Women. Sport. Emotions. Movies. On their own, these are all wonderful things. But can you imagine a world where they were all combined into one glorious moving picture creation that you could view with your eyes? Of course, there are plenty of man sport movies (cue Rocky music). You can’t swing a bat (cool sports reference) inside a video store (or Netflix account) without hitting a movie that has been made about male athletes. Like in essentially every field associated with sport, women are underserved and underrepresented.
However, some great films about women and sport have managed to somehow slip through the cracks like a cricket ball through the keeper’s gloves (another cool sport reference) and have reached an audience.
I present to you a list of the best movies about women playing sport.
She’s the Man (2006)
In She’s the Man, the criminally underrated comic genius of Amanda Bynes (not a joke) is at full force in a movie about a girl football player playing as a boy. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the movie tells the story of Viola, played by Bynes, who attempts to circumvent a sexist school system that cancels her girl’s football team and disallows her from joining the boy’s team.
She does this by pretending to be her brother Sebastian, joining a rival school’s boy’s team, becoming the best player, and falling in love with a teammate named Duke (a young Channing Tatum). The movie is funny, it’s inventive, and that is one killer way to subvert the patriarchy with sport.
Blue Crush (2002)
This surfing movie is all about beach, babes, sun, sand, poverty, class struggles, PTSD, redemption, and romance. Kate Bosworth plays Anne Marie, a young woman working as a maid at a Hawaiian resort with her two best friends: all of whom are helping to raise Anne Marie’s younger sister. Anne Marie is training hard in the hopes of entering a famed surfing competition, attracting the attention of a sponsor, and being able to pull her friends and sister out of poverty.
It’s not all easy for Ann Marie – yes she falls for a handsome football player who is visiting the resort, but she also has to overcome what is clearly PTSD from a previous near-drowning incident in order to enter the competition. The movie has many female surfers playing themselves, and the surfing sequences themselves are shot beautifully, really showcasing just how skillful and brave surfers are.
Whip It (2009)
In Whip It, Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore and Juliette Lewis are on skates, smashing into each other and other opposition roller derby players. What more could you ask for? How about an unexpected and satisfying romantic storyline, stories of female friendship, and lessons about non-conformity and self-worth?
Whip It also helped kick off a surge in the popularity of roller derby, with established leagues taking advantage of the increase in awareness of roller derby as a sport. It made everyone conscious of the fact that there were groups of women playing this sport all over the place, and it showed just how tough, physical and exciting a sport dominated by women is.
Bring It On (2000)
Ready? Ok! When thinking about sports before the year 2000, cheerleading might not have been one of the first one or ten or fifty that naturally popped into your head. But after the release of Bring It On, competition cheerleading became more widely recognised worldwide as a competitive and cutthroat world, akin to gymnastics.
Bring It On stars Kirsten Dunst as Torrance, a high school student who takes over as captain of her school’s previously very successful cheerleading squad, quickly discovering that the team had achieved that success by stealing routines from a rival squad. The seriousness with which the movie treats the competition between Kirsten Dunst and the other school’s captain, while also being a teen rom-com and featuring many cheerleading puns makes this movie not only a great teen movie, but a great sports movie.
Stick It (2006)
After you have finished with the good clean fun of Bring It On with its energy and pep, it is recommended that you then watch it’s slightly more cynical counterpart Stick It. Missy Peregrym plays Haley, a talented but rebellious gymnast who is court-ordered to return to the world of competitive gymnastics.
Stick It not only depicts the impressive world of gymnastics, but it is one of the only films of its kind that does not deem it necessary for the protagonist to have a love interest. Instead, it focuses on the relationship between Haley, her coach and teammates, and centres on her personal growth. Not only this, but its ending is decidedly feminist. Watch and enjoy her “stick it” to the man.
p.s if you miss the cheer-puns of Bring It On, don’t worry – Stick It has quotes like “It’s not called gym-nice-tics”
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Million Dollar Baby is a rare beast – it is a sports movie about a female athlete that is not a romantic movie or a comedic movie. It is instead very serious, focusing on a woman named Maggie (played by Hillary Swank), who convinces a man named Frankie (played by Clint Eastwood), to train her in the art of boxing. It’s the story of the dedication of boxers, of the commitment that female athletes in particular have to possess; and of the brutality of the sport.
It’s not an easy movie to watch, but it is an important one in a world of sport movies about women that don’t often show you the dark side.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Bend It Like Beckham is another movie that falls outside the norm of popular female sports movies (or movies in general) by starring a lead that is not white. Parminder Nagra stars as Jess, a Londoner who is obsessed with football, but who has been forbidden from playing by her parents because she is a girl. But guess what? Jess is great at it, playing in the park and garnering the attention of the local woman’s team.
The movie goes through the trials and tribulations of keeping her football career a secret from her parents, and trying to make them realise that her skills are as valid as any man’s. There is also romance in this film, conceivably between Jess and her coach Joe, but everyone knows that the real love story is between Jess and her best friend Jules, played by Keira Knightley.
An Indian lead, women playing football and being great at it, AND lesbian subtext – Bend it Like Beckham is a much watch for any self-respecting sports fan.
A League of Their Own (1992)
A League of Their Own is possibly the best (or at least my favourite) movie about women playing sport. It tells a fictionalised version of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (which actually existed), created during World War II to fill the space left when the male players went off to war. It is centred on the story of Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty) Hinson, sisters who join the league (and end up as rivals), after Dottie in particular shows immense natural talent.
It is a movie filled with different kinds of women, and their stories. Dottie’s superior prowess on the field is a main focus on the movie, along with the relationship between the sisters. For a movie set in 1943, is interesting and depressing to see the parallels that still exist between the ways female athletes were treated then, to how they are treated now.
It is funny, it is moving, the cast is wonderful (including Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna as comedy relief), and most importantly – it shows women being amazing at sport.
Trying to come up with a list of best women’s sport movies was sadly not difficult. I say sadly because the reason it was easy is due to the fact that there are still relatively few produced. The most recent on this list is Whip It, and that came out six years ago. We can only hope that as female athletes continue the struggle to receive the recognition and equality they deserve, more movies depicting their stories will eventually be made.
I’m personally putting in a request for a Serena Williams biopic.