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Sports movies, in general, have the inherent ability to instill something in its viewers that many films are unable to organically inculcate—the feeling of hope.
Most sports films have (roughly) the same template—a down in the dumps athlete looking to beat the odds and come out on top. That might be a riveting plot in itself, but it can get stale. Unless of course, the film is based on a true story.
Hockey is one sport with an extensive history of fascinating storylines. It's a sport like no other—a mix of finesse, intense stamina, and brutality. The natural storylines within the hockey universe has made for an easy transition to the big screen, with plenty of titles based on real life events.
So let's take a look at some of the best hockey movies based on true stories and in the process, appreciate the grounded plot lines that help define the sport as both a popular pastime for viewers, and a way of life for those directly involved.
For this list we'll start out with a documentary that encapsulates the spirit of the sport as a whole—Pond Hockey.
Essentially, the documentary examines how hockey has evolved over the years, and takes a look at the ever-changing culture through a variety of interviews with prominent people entrenched in the sport. This includes hockey legends both past and present.
Sure, this isn't an actual "feature" film, but the storylines throughout the sport's history are fascinating enough for this to feel like one. After all, it is the good old hockey game—a beloved sport in its own right.
Slap Shot is a cult film of sorts within the sports community, and the comedy classic starring the late, great Paul Newman remains one of the most endeared hockey films of all time. Although the characters are technically fictional, the film is based on screenwriter Nancy Dowd's brother's own playing experience in minor league hockey. The Hanson brothers in the film, for example, are actually based on the real life Carlson brothers, who were actual hockey players.
Net Worth is a 1995 television movie based on former Detroit Red Wing all-star, Ted Lindsay.
The movie follows Lindsay in the early days of the NHL, as the forward attempts to form the league's first-ever players association. Obviously, Lindsay faces many obstacles throughout his attempt to unionize, and the natural storyline is enough to captivate anyone with a remote interest in the inner-workings of the NHL. It also gives some foresight into some of the labor problems plaguing the league in recent years.
Many don't realize that the 2011 comedy Goon, starring American Pie's Sean William Scott, is actually based on reality. Well, technically, it's based on the book, Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith, which is based on Smith's own journey into the minor leagues, but you catch my drift.
The Mighty Ducks
Ok, this one is a pretty huge exception, so please let me explain.
Sadly, Disney's The Mighty Ducks starring Emilio Estevez in the now-legendary role of Gordon Bombay, wasn't based on a true story—it's actually quite the opposite. The year after the film's release, the Walt Disney company founded the professional NHL team, "The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim." The team has since been sold, and renamed "The Anaheim Ducks," but the fact that a Disney movie can have such a lasting cultural influence should certainly be grounds enough for this fun exception.
Fun Fact: Did know this A-lister almost starred in the Mighty Ducks? Imagine the possibilities...
The Rocket is a 2005 biopic film based on legendary Montreal Canadiens player Maurice "The Rocket" Richard. The film is set in what is considered one of the main "golden ages" of the sport, during the 1950s. The French-Canadian film depicts the trials and tribulations of Richard en route to superstardom and ensuing championships. There are also several cameos from real-life NHL players, making this one a true hockey fan's dream, and amongst the best hockey movies based on true stories ever.
Ice Guardians is the second documentary to make this list, and the topic of it is based around one of the more controversial aspects of ice hockey—the role of the "enforcer." The aforementioned Goon also centered around the role of an enforcer, albeit, with a much more comical take than this straight-shooter documentary. But for any hockey fan attempting to understand the nuances of this unofficial hockey position, this film offers a bit more historical insight.
Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story
Waking Up Wally: The Waltzer Gretzky story isn't a well-known film, but it's definitely worth watching if you claim to be one of the biggest hockey fans you know. Even more so, in fact, if you're a fan of Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time.
The story follows the Gretzky patriarch as he fights off a brain aneurysm and ensuing memory loss. It also gives some pretty good insight into the acclaimed Gretzky family itself.
Canada Russia '72
Canada Russia '72 is a documentary mini-series about one of the biggest Canadian sporting events ever—the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. The film closely examines the high tension, eight game series between Canada and the villainous Soviet Union, and gives viewers a better perspective about an event that, quite frankly, doesn't get discussed nearly enough; especially amongst hockey fans.
Did you really think this all-time film wouldn't make the list?
Miracle is another hockey movie set in the height Cold War era. The acclaimed Kurt Russell stars as US Olympic coach Herb Brooks, who leads his underdog squad to one of the most unlikely upsets in modern sports history. In a sense, it's like the Rocky (a sports movie that changed the genre forever) of hockey, and should unequivocally be considered one of the best hockey movies based on true stories ever.