The Science behind Sports Flicks: How do they get us so pumped?
I have dubbed the feeling gained from watching sports films as: “Cordevolat” for my own convenience (from the Latin: corde enim volat, meaning heart that flies). So anytime I mention “Cordevolat” you’ll know what I mean.
Despite me never being much of a sportsman, aside from a brief stint in the rugby club that ended with me covered in more bandages than a cheap Halloween costume, I have always felt an affinity for sports films.
Despite never even playing baseball (Not as big of a deal over here in the UK) I found Moneyball incredible and even though I was so bad at basketball my captain told me to give up trying to score, instead he advised me to “try to distract the opponent”, Coach Carter is one of my all time favourite films.
What is the reason for the awe-inspiring action, uplifting emotions and crowd-roaring courage that these films bring, despite simply being about a game anyone could play?
Like the hit film Moneyball, I am going to use a formula to attempt to better understand the nature of sports movies. A variety of Wikipedia articles lay at my fingertips to explore why these films hold such gravitas or “cordevolat”.
In my extremely thorough research, I have found several films that I believe to hold the qualities I laid out earlier. These include:Moneyball, Haikyu!! (Although not a sports film exactly I still believe it still holds the same level of cordevolat), Coach Carter, Rocky, Happy Gilmore, The Blind Side, Eddie The Eagle, and Creed.
My first hypothesis is that it’s the sport itself that causes a the movies to have a sense of “cordevolat” to it.
Out of the films I have selected the following sports are used (In order of prevalence) boxing, baseball, American football, basketball, golf, skiing and volleyball. The only overlap between these films is boxing, with both Creed and Rocky being in the same ring.
This list doesn’t align with the most popular sports globally (at least according to www.worldatlas.com), as football is the most popular, followed by cricket, hockey, tennis, volleyball, table tennis, basketball, baseball, rugby and golf.
Only four of the sports listed here are on my list, and while this doesn’t reflect all sports films (as there are obviously more sports films than the ones I listed above, as those are the ones I’ve seen and are mostly targeted at an American audience) it does prove that the sport featured in the film tends to not have an impact on its success or feel, maybe aside from relatively unknown sports or sports not played often like polo.
My next hypothesis is that the characters cause sports films to be so incredible. Let’s review the different types of protagonists (with some supporting characters)in sports films:
- The Down on Their Luck, this character has some inherent disadvantage in the sport, yet is able to overcome that, leading to a feeling of “cordevolat” from the audience. Examples of this type include Hinata from Haikyu!! (Who is far too short to stand a chance at winning in volleyball) and Scott Hatteburg, a side character in Moneyball (A player who suffered an arm injury, forcing him to learn and then play a new position).
- The Dreamer: someone spurred only by their own motivations despite the odds, examples include Eddie from Eddie The Eagle (A rookie at the sport, constantly belittled and sabotaged by the other sportsmen).
- The Underdog: Happy Gilmore from Happy Gilmore (A newbie at golf with talent, who only wants to win to buy back his grandmother’s home), Michael from The Blind Side (A shy foster child runaway with great potential at American Football) and Rocky from -you guessed it- Rocky (Who is an amateur player facing off against the professional champion and, let’s face it, the textbook definition of an underdog).
All of these different characters, despite falling under different categories are excellent at producing “cordevolat”, showing that my hypothesis is correct to some extent. Furthermore, the characters have a running similarity between all of them, passion for the sport. That is what is truly admirable, I believe, from the point of the audience, and what is the primary way these films can produce such “cordevolat”.