Does Netflix’s Hustle mark the return of sports movies?

“Look at this guy’s dance moves, there’s no one like him,” passionate Stanley Sugerman, played by Adam Sandler in the new Netflix series Hustleexclamatory.

Sugerman’s excitement was in response to a video of former basketball player Julius Erving throwing down dunks at the age of 63. The scene is a tribute to a man who is one of the best in his craft. A call to the past.

That idea is also at the heart of where some experts say sports movies are discovered today. Once a giant of the industry, creating classics like Rocky, Rudy or Playground for childrenThe genre is now a grizzly veteran amid a new class of content.

Lorna Schultz Nicholson, a former college rowing coach and Edmonton sports writer, says audiences have long connected with themes related to a sports movie.

VIEW | The author explains why we are drawn to sports stories:

What attracts audiences to sports stories?

Author Lorna Schultz Nicholson says sports’ ‘highs and lows’ are what make them such great stories and audiences.

“Sports are fast-paced and intense and have their ups and downs,” she said.

Vish Khanna, podcast host Creative Kontent and is an editorial assistant with Shout! magazine, similarly pointed to the tension and arc of sports as storytelling techniques that he said audiences were inherently drawn to.

Though, Hustle just one of a handful of major sports-related releases coming this year, along with Home Team, Into the Wind and Jersey. (Compare that with 2000, a year that featured classics like Remember the Titans and Replacement saw eight major sports movies released.)

Hernangomez as Bo Cruz and Sandler as Stanley Sugerman in Hustle. (Scott Yamano / Netflix)

The film follows Sugerman, a soccer player for the Philadelphia 76ers. Sugerman, who is tired of traveling, wants to become a coach so he can spend more time with his family. While scouting in Spain, Sugerman stumbles across Bo Cruz, an unnamed phenom who Sugerman thinks could be his team’s championship ticket.

So, why are we seeing this drop in audience-favorite sports movies?

New world, new rules

Khanna attributes this change in part to the rise of social media. He says sports movies were once used as a way to tell stories about athletes, giving the casual audience a point into their lives.

But now, we’re living in a “remarkable time for getting to know athletes,” he said, where audiences already have direct access to the lives of their favorite athletes. surname.

VIEW | Podcast host discusses athletes using social media as a way to speak up:

How athletes ‘speak up’ on social networks

Podcast host Vish Khanna discusses how professional athletes use social media to speak out about topics they’re passionate about, and says we live in a ‘remarkable time’ for everyone to enjoy. who connect with athletes.

Jonathan Filipovic, professor in the humanities and social sciences department at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., who has examined the role of sport in film and literature in some of his classes, agrees that we are in the middle of a time when it comes to connecting with athletes.

“We know everything about where athletes come from and what they have to overcome,” he said. “It really becomes a challenge to dramatize that.”

It’s not just social media here, though, says Khanna. The advancement of technology has also changed the way we watch and participate in sports. Khanna says sporting events are really being shown to us in a way that was not possible decades ago.

“The way they broadcast the games is so realistic, I feel like they really borrowed from the filmmaking.”

This can be seen in the current NHL playoffs, says Khanna, where the use of techniques like multiple camera angles and drone combinations makes us feel closer than ever to the sport. and its athletes.

This can also be found in Hustle. The use of close-up camera shots and humanizing real athletes through things like training sequences are what make the film a success, he adds.

Vish Khanna says realistic training scenes, like this one in Hustle, allow audiences to feel closer to the athletes in the film. (Scott Yamano / Netflix)

But Filipovic said the saturation of content, though through social media, a multitude of streaming services and even movies from other genres has made sports movies’ themes and stories come into play. too familiar for audiences to care as much as they used to.

He said that the tropes images that were once exclusive to sports movies have been taken over by other genres.

VIEW | The professor explains why sports movies are no longer unique:

Some genres of tropes are no longer exclusive to sports movies

Communication professor Jonathan Filipovic says that gossip that once characterized a sports story is now being used in all genres.

“If you want the weak story, you’ve gone to see a sports movie, and now you can get it in a variety of contexts and in a package that’s much more popular these days. “

He cites superhero movies – especially Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel – like filling that niche today.

Crossroads between sport and culture

These developments have led to a mix of sport and culture in real life, Filipovic said. With greater access to these athletes, “pop culture and sport have intersected,” he said.

That leaves us with storylines that we can follow in real time, rather than just looking at fictional representations in the film, says Filipovic.

“For a long time, athletes were restricted … they played sports, they espoused. And sometimes you can have someone appear in a movie, but that’s really rare. “

Now, athletes are appearing more and more in movies, Filipovic, who points out Hustle and another recent Adam Sandler film, Uncut Gemsincluding former NBA star Kevin Garnett.

HustleThere are also dozens of current and former NBA players. Some play themselves, while others appear as fictional characters.

Hustle has many NBA stars, including Hernangomez, left, and Anthony Edwards pictured here. (Scott Yamano / Netflix)

Khanna says the way these stories are told will likely continue to change – and we’ve seen it happen.

The Ted Lasso drama?

When it comes to sports stories, Khanna says studios are likely looking at trends to decide what to release. He points to the success of Apple TV + streaming hits Ted Lasso.

The film tells the story of an American football coach, who is hired to coach an English football team despite knowing nothing about the sport. He uses his unwavering optimism to try to make up for his lack of knowledge.

“It’s a great example of telling a story based on a sport, but really about relationships,” says Khanna.

Schultz Nicholson also thinks that streaming services will offer more sports-related content in the future. She says there’s been an opportunity for these services to engage with a less active audience in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID has [led to] Children are no longer physically fit and I think we need to help them get back into shape and sport is one way to do that. ”

With all those factors, is the sports story still in demand?

Khanna says yes, although the formula as we know it may change, the demand for sports movies will always be there.

“You are related to them [athletes] through their skill and the way they persevere,” he said.

“If the movies can continue to find the human element … I think they’ll do well.”

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