1. Really Rottens, Laff-A-Lympics (1978)
The spirit of the Olympic Games is one of peace, understanding, unity, and international brother- and sisterhood. The animated, multi-sport competition of Hanna-Barbera’s Laff-A-Lympics, however, thrived on comedic short cuts, gags based on cheap ethnic stereotypes, and doling out comeuppance to the show’s designated villains, The Really Rottens. While more openly malicious than the vintage H-B stars of The Yogi Yahooeys or the cartoon sleuths of The Scooby Doobies, the Rottens didn’t cheat with any greater frequency than the other two squads: Yogi Bear wasn’t opposed to using an expanding tennis racket, for instance, and the mechanized Dynomutt helped the Scoobies push through a number of obstacles. While The Rottens were at least honest about their underhanded methods, their first Laff-A-lympics win came as something of a fluke, with a tidal wave carrying the assembled antagonists across the finish line in a climactic swimming relay.
2. Doug Dorsey and Kate Moseley, The Cutting Edge (1992)
Television coverage of the Olympics loves nothing more than a ready-made narrative. (See NBC’s fixation on Michael Phelps’ attempt at becoming the United States’ most decorated Olympic athlete at the London games.) But the figure-skating pair at the center of The Cutting Edge could only exist in the movies. The story of Doug Dorsey (D.B. Sweeney) and Kate Moseley (Moira Kelly) is the stuff of a screwball romance on ice: a meet-cute at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, a chance reunion (after the exacting Kate has driven away all other potential partners, hard-headed ex-hockey phenom Doug is her last chance at a gold medal), and a challenging training process, during which Doug warms Kate and Kate softens Doug. Their conquering of insurmountable, personality-based odds is symbolized by their completion of the deadly “Pamchenko twist,” a gravity-defying move that would make highlight reels both fictional and factual—were that type of maneuver not frowned upon by the International Olympic Committee. However, it required the first of two made-for-TV sequels to confirm that their risk (and romance) paid off in gold.
3. Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy, Blades Of Glory (2007)
The Will Ferrell-Jon Heder vehicle Blades Of Glory dramatizes one reason for banning moves like the Pamchenko twist from international competition: Sharp objects tend to slice through human skin. Decapitation via The Iron Lotus is but one of several roadblocks skaters Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElry (Heder) must toe-pick past: There’s also the matter of their being banned from the film’s Winter Olympics surrogate, the World Winter Sport Games. They aren’t banned from competing as a pair, however, a loophole that catalyzes an endless stream of cringeworthy gay-panic jokes. Combine that with the incestuous romance between Chazz and Jimmy’s main rivals, and it’s no wonder the IOC didn’t license any of its trademarks to the producers of Blades Of Glory. But a gold medal is a gold medal, no matter who gives it out, or how many times viewers have to hear Will Ferrell sing “My Humps” on the way to the podium.
4. Team USA, D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
Gold has long driven mankind to extremes; in the case of hockey coach Gordon Bombay and D2: The Mighty Ducks, the pursuit of a gold medal at the then-imagined Junior Goodwill Games (Ted Turner’s de-politicized alternate Olympics didn’t gain a youth-sports adjunct until 1998) makes “The Minnesota Miracle Man” forget everything he learned in the first installment of Disney’s Mighty Ducks trilogy. Lucky for Bombay, he has some fresh faces to help him remember that winning (and money and Malibu beach houses and friendship with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) isn’t everything. In return, Bombay teaches his charges the value of uniting under a single banner, putting aside their differences to don the mark of the Duck and put the bullies of Team Iceland in their silver-winning place. (The “America, fuck yeah!” sentiment comes in more colors than red, white, and blue.) That tie-in converted to real-world gold, in the form of big merchandise sales for the Disney-owned, Bombay-inspired National Hockey League franchise, The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
5. Irving Blitzer, Cool Runnings (1993)
Before doping scandals rocked every edition of the Olympics, athletes had to cheat the old-fashioned way, like using added weight to increase the speed of their bobsled. Busted at the 1972 Winter Olympics and stripped of his gold medal, Irving Blitzer took refuge in the Caribbean, where he previously considered introducing Jamaican sprinters to the thrill of the bobsled—a legal, though unorthodox, method of getting a sled to move faster. Though Cool Runnings is based in fact, Blitzer himself is a stand-in for the American investors who sent the first Jamaican National Bobsleigh Team into the unfamiliar winter climate of Calgary in 1988. But that doesn’t have the same dramatic arc as a vilified Olympic champion finding redemption in the unlikeliest place—an arc granted a mix of comedy and gravitas by the late John Candy, who made one of his final onscreen appearances in Cool Runnings.
