10 Olympic-Styled Movies to Watch Before the 2021 Tokyo Games

Image: Icon Sportswire

Like those Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbusters we’ve been waiting for, the pandemic sincerely has kept all of our entertainment desires on a shelf. Despite delays from the COVID-19 outbreak, it appears the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games are on the way (for now). 

With athletes testing positive for the lethal virus, no fans are allowed to witness Simone Biles and Sha’Carri Richardson in person, and local residents are continually adamant that the whole thing should be cancelled altogether.

This leaves us at home with nothing but bated breath and binge-watching opportunities to enjoy as the season of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics inches closer. If your patience isn’t as patient as you’d like, no worries, we here at EBONY have you covered with something good that’ll tide you over before the Opening Ceremony of Summer Olympic Games kick off. 

This list is meant to set the mood for only the official gold medal chasers. So, ahead of you clearing your calendar on July 23 to spend entire days to see our champion athletes strut their stuff, check out these 10 Olympic-related movies to watch before the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

With Drawn Arms

Released: July 2021
Directed By: Glenn Kaino, Afshin Shahadi
Where to Watch: Starz, Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play

This groundbreaking documentary tells the story of activist, educator, family man, and Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith, and his journey after his history-making protest during the medal ceremony at the 1968 games in Mexico City. Smith, 77, famously raised his fist to protest against racial inequity and in support of Black Americans finding the strength and beauty within. 

Cool Runnings

Released: October 1993
Directed By: Jon Turteltaub
Where to Watch: Disney+ (with subscription), Prime Video, YouTube, Vudu

Still one of the most popular Olympic movies of the past few decades, this Leon, Doug E. Doug, and Malik Yoba-led comedy is based on the real 1988 Olympic team that influenced pop culture with their bobsleighing aspirations. If you’re into “feelin’ di riddim” then you’re in for a treat as Cool Runnings also features one of the last great comic performances from the late John Candy.

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice

Released: August 2016
Directed By: Deborah Riley Draper
Where to Watch: Tubi, Prime Video

The cinemas have all but exhausted every aspect of Jesse Owen’s well-documented experience during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. But did you know about the 17 other Black athletes who participated, too? This film focuses on the athletes who did not receive major news coverage at the time, using interviews with families, audio footage, newsreels, and newspaper coverage to tell their story and contrast that with how Black Americans were (and still are) treated at that moment in history.

Race

Released: February 2016
Directed By: Stephen Hopkins
Where to Watch: YouTube, Apple TV, Prime Video, Google Play Movies

Speaking of Jesse Owens, Stephen James (If Beale Street Could Talk, #FreeRayshawn) stars in this grappling biopic that takes audiences to when a young Owens had just entered the Ohio State University to begin his quest for gold. The 2016 movie shows him facing bigotry even before heading to Berlin and with co-stars Jason Sudeikis and Shanice Banton (Degrassi: The Next Generation) rounding out this film, Race is one to play before watching the next-gen track-and-field stars set records of their own.

I Am Bolt

Released: November 2016
Directed By: Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner
Where to Watch: Prime Video, Vudu, YouTube, Apple TV

Based on the life of the “World’s Fastest Man,” this British documentary describes the Jamaican icon’s journey in becoming the World Record holder for 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, and the incidents surrounding the Olympic titles. His charm and sheer physical wonder make I Am Bolt a compelling watch to enjoy with the whole family.

The Athlete

Released: June 2009
Directed By: Davey Frankel, Rasselas Lakew
Where to Watch: Apple TV

Selected for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards, this Ethiopian drama film is a mixture of fiction and stock footage, chronicling the marathon journey of runner Abebe Bikila. In 1960, the son of a shepherd participated in the Rome Olympic Games as a complete unknown, ran barefoot, and won the gold medal. Four years later at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, he became the first man to win the marathon twice in a row. An inspiring journey of perseverance if there ever was one, The Athlete is one to add to your collection just because.

Gun to Tape

Released: February 2012
Directed By: David Forbes
Where to Watch: YouTube

Put together right before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Gun to Tape centered on Kenyan long distance runners David Rudisha and Edna Kiplagat and all the ordeals they went through to try to repeat past successes as marathoners. This film was nominated for Best Documentary at the 9th Africa Movie Academy Awards, and serves as a fresh reminder that you’re never too far away from your goals if you are resolved in pursuing them.

See Also

The Dream Team

Released: June 2012
Directed By: Zak Levitt, Andy Thompson
Where to Watch: Peacock

Narrated by Edward Burns, this is one of the most dynamic looks at how the world gravitated towards Michael Jordan and the Dream Team. If it weren’t for the FIBA and the NBA changing the rules there wouldn’t have even been a need for this film. The squad which consisted of 11 future Hall of Famers and Christian Laettner, one of the NCAA’s most hated players, this story addressed the rocky relationships, the birth of the sports superstar, and how American basketball was bigger than the Beatles around the world.

Tokyo Olympiad


Released: November 1966
Directed By: Kon Ichikawa
Where to Watch: Hulu (with Premium subscription), HBO Max (with subscription), YouTube

Known as one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time, Tokyo Olympiad chronicles the 1964 Olympics, and is a true binge-watch must-see for anyone who is a fan of the achievement and spirit of the Summer Games. With attendees and international travelers unable to see this year’s event, Tokyo Olympiad showcases the atmosphere and pageantry that comes with the ‘64 Games being the first to be held in Asia.

The Gabby Douglas Story

Released: February 2014
Directed By: Gregg Champion
Where to Watch: Prime Video, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play

Rounding out the list is a tale about the one, the only Gabby Douglas. All-around champion at the 2012 Olympic Games and member of the gold-winning teams from that year and the 2016 Summer Olympics, The Gabby Douglas tells the story of the sacrifice behind the success. Imani Hakim as Douglas shows just to what lengths she would go to become a true and certified Olympic champion alongside trainer/coach Liang Chow.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are (still) scheduled to air on NBC live on July 23 and here’s where you can watch it all take place at.

Kevin L. Clark is an editor and screenwriter who covers the intersection of music, pop culture and social justice. Follow him @KevitoClark.

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