'Eddie the Eagle': Is the film another inspirational sports movie?

'Eddie' stars Taran Egerton as a real-life British athlete who became a ski jumper. What place does the inspirational sports drama have at the modern multiplex?

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP
'Eddie the Eagle' stars Taran Egerton (r.) and Hugh Jackman (l.).

The newest inspirational sports drama comes to theaters with the film “Eddie the Eagle,” which stars Taran Egerton and Hugh Jackman.

“Eddie” is based on the true story of 1980s athlete Eddie Edwards, who can’t make it as a downhill skier and so decides to attempt to compete in ski jumping at the Winter Olympics. 

The film co-stars Christopher Walken.

The genre to which “Eddie” belongs, the inspirational sports film, is one that has existed for decades. Some of the most famous examples include the 1976 movie “Rocky,” 1986’s “Hoosiers,” and the 1993 movie “Rudy.” 

Movies from past decades, rather than more contemporary films, often top the lists of the best inspirational sports films of all time. Rolling Stone staff, for example, selected such movies as the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams,” “Rocky,” and the 1980 movie “Raging Bull” as some of their top sports films, while USA Today writer Chris Chase chose “Hoosiers” and the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” as some of his selections for the best sports movies ever. 

Viewers have been won over by some recent sports movies, however. Within the past 10 years, there have been several box office hits that fall into this genre. This past November, the “Rocky” movie “Creed” became a big hit. The film “42,” which came out in 2013 and told the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, also became a success at the box office.

Boxing in particular is always popular. Like "Creed,” the 2010 movie “The Fighter,” which told the story of real-life boxer Micky Ward, was a financial success. 

Like any genre, some inspirational sports films don’t succeed – the movie “Race,” which tells the story of Olympic athlete Jesse Owens and came out earlier this month, is not doing well at the box office so far, and the past couple of years have seen a string of movies that did not become big hits, including 2014’s “Draft Day,” "When the Game Stands Tall,” and “Million Dollar Arm.”

But for those hits that did do well, why do audiences keep returning to this genre? One aspect of their potential appeal is clear: they’re about sports, and sports are popular. Look no further than football dominating in the broadcast TV ratings every year. 

In addition, positive storylines no doubt provide an uplifting experience for moviegoers. 

“Themes of inspiration and courage, that’s also meaningful to us,” Disney president of production Sean Bailey said in an interview with TheWrap. (Disney released such films as "Million Dollar Arm.") “Obviously we want to succeed financially, but it’s also meaningful to us at Disney to put movies out there with themes and ideas at their core.”

However, sports movies do come with a risk today. As international box office returns become more and more important, these films that deal with US sports don’t always appeal around the world, write Todd Cunningham and Lucas Shaw of TheWrap.

“Because even domestic hits like ‘Moneyball’ didn’t play strongly overseas, there’s extra pressure to have a story line compelling enough to convince backers that a project can appeal to non-fans,” Cunningham and Shaw wrote.

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