We love sports, and we love the dramas that take place behind the scenes of some of our favorite athletic events, the stories of individual athletes overcoming adversity in order to be the best-of-them-all, the fables of true underdogs coming through when nobody expected them to win, and the legends of great athletes achieving physical feats that the average person could only ever dream of. We love these stories so much, in fact, that they are their own film genre. And yet while men’s sports have been thoroughly mined for script material, women’s athletics have hardly ever been touched, and so there is a treasure trove of great movies yet to be made. To help Hollywood out, we have selected a few stories we’d like to see on the big screen of some of our favorite women competitors.
In 1926, Gertrude Ederle swam across the English Channel (a distance of 33.1 kilometers, or 20.6 miles). She was the first woman to do so, and also set the record time in so doing, beating out the five men who had swum the Channel before her, and it took her only 14 hours and 31 minutes. That’s right; this woman swam longer than I can stand to sit in a chair at a desk on a normal day, and she swam faster than an entire quintet of men who tried it first. That alone deserves a movie. Her accomplishment, however, led to adoration and fame (and in an era when women had only just gotten the right to vote). Luckily for any would-be producer, Ederle has several biographies that capture her accomplishment and the spirit of that time, to mine from for inspiration in bringing her story to the big screen.
If you haven’t heard of Laila Ali, you’ve definitely heard of her father. Like her father, Laila began boxing professionally in 1999 when she was 21 years old, and proceeded to go undefeated her entire career, winning 24 total fights, 21 of which were by Technical Knock Out. And the fight between Ali and Joe Frazier’s daughter (Jackie Frazier-Lyde) was the first female match to be featured as the main event in a pay-per-view boxing match (makes her story just as interesting as any featuring Apollo Creed or Rocky Balboa).
Sports Illustrated for Women said it best when it named Jackie Joyner-Kersee the greatest female athlete of the 20th century. A legendary competitor in the women’s heptathlon and long jump, she has won a total of six Olympic medals (three gold, two bronze, and one silver). Joyner-Kersee currently holds the world record in the heptathlon, and holds second for the long jump record at 7.49 meters. In addition to her domination of track and field, she was also a force to be reckoned with on the basketball court, voted in 2001 as the “Top Woman Collegiate Athlete of the Past 25 Years” in the NCAA. Hell, when they finally get around to inevitably rebooting Space Jam, maybe Hollywood should think about casting her in the Michael Jordan role.
Born in West Germany of the Cold War Era, Steffi Graf holds the record for most grand slam titles in tennis history, by either a male or a female player. She’s been called the greates women’s tennis player of all time by Billie Jean King (who is widely considered to be the best herself). Graf has won 88.7% of her matches over the course of her entire career, and she was the personal tennis coach for Princess Diana and Princes William and Henry, and is now married to tennis great Andre Agassi, making her an opponent on the court more than worthy of comparison to John McEnroe, and the like, and well deserving of having her story retold as legend into perpetuity.
Mia Hamm became the highest international goal scorer in soccer history (in both the male and female divisions), and was the first (and only) woman voted into the World Football Hall of Fame. The largest building in the Nike Corporate Compound was named after her, and in 1999, the World Cup was played in the United States, and the journey of the women’s team to the finals changed the course of women’s soccer in this country forever, giving the sport the widespread domestic exposure it continues to enjoy to this today. The championship match against China is still the most attended women’s sporting event in history, making Hamm’s soccer story just as interesting as any featuring Keira Knightley.
You may not have heard of Nova Peris, but you probably should have. Not only did she become the first aboriginal Australian to win a gold medal at the Olympics, she did so as part of the Australian women’s hockey team (playing a sport which, until recently, was only played by men). She then switched to track and field, where she again excelled, competing in the 2000 Olympics (and if you consider that she was a mother to a young child at the time, you’ll be doubly impressed). Following her athletic career, Nova entered politics, and in 2013 became the first indigenous woman elected to parliament. She also has her own exhibit at the National Museum of Australia, and she’s not done yet, which could make her bio-pic an epic one, to say the least.
If you are at all familiar with women’s basketball, you know who Pat Summitt is. Not only is she a record-holder as a NCAA basketball coach (with the most wins, and the most appearances in the NCAA final four), she was also there from the very beginning of women’s basketball. She was named head coach of the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team at the age of 22 (yeah, let that sink in), and coached during the first ever NCAA women’s basketball tournament in the 1980s. She continued coaching up until 2011, thus earning her reputation as a tough, but successful, coach, irrespective of gender. She retired due to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but, like so many other strong women, refused to be an object of pity. In fact, she wrote a book about it (her third, because she found time to write books while she was coaching), entitled Sum It Up. This woman deserves cinematic treatment, for being there, for accomplishing a lot with very little, and for winning, on and off the court.
At this point, you might be overwhelmed by the number of other female athletes whose stories should be movies. That’s okay. You have a couple to look forward to. Currently in production is a movie about the Battle of the Sexes (Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs), starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, and rumor has it that a movie will be made about Misty Copeland, the first African American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. This bodes well for the future of the genre, and perhaps, as women’s professional sports gain in popularity (World Cup final, anyone), we’ll see more of these stories adapted to the big screen.
Featured Image: ESPN