The torch has been lit, the anthem’s been played and—after a year delay and plenty of controversy—the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo are well underway.
Many would say that the Olympics transcend sports, and maybe that’s true. Sometimes, the Games can feel like high drama, filled with heroes and villains, high stakes and impossible odds, crushing tragedies and soaring inspirational moments. Sometimes, parts of the games can play out like a movie. Why, maybe it’s fitting that the Olympics themselves are something of a reboot—a reimagining of a franchise that began way back in ancient Greece.
Maybe that’s one reason why so many movies—and good movies at that—have been made about the Olympics. And many of them are reasonably family friendly.
Here’s a look at five of my favorites. I’ll list them in chronological order of when the events they were based on took place. And we begin our journey in 1924.
Chariots of Fire (1981, PG): This classic film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and it deserved them. It focuses on two British Runners: Harold Abrahams, a Jewish sprinter with a chip on his shoulder; and Eric Liddell, a Scottish wunderkind with an eye on missionary work. The film might not be for younger kids—not because of its problematic content (it has barely any of that), but because of its pace. Unlike the runners it chronicles, the film can feel a bit slow to modern audiences. But it’s also really, really good. And for Christians, Liddell is as positive a depiction of a man of faith as you’ll ever see on screen. You can watch it for free on Tubi, but it’s available to rent on a host of other services.
Race (2016, PG-13): In 1936—12 years after the events in Chariots of Fire—the Olympics were held in Nazi Germany, and Adolf Hitler was determined to use those games to prove Aryan superiority. But in 10.3 seconds, Black American Jesse Owens obliterated that myth, winning the 100-meter dash. It was the first of four gold medals he took home, arguably becoming the most significant and best-known athlete in Olympic history. Race, the movie based on his life, has its rough spots—enough to well warrant its PG-13 rating. But Owens’ story is truly one for the ages, and the film does a good job bringing that story to the screen. It’s available for rent on a number of streaming platforms.
Unbroken (2014, PG-13): If Jesse Owens was the star of the 1936 Olympics, American Louis Zamperini was a literal also-ran. The distance runner enjoyed the free buffets a little too much on the boat-ride across the Atlantic and gained 12 pounds. He wound up finishing eighth in the 5,000-meter race, though his final lap was a blistering 56 seconds—a record for the time. His Olympic experiences are only a small part of his unbelievable story, of course. Most of the film chronicles his experiences in World War II, including being stranded at sea for 47 days and his subsequent experiences as a Japanese Prisoner of War. The movie shows us some of the horrors Zamperini experienced, so it’s not always the easiest to watch. And while much of Zamperini’s real-life faith was downplayed in the film, it’s still an incredibly stirring tale, and a worthy addition to our Olympics rundown. It’s available for rent on a number of streaming platforms.
Miracle (2004, PG): In 1980, the Soviet Union’s national hockey team was an unbeatable juggernaut. The American squad? Just a rag-tag collection of college players led by the irascible coach Herb Brooks. But somehow, the United States pucksters pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, punctuated by play-by-play-man Al Michael’s famous call, “Do you believe in Miracles?” This PG film sports some foul language, but that’s about the only negative that Miracle comes with. And it brings with it a whole lot of inspirational heart. And the whole movie is available now on Disney+ for free.
Cool Runnings (1993, PG): It’s said that history is written by the victors, and Olympics history is inherently full of them—the expected, the unexpected and the sometimes outlandish. But you don’t necessarily need to take away a gold medal to walk away a winner. For the Jamaican bobsled team in 1988, just showing up was victory enough. Starring John Candy as the team’s unlikely bookie-turned-trainer Irv Blitzer, Cool Runnings is a funny, surprisingly sweet look at one of the Calgary Olympics’ most memorable sagas. Like Miracle, the bobsled track is sullied by some foul language. But otherwise, it stays well within the walls of its PG rating. And it’s also available on Disney+.
So, there you have it—a few family friendly films to watch in between swimming heats and volleyball games. As always, take a careful look at our reviews before watching. But if one or more of these films meet your family’s criteria, I hope you’ll enjoy.