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by Sarah Aswell
Sarah Aswell is a freelance humor writer who lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and two kids. Her words have appeared in places like The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, The Hairpin, and more.
As the wintry doldrums of January carry on, it's nice to know that there's a chance for some excitement coming our way in the form of the 2018 Winter Olympics. With sports like figure skating, skiing, bobsledding and curling set to fill our TV screens with excitement, it's no wonder folks everywhere love to gather and take part in this unifying sporting event.
But if you're like me, you'll likely want to prepare for all the Winter Olympics excitement by getting into the right sporty headspace with a sports-centric movie or two. Now, it's easy to find a sports movie everyone will love to watch, but considering how special the occasion you're prepping for (the Olympics) is, why not watch something equally special and perhaps a little bit empowering, like a female-led sports movie?
When you think about it, there are more than a few sports-based movies that star women — women who break stereotypes, break barriers and win the gold against all odds. The following movies focus on women who want to pursue their sports dreams, excel at their craft and show the world women are every bit as good as the boys when it comes to dominating in their sport of choice.
More: 9 Things You Didn't Know About Billie Jean King
So, let's pop some popcorn, put on our favorite jerseys and watch some of our favorite female-led sports movies, shall we?
This hit 2017 release stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell playing Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, respectively. Focusing on their infamous Battle of the Sexes tennis match, the film gives more time and attention to King's very public focus on equal pay and equal treatment between the sexes both in sports and society. It's an inspiring true story that will leave you cheering for King right until the very end.
This irreverent indie dramedy follows Haley Graham, a juvenile delinquent who is court-ordered to return to the world of gymnastics after quitting suddenly a few years before. As she tries to make her new life at a high-profile gymnastics training center work, she learns to be a part of a team and reconnect with a sport she is truly talented at.
Michelle Trachtenberg stars in this movie that follows a straight-A student who secretly pursues her dream of becoming a figure skater during her senior year of high school. The focus on a female protagonist who is not only dedicated to her studies (she's a math a whiz, for Pete's sake) while also staying true to her dreams is going to leave you feeling pretty darn inspired.
Featuring a young but still feisty America Ferrera, this Latina-led Disney Channel movie follows a group of high schoolers reviving the dance team at their local high school. It's a fun movie that not only puts the spotlight on women, but women of color. Plus, it brings all the cheekiness and vibrancy of a Disney Channel movie into the world of a sport many might overlook, so why not give it a watch?
This is yet another Disney Channel original movie that older millennials might remember from when it aired back in the mid-'00s. Think Shakespeare's As You Like It, but with dirt bikes. A young woman loves the sport of motocross so much, but can't stand being shut out of the big leagues because it's a dumb ol' boys club. It's basically amazing, and you should probably introduce every woman you know to this amazing movie. You may even want to take up motocross after watching.
A League of Their Own is a rousing movie and one you need to watch ASAP. Directed by Penny Marshall and bringing together some of the biggest stars of the '90s (Tom Hanks! Geena Davis! Madonna! Rosie O'Donnell!), this film follows World War II-era women's baseball team The Rockford Peaches as they keep Americans entertained while their fellas go to war. It's just perfect TBH.
More: 25 Years After A League of Their Own, Geena Davis Is Still Fighting for Gender Equality
Starring a young Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, National Velvet may be the first best female-led sports movie. This timeless classic was released way back in 1944 and begins when a little girl named Velvet wins a horse in a raffle and decides to train it to race in the Grand National Sweepstakes. Don't let the old-timey feel trick you. This movie has such a great storyline and such great acting you won't notice the outdated bits. And many of the challenges faced by Velvet and her horse, The Pie, are still barriers for girls and women today (unfortunately).
If you love badass women and surfing, this movie is for you. Released in 2002, this fun, fast ride of a film follows three women who surf the huge waves of Hawaii's North Shore. But as protagonist Anne Marie Chadwick tries to put aside her fears to win a big surfing competition, she is distracted by a football player who threatens her passion and her focus. This movie wins points for its exhilarating surf sequences and for how deftly it navigates feminist issues in sports (while still including a steamy love story).
Here's the second movie on our list — after National Velvet — where a woman is forced to dress like a man just to play the sport she wants to play. In the 2006 teen flick She's the Man, star Amanda Bynes isn't sure what to do when her school's girls soccer team is cut and they won't let her play with the boys. The obvious solution? Cut your hair, pretend to be your twin brother and start attending his private school across town. She makes the men's team, and everything is going as planned until she falls for a young Channing Tatum and her brother returns to town. This comedy gets extra points for taking on serious issues of gender discrimination while also bringing the (admittedly corny) laughs.
This totally underrated 2009 film stars Ellen Page as a Texas teen who doesn't fit in with the pageant life her family wants for her. When she discovers roller derby, everything in her life seems to fall into place. We love the all-girl cast, including Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis. Bonus points that this is directed by a woman too: Drew Barrymore. Our favorite moment is when Page's character passionately confesses to her conservative family that she is in love with roller derby, not some stupid boy (although there is a tiny love interest subplot that we don't mind at all).
If there's one thing we love more than sports, it's Goldie Hawn. In this mostly forgotten '80s flick, we meet Molly McGrath, who applies to be the head football coach of an inner city high school team that can't seem to win. Although no one — including the team — thinks she can do it, she starts pulling off wins. The movie is funny and touching, and did we mention Goldie Hawn?
This movie follows Monica and Quincy through their lives, which are dominated by their love of basketball (and... wait for it... each other!). From childhood to college hoops to professional ball, the two butt heads, date, break up and make up, all in between three-pointers. We love this film because Monica never compromises on her love of the game and her goals just for Quincy, which ends up being the thing he loves about her most. Aww, we want to watch this one again... immediately.
For our next movie, we return to the common theme of girls who have to rebel against their families and society just to kick a ball around. In this 2002 comedy classic, the 18-year-old daughter of orthodox Sikhs outside London does all she can to keep her family happy while also joining a football (that's soccer, Americans) team. Will she pursue her dream of playing sports professionally, or will she learn to cook and get engaged like all the women who came before her? Cue this one up to find out.
Oh, boy, this one's a tearjerker. Rough-around-the-edges Maggie Fitzgerald, played by Hilary Swank, wants to become a champion boxer, but first, she'll have convince trainers played by Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman she's worth their time even though she's a girl. Eastwood's character finally relents, discovering Maggie is not only a fantastic athlete, she's also someone he needed in his life in order to heal and become a better person. And then... well, you just have to watch this one. We'll have the tissues ready.
If you don't think cheerleading is a sport, we invite you to stop reading this article right now. Actually, if you don't like Bring It On, we also invite you to stop reading this article. This is a major classic from the year 2000 in which a young and gratingly peppy Torrance Shipman, played by Kirsten Dunst, takes charge of her high school cheerleading team only to find out the squad has been cheating for years. It isn't the deepest movie that's ever been made, but it is amazing.
More: 42 Percent of Films at Sundance Were Directed by Women — Here Are the Best
Let us now travel to the '80s and the wonderful world of track and field. Personal Best came out in 1982 to critical acclaim, and it's easy to see why. A young track star is training for the Olympics but gets caught up in a love triangle between her mentor (played by actual track star Patrice Donnelly) and a swimmer. Can she work hard enough to make the team, or will she get distracted by her love life? This movie is more than a bit dated, but that makes it fun. And we really appreciate the appearance of a same-sex relationship in a sports movie (can we have more of that, please?). Worth the watch!
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