List of Sports Films (with a philosophical bent) from Emily Ryall. Resource for teachers!

Emily Ryall
Emily Ryall

About three months ago, Emily Ryall, renowned British sport philosopher, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Gloucestershire, and blogger, asked the members of the SportPhil list as well as other scholarly sport studies lists for suggestions of feature films that  could be included in a planned “list of good films that deal with philosophical issues in sport”. She had a pretty good response rate, apparently, and the other day she published the list through her blog, Philosophical thoughts and other bits and pieces. The list contains no less than 159 titles in alphabetical order, each accompanied with a link to its IMDb page.

Dr. Ryall has selected her own Top 5 list out of the 159 that we’re presenting below verbatim. To find out which the other 154 films are, check out her blog.

  1. Dogtown and the Z Boys (2001) – There’s always been something about skateboarding that has fascinated me. The idea that within urbanisation there can be freedom and creativity. I’ve spent many an hour just watching skateboarders, either just hanging around at the South Bank in London, or in competitions on huge vert ramps. This film shows the history and development of skateboarding as well as the (often troubled) lives of some of the more famous names in the sport. It also highlights the relationship between technology, sporting performance, and creativity.
  2. Step Into Liquid (2003) – There are many good surfing films (and many that are more beautifully shot) but this is probably my favourite as it is so wide-ranging in the types of surfing that it covers, from the big (and I mean BIG) wave surfing, to children mucking about in the water. Coming from a surfing county (Cornwall) I grew up in the water so have first hand of the beauty, but also sheer power of the wave. Surfing really does have something to say about the sublime.
  3. Man on Wire (2008) – Technically this isn’t a sports film at all but I like to include it because it’s a very powerful and emotional demonstration of the human spirit and physical endeavour. You see this in the fact that those that took part are still brought to tears by the memories 35 years later. It is all the more poignant because it is set around the building of the Twin Towers in New York.
  4. Rollerball (1975) – Although many aspects of this film got the future (today) completely wrong, there is also a lot that does resonate with today’s world, particularly the power of multi-national corporations. There is also something to be said in the way that the commercialisation of sports feeds the base desires of the masses and that athletes are merely pawns in the entertainment world to be used and disposed of at will.
  5. This Sporting Life (1963) – This is a dark and slow film that highlights the absurdity and mundanity of life (don’t expect any Hollywood special effects or fast action). It slightly plays on the stereotype of northern English life but it does demonstrate the relationship between sport, meaning and life more generally.

We’re not well versed in cinematic expressions of sports philosophy, but we’re guessing this might be the final word on sport film philosophy, for some time to come. However, it seems appropriate, at this point, to link to idrottsforum.orgs own, thoroughly and generously  annotated, list of sport films, compiled and presented by Peter Dahlén (in Swedish). Not just philosophical films in this list, but this might not be that simple to pinpoint. Rollerball is on the list, though, and probably quite a few from the full list as well.

Anyway, the point is that films, when carefully selected and presented, are good educational material, and Dr. Ryall’s list is a gold mine. So, keep digging.

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