Why the Sports Movie Always Wins

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From “Raging Bull” to “A League of Their Own,” films about athletes have commanded the attention of even the most sports-skeptical viewers. The pleasure of watching the protagonist undergo a test of body and spirit, proving their worth to society and to themselves—often with a training montage thrown in for good measure—is undeniable. Luca Guadagnino’s steamy new tennis film, “Challengers,” applies this formula in a different context, mining familiar themes like rivalry and camaraderie for their erotic potential. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how recent entries like “Challengers” and last year’s Zac Efron-led wrestling drama, “The Iron Claw,” reflect a more contemporary view of masculinity than their predecessors do. The hosts also assemble their “hall of fame” of sports films, including Spike Lee’s “He Got Game,” the nineties classic “Cool Runnings,” and the rom-com “Love & Basketball.” They argue that the genre, at its best, offers auteurs the chance to embrace their instincts. “For our most stylish filmmakers, I would just lay down the gauntlet. If you want to express to us your personal vision, do a sports movie,” Cunningham says. “Because we’ll know what you care about: visually, sensually—we will know.”

Read, watch, and listen with the critics:

“Challengers” (2024)
“The Iron Claw” (2023)
“Rocky IV” (1985)
“Black Swan” (2010)
“A League of Their Own” (1992)
“Cool Runnings” (1993)
“Raging Bull” (1980)
“He Got Game” (1998)
“Love & Basketball” (2000)
“A League of Their Own” (2022-)

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