With the Olympics being a Global event of such cultural significance, it is not surprising that the Games should permeate into our popular culture. What is surprising is the almost small number of films about the Olympics. A quick search will reveal several top 10 or top 11 lists of the best Olympic movies, mainly with the same line-up of films, ranging from drama (Munich, Without Limits, Miracle, Chariots of Fire), comedy (Cool Runnings, Blades of Glory (while technically not an Olympic film, it pretty much is), The Cutting Edge (while technically not a comedy, it pretty much is), and even documentary (Dare to Dream, or any Bud Greenspan retrospective), but you would be hard pressed to find a top 25, let alone a top 50 list.
So why are there so few Olympic movies? Is there something inherent about the Olympics that prevents them from being adequately displayed on the big screen? Why haven’t their been any feature films about the Olympic games past 1988? It would seem that at any Olympics there are stories just waiting to be made into movies, yet they don’t materialize–not even in tv movie format.
Is it because true stories are boring or not entertaining? If we already know the outcome, can there be any real excitement and drama? Sure there can, I have spoiled almost every book and movie I have read or seen in the past 5 years and have still enjoyed them plenty, and movies like Miracle prove that it can be done for Olympic moments and films.
Is it just that sports movies don’t translate well to film, whether they are true or fiction? Given the success of so many great sports film, I can’t believe that is a reason – see Top 25, and Top 50 Best Sports Movies.
Are the Olympic memories and stories too fresh to warrant the need film adaptation? Maybe the story needs to age, and perhaps get forgotten a little before it can be made into a feature film (2020 film adaptation of the Alexandre Bilodeau story?). With all the media coverage during the Games, and the production values that go into telling an athletes’ backstory, maybe we don’t need a movie to sensationalize the story, it has already been done. With all the coverage, the athletes have not only become household names, but household faces, which may limit our ability to accept an actor portraying our favourite athlete. Perhaps that is why the documentary format is so popular for capturing the Olympic experience, it allows us to relive our favourite moments, with our favourite athletes, in a very personal and visceral way, that is often lost in feature dramatic films.
Next week I’ll look into the portrayal of the Olympics in other cultural forms, mainly TV and literature, where it has seemed to fair much better. In the mean time, if you have any other thoughts on why there are so few Olympic films leave them in the comments.