Gus the mule—Gus
As in all good underdog sports films, the dead end outlook of Team A is established within the first 30 seconds of screenplay. Team A are bottom of the league and down on their luck. Not to mention that Team A’s coach is pretty useless too and even their mascots/marching band/cheerleaders are ugly/fat.
Enter Protagonist A, the adversity-fighting underdog who’ll stop at nothing to help Team A win the Sports Ball League, even when the odds are against them and the chips are down. In Gus, this role is filled by Gus, the Yugoslavian mule who’s too cool for mule school.
Once drafted on to the team, Gus begins kicking the team to victory! While never forgetting to make time to encourage the budding romance between his owner and Team A’s stunning secretary, Debbie.
It’s not long before Opponent Team A begin trying to sabotage Gus by throwing him off his game. Can he come out of nowhere to go the distance and run that extra mule mile?
With everyone’s favourite 911 conspiracy theorist Ed Asner as team owner Hank, and Gus the mule giving an incredible performance in the role of Gus the mule, it’s no wonder the film was the recipient of the Equine in Motion Picture Award 1977 (horsefame.com et al., 1999).
The Jamaican national bobsleigh team—Cool Runnings
Just in time for the Winter Olympics, I have the opportunity to tell you how Cool Runnings is the best underdog sports films ever made.
As familiar icons to anyone who grew up in the 90s, the motley crew consists of the ever-optimistic Derice, Sanka and his lucky egg, a bald man who calls himself Yul Brenner (go watch The Magnificent Seven to understand this reference kids) and Junior, who destroyed all their Olympic sprinting dreams.
Grouping together to form Jamaica’s first ever bobsled team, they are shunned by their own Olympic Council and ridiculed by their competitors, facing an uphill battle from all sides.
As with all great sports movies, this is not just a story of athletes triumphing in the cliff face of adversity, it is also about their coach’s redemption. In this case, John Candy is a disgraced former Olympian giving the best performance of his career.
As Irving Blitzer, Candy gets to utter the thought-provoking line, “A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.”
They may not win any medals, but they win the respect of their peers, which is just as important. Best of all, it’s based on a true story. This film is so influential that the bobsled team representing Jamaica in Sochi this year have dubbed themselves Cool Runnings, The Second Generation. You can’t argue with that.
Daniel Larusso—Karate Kid
I don’t even need to spend a paragraph or two sweeping the legs of all of my foes, everyone tie up your rising sun bandanas as I tell you why exactly The Karate Kid is the bestest underdog sports movie of all time. As a side note, don’t wear a rising sun bandana; those things are so damn racist.
This Californian mini-Rocky has all you need for a fun frolicking and vague look into how washing a PTSD-suffering Japanese man’s car can make you beat up all the slightly Aryan bullies.
Featuring a majestically pudgy and sneerish Italian-American, Ralph Macchio, as the embodiment of basement martial artists everywhere who befriends the girl of everyone’s dreams. He has to fight her ex-boyfriend at the brilliantly titled All-Valley Under-18 Karate Tournament. This movie is literally one seventh the plot of Scott Pilgrim, which is a good thing, as Scott Pilgrim was atrocious.
This film shows that ultimately, sports are all about blind luck. Daniel-san literally closes his eyes and does the crane stance, which nobody taught him, and front kicks the handsome blonde guy into complete obscurity.
If you don’t like the Karate Kid, you’re probably a horrible person who doesn’t like montages of teenage violence played to ‘You’re the Best’ by Joe Esposito. Back to the Cobra Kai dojo with you.
The Toros—Bring it on
“Hot girls, we have problems too… we’re just like you, except we’re hot.” Such is the way of the world, embodied in a superior fashion by rival cheer squads the Toros and the Clovers who must battle it out over high kicks, catchy rhymes, and intellectual copyright in this millennial tour de force.
There’s trouble in Cheer Paradise when it comes out that the Toros’ former captain, Red, has whipped out her magical lasso of white privilege and stolen a show stopping routine created by the underfunded East Compton Clovers, on the basis that the teams don’t run in the same circles.
Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer here, with the equally unlikely name of Missy, must now step in with her ever-sassy attitude to set the Toros straight and show that everything is not “five by five.”
But this is not a democracy, it’s a cheerocracy, and it’s all the Clovers can do to try raise funds they need to go to Nationals, the only venue appropriate for their complete destruction of Kristen Dunst and all her self-actualising hard work.
Of course, they make the money and win the competition with dignity, refusing a guilty cheque from the Toros and proving that true sportsmanship and talent will always win out. “I know you don’t think a white girl made that shit up.” No, indeed.