There have been dozens of movies made about big events in running history. There are also plenty of movies that have running as a core component of their message. Since running is a sport that is accessible to most people, it is also one that is fundamentally relatable to most people looking for stories of inspiration. In this post, we’ll look at some of the best running movies that are out there.
Brittany Runs a Marathon - 2019
If it’s inspiration you’re looking for, wrapped up in a hilarious story, then Brittany Runs a Marathon should be the first movie you check out!
Set in , this movie tells the story of a woman that has lost control of her health, partying too hard and gaining weight. Her doctor tells her that she has to get healthy. She tries to join a gym but can’t afford the costly membership, so she chooses running as a way to get in shape. This allows us to explore the theme of running’s accessibility, and how so many people can take part in the sport regardless of their background.
The movie tells the story that so many runners are familiar with: applying for a marathon and not getting in, raising money for a charity just to be able to run a race, as well as all the frustrations that come from training for such a big event.
Overall, this movie is a great way to keep a lighter approach to running while also learning about just how important the sport can be for so many people.
Chariots of Fire - 1981
The main thing that this movie is known for is its theme song! The deeply motivational score has become synonymous with running and is used in other film and TV projects around the world. You’ll also probably hear it played close to the finish line of many major races.
The movie itself is based on two runners from the 1924 Olympics: Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. Abrahams was a Jewish man from England, while Liddell was a Christian from Scotland. During this era of history in the United Kingdom, those two distinctions of country (within the UK) and religion were hugely divisive topics. The story focuses on how the connections to religion, community, and country were all factors that impacted the training and the overall approach that each athlete had to the sport of running.
Liddell faces challenges of prioritizing running over his religion, as there are requirements for him to participate in qualifying events on the sabbath. He finds solutions to the problems, but the movie gives us a good perspective on the sacrifices many runners make to compete. Meanwhile, Abrahams has to deal with strong anti-Semitism while he is studying and training at the University of , as well as faltering personal relationships that are put on the back burner because of his training.
Chariots of Fire gives us a historical perspective into a different era of running, as well as an inspirational story of how running can be used to overcome many kinds of obstacles.
Forrest Gump - 1994
While Forrest Gump is not directly about running, this classic Tom Hanks movie uses running in its plot enough to make it a must-see on our list! The catchphrase “Run Forrest, Run!” is still used today whenever anyone needs to outpace someone, though it is usually used in a comedic sense, and not in the escape-the-bullies sense that it was originally employed against.
This movie tells the life story of a very kind, yet not very smart man named Forrest Gump. The movie spans several decades, as we follow Forrest from his childhood in , through his college years, then his time in the Vietnam war, all the way to his eventual wedding and fatherhood. Throughout the movie, Forrest unwittingly influences world events. We see him inspiring lyrics for John Lennon, meeting presidents, and coining catchphrases that are still used all over the United States.
Running first comes into play when Forrest has to run through his leg braces to escape a group of bullies. He is fast, and therefore successfully evades them, all while his best friend Jenny screams out “Run, Forrest! Run!”.
We later see Forrest join his college football team, where his talent for running very fast makes puts him in the kick-return position. The crowd developed traditions of holding up signs that said RUN, once Forrest got the ball. They would then flip the signs over to say STOP when he made it to the endzone. We also see Forrest embark on a cross-country run across the entire , where he developed a cult-like following of people wanting to run with him.
Forrest Gump is an inspirational story that focuses on the unlikely hero who uses running and many other talents to try to make the world a better place.
McFarland, USA - 2015
This movie is set in , . Kevin Costner stars as a coach who comes to a mostly Latino neighborhood and coaches the track team to a state championship in the late 1980s. It is based on the true story of coach Jim White.
Coach White starts as a football coach at the school, but when he realizes that some members of the team are good runners, he convinces the school to start a cross-country team. Coach White deals with a lot of problems that are in the way of getting the program started. He has to encourage the boys to run, he has to convince the parents to allow their kids to be on the team instead of spending their free time in minimum wage jobs to bring in money for the family, and he has to convince the school to support the program.
The team does well and eventually wins their first state-wide competition. There are other points of conflict in the team and in the community which make Coach White start to consider other job opportunities outside of McFarland. Eventually his wife encourages him to stay. The boys go on to win their first state championship, upsetting many of the other local teams in the area.
