By Raquel Stecher, author of classic film blog Out of the Past
Hollywood has always had a fascination with sports. Early films featured everything from boxing, football, track and field, racing, baseball, tennis, surfing, and much more. Even if you're not a sports fan, it’s still easy to be inspired by stories of athletes striving for glory against all odds. Let’s take a trip back to see what the early days of cinema; I present to you ten of my favorite classic sports movies.
Legendary silent comedian Buster Keaton plays an eager college student determined to be a jock so he can impress his girl. He tries every sport with hilarious results. Keaton’s skills for physical comedy are on full display here.
Featuring footage from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, this installment in the Charlie Chan series is a curio you won’t want to miss. It blends mystery, world politics, sports, and a good dose of humor all with Charlie Chan’s wit, and there’s even a ride in a Zeppelin.
Errol Flynn stars in this biopic about the life of heavyweight boxer James J. Corbett. It takes a look at the early days of boxing. What I love about this rags-to-riches story is how Corbett makes his own destiny by sheer will and determination.
Not what you’d consider a sports movie but tennis plays a vital role in this Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Farley Granger plays a tennis champ who becomes entangled with psychopath Bruno Anthony, played by Robert Walker. In one famous scene, Walker locks his gaze on Farley during a match while the rest of the audience watches the back-and-forth movement of the game. It’s an eerie visual that will stay with you long after the movie is over.
One of the quintessential equine stories, National Velvet follows the journey of a young girl (Elizabeth Taylor) who, with the help of a jockey (Mickey Rooney), prepares her horse for a big race. This is a family movie with a lot of heart. Fans of Murder She Wrote will love seeing a young Angela Lansbury in the film.
Before the 1994 version, there was the 1951 MGM original starring Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh. In this story, a reporter butts heads with a disgruntled baseball manager whose team is on a terrible losing streak. Some help arrives in the form of a young orphan girl and an angel. If this film doesn’t warm your heart, I don’t know what else will.
When an injury derailed her Olympic career, swimmer Esther Williams brought her talent to Hollywood. She made numerous films for MGM featuring plenty of synchronized swimming numbers. In Dangerous When Wet, Williams attempts the amazing feat of swimming across the English Channel. A cameo by animated duo Tom and Jerry is a highlight of the movie.
Before there was Rocky, there was Somebody Up There Likes Me, a biopic based on the autobiography of champion boxer Rocky Graziano. This one has knockout performances by leading stars Paul Newman and Pier Angeli. James Dean was originally slated to star in this movie, but tragically died in an automobile accident before filming began.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy. Director Bruce Brown’s soothing and playful voice narrates this documentary about California surfers traveling the globe in search of an endless summer. It’s widely considered the greatest surfing movie ever made and has deservedly achieved cult status.
Danger and romance in a glamorous locale—what’s not to love? Grand Prix tells the story of Monaco’s legendary Formula One race through the experiences of the racers that risk life and limb for glory. Careful attention to details, including sound editing and on-location shooting, makes viewers feel like they’re in the driver’s seat.
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @Quellelove and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.