The amazing thing about sports is that it physicalizes this narrative of perseverance and achievement, which is so much of the human experience. We’re constantly wrapped up in our own stories, how we’re trying to overcome or beat the odds, and there isn’t much that’s talked about when it comes to the mental challenge of that or what it takes to do that. I feel like sports make it very clear for an audience to see somebody working very hard to then achieve something. Also, I feel like the physicality of it is always impressive. I don’t know if it’s seeing another human do something that might feel very far from what you’re capable of, or the fact that we’re all the same species and seeing somebody physically do something incredibly impressive … I think it’s something that will never cease to amaze humans.
Kris Bowers is the composer behind films like Space Jam: A New Legacy, Respect and King Richard, and TV shows including Dear White People, Bridgerton and Colin in Black & White. For A.frame, he shares five of his favorite sports movies.
This is such a big movie from my childhood. For my whole family, it was a family event to go see a Black movie. So I remember that being a very exciting film for us, and me feeling so excited to see this Black story onscreen and feel a bit more into it than other sports films I had seen up until that time. I felt like I was close to the story.
The Fighter is another one of my favorites, and Pam Martin, the editor of King Richard, edited that as well. It’s such an incredible family story, a story between these brothers, and Christian Bale is remarkable in it. It’s one of my favorites as a sports film, but really, as a story about the relationship between these brothers and this family.
Movies were always a big deal in my household, but my dad’s taste was very specific. When my friend got me [Kobe Bryant’s Muse] and we were working on that project, he made me into a cinephile. I started just picking directors and going through their filmographies. I went through the Criterion Collection, and [Raging Bull] was one of the first films I watched when I chose Scorsese and went through all his films. I had never seen it before. When you discover a classic by yourself as an adult, or in your young adult life, you always have an emotional connection to it. It feels special because it’s such a personal thing. That’s one for me.
Watching that a few years ago was pretty remarkable, seeing what [Tonya Harding] went through and how incredibly Margot Robbie captured it. The scene that sticks out to me is the moment when she’s about to go out, and she’s looking in the mirror and breaking down and then just starts to wipe the tears and put on a brave face and smile. That performative aspect of being an athlete, especially with figure skating, and the humanity underneath, is always really fascinating to me.
The Wrestler is one of the first films that really made simple thematic scoring clear to me. Clint Mansell’s score for that was something I studied a lot when I was working on the Kobe Bryant documentary, and I just love how clear it was. Before, I thought of themes in the John Williams sense, where it’s a leitmotif that you are doing variations on and reinventing every time it’s presented so it’s not repeating the same exact thing. With [The Wrestler] score, there are cues that feel like the exact same cue happening over and over again, but it’s really, really emotionally effective with the story. The movie is about a wrestler, but I feel like you’re watching this man who can’t help but do these things that are tearing his body apart. It’s about this idea of identity, and what is he if he’s not wrestling, and all of these things that I felt were pretty amazing to see in a wrestling movie.