If you think that the beating heart of cinema is defined by the petrol-fuelled antics of Fast and Furious or The French Connection, look away now because, for us, the real adrenaline hit comes from watching our favourite actors run for their lives.
There’s nothing new about running in movies – eighty years ago Buster Keaton’s frantic dash in College wowed audiences – but let’s get some of the obvious contendors out of the way first. Oscar-winners Rocky (1976) and Chariots of Fire (1981) both delivered solid street/beach/track-pounding action, but, more importantly, who of us hasn’t replayed either Vangelis’s or Bill Conti’s (Gonna Fly Now) theme tunes in our head during a moment of self-delusional glory? As a bonus Rocky III (1982) gave us Eye of the Tiger…
Scene from 'Chariots of Fire' - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.
Another multiple Oscar winner, Forrest Gump (1994) saw the usually more pedestrian Tom Hanks run trans-America (and back) and gave rise to that perennial roadside marathon placard ‘Run, Forrest, run...’ Taking that line and subverting it for somewhat lower-achievers, David Schwimmer’s 2007 Simon Pegg vehicle, Run, Fatboy, Run, at least included some attractive (London based) Thames-side running scenery…
But let’s get back on track with some meatier action. Sometimes the clue is in the title and that’s certainly the case with three of our all-time favourites.
Okay, so the Oscar-nominated Marathon Man (1976) is mostly a brooding thriller, but Dustin Hoffman’s run around Central Park’s reservoir is utterly iconic and the use of the then-new steadycam camera stabilizing system perfectly captured the fluidity of movement both here and on the streets of New York.
Tony Richardson’s Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) didn’t even get an Oscar nod, but at least bagged a BAFTA for Tom Courtenay as Most Promising Newcomer. Perhaps more importantly it perfectly demonstrates how the pure act of running can be used as much for mental escape and wellbeing as physical fitness.
Lastly on the title-as-giveaway-to-theme front, we have Tom Tykwer’s superlative Run Lola Run (1998) a frenetic slice of Euro mayhem in which our eponymous hero – played by Franka Potente – tears up Berlin in an attempt to save her boyfriend. So breathtakingly convincing is Potente that when she sat opposite Matt Damon four years later in The Bourne Identity while he boasts that: ‘at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking’, we’re pretty sure she looked unimpressed...
If you like your running films to draw from real life and the Chariots of Fire duel between Liddell and Abrahams seems too dim and distant, then Robert Towne’s Without Limits (1998) is arguably the first and last word. Charting the short, but glorious life of the legendary Steve ‘Pre’ Prefontaine, Billy Crudup shines as the definitive Olympian and Donald Sutherland picked up a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of equally legendary coach Bill Bowerman. Oddly, just the previous year Jared Leto had slipped on the same shoes to play Pre in the more simplistically titled Prefontaine – it’s good, but Towne’s film certainly takes top podium spot.
Finally let’s briefly look at a trio of running documentary films well worth your attention. 2007’s Spirit of the Marathon is perfect feet-up preparation for anyone considering tackling a 26.2miler, whilst Finding Traction and The Barkley Marathons (both 2014) are incredible tales of those who take running to an extreme (and we really do mean extreme.)
Written by: Justin Bowyer