Image: YouTube/Lancaster Dodd
Not all great sports stars make great sports biopic characters. Whether it’s underdogs rising to the challenge, sporting trailblazers, fallen heroes or other tragic figures, there has to be something special to give filmmakers that extra angle that translates on screen. As such, it isn’t always athletic achievement that makes these biographical films worth making and watching, but the lives led by their heroes and anti-heroes, as well as the arc they carved for themselves in sporting history. Sometimes the drama is heightened by a bit of fact-fudging historical inaccuracy but, most importantly, the story has to be worth telling in the first place. Read on for the ten best sports movie biopics.
10. Cobb (1994)
Tyrus Raymond “Ty” Cobb was one of the first baseball superstars. He’s also said to have been intense, bad tempered and a drunken, sociopathic racist. Tommy Lee Jones played Cobb in director Ron Shelton’s 1994 biopic, simply titled Cobb. The film is set in 1959, late in Cobb’s life. Hoping to “set the record the straight” prior to his death with a stale, sanctifying story of his life, Cobb works with sports journalist Al Stump (played by Robert Wuhl), who agrees to ghostwrite a squeaky-clean Cobb autobiography. However, in working with Cobb, Stump witnesses the baseball legend’s antisocial ranting and raving firsthand and, unknown to Cobb, secretly writes a more explosive second book, documenting the “truth,” which he plans to publish once Cobb has passed away. However, Cobb discovers Stump’s plans, and all hell breaks loose. Interestingly, Stump’s ostensibly truthful account of Cobb’s behavior is claimed to have been significantly embellished or fabricated.
9. Prefontaine (1997)
Jared Leto plays tragic U.S. long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine in director Steve James’ 1997 biopic, Prefontaine. Known as a forceful runner who refused to take things slowly, Prefontaine at one point held an incredible seven national records. As the movie recounts, the Oregon-born star, nicknamed “Pre,” was a successful college athlete who went on to participate in the 1972 Munich Olympics – although he failed to win a medal there. Then, while he was preparing for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Prefontaine was killed in a car accident, aged just 24. His death has been linked to alcohol, although there is some dispute over this, and it is not depicted in the film. Prefontaine’s coach at the University of Oregon, Bill Bowerman (played in the movie by R. Lee Ermey), was one of the founders of Nike, and Prefontaine was among the first major athletes to use Nike equipment. A second film on Prefontaine’s life, Without Limits – produced by Tom Cruise and starring Billy Crudup as the doomed runner – was released in 1998.