Do Sports Films EVER End In Failure?
The sports film is a particular kind of feel good flick, filled with its own familiar stories and tropes.
Consider the trials and tribulations of a young athlete as they seek their glorious destiny, the old-pro given one last chance to succeed against the odds, or even the bonding of a team of outcasts and misfits. Their drive to succeed is a common ground.
These are stories we can recognise and are repeated ad-infinitum because they resonate. Victory that is hard-earned is the sweetest of all.
But do sports films, of which there have been some classics over the years, ever end in failure? The question is a loaded one which needs us to look at the themes of the sport film and ask another question first. How do we define success or failure in a sporting film?
If we are going on purely sporting terms, there are examples of the spirited underdog, falling at the last hurdle – Friday Night Lights for instance. The film itself sees its characters’ lives as the young athletes grow and come to terms with the idea that high school football may be the apex of their lives.
Framed through the lens of a run towards the high school football play-offs, the team's eventual sporting failure is a noble one, having already exceeded expectations. Losing against the favourites in respectable fashion is its own kind of success.
In Cool Runnings, the sportsmen in question aren't even very good at their sport of choice (Bobsleigh), but they don't allow themselves to be the joke others perceive them to be.
Perhaps the most famous of all sporting films is Rocky and it charts a similar path. The lo-fi smash-hit charted the unlikely title bout offered to an over the hill, unfancied boxer in Stallone's Rocky. That he eventually draws in the fight with cocky champ Apollo Creed at the end is of no consequence. In an underdog story, it's not about sporting victory, it's about being the best that you can be and defying the odds. Maybe one day there could be a movie on the career of Anthony Joshua, who is 1/16 at the time of writing with bet365 to beat Dillian Whyte in his next fight, as the heavyweight rises through the ranks?
Success in a sporting movie is about achieving dreams, proving a point, reaching your potential and silencing doubters. Actual victory or upsetting the odds is the icing on the cake, but it's not always the point.
While those are examples where the victory of achieving one's potential is sweet enough, the vast majority of sports movies swap the nuance of a conflicted ending for outright triumph. The heroes end victorious, their smiles and celebrations tempered by the challenges that have brought them to this point.
Invictus, for instance, is a 'total victory' sports film. It is an against all odds story that tells the tale of South Africa in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Off the field, the story is of a country divided on racial lines coming together behind a sporting team as new leader Nelson Mandela hopes that rugby can help to heal old wounds.
On the field, it's the story of a team coming together, despite their differences, to triumph against adversity. It also actually happened, so we can't begrudge Invictus its happy ending.