'Rollerball' (1975)

After an advance screening of Drew Barrymore's rollicking, entertaining, and heartfelt Whip It, which opens tomorrow, some real-life roller derby players were asked about the movie's realism. (Ellen Page plays a teenage beauty pageant contestant who gets involved in the sport.) They all chimed in: "We don't get to give anyone bloody noses!"

Yes, sports movies based loosely on real life and set in the modern era tend to take liberties with the levels of violence involved in their sport. But sci-fi movies tend to ratchet up the bloody-nosed action to incredible levels, taking murder for granted. Life is cheap in the future, I suppose. With images of Ellen Page in roller skates and a faux-Girl Scout uniform in mind, not to mention the thought of Drew Barrymore herself with a bloody nose, I set off in search of the very best future sports movies -- and discovered that relatively few of any quality have been made. Thus, consider this list a sketchy compendium of what's out there. What am I missing? What future sports are not properly represented?

1. Rollerball in Rollerball
An easy choice, featuring James Caan at the height of his hard-bitten, rueful stardom in the 1970s. Norman Jewison's film is a self-righteous sermon about the dangers of thrill seeking, and a broadside against sports and popular entertainment in general. But when you have such exciting action in a sport that combines a hopped-up version of roller derby with football, chaos, and murder, who's complaining?




2. Tri-Dimensional Chess in Star Trek
Though I've never played, I love tri-dimensional chess in theory, and I think the three levels would make it an excellent spectator sport. With the advent of so many 3-D movies nowadays, and the popularity of J.J. Abrams' re-boot, will the game that first puzzled Captain Spock and Mr. Spock on "Where No Man Has Gone Before" make a comeback in a big way?

3. Jump Ball in Starship Troopers
They took American football, slapped outrageous colors on the uniforms, made the ball silver, and called it Jump Ball. They sound like they're marching on metal, but it is quick and exciting, kinda like Arena Football, which matches the tempo and temperament of Paul Verhoeven's movie.

4. Death Race in Death Race 2000
NASCAR is a sport, right? Here we have a cross-country automobile race in which the drivers score points by hitting, maiming, and killing people. Any movie that stars David Carradine as a character named Frankenstein has a head start with me, and Paul Bartel's cheap little flick is breezy, colorful, and silly. And perhaps an indicator of where modern motor sports are headed.

5. Holo Chess in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
What, they don't have checkers in space? Chess got a good make-over in George Lucas' original movie, memorably played by Chewbacca and C-3PO on board the Millenium Falcon. With its variety of playing pieces, set rules, and requirement of deep thought, chess is a natural sport to be played by a robot and a huge pile of fur.

6. Pod Race in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
For my money, the only saving grace of the movie, a pulse-pounding pod race that amps up the action nicely, updating the chariot race in Ben Hur in a highly-charged, pleasing manner. Oddly enough, Jake Lloyd looks just right in the driver's seat, and I even like how the movie looks ahead to Darth Vader's future skills as a much more deadly pilot. Even as a child, however, he has the killer instinct, which seems to be what every coach wants from every athlete.

7. The Running Man in The Running Man
I agree, it's not supposed to be a sport -- what was I thinking? -- but the deadly game show has all the elements of a really good sport. You've got extreme competition, good guys, bad guys, and evil guys. My guiding principle with this list is: would ESPN broadcast it? The answer: Maybe.

8. Hoverboard in Back to the Future Part II
Again, not depicted as a sport, but I think it's obvious that ESPN would develop a week-long competition around the hoverboard by the time the movie takes place, complete with cheerleaders and champions. Marty McFly might enter the event and make a name for himself.

9. Skateball in Solarbabies
Ah, now we return to sports on wheels, as young people discover the joys and pleasures of playing hockey on roller skates. The movie feels incredibly silly, daft even, yet I believe the sport will endure, emerging again some day as the sport of kings.

10. Jugging in The Blood of Heroes (AKA Salute of the Jugger)
Now we get to a movie that might have ended up much higher on the list, if only I'd actually seen it! So why is it on the list? Because of all the positive mentions I've found across the great old Internet, and because it is entirely devoted to the sport of jugging and its players.

CATEGORIES Features, Sci-Fi