October 20, 2018

View as List 8 Great Running Movies

  • 8 Great Running Movies

    With the possible exception of wrestling—which siblings begin practicing as soon as they leave the cradle—running is the most natural of sports. It also lends itself naturally to film. After all, a camera can follow runners racing for the finish line far more easily than it can capture the nuances of a baseball triple with the bases loaded. Here are eight running movies, including two essential documentaries, that go the distance. 

  • 1

    The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

    The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner movie image

    Based on a short story by the English writer Allan Sillitoe, this film stars Tom Courtenay as an English teen sentenced to a reform school for petty crimes. There, he impresses the head of the institution with his running—but has to decide whether he'll keep running to please the authorities, whom he despises. The movie skillfully treats running as an act of rebellion and a metaphor for freedom.

    Watch the trailer for The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.

  • 2

    Chariots of Fire (1981)

    Chariots of Fire movie image

    The movie's scenes of English athletes training on the beach for the 1924 Olympics, with its Oscar-winning earworm of a soundtrack playing throughout, is so familiar today that it's easy to forget just how striking the look and feel of Chariots of Fire  was when it was first released. Four decades later the film's central story of two runners, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, still thrills and inspires would-be Olympians of all ages.

    Watch the trailer for Chariots of Fire.

  • 3

    Personal Best (1982)

    Personal Best movie image

    Written and directed by the legendary Robert Towne of Chinatown  fame, Personal Best  is one of the most insightful movies ever made about the physical and emotional costs—and rewards—of Olympic-level competition. Starring Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly as two athletes and, eventually, lovers vying for places on the 1980 U.S. Olympic squad, the film is a deep dive into what drives people to run beyond pain in search of glory.

    Watch the trailer for Personal Best.

  • 4

    On the Edge (1986)

    On the Edge movie image

    The great Bruce Dern stars as a runner who was long banned from amateur competition and now, as a 40-something with something to prove, wants to take part in a celebrated Northern California race over the coastal peaks from Mill Valley to the Pacific Ocean. A portrait of an athlete digging deeper into himself than he ever thought possible, On the Edge  is harsh, heart-pounding, and totally believable.

    Watch the trailer for On the Edge.  

  • 5

    Forrest Gump (1994)

    Forest Gump movie image

    When most people think of Forrest Gump running, they recall the epic, 15,000-mile journey he embarked on to "put his past behind him" after his lifelong love, Jenny, broke his heart. But an earlier scene when Forrest's pin-wheeling legs literally shatter his leg braces as he's fleeing bullies—after young Jenny famously yells, "Run, Forrest! Run!"—is exactly the sort of onscreen magic that reminds us why we love movies in the first place.

    Watch the trailer for Forrest Gump.

  • 6

    Prefontaine (1997)

    Prefontaine movie image

    Prefontaine  stars Jared Leto as the charismatic American middle- and long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine, who died in a car wreck in 1975 when he was just 24 years old. Famously independent and often abrasive, Prefontaine was a rock star of the sport who's often credited with helping to inspire the running boom of the 1970s. The movie is directed by Steve James, who also made one of the most powerful sports documentaries of all time, Hoop Dreams.

    Watch the trailer for Prefontaine.

  • 7

    Spirit of the Marathon (2007)

    Spirit of the Marathon movie image

    Everyone who has ever run in a marathon—or thought about running in one—should see this intimate, exceptionally well-made documentary that follows six entrants prepping for the 2005 Chicago Marathon. The film might not get to the very heart of why any person would choose to run 26 miles at a stretch, but it arguably comes closer to answering that question than any other movie ever has.

    Watch the trailer for Spirit of the Marathon.  

  • 8

    Desert Runners (2013)

    Desert Runners movie image

    This unforgettable documentary follows four runners—three men and a woman—competing in a series of 100-mile "ultramarathon" races in deserts around the globe. The movie features feats of physical endurance that defy comprehension; superhuman willpower; frightening injuries; stunning landscapes; and enduring friendships. There’s enough human drama in this documentary for 10 films. We might not understand why these people put themselves through such hell, but in the end, we're glad to accompany them.

    Watch the trailer for Desert Runners.