Jennifer Lawrence hits the ground running this weekend with The Hunger Games, carrying a teen-friendly franchise-in-waiting that Hollywood’s hoping will pick up where Harry Potter (and, later this year, Twilight) left off. And as a contestant in the titular games, she also joins a long film tradition of protagonists playing fictional sports — one we decided would be perfect to discuss in this week’s list. From action to fantasy, comedy to drama, it’s time to play some fake games… Total Recall style!
Once upon a time, noted Hollywood satirist-turned-political activist David Zucker wondered what would happen if people played Horse on a baseball diamond, and the rest, as they say, was history. Released in 1998, BASEketball united South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker in a live-action comedy about a pair of slackers who accidentally invent a game that takes the nation by storm. Sadly, the film failed to capture that magic, grossing a little over $7 million against a $23 million budget — although it inspired at least one real-life league.
For commuters in certain parts of the country, getting behind the wheel can feel like entering into a lawless, post-apocalyptic bloodsport. But the next time some jerk cuts you off, just remember: At least you’re not a contestant in Death Race 2000, Paul Bartel’s blood-soaked ode to the vicarious thrill of putting the pedal to the metal and feeding asphalt to anyone unlucky enough to get in your way. (Also be glad you aren’t watching Paul W.S. Anderson’s generally inferior 2008 remake, which gains Jason Statham but loses the authentic grindhouse vibe.)
For all the awesome advances and cool gadgets that science has given us, we still have yet to achieve the thrill of playing hologram animated chess on the deck of a ship hurtling through hyperspace with a giant furry thing acting as co-pilot. Fortunately, we can live vicariously through the scene in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope — and benefit from the countless hours devoted to the study of this fake game by the noble nerds responsible for its Wookieepedia entry.
Before the Insane Clown Posse gave us Juggalos, The Blood of Heroes gave us Juggers, roving bands of post-apocalyptic lunatics who battered each other mercilessly in order to collect dog skull trophies in “The Game,” a bloody, psychotic spin on field hockey, and attract the attention of “The League” so they could play in luxurious underground cities. If it all sounds like dystopian hooey, it sort of is, but Heroes has enough of a cult following that a real-life variant on “The Game” — called Jugger — is played in a handful of countries around the world. Guard your dog skulls, people.
Imagine the NFL if it played its games with bike helmets and paralysis-defying leaps in high school gymnasiums, and you’ll have an idea of what this sport played by the citizens of 24th century America in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is all about. As futuristic fake movie sports go, Jumpball isn’t all that exotic-looking — sort of like the Arena Football League without Jon Bon Jovi in the owner’s box — but it gives the movie a properly testosterone-filled buildup to the Bug-slaying main event.
Podracing tournaments are a big deal on Anakin Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine, where the outcome can be important enough to tempt a grumpy Toydarian into making a high-stakes bet that could end up costing him his adorable little human slave. Jake Lloyd’s finest hour — and arguably the most exciting part of the movie — the podracing segment in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace gave (albeit fleeting) free rein to George Lucas’ affection for Golden Age cliffhanger action serials.
Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts may have had magic powers, but they were still teenagers at heart — and like a lot of other kids, they bonded with intramural sports, only in their case, the game in question involved flying broomsticks, enchanted balls, and plenty of contact. A source of swooping action and high-stakes drama in the Potter books and movies, Quidditch has also become a favorite real-life pastime for a small (and yet surprisingly large) group of aficionados who don’t mind being seen running around a field with a broom held between their legs.
An unabashed oddity in the filmographies of its star (Paul Newman) and director (Robert Altman), this 1979 turkey also stands out on our list because it’s the only one that actually tried to inspire a game off the screen — as evidenced by this detailed pamphlet laying out the rules. Of course, the real-life rules don’t advocate the actual murder of losing contestants, but the reduction in stakes didn’t help; Quintet the needlessly complicated board game, like Quintet the convoluted dystopian sci-fi film, failed to catch on.
There are few things less intimidating than a dude on rollerskates — unless he’s wearing a spike-studded glove, in which case he’s probably a Rollerball champion and you should just stay far, far out of his way. Directed by the normally more sober-minded Norman Jewison, 1975’s Rollerball adapted the William Harrison short story about a corporate-dominated future in which the most popular sport involves armor-clad contestants hurtling around a track and trying to huck a steel ball into the opposing team’s goal. A decent-sized hit with audiences as well as critics, it was sadly reborn in 2002 with Chris Klein and LL Cool J in the leading roles, and the less said about that, the better.
Unlike a lot of the sports on this list, Real Steel‘s robot boxing doesn’t require breaking the laws of physics. For that reason — and because it would cut way down on the debilitating brain and body injuries sustained by human boxers — it seems like the best candidate for catching on in the real world. As anyone who’s ever played with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots can tell you, watching machines pummel each other can be a lot of fun. Make it happen, Arduino enthusiasts!
In 1982, when Stephen King wrote his short story The Running Man, the idea of a collapsed American society where criminals are forced to compete for their freedom (and their, you know, lives) in a televised game show seemed sort of fanciful. These days, scenarios like that one seem only a step or two removed from your average episode of Survivor, but it’s still pretty entertaining watching Arnold Schwarzenegger fight his way to the finish line. People keep talking about a remake, but it won’t be the same without Richard Dawson, Mick Fleetwood, or Dweezil Zappa.
Jousting: Awesome. Steel cage fighting: Also awesome. Jousting in a steel cage with bungee cords and a pile of nasty weapons, including a mace and a chainsaw? That’s Thunderdome, baby, and even if the third Mad Max is generally considered the most creatively uneven installment in the trilogy, it at least has this wildly over-the-top, no-holds-barred battle scene going for it. Next time you’re being beaten to a pulp by a giant wearing a metal helmet, remember: Go for the dog whistle.