Exercise in general is one of the less-appreciated genres/subjects tackled by films these days. It feels as if Chariots of Fire is but a faint whisper in film history’s past, and films promoting or portraying jogging, running, or sprinting as their central theme just don’t pop up all that often. This makes it all the more of a special occasion when running movies do happen to make their way to the big screen, and the occasion is so very special that time has been taken to offer up a list of the top 10 running movies of all time to you, the avid running-enthusiast, for your convenience and reading/watching pleasure.
Haile Gebrselassie is known in the running world as the legendary Ethiopian who went on to win Gold at the 1996 Olympic Games. Starring as himself, Gebrelassie acts out his story going back to his childhood.
This film isn’t just about Gerbrselassie’s Olympic accomplishments, but rather a close-up look at his childhood and the manner in which he grew up. The classic father-son clash of ideals and dreams takes place, with Gerbselassie wanting to go to Addis Ababa to run while his father wants him on the farm, but for a film that’s received such mixed reviews on sites like IMDB, Endurance is a tale that will grab runners by either their hearts or their laces. Either way, it’s inspiration, heart-warming, and hugely interesting to watch.
On the Edge (1986)
With a tagline that reads “Feel the Pain, Live the Dream, Share the Glory”, one would expect 1986’s On the Edge to be your stereotypical and formulaic sports film. It’s far from typical, however. Bruce Dern’s spectacular performance as Wes Holman sees his character’s eyes set on the Cielo Sea race (based on the real-live Dipsea Race event) as he partners up with an inspirational trainer to take it on.
What makes this movie such a compelling watch is the sense of realism and shunning of Hollywood flash for the gritty reality of a gruelling pursuit for personal success. The ending is also extremely moving.
4 Minute Mile (2014)
It’s tough not to broach the subject of this film’s insistence on being as clichéd as possible when it comes to its plot and presentation. Kelly Blatz plays your typical talented high-school student whose talents are dashed by his wayward behaviour. It takes an alcoholic running coach to give him enough focus to refine his talents. It goes on to fulfil all of the underdog sports-movie stereotypes from hereon in.
It’s still a great watch however. Though predictable, it’s well-made, and portrays some unorthodox training methods that might interest and even inspire the runners in the audience
Running Brave (1983)
Here’s a quality film that’s based on the true story of runner Billy Mills, the legendary native-American runner whose 1964 Olympic gold is remembered by old-school runners even today as one of the greatest Olympic upsets of all time.
The film’s formulaic nature can almost be forgiven due to the persuasive nature of the true story that inspired it. Important themes like prejudice in the 50’s are tackled in this film, though the highlight for any runner will be its climactic Tokyo 1964-Olympics finish.
Unbreakable: The Western States 100 (2011)
Ultrarunning is tough by anyone’s standards, and 2011 Unbreakable: The Western States 100 does a sublime job of conveying both the personal stories of those involved as well as the unbelievably tough nature of this greater-than-26.2-mile pursuit.
The highlights of the film for many will be the inclusion of the pre and post-race interviews. The cinematography is sublimely innovative as well, with cameras on tracks and a multitude of other techniques that bring together a stunning piece of film with an inspirational ultra-running approach.
Personal Best (1982)
Personal Best shuns the usual Hollwood-esque portrayal of the single underdog sportsperson training to overcome personal difficulties. Instead, this film is a much deeper exploration of characters for whom the film makes you care deeply.
From a runner’s perspective, the subject of the 1980 US Olympics team is interesting, as are the training scenes. The relationship between the two women in the film is the most interesting and gripping of the themes however, as their personal feeling intertwine with their hopes and ambitions for sporting success.
Spirit of the Marathon (2007)
This documentary’s focus is on five runners competing in a classic 26.2-mile marathon. Though the marathon itself isn’t anything out of the ordinary, its focus on the five athletes – three amateur-level runners as well as two of the elite class – makes this film unique, offering insights into the entire process from a variety of perspectives.
Without Limits (1998)
The first of two films in this list about Steve Prefontaine, Without Limits reminds us of a time when Amateur Athletics was still in place. This is a fantastic look at the achievements of Prefontaine, along with the rather abrasive personality that drove him to be the man who once held the most American distance-running records of all time.
Chariots of Fire (1981)
You’ve probably got the famous theme tune in your head already, but Chariots of Fire is more than just its soundtrack. This classic running epic concerns itself equally with the theme of running and that of the British class system. The British patriotism is obvious at every juncture, but the many running scenes in the film are not to be forgotten.
Fire on the Track: The Steve Prefontaine Story (1995)
This time a biographical exploration of Prefontaine’s life and achievements. The film is presented with narration by Ken Kasey and contains many minutes of Prefontaine’s training footage, which will be sure to mesmerise amateur and professional runners alike. The 1972 Olympic Games is one of the highlights, though his last ever race – Hayward Field – has an air of profoundness about it since the audience will (probably) know of his fate to come. This film gives Steve Prefontaine the recognition he deserves, and is the second film on this list to do so."