With all the excitement of the Stanley Cup at this time of year, thoughts inevitably turn to the best examples of the skating sport on the silver screen. Ice hockey lends itself so well to movie making, with fast yet easy to follow action and fans close to the rink-side adding to the atmosphere. Plus there’s always the opportunity for a few explosive fights to move the plot along when things start to drag.
Like most sports inspired movies, ice hockey films tend to gravitate towards stories of plucky underdogs winning against the odds – just like this year’s winners, the St Louis Blues, who were only fifth favourites when the tournament started. However, there’s also some interesting variations on the ice hockey theme if you are prepared to look a little deeper, with the game often used as a vehicle to look into a whole host of other situations. We’ve already covered our favourite films about cold and snow, so what better way to celebrate the St Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup win than with our top ten best films about the ice…
What’s not to love when you have a young, naïve Rob Lowe determined to shed his pretty boy image and take on the tough stars of pro-hockey? A textbook example of over-the-top 80s movie making, this has everything from the tough training montage to the romantic sub-plot involving the coach’s beautiful daughter. Perhaps not one for the true hockey fans, but it deserves a mention on our list…just.
Almost as hamstrung by its genre confines, the 1995 action thriller, Sudden Death, is an action movie that takes place at the Stanley Cup itself, as the Vice President is taken hostage during game 7. As luck would have it, all round good guy Jean Claude Van Damme is also at the rink-side and ready to save the VP, as well as save the match as stand in goalie. What a stroke of luck for all concerned!
Ok, so we’re cheating a little here, as Inside Out isn’t strictly an ice hockey movie, but few films have captured what hockey means to young families quite as sensitively as this. Examining the inside of the key character’s head, we see that ‘hockey island’ is one of the key pillars of her personality, alongside family and fun, reminding us that for some, it is much more than just a game.
We’re not out of the not-quite-classic woods yet, as Mystery Alaska makes the list for the complete spuriousness of its plot. Ludicrously, a bunch of small town local pond hockey underdogs take on the big league New York Rangers in a televised match that reinvigorates their whole community. A remarkable cast, including Russell Crowe, Burt Reynolds, Hank Azaria and Mary McCormack rescue what could’ve sunk in said pond without a trace.
One of the more serious entries in the list, Net Worth takes a fascinating look at the early days of ice hockey, as the fledgling sport goes through a power struggle between owners and players, which would lead to the birth of the Players Association. Under the tagline ‘the bloodiest fight in NHL history wasn’t on the ice’ this is a no holds barred analysis of how the game we know today nearly didn’t happen at all.
Sticking with the true stories, The Rocket traces the career of one of the greats of the game, French-Canadian superstar, Maurice Richard, and his rise to become what many called the ‘Babe Ruth of ice hockey’ despite a hostile environment from players, coaches and fans. Supervised by Richards and his family, and featuring many well known players in cameo roles, this is a fascinating biopic for any hockey fan.
Perhaps not one for the purists, but a film many regular hockey fans will identify with and cheer loudly along to, Goon follows the story of Doug ‘the thug’ Glatt as he punches his way to the top in minor-league hockey. Aimed squarely at the American Pie crowd, it doesn’t even try to be appropriate, but then perhaps that’s the whole point. After all, for a certain group of hockey fans the game only really gets going when the gloves come off.
Also playing firmly to the stalls is the 2004 true story, Miracle, which charts the patriotic success of team USA against the mighty Russians under captain Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell). It may be a true story, but in Apollo 13 style, it still has you on the edge of your seat, even though you know exactly what happens in the end. The clue is right there in the title after all.
Top of many hockey movie lists is the film that launched the team that actually went on to win the Stanley Cup. Featuring Emilo Estevez in perhaps the most famous period of community service ever served, The Mighty Ducks is an under-dog story done as only Disney knows how. A classic of the genre and a guilty pleasure for hockey fans and non-fans alike, The Mighty Ducks, or the Anaheim Ducks as the NHL team are known today, live on, despite two less-than-inspiring sequels.
When it comes to the very best ice hockey movie, however, there can only be one choice. Slapshot is the hockey movie that has everything, from crazy fighting twins to Paul Newman as player coach, from under dogs to over enthusiastic crowds baying for blood. This is no slick sales pitch for the sport; this is as real, down and dirty as it gets, but is all the more enjoyable and endlessly rewatchable for it. Slapshot is the most complete ice hockey movie there is and the only thing stopping the Charleston Chiefs from achieving Stanley Cup greatness is the fact that one of their rag tag bunch would probably steal it before they had a chance to win.