Lights, camera, action as sport plays supporting role in movie magic

We’ve all seen the lockdown lists of must-see sports movies but what about the sport that features in so many other films?
Lights, camera, action as sport plays supporting role in movie magic

Robert Downey Jr, as Sherlock Holmes, lets off steam with some bare-knuckle boxing in a stylish fight scene.
Robert Downey Jr, as Sherlock Holmes, lets off steam with some bare-knuckle boxing in a stylish fight scene.

We’ve all seen the lockdown lists of must-see sports movies but what about the sport that features in so many other films?

It’s amazing how often sports infiltrate the popular mainstream, so much so that we’ve called a halt at 50 scenes which prominently feature a sport, professional or otherwise, either as a significant backdrop or a key part of a character’s


So here, in no particular order, are our Not Quite Sports Movies...

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) — American Football: One of the best touchdowns in NFL history is undermined by Tom Hardy’s terrorist Bane, who after complimenting the boy soprano’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, declares, “Let the games begin,” detonating several under-pitch explosions as the Gotham Rogues punt returner runs the length of the field.

The Godfather (1972) — Horse Racing: Movie producer Jack Woltz shows off prized thoroughbred Khartoum to Corleone consigliere Tom Hagen, who wants the Don’s godson Johnny Fontane in his picture. Woltz refuses and wakes up the next morning with Khartoum’s head in his bed.

Sherlock Holmes (2009) — Boxing: Robert Downey Jr’s Victorian sleuth lets off steam with some bare-knuckle boxing in a stylish fight scene. Director Guy Ritchie had some form here, with Snatch (2000), in which Brad Pitt’s traveller Mickey, double-crosses the gangster hoping to fix his fight.

Gallipoli (1981) — Track and Field: Two Australian sprinters transported to the Great War in 1915 race each other to the pyramids at Giza for a friendly bet. Beautifully shot, they reach the top in darkness and carve their names alongside those of Napoleonic soldiers, there more than a century before.

Forget Paris (1995) — Basketball: Billy Crystal as wisecracking and depressive NBA ref Mickey, who disallows a Charles Barkley buzzer beater and throws Kareem Abdul Jabbar out of his final game. “Are you nuts? This is my final game!” — “Well let me be the first to say farewell!”

The Breakfast Club (1985) — Wrestling: Not quite an athlete, Emilio Estevez’s Andrew is a reluctant high-school wrestler serving detention for taping Larry Lester’s buns together. In a key scene he tells his fellow detainees he only wrestles to keep his dad happy.

“You know, sometimes I wish my knee would give. And I wouldn’t be able to wrestle anymore.”

The World According To Garp (1982) — Wrestling: Robin Williams’ titular character wrestles in against a rival school. The referee is played by wrestling fanatic John Irving, author of the novel on which the film is based.

The Italian Job (1969) — Football: Bank robber Michael Caine uses an Italy-England game as cover to escape from Turin with a souped up Minis and a coach full of gold bars.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) — Football: In a cartoon jungle, a real-life David Tomlinson referees a game between animated beasts and he could do with VAR as the ball, punctured by a rhino’s horn, is blown over the line by a crown-wearing lion for the only goal.

Ocean’s 11 (2001) — Boxing: The Las Vegas casino heist in this all-star remake of the 1960 Rat Pack movie takes place with a power cut on the Strip during a Lennox Lewis-Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight title fight that never took place in real life.

Ocean’s 12 (2004) — Football: Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney and gang all wear Arsenal tracksuits in Amsterdam as the robbers travel to a safe-cracking job with gymnast and burglar Yen (Shaobo Qin) hiding in an AFC-crested travel bag. No, we don’t know why either.

Logan Lucky (2017) — NASCAR: Another heist, like the Ocean films directed by Steven Soderbergh but this time at the Charlotte Motor Speedway as Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang helps Logan brothers Adam Driver and Channing Tatum rob all the raceday takings..

