plays on the stereotype of northern English life but it does demonstrate the relationship between sport, meaning and life more generally.
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6 thoughts on “Philosophical Sports Films

  1. Great post Emily. Would you consider Victory a film in this vein? World War II POWs having to choose between freedom and playing the second half of their soccer match. Talk about a high stakes game.

      • Hello, It’s a pleasure to meet you on-line. I teach both a sport ethics and sport film class here in the US. Thank you forr you top 5 list. I think both Chariots of Fire and Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner are excellent films that use sport to examine Victorian values (the former) and the disinfranchised working class in London (the latter).

      • Thanks. I would have put Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in my top 5 but decided to put This Sporting Life in instead. Still, might now change it…

      • My field is more sport sociology but two American films that do a a great job at social satire are Bad News Bears – 1976 version (Youth Sport) and Slapshot (Violence). I’m not sure if documentaries count but the films of Bud Greenspan do a great job of reflecting the Olympic mission, values and philosophy – I”m a bit biased, he happened to be my Uncle. Best wishes,

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