8 Inspiring Movies of Female Sporting Triumph

Andrew Buckle,

To honour the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup currently taking place in Australia and New Zealand, we are celebrating movies that contain stories of inspiring female sporting triumph to pump you up for the World Cup action.

Here are some of our favourites and why they are worth seeking out.

Matildas: The World at Our Feet (2023)

Story – This is the inspirational and intimate behind-the-scenes story of the Matildas – Australia’s women’s national football team working towards the World Cup on home soil. We follow the players on and off the field as they inspire the next generation.

Significance – This fly on the wall documentary series provides fascinating insight into the pride these women have for representing their country and how they handle the pressure of competing at the highest level. This series will prove inspiring to young sportspeople as they hear firsthand about the sacrifices one has to make to reach an elite level, and making a professional living through sport. With the story starting in the lead up to the first match of the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, this series chronicles the Matildas’ incredible journey to the 2023 FIFA World Cup and is brilliant supporting viewing as they strive for victory in the tournament.

Stream on Disney+.

A League of Their Own (1992)

Story – Two sisters (Geena Davis and Lori Petty) join the first female professional baseball league and struggle to help it succeed amidst their own growing rivalry.

Significance – During World War II, with the world of baseball was floundering, team owners decided to form teams with women. Two sisters from a small Oregon town are drafted into a women’s professional league and transform it into a crowd-rallying success with their attention-grabbing play. A League of their Own tells of a rarely-documented period of history and is a re-watchable, feel-good classic with lovable characters and a dignified elegance to the storytelling.

Buy or rent in the Movie Store.

Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

Story – Two ambitious girls, despite their parents’ wishes, have their hearts set on careers in professional football.

Significance – Co-writer and director Gurinder Chadha has such an intimate knowledge of the culture – her films have historically explored the lives of Indian people in the UK – that there is a perfect blend of respecting the integrity of the family dynamic and an endorsement of a bending of the rules and challenging of the social norms. Bend it Like Beckham is a fresh, funny and inspiring film – an unexpected box office hit at the time – and remains a feel-good charmer. Breakout stars Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra – who went through months of football training to prepare – created instantly likeable characters, while the match sequences are thrilling.

Buy or rent in the Movie Store.

Whip It (2009)

Story – In Bodeen, Texas, an indie-rock loving misfit finds a way of dealing with small-town misery after discovering a roller derby league in nearby Austin.

Significance – An entertaining and gutsy dash of girl-power with really strong direction from Drew BarrymoreWhip It is a celebration of staying true to yourself and pursuing what makes you feel alive. Roller Derbies are a rarely-captured sport on screen, so while this utilises familiar genre ingredients it is carried with oodles of charm, confidence and energy.

Currently not available to stream.

Bring it On (2000)

Story – A champion high school cheerleading squad discovers its previous captain stole all their best routines from an inner-city school and must scramble to compete at this year’s championships.

Significance – Bring it On was a box office hit upon release, but has since become both a cult classic – with Kirsten Dunst’s performance often credited amongst her best – and spawned an incredible six sequels. This smart and sassy high-school comedy contains some serious interest in topics of racial and economic equality, while also functioning as a subversive spoof on cheerleading culture and positively promoting values that outweigh ‘winning’.

Currently not available to stream.

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Story – In this celebration of the human spirit a young Ugandan girl’s life changes forever when she discovers she has an amazing talent for chess.

Significance – Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) and starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, this passionately told film details, via exquisite cinematography, the vibrant true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga). With life a constant struggle for her family in the slum of Katwe, Phiona discovers a fascination for chess under the tutelage of Robert Katende (Oyelowo) and would become a Woman Candidate Master after her victories at the World Chess Olympiads.

Stream on Disney+.

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Story – Emma Stone and Steve Carell bring their A game to the electrifying true story of the 1973 tennis match between women’s champ Billie Jean King and former men’s champ Bobby Riggs.

Significance – Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s crowd-pleasing sports comedy-drama documents a pivotal event in the shaping of the future of women’s tennis. In the early ’70s the women’s tour was viewed as an inferior product to the men’s by powerful promoters, with a gross inequality in tournament winnings. King would become one of the “Original 9” female players to join what would become the WTA, and the increase in popularity coincided with troubled retired pro Bobby Riggs’ exhibition challenge to King. While the cocky Riggs was chasing attention, he expected that even at his advanced age he’d still be able to beat any top ranked woman, King’s savvy negotiation of the details of the event and her resounding victory represented a power shift and helped pave a brighter future for women tennis pros.

Stream on Disney+.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Story – The film follows Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), an underdog amateur boxer who is helped by an underappreciated boxing trainer, Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), to achieve her dream of becoming a professional.

Significance – Regarded as one of the defining films of the 21st Century about the pursuit of the American Dream, Million Dollar Baby won four Oscars at the 77th Academy Awards – Best Picture, Best Director (Eastwood), Best Actress (Swank) and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman). This devastating story doesn’t possess the same uplift as the rest of the list – and is hardly the Rocky-esque story that many viewers expected – with the tragic side of professional sports becoming the focus in the latter half. But it does feature an incredible feat of grit and determination on the part of Maggie. Under Frankie’s unorthodox coaching in his rundown gym the waitress with aspirations seemingly beyond her means works through the amateur boxing circuit and finds herself in a prestigious title fight.

Buy or rent in the Movie Store.

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