Nine movies that deliver the drama that pandemic TV sports coverage can't

While some sports have returned to action, watching them on TV is nothing like pre-pandemic times.

I'm sure some of you are ecstatic just to have live sports to follow, even with the bastardized rules (baseball's seven-inning double headers), out-of-season playoffs (NBA and NHL in August) and lack of fans on hand (pretty much every sport going).

As an avowed sports junkie, I just can't get the same emotional rush watching right now. Thankfully, there are plenty of movies that do deliver that satisfying drama sports normally do, no matter how often I watch them. Here are a few favorites for your consideration:

The Karate Kid (1984)
Even in 1984, the idea that one youth karate student could kick an opponent in the head to win the "Under 18 All-Valley Karate Tournament" was shocking. It was also incredibly satisfying, as Ralph Macchio's Daniel character had been bullied throughout the movie, and the head in question belonged to Billy Zabka, an excellent villain as "Johnny" here and in myriad other '80s teen flicks (Just One of the Guys, Back to School, National Lampoon's European Vacation). Those of us of a certain age practiced that "crane kick" a lot in our backyards.

Creed (2015)
The reboot of the Rocky series starring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed (son of Apollo Creed from the Rocky movies) is way better than it had any right to be, and much of that is due to the stirring final fight scene between Creed and light heavyweight champ Ricky Conlan. The fight recalls the original Rocky finale, right down to Creed's shorts, and it's impossible not to get caught up in the slugfest. Of course, you'll want to watch the first four Rocky movies as an appetizer.

Uncut Gems (2019)
Uncut Gems is not a traditional sports movie by any means, but the tension in this Adam Sandler flick ratchets up throughout as his character, the aptly named Howard Ratner, makes a series of bad decisions driven by his gambling addiction. And yet, a bold bet on the NBA playoffs (and his jewelry store customer Kevin Garnett) gives him a chance to squirm out of his self-created pickle. Watching Howard watch the game is far more exciting than it sounds. And while I won't spoil the ending, let's just say Howard experiences both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in short order.

All the Right Moves (1983)
You can have Friday Night Lights (the movie, not the TV version) or Varsity Blues (c'mon, get real) — for my money this Tom Cruise vehicle is the best high school football movie. Cruise plays an undersized tough guy on a powerhouse team from poor industrial Pennsylvania. He has dreams of using football and his brains to get out of his dead-end town, where most of his friends are destined to work the mines, but a personality clash with his coach (Spokane's own Craig T. Nelson) threatens his future, and the team's success.

Fighting With My Family (2019)
Professional wrestling isn't exactly "sports," but it can sure be exciting if you're willing to suspend your disbelief for a while. This movie is loosely based on the life of female pro wrestler Paige as she makes her way from small-town England to America's WWE, and it has some quality laughs courtesy of writer-director Stephen Merchant. Florence Pugh is excellent as Paige, and you'll get caught up in her finally reaching the ring and "winning" her first match.

Chariots of Fire (1981)
Yes, I'm recommending a British historical drama about track and field, because it turns out thrilling racing scenes can make any number of scenes at opera houses or discussions between stuffy English royalty bearable. Eric Liddell's faith wouldn't allow him to run on Sundays, forcing him to give up his spot racing in the 1924 Olympics 100-meter sprint. A teammate drops out of the 400-meter race a different day so Liddell could run, and the movie's finale is a beautifully shot lap that helped earn this movie a Best Picture Oscar.

Bring It On (2000)
Can a teen-geared comedy about cheerleading qualify as a sports movie? For our purposes, sure, because while the actual cheerleading competition that serves as the movie's finale isn't that dramatic, the journey to get there through teen romance, racial tensions and inter-squad rivalries sure is.

Breaking Away (1979)
Four working-class townies, including one cycling-obsessed leader, team up to race in the "Little 500" bike race at Indiana University against a bunch of fancy-pants college teams. Breaking Away is an incisive look at small-town life, and the final race scenes will have you cheering on the "Cutters" crew as they vanquish their rich foes.

Caddyshack (1980)
Is this movie utterly juvenile? Yes. Is it also hilarious? Again, yes. We'll ignore what that says about me, and focus on Danny Noonan's match-winning putt, aided by Bill Murray's groundskeeper Carl blowing up the golf course in pursuit of a dancing gopher. Watching Ted Knight's Judge Smails character huff and puff at the turn of events is worth every minute of watching this flick.♦

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...