6. Lee Chan, Charlie Chan At The Olympics (1937)
The 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics are typically framed by Jesse Owens’ four gold-medal wins in track and field—a win for equality, pointedly notched in Adolf Hitler’s backyard. Following the games, pulp detectives Charlie Chan and his “No. 1 son” Lee struck a further blow against freedom’s enemies in a mystery orbiting around American athletes’ journey to the “Nazi Olympics.” The whodunit—involving a missing test pilot and, more distressingly, the disappearance of a new remote-control guidance system—boils down to a spy ring working for an unidentified country, but Lee nonetheless gets to stick it to the Nazis in the pool. In the film’s convenient, topical hook, Lee is established as a champion swimmer as well as a crack investigator, and his victory in the 100-meter freestyle—portrayed in part through stock footage from the Berlin games—acts as the epilogue to an otherwise rote tale of espionage and double-crosses.
7. Goldine Serafin, Goldengirl (1979)
Part sports film, part science-fiction allegory, all an excuse to watch leggy Susan Anton move her gams in tiny shorts, Goldengirl wasn’t exactly prescient in its portrayal of U.S. athletes participating in the boycotted 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Anton’s “running machine” provides an eerie look into a future of well-groomed, trained-for-the-camera athletic achievers, some of whom may have performance-enhancing substances pumping through their veins. Unlike the hormones that produced Goldine’s lanky 6-foot-2-inch frame, however, real-life performance-enhancers probably weren’t administered by a former Nazi scientist whose training methods also include electric shocks and extreme behavior modification. Goldengirl is tied to one of cinematic science fiction’s grimmest eras, but Goldine lives on any time an Olympic competitor is said to have been “bred for success.”
8. Daryl Hall and John Oates, SCTV (1982)
In the wake of the early-’80s track-and-field hits Chariots Of Fire and Personal Best, the rock ’n’ soul duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates took part in one of SCTV’s most inspired cinematic parodies: “Chariots Of Eggs.” With a conviction to match their stone-faced American opponents (played by Catherine O’Hara and Andrea Martin as Aerobicise-ing, implicitly sapphic exaggerations of Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly’s Personal Best characters), the Hall and Oates of the SCTV universe compete in a spoon-and-egg race at the VIII Olympiad, their plodding-by-necessity movements matched to the inspirational strains of Vangelis’ Chariots Of Fire theme. Coincidentally, Hall and Oates’ musical performance in the same episode contains a refrain to which any track athlete might aspire: “You did it in a minute.”
9-plus. René Fromage, Kit Mambo, Dean Wilson, and many more, Animalympics (1980)
Animalympics was originally commissioned as two animated TV specials to coincide with the 1980 Olympics: one special for summer, one for winter. But director Steven Lisberger (who helmed the original Tron two years later) conceived the project from the start as an eventual film release, and the specials’ episodic design means they merge nicely into one big, trippy feature. The film takes the form of a newscast that jumps from event to event as it reports on the first animal-kingdom-wide Olympics, with Harry Shearer, Billy Crystal, and Gilda Radner playing the hosts and commentators for an extensive lineup of sporting events. The anthropomorphized medalists come from diverse species, some of which seem eminently suited to their events, as with the California surfer-dude otter who takes the medals in swimming and diving. Others are stranger and more random, like the falcon known only as “The Contessa,” who beats out a smug, bullying warthog for the fencing gold; or the all-squid Italian team (“the Calamari brothers”) that dominates at bobsledding. And through it all runs a sweet, unlikely romance between two marathon runners, a French goat and an African lioness, who eventually cross the finish line together, holding hands, for a mutual gold win. Yet for all the events covered, the real focus isn’t on sports so much as on the colorful personalities (including celebrity caricatures), and on swoony music-video sequences that take athletes out of the action and into the oddball head of 10cc bassist Graham Gouldman, who wrote the soundtrack. It’s a dreamy, swoony film at times, but even so, it’s generally paced better than the actual Olympics.