There are three ways to experience the rush of the Olympics this summer.
No. 1: Win the lottery, buy a plane ticket to Atlanta and pray for a hotel room somewhere in the state of Georgia.
No. 2: Put in a backyard pool, do your best synchronized swimming routine and have your friends cheer for you. Finish by awarding yourself the gold medal. (Aluminum foil makes a lovely silver medal if you are modest.)
No. 3: This is for the more practical and/or budget-minded type: Rent a movie - specifically one of the many movies that specialize in the tear-jerking, heart-wrenching, conquer-the-world feeling of an Olympic athletic competition, as seen through the eyes of Hollywood.
Even if a movie isn’t technically about the Olympics, you can find almost every Olympic event on film, from equestrian to ice-skating. There are even movies about other countries, if you are into the competition.
Most of these movies can be found for $3 or less, depending on where you rent them. Talk about your cheap thrills. Add a bowl of popcorn and a soda and you’re still way under the Atlanta budget. You won’t have to fight any crowds, either.
Here is a list of just a few thrill-of-victory/agony-of-defeat movies to get your torch burning for the summer games:
“American Anthem” (1986): A somewhat cheesy tail of a gymnast struggling to fulfill his dreams while struggling with bad family problems. True-to-life Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord adds his athletic charm to this movie. In the style of most late-‘80s B movies, this film is shot with the music-video approach to drama.
“American Flyers” (1985): Two brothers, one who is dying, enter a grueling bicycle race. A sweet movie that leaves the audience rooting for the good guys. The movie stars Kevin Costner in one of his earlier performances.
“Chariots of Fire” (1981-British): Academy Award winner for best picture, this warm, quiet movie jumps into the lives of two extraordinary men who ran in the 1924 Olympics. It is a fascinating, in-depth study about the men, their motives, their struggles and their accomplishments. It’s got an unforgettable soundtrack, too.
“Cool Runnings” (1993): Starring the late John Candy, this warm, uplifting film profiles the first and only Jamaican bobsled team. The team is composed of four witty and personable would-be runners who fight their way from the sands of Jamaica to the snows of the 1988 Winter Olympics. No snow in Jamaica? … No problem!
“Cutting Edge” (1992): A brawny, worn-out hockey player and a crabby, spoiled ice skater learn to melt their icy hearts in this Olympic romance. The two must learn to work together to achieve a common goal, despite their ornery attitudes. Wonder of wonders, the couple makes great strides in skating - and in relationships. The competition scenes are great and leave you hanging out of your chair.
“Ice Castles” (1979): One of the better known and more dramatic Olympic-style movies, this film is the story of an Iowa farm girl and her skating career. Blinded by a freak accident, the girl struggles to get back on the ice. It comes complete with a love story, too. As moving and as family oriented as “Bambi” or “Old Yeller,” this is a three-hanky movie.
“The Jericho Mile” (1979): A prison lifer works at becoming the fastest runner in the world and aims for a spot on the Olympic team - all while trapped behind bars. The film is offbeat and gritty but thoughtful.
“National Velvet” (1944): Starring the dazzling Elizabeth Taylor and her sweet sidekick, Mickey Rooney, this is a must-see for any horse lover. It is an outstanding family film about a girl who is determined to enter her horse in an Olympic-style event. You’ll walk away teary-eyed, thrilled and ready to build yourself a brand new barn for that horse you now simply must buy.
“Olympia” (1936-German): This film is a two-part profile of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Of course there is quite a bit of subtle Nazi glorification. But they have edited out all the Hitler footage from the original version. And the cinematography is spectacular. This is one of those movies to rent if you’re up for the burn of competition.
“Personal Best” (1982): Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly find themselves as lovers and competitors while training for the 1980 Olympics. The movie takes a better look at relationships than it does at sports, but still provides the Olympic, go-get ‘em feeling. Actor Scott Glenn adds character as their manipulative coach.
“Vision Quest” (1985): Yet another ‘80s my-parents-suck-and-so-does-my-life movie. A young man is struggling with his sexual inexperience when a mysteriously beautiful woman moves into his home. The rest is pretty predictable. The movie does, however, concentrate on the boy’s wrestling and includes some fierce competition.
“You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” (1979): An Olympic movie made for the kids, starring the forever-young characters, the Peanuts gang. The movie finds Charlie Brown competing in the Junior Olympics. Everyone’s favorite down-and-out hero takes a stab at the gold.