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) — Cricket: Mumbai slum kids play cricket on an airport runway. Slumdog Jamal grows up and makes into the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Flashbacks in Jamal’s life provide the answers to many questions including the big prize: who holds the record for most first-class centuries.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) — Baseball: Another high school teen classic from the Breakfast Club’s director John Hughes as Ferris and crew bunk off to spend a day in Chicago, including a trip to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Ferris catches a fly ball. “Hey batter batter batter, s-weengg batter.”

You Only Live Twice (1967) — Sumo: Sean Connery’s James Bond arrives in Tokyo and heads straight to the Grand Tournament, picking up his ticket from real-life wrestler Takemitsu Fujinishiki en route.

Goldfinger (1964) — Golf: Bond and nemesis Goldfinger play a round for a shilling a hole. When Bond drops a gold bar onto the 16th green, and Goldfinger misses his short putt, it’s all square and the stakes are raised.

The villain’s caddie is henchman Oddjob, “not a very good caddie” and also a cheat but Bond double-bluffs his rivals, switching Goldfinger’s Slazenger 1 for a 7 and claiming victory on a penalty stroke at the 18th.

Die Another Day (2002) — Fencing: Pierce Brosnan’s Bond flashes blades and double entendres with fencing instructor Verity (Madonna) and villain Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens).

“I see you handle your weapon well,” says Verity, to which Bond replies: “I have been known to keep my tip up.”

Robin Hood (1973) — Archery: Bows and arrows feature strongly in every iteration of the folk hero from Errol Flynn to Russell Crowe but the best sport is to be found in the Disney animation.

I Am Legend (2007) — Golf: Will Smith drives balls off the wing of a stealth fighter jet on the deck of the USS Intrepid into post-apocalyptic Manhattan’s West Side - Fore!!!!

The Van (1996) — Football: Redundant Dublin baker Bimbo and best pal Larry cash in on Italia ‘90 with a mobile chipper. Notable for Colm Meaney’s Larry wearing a “F..k Schillaci” t-shirt.

Good Will Hunting (1997) — Baseball: Robin Williams‘ psychologist tells Matt Damon’s maths prodigy the story of how he passed up a ticket to the Red Sox’ 1975 World Series Game Six and missed Carlton “Pudge” Fisk’s 12th inning lead-off homer, all to stay in the bar and chat up his future wife.

The Crying Game (1992) — Cricket: Forest Whitaker, playing a murdered British soldier, haunts the dreams of IRA man Stephen Rea by bowling in cricket whites. Weird.

The Departed (2006) — Rugby: Matt Damon prepares to play Francois Pienaar in proper sports movie Invictus (2009) with a game of park rugby in a cops v firefighters game at the start of Martin Scorsese’s Boston Irish mob thriller.

The Odd Couple (1968) — Baseball: Walter Matthau’s sportswriter Felix misses one of the greatest baseball plays ever, by his beloved Mets because Jack Lemmon’s neurotic flatmate Oscar phones him in the Shea Stadium press box to talk about dinner.

A Few Good Men (1992) — Baseball: If he’s not in a military courtroom Tom Cruise’s lippy US Navy lawyer Lt Daniel Kaffee spends an awful lot of time at batting practice.

Forrest Gump (1994) — College Football: Tom Hanks’ low IQ hero’s incredible speed takes him to football powerhouse Alabama. “Run, Forrest, run!” screams his team-mate as he embarks on an end to end touchdown run. He’s also very good at ping pong.

Diner (1982) — American Football: Baltimore 1959, Colts obsessive Steve Guttenberg’s Eddie presents his fiancee with a 140-question test on the history of his beloved team. Elyse needs to pass as a condition of marriage. Appalling and hilarious in equal measure.

M*A*S*H (1970) — American Football: The black comedy set in the Korean War sees the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit play the 325th Evac hospital. A gun fires during the game, at which Loretta Swit’s Major Houlihan screams: “Oh God, they shot him!”

Colonel Blake: “Hot Lips, you incredible nincompoop, that’s the end of the quarter.”

