12 Best running movies to motivate you for your next run
Twelve of the best movies about running, including popular titles such as the Barkley marathons, without limits, and Chariots of fire.
If you’ve been struggling to find inspiration for your runs in recent months, we recommend re-sparking your passion by watching a few running movies. Grab some popcorn, jump on the sofa and watch a few movies about running – it’ll keep you going for a few extra miles on your next run, we promise.
While a few classic titles probably spring to mind when you think of running movies, you’ll likely be surprised by how many movies about running there actually is to watch. This article will provide you with twelve of the best running movies, with something for every type of runner and film fanatic.
So, whether you’re training for a marathon, preparing for the next cross-country running season or competing at the highest level, there’s something to keep you going during those tough training sessions.
1. The Barkley marathons: the Race that eats its young
The Barkley Marathons is one of the toughest running challenges in the world, with forty runners heading to a small town in Tennessee to compete each year. Within its first twenty-five years, only ten runners managed to complete the Barkley challenge. In The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, you’ll learn more about the race, including the application process and what’s involved during the event. You’ll also enjoy hearing more from one of the competitors, Lazarus Lake.
Unlike other races on the yearly calendar, the Barkley Marathons are notoriously secretive, so this movie is one of the few opportunities to get a glimpse into what really goes on and why so few runners complete the challenge. This award-winning documentary takes you behind the scenes of these awe-inspiring athletes, and it will certainly make you feel like your next training session is totally manageable. The movie is surprisingly entertaining while offering you a fascinating look at this gruelling event.
2. Without limits – a running movie about Steve Prefontaine
While there are a couple of running movies about the life of Steve Prefontaine, we recommend focusing on Without Limits first, which we believe is the better of the two options. This biographical sports movie follows the relationship between Steve Prefontaine, who is played by Billy Crudup, and his coach Bill Bowerman, portrayed by Donald Sutherland.
While Bill Bowerman is one of the most legendary track coaches of all time, he’s also well known as the co-founder of Nike. Furthermore, His work has been instrumental in designing and developing many of the shoes the company is so famous for.
Without limits was produced by Tom Cruise and also stars his cousin, William Mapother. Surprisingly, the movie only grossed $777,000 at the box office but has gone on to become one of the most inspiring movies for runners. You’ll enjoy witnessing Prefontaine’s explosive personality and his refusal to pace himself, always working to lead from the front during his races. While his life was cut far too short, he’s still remembered as one of the top American runners to this day.
3. Breaking2 Nike documentary
While Breaking2 isn’t technically a running movie, this documentary is well worth taking the time to view. This inspiring documentary covers Nike’s Breaking2 project, following Eliud Kipchoge and his attempt to enter the history books by breaking the two-hour time barrier for the marathon.
This project brought together three elite marathon runners: Eliud Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese, and Lelisa Desisa to train and race in a private event, with Kipchoge arguably the most talented and likely athlete to complete the seemingly impossible challenge.
Thanks to the