3 unique sports movies to watch during the COVID-19 pandemic

Illustration by Claire Deely

Joe Dodson, Contributing Writer

If you are like me, one of the hardest things to deal with outside of the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, is missing sports. 

Sports always have been comforting to me. No matter what is going on in my life, I can always watch a game and relax for a couple of hours. Although there won’t be any live games for a while, we can still try and fill the void with sports movies. 

Many people have watched the big sports movies like “The Blind side” or “Remember the Titans,” but if you are looking for something different that encompasses all we love about sports, I recommend these movies below. (Be warned, spoilers are ahead.)

Borg Vs McEnroe (2017)

This tennis movie directed by Janus Metz Pedersen is sure to remind us all why we fall in love not only with sports, but with the athletes. 

The story follows Swedish legend Björn Borg (played by Sverrir Gudnason) as he attempts the unimaginable, his fifth straight Wimbledon championship title. Borg is emotionless on the court, which earned him the nickname “Ice-Man” for his cool demeanor. But off the court is a completely different story. We learn of Borg’s rise from the Swedish youth ranks where he was known for his temper tantrums. 

His trainer at a young age tells Borg he must bottle up his emotions, and that is when his tennis career really begins. As a young adult dealing with fame, we see Borg show obsessive compulsive disorder tendencies such as stringing all of his rackets every night, over and over until they are all perfectly strung. His whole life is consumed by the idea of winning Wimbledon, and as his fifth chance approaches only one man stands in his way: John McEnroe. 

John McEnroe, who is played by Shia LaBeouf, is the newcomer from New Jersey who is portrayed in the media as the exact opposite of Borg. Watching Borg play is like watching a disciplined, precise orchestra perform, while watching McEnroe is more similar to going to a heavy metal concert. He screams, he breaks his rackets and he curses out whole stadiums. He is the “bad boy” of tennis, and encompasses everything within the term. McEnroe is Borg’s only real threat, and they are pitted against each other as enemies. The news media tries to create a rivalry for the ages by dividing them. You either cheer for the traditional, respectful proven winner in Borg, or you take a risk and support the antihero of tennis in McEnroe. 

What the viewer learns is that Borg and McEnroe are incredibly similar. Both have been trained since birth that they had to prove their worth through winning. Both share a deep-rooted anger.

The film shows the perspective of Borg’s (then) girlfriend and she deals not only with sharing a life with a phenomenal athlete, but also what it is like to be with someone dealing with mental illness. The story is not one of good and evil, but instead about old ways versus new. The beauty of the film is that it attempts to show an honest view of two athletes who were often categorized as very specific character types. 

Mid90s (2018)

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut was perhaps the most honest portrayal of the complex world of skateboarding ever attempted. The cast consist of many professional skateboarders, which adds a sense of authenticity. 

The story is loosely based off of Jonah Hill’s childhood where he embraced Los Angeles skate culture. The film takes place, as the title suggests, in the summer of 1996 in Los Angeles. The main character is 13 year old Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic, who is trying to find a place to fit in. He finds his identity at a local skate shop where he meets a group of older teenage skateboarders. 

The group is led by Ray, played by Na-Kel Smith, who gives viewers a glimpse into the process of trying to make it in skateboarding. The group spends the summer showing Stevie a brand new way of life that includes breaking some rules, having fun and always looking out for one another. 

Stevie experiences many first such as his first kiss, first time trying marijuana and his first time feeling accepted for who he is. The film’s soundtrack is full of nostalgic ’90s hits, which is just one example of the attention to detail that makes this movie so familiar. Stevie sees the highs and lows of skateboarding culture throughout the film, but through the lows you can see the unique sense of community there is with skateboarding. The film will interest anyone who loved the ’90s.

Escape to Victory (1981)

This incredibly ambitious John Huston film takes place during World War II primarily in a prisoner of war camp. This movie not only features cinematic giants such as Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone, but also includes who many argue is the greatest soccer player of all time, Brazilian legend Pelé. 

The story is about a group of allied prisoners in a Nazi camp who play soccer. The Germans decide to host a game between the prisoners and the German national team in a propaganda stunt to make the Nazis look good. Stallone escapes the camp to set up a plan for the rest of the teams escape with the French Resistance. 

This is one of those great David versus Goliath stories where all the odds are stacked against the protagonists, but they still manage to win. In the excitement of winning the game, the team does manage to escape. This movie is special in the same way “Space Jam” was because of how exciting it is to watch the athletes we love on the big screen. This movie gives perspective to how important sports are, especially during times of crisis. 

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