Wayne’s World (1992) — Street Hockey: Hapless heroes Wayne and Garth don Chicago Blackhawks jerseys for a one on one game outside their houses, regularly interrupted by passing cars.

“Game On!”

Clerks (1994) — Ice Hockey: New Jersey slackers Dante and Randal shut down the convenience store they work in to play hockey on the roof. Plenty of NHL jerseys and a CCCP shirt in goal.

The Incredibles (2004) — Track and Field: Superhero son Dash dials down his superspeed to win the school 100m race, just.

The Big Lebowski (1998) — Bowling: Coen Brothers comedy featuring Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, his stoner bowling buddies, and a ridiculously OTT rival Jesus Quintana (John Turturro). Dude (Jeff Bridges): “That creep can roll, man”. John Goodman’s Walter: “Yeah, but he’s a pervert, Dude.”

Naked Gun (1988) — Baseball: Leslie Nielsen’s incompetent cop goes undercover as a baseball umpire during an Angels-Mariners game. No further explanation needed.

Top Gun (1986) — Beach Volleyball: An infamous scene in which topless and sweaty fighter pilots Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer flex their pecs in a beach volleyball game.

Pulp Fiction (1994) — Boxing: Bruce Willis’s Butch agrees to throw a fight for a gangster, but instead places his own bets, but not before killing his opponent in the ring.

Mr Deeds (2002) — Tennis: Adam Sandler’s smalltown innocent inherits a media conglomerate, goes to New York and goes for a night out with John McEnroe. He also owns the NY Jets, teaches the quarterback manners and hires out Madison Square Garden for a date with Winona Ryder.

Teen Wolf (1985) — Basketball: High school teen Scott Howard (Michael J Fox) turns werewolf on court, to his team’s advantage.

The Social Network (2010) — Rowing: The movie about the birth of Facebook features a race scene at the Henley Royal Regatta where the Harvard eight compete against a Dutch crew.

Wedding Crashers (2005) — American Football: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s womanisers play touch football, Vaughn getting sacked on every play by a psychotic Bradley Cooper. “Big tree fall hard, eh?”

Hope and Glory (1987) — Cricket: Before he goes off to war, a dad tells his son he has something important to tell him as they play in their suburban London back garden. “It’s the googly. No hand is too small to master it. I’m going to pass on the secret now in case anything happens to me.”

Mary Poppins (1964) — Horse Racing: The magical nanny and her charges join the back of a flat race, aboard carousel horses. “Oh, riders, would you be so kind as to let me pass?”.

Running Man (1987) — Dystopian Death Racing: Wrongly convicted cop Arnie Schwarzenegger races for his life in a field of convicted killers.

Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace (1999) — Pod Racing: Jedi apprentice Anakin Skywalker feels the force to recover from a start-line engine stall. Ben Hur’s Roman chariot race (1959) on steroids.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) — Quidditch: Another made up sport, this time involving broomsticks and a golden snitch. Harry wins it for Gryffindor against arch rivals Slytherin on his debut.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) — Quidditch: Ireland beat Bulgaria in the World Cup final, though the horror of a hologram dancing leprechaun takes the edge of the win.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) — Tennis: Wes Anderson’s comedy features a Borg-like Richie ‘The Baumer’ Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) in meltdown at the US Nationals.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) — Cricket: Alfred Hitchcock’s last British film features a subplot of two English gents trying to get home for the Old Trafford Test amid murder and intrigue on a train.

Michael Collins (1996) — Gaelic Football: Bloody Sunday 1920 revisited.

My Left Foot (1989) — Football: Playing street ball, a prostrate Christy Brown saves a shot with his head and then smashes home a penalty with his only working limb.

The Snapper (1993) — Cycling: Colm Meaney’s Dessie interrupts his hedge trimming to time the Barrytown Wheelies as they race around the estate.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective — American Football:The Miami Dolphins lose their mascot and a jewel from an AFC championship also goes missing.

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