The Wikipedia list of sports movies is very badly curated. Okay, they specifically reject the genre of lucha films on the grounds that luchadores do wrestle in the movies but the movies are about pretty much everything other than wrestling. Similarly, they say that martial arts films should be about the sports aspects of martial arts and not just movies where people kick one another in the head. And they put horror movies in spelunking. And they put Debbie Does Dallas in the cheerleading section. So believe me, it’s a very bad list. However, it does put some evidence behind my theory that Americans do sports movies more than most other countries, even those with relatively strong film industries.
Oh, India, too. And if you’re looking for movies about cricket in particular, India’s your country. Kabaddi, too; I don’t think most Americans have even heard of kabaddi. But you start running through that list, and you realize that even the movies about sports Americans don’t tend to play are mostly American movies. There are exceptions, but by and large, Australia, the UK, France, and Germany, just for starters, don’t tend to make sports movies. Not at the rate Americans do. Baseball is very big in Japan; baseball movies don’t seem to be.
It’s not that we play more sports than other countries, at least I doubt it is. Certainly it’s not that we make more movies—all right, yes, the US does make more movies than a lot of other countries, but the number of sports movies still seems disproportionate. (This is probably the best place to mention that I’m not actually a sports person and that there are probably people who know a lot more about sports movies than I do who can correct any misperceptions I have.) Even as a simple percentage of the movies we make versus the number of sports movies, there should be more from other countries.
So you figure there’s a reason for the discrepancy, right? Why are there more American movies about rugby than British ones? I’m wondering if it ties into the American claim that we’re anti-elitist coupled with the fact that we absolutely are and just have a different structure of elite than other countries. Sports stars are our elite, and even a lot of our biopics are about athletes, because athleticism is so ingrained in our national culture that probably more Americans can name ten professional athletes than their own Congressional representatives.
It’s also our obsession with underdog stories, and sports are a pretty easy way of presenting those. You start with a team, or an individual, who is bad at what they do, and you make them better and let them defeat a stereotyped enemy of some sort. It’s easy to fit this into the “snobs versus slobs” story we’re so fond of, too, and show the grubby, lower-class team—Americans won’t admit they have class issues, either—fighting the practiced, upper-class team. A lot of our cultural tropes fit very easily into the category of sports movies.
And, of course, for the last century and a half or so, a lot of our culture in general has been about sports in a way I’m not sure is true of other countries. There’s the football obsession of Texas, the soccer moms of the suburbs, the basketball games of the inner cities. We have a lot of sports, and it’s considered weird by “normal” culture to not be interested in at least one of them. Sports fandom is tribal in a lot of places, but I think it’s more acceptable for a British person not to support a specific football club than for an American not to have a preferred baseball and/or football team. And I’m pretty sure that, because we have multiple popular sports, other countries have more not-sports time on the calendar.
As I say, I’m not the best person to talk to about this. But in my wide and varied movie collection, even I have three baseball movies. (Two of which have Charlie Sheen?) And a curling movie. Most of the TV shows I own in full have at least one sports-based episode, too, though the baseball episode of Due South isn’t on the American box sets for some reason. And as I was watching my traditional annual viewing of Major League, I started wondering why, simply because I wouldn’t watch baseball not being played by actors. Why am I routinely forced to explain that I don’t really watch boxing movies, because why are there so many boxing movies there’s a separate Wikipedia page for them? It does, I suppose, make sense; there are movies about all kinds of things. But Americans definitely do sports movies on a pretty intense level.