Bill Simmons wrote one of his better recent columns on a subject he knows first hand. He is the executive producer of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series of sports documentaries. He explains how the rise of sports docs has coincided with the decline of Hollywood sports movies. Hollywood’s increasing reliance on foreign box office means they are reluctant to make movies about the big four North American sports because they only sell tickets domestically.
HBO has been making great sports documentaries for a long time, like When It Was a Game from 1991, but sports docs really began to get attention in 1994 with the fantastic Hoop Dreams. ESPN began its 30 for 30 series to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2009 and now sports documentaries can be found on every sports channel. Bill must not have watched NBC Sports Network on their first day because they threw their hat into the sports doc ring with Cold War On Ice: Summit Series ’72 on the Russia-Canada hockey series.
Simmons goes on to review the Formula One movie Rush. It should do decent box office internationally because of F1’s global popularity. There are better reviewers to read. (Stephanie Zacharek for one) Simmons spoiled a scene for me. I wished I hadn’t read the rest of the paragraph from “There’s a scene after Lauda finally …”
Vulture ranked the 30 for 30 films. It’s a decent attempt, but Winning Time should be higher and Marian Jones much lower.
Comparing the two treatments of South Africa’s Rugby World Cup, I saw the 30 for 30 doc, The 16th Man (ranked number 16 on the Vulture list) before I saw the Hollywood version, Invictus, and enjoyed the doc much more. It helped that most of the story was new to me when I watched the doc. I did remember New Zealand’s juggernaut, Jonah Lomu and had a vague memory of who won the tournament.
Maybe Invictus was just a bad movie (former England rugby player Martin Bayfield said of it: “Dreadful film. Dreadful rugby. Dreadful.”). In a story that would be hard to believe if it was fiction, the fictional scenes in Invictus seemed banal. If you don’t know what Nelson Mandela did for South Africa and would like it served up with some sports, watch either film, but I liked The 16th Man. It’s a great story.