It's easy to see why Hollywood loves sports movies. As movie formulas go, the genre's conventions are as sturdy and reliable as they come. Love and war may be more universal themes, but fewer than one in ten romantic comedies are any good, while war movies can be a hard sell. Plus, those genres tend toward the PG-13 or higher end of the spectrum, potentially limiting audience share.
A sports flick promises uplift, overcoming adversity, sacrifice, teamwork (if it's a team sport), and a crowd-pleasing finale—often enough with a family-friendly PG rating. Best of all, it doesn't have to be great to be good enough. Films like Remember the Titans, Miracle, The Rookie and Cinderella Man connect solidly with sports fans and non-fans alike, while even lesser efforts, like this year's Invincible and Glory Road, deliver more or less what they're meant to.
It would be a shame if "genre fatigue" prevents We Are Marshall from being recognized as what it is, one of the better sports films in recent years. More than most films of its ilk, We Are Marshall rises above the clichés that define the genre, connecting sport to larger issues in an emotionally satisfying way.
Like many sports films, We Are Marshall is based on a true story—the 1970 crash of a charter plane carrying virtually the whole Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, nearly the whole coaching staff, and 22 local boosters on their way home to Huntington, West Virginia from a game at East Carolina University. There were no survivors.
The disaster, possibly the worst in American sports history, devastated the town, and Marshall's football program—already reeling from a recruiting scandal—seemed unsalvageable. University president Donald ...