Five movies (and one short) about the analytical side of sports
Sports nerds get our own movies too
There seems to be an infinite number of sports movies out there. Historical ones like Remember the Titans, fictional ones like Jerry Maguire, comedies like Dodgeball, fantastical movies like Field of Dreams, and many more. However, it does seem that there are very few movies that focus specifically on sports analytics.
Here at Track160, we believe that if people are freed from the time-consuming work of identifying and tagging events that occur in football games, they will be able to watch more movies. To enable this, we have made a shortlist of recommended movies that focus not just on sports but on the analysis of sports.
This is the obvious recommendation. The one movie that gets spoken about at every opportunity by sports analysts. It represents a true revolution in Sports and therefore deserves the reputation. Written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and directed by Bennett Miller, Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics who reshaped how baseball players are hired, using analytical methods that were unheard of before that point to choose players whose skills were undervalued and create a winning team on a low budget.
The movie, as well as the book it is based on, has been criticized quite a bit for giving the true story a very Hollywood treatment, ignoring facts that would damage the narrative, and overstating the effects of their specific metrics. That said, it is an excellent movie, and the way the plot uses the idea of data analytics as a key element makes it almost unique among sports movies.
ESPN’s “30 for 30” series of documentaries is an exceptional show. They repeatedly create intelligent and interesting deep dives into important and fascinating stories in sports history, and Silly Little Game is no exception. Directed by Lucas Jansen and Adam Kurland, it is about the Rotisserie League and fantasy baseball in general. Fantasy sports leagues are a topic most people in sports data are interested in, and for good reason; it is a game decided by analytics. The best fantasy sports players are those who can understand statistics to the deepest levels. Silly Little Game, as part of the great documentary series, is an entertaining and educational look into the origins of one of the biggest fantasy leagues in the world.
Probably due to its fictionality, or maybe because it came during a weird moment in its star’s career, Two For The Money doesn’t get discussed as often as Moneyball. Directed by DJ Caruso and written by Dan Gilroy, it’s about three people. Walter Abrams, played by Al Pacino, is the head of a gambling firm. He is drawn to Brandon Lang, a brilliant gambling analyst played by Matthew McConaughey, but quickly becomes suspicious of Lang’s relationship with his wife, played by Rene Russo.
To say that opinions on the movie vary would understate it. Roger Ebert gave it a nearly perfect score with 3.5/4, while rotten tomatoes put it at 22%. That said, it is a story about another field that has to do with sports analytics; that of gambling. Similar to fantasy sports, successful gamblers often do a lot of analysis and need to work a lot of data, and we can safely claim this movie as one of our own.
The vast majority of this documentary movie is not about sports. It is a film in four sections, each one covering a different story and the economics of it. The second story, directed by Alex Gibney, is about gambling in a sport you probably don’t think of often: sumo wrestling. Gibney is well known as one of the best documentary filmmakers in the world. In his fascinating look into the world of sumo gambling, he continues to prove it. It is well worth a watch, even if the insights are less analytical and more about the nature of people when it comes to profit.
Clocking in at only 20 minutes and 50 seconds, this documentary about football analytics features the man from Moneyball, Billy Beane, and tries to apply his wisdom to other sports. It is a smart and fast watch that shows clearly how the game of football is being changed forever.
This feature was written by Peter Morgan and directed by Tom Hooper. In spite of being based on real people, it is fiction that mostly does not even attempt to adhere to the facts, instead telling a pretty good story. It is about the conflicts between Brian Clough, played by Michael Sheen, and other people in Leeds United’s management as he tries to reinvent the team. The movie doesn’t feature a deep dive into analytics, but it does feature similar ideas to Moneyball in its portrayal of an outsider trying different metrics for success in sports management. It is a very good movie as well, with some of the UK’s top film talent involved in its production.
We are always on the lookout for something else to watch. If you have your own recommendations, we would love to hear about them in the comments.