Coach White stayed at the school for many more years. The success of the program extended to the rest of the school, and he saw many of his athletes go on to college or other great careers.
This movie is a great story of how running, especially for young people, can be used as a tool to focus on your life goals. By prioritizing running, you can bring discipline and success into your life, which will blossom and spread into other areas of your life as well.
I am Bolt - 2016
I am Bolt is a documentary about the life of Usain Bolt, the fastest man in history.
Bolt started running on his high school team in . He did well and went on to win nine Olympic medals, as well as awards at world Championship events. In his first Olympic debut in 2008 in Beijing, Bolt took the gold medal in both the 100-meter and 200-meter events. Returning in in 2012, he won golds in the same two events, as well as in the 4x100m relay event. Then, in in 2016 he won gold in those same three events again. He would have had nine total gold medals, but a teammate of his in the 2008 4x100m relay was caught doping which disqualified the team.
In addition to all of those Olympic golds, he also has gold medals in several world championship events, including 2009 in , 20111 in , 2013 in , and 2015 in Beijing. Because of all these accomplishments, Bolt is known as the fastest man that has ever recorded time in these events.
The documentary focuses on his life, but also on the lead-up to the 2016 Olympics. In addition to his success on the track, Bolt is also known for having a huge media presence, with a camera-ready personality. As a result, he became a phenomenon in the running world. That made him the perfect subject for a documentary that would be both inspiring and entertaining.
Run Fatboy Run - 2007
At first this may seem like a male version of the movie about Brittany running a marathon, but the story is indeed different. Simon Pegg stars in this movie about a man who runs the marathon in an attempt to get his fiancé back.
The main character, Dennis Doyle, gets scared of marrying his partner. She moves on and finds someone new, a man named Whit who is an avid runner. Dennis comes to his senses and realizes he wants her back. In an attempt to get her back, he signs up for the London Marathon, which Whit is already planning on running.
The two become very competitive. Dennis has a long journey to get through to get himself in proper shape to run. He and Whit end up battling and injuring each other during the first stage of the race. It all works out in the end, and in this movie, we have another view of how running is a tool that can be used by people from all walks of life to bring things together.
Lorena: Light Footed Woman - 2019
This is a shorter movie (less than 30 minutes) that is available on Netflix. It tells the story of Lorena Ramírez, a member of the Rarámuri community in northern . She is a long-distance runner who wowed the world with her success, all while adhering to traditional dress and even footwear. That footwear included traditional handmade sandals, which were her running shoes of choice. Ramírez’s sandals caused several long-time distance runners to question the decisions they’d made about footwear throughout their running careers. She made it clear that expensive shoes with expertly designed technology weren’t required to win races.
The Rarámuri are a community that was brought to international attention by Christopher MacDougall’s book Born to Run. In his book, MacDougall introduces us to a tribe of long-distance runners, that can run for dozens of miles every day with an almost magical grace. The book focused on an analysis of the minimalist gear that the runners would use and sprung up a similar trend amongst runners. Especially in the US, brands were all starting to offer minimalist shoes, some so lightweight that they were nothing more than a light fabric covering the foot.
That trend has since taken a step back in popularity, but the Rarámuri have not been concerned with whether their traditional ways of running are embraced by the rest of the world.
In the documentary, Lorena discusses her relationship with running. We get to see some of the events that she participates in, and we get to learn that one definition of how a person ‘should’ run does not apply to everyone.
Prefontaine - 1997
No list of running movies would be complete with Prefontaine. Jared Leto plays the role of Steve Prefontaine, a runner who had a hugely successful early career but was then lost at the young age of 24.
In his college years starting in 1969 at the University of in , Prefontaine rose quickly to national attention by winning three cross-country national championships as well as winning the 5k race four consecutive times.
He travels to the Olympics in 1972. He led the 5k event for the majority of the race, but at the very end he got passed by three people, which meant he did not win a medal. After his return, the movie tells the story of his life working in a bar and then shows the sad ending when he got in a car crash and died at such a young age.
Prefontaine is thought of as one of the best in the United States, and had he lived in a time that had more progressive rules for Olympic participation when it came to distinctions between amateur and professional athletes, and had he had a better support and coaching network once he was out of the collegiate system, we might not have lost such a star.