Sports and movies seem to be a natural combination; there have been dozens of classic sports movies over the years. While that is an article for another time, I thought I’d have a bit of fun with the concept. There are movies that create their own sports as a plot piece, tension builder or simply use them as an excuse for nudity and gore. Now I would not equate hockey with gladiatorial combat, but everyone enjoys a bit of over-the-top sports action now and then, and films are the perfect entertainment medium to deliver that craving. Here I’ll present my favourite movie moments involving non-current, fictional and unusual sports.
Lightcycle racing in Tron — Tron (1982) is an obvious pick. In it, Jeff Bridges gets sucked into a virtual world and has to fight his way out to save the real world. Tron made throwing cardboard discs and wearing spandex tights cool, if for only a little while. The lightcycle racing in Tron overshadowed everything else and remains one of the most memorable moments — apart from the disc throwing — of the film. The race is flashy, futuristic and colourful — watching someone shatter hitting a light beam is always a pleasure. Even if the effects are dated — Tron was the first film to extensively use CGI — it became a big enough cult hit for a sequel, Tron: Legacy (2010), to be made.
- All of Death Race — Death Race (2008) is the perfect re-imagining of an exploitation film, Death Race 2000 (1975), with a higher budget and bigger cast. Set in a future where prisons are overflowing with convicts, car races to the death are aired in front of live TV audiences. Weapons mounted on cars are not just allowed, but encouraged. Watching people drive cars with guns mounted on them is just plain cool. I know many people didn’t like it, but honestly, what did you expect? It’s an exploitation film thinly veiled as a popcorn flick. A good exploitation film is one that has gratuitous violence, nudity and monsters. Plot is secondary.
Chariot racing in Ben-Hur — Were you thinking I was going to recommend Gladiator? That would have been too easy. Ben-Hur (1959) is a fantastic film starring Charlton Heston as a Jewish prince who is wrongfully convicted by the Romans and forced to become a slave. After being released by a Roman captain, Ben becomes a chariot racer to earn money and get revenge. The most famous scene of the film is the 17-minute chariot race. Charlton Heston raced in the chariot himself, lending the dangerous event impressive realism.
Armed combat in Spartacus — Spartacus (1960) is masterfully directed by Stanley Kubrick and stars the gravel voiced Kirk Douglas. Spartacus tells the sordid tale of an imprisoned slave trained and forced to fight for the Romans, before leading a slave rebellion — training your slaves to fight is never a good idea. The final action scene is my favourite and the best example of brutality towards the slaves that occurs in the film. In the scene, Spartacus is forced to duel with his friend, Antoninus, to the death.
- Chess scene in The Seventh Seal — The Seventh Seal (1957) by Ingmar Bergman has one of the most famous scenes, sports or otherwise, in film history. It shows a knight on his return from the crusades coming face to face with Death. To stop the inevitable, the knight challenges Death to a chess game. The knight literally is playing for his life. Make fun of foreign black and white films all you want, but the scene is wonderfully shot and very powerful. Don’t consider chess to be a sport? Look up chessboxing and get back to us . . .