Every now and again, I feel the need for some running inspiration and head for the movie archive. I’m looking for movies that capture the spirit, challenge and perseverance of distance running, and inject sufficient drama and emotion to make it interesting. There aren’t many.

This is the first of three posts in which I offer my personal opinions of eleven movies with a running theme. This one covers The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Run Fatboy Run, Without Limits and Chariots of Fire (OK, it’s not distance running, but I’m allowed to use artistic license on my own blog). Part Dos will cover Marathon Man, Across the Tracks, The Jericho Mile and Running (assuming I can find them). The final post will cover Prefontaine, On the Edge and Spirit of the Marathon, and conclude with a top 5 ranking.

I’ve tried not to give too much away, but take heed, there may be some spoilers.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

lonlinessMade in 1962, this black and white movie, based on a short story by Alan Stillitoe is regarded as something of a cult classic, scoring a respectable 7.6 on IMDB. A classic, that is, of youth rebellion in 60s Britain rather than of running per se. It features some of the most unlikely / overacted running sequences imaginable with facial contortions more at home in a low-grade torture movie. The movie is certainly watchable for it’s story, social commentary, and the clipped regulation accents that were in vogue at the time, but don’t expect to extract any meaningful motivation or to learn much about running.

Motivation score 2/10
Running action score 2/10

Run Fatboy Run

run fatboyYou can’t go wrong with Simon Pegg, everything he touches turns to gold. Or at least bronze. This one is a bit over-sentimental for the gold category, and the ending is as predictable as a wasp on speed, but it is watchable. Without spoiling things too much, Pegg tries to win back the love of his life and mother of his son, by going head to head with her American boyfriend in a marathon. Despite only training for about 47 minutes (movie elapsed time, not Garmin time), and sustaining a horrendous leg injury, Pegg puts in an unexpectedly creditable running performance including hitting the front and facing up to the wall.

Motivation score 7/10
Running action score 5/10

Without Limits

WithoutLimitsIf Run Fatboy Run puts the boot into American runners, Without Limits restores the balance with an unashamedly US-bolstering take on the racing career of the charismatic Steve Prefontaine. The first of two films covering the times of Pre (Pre! Pre! Pre! Pre! …), I will take a look at Prefontaine later. The real question is, why? Pre nearly got a medal in the 5k at the 1972 olympics, but where is the movie of Lasse Viren, who actually won the event? You can forgive the wooden performance of Donald Sutherland as Pre’s coach, Bill Bowerman. You can even forgive the gratuitous Adidas product placement as the storyline brings in Nike to restore the balance. But you can’t forgive that mustachio.

Motivation score 6/10
Running action score 7/10

Chariots of Fire

chariotsThe oscar-winning story of two runners at the 1924 Olympics, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, supported by the fictional character Lord Andrew Lindsay. Incredible slow-motion race and beach running scenes backed by an electric score (in both senses of the word) by Vangelis which shouldn’t work, but so does. The story has everything – conviction, sacrifice, rivalry, triumph over prejudice and adversity – and it is impossible not to get behind the principal characters as they seize their moment. The film is based in fact but adds a huge amount of artistic license to the mix for drama. Supposedly, Eric Liddell did actually run like a wounded bear, arms flailing, head back and mouth open. Must try that sometime.

Motivation score 9/10
Running action score 9/10

Look out for Part Dos, which will be posted when I actually locate the movies and have a chance to see them.

  1. This is much more authoritative than my my post about a film where I’m sure you see someone running in the distance at least once (wp.me/p3gtqs-nq) but glad it’s not just me who can never find a DVD when I need it!

  2. […] second of three posts in which I offer my personal opinions of eleven movies with a running theme. The first post covered The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Run Fatboy Run, Without Limits and Chariots of […]

  3. Kathy R says:

    Nice! Can’t go wrong with Simon Pegg running for erectile dysfunction. I just might own that DVD.
    I forget if it was Without Limits or Prefontaine but I had a hoot watching these guys constantly looking over their shoulders during their “searing” 5Ks. Seriously, who does that during the race of your life?
    Chariots of Fire … always have to stop and watch if it happens to come up on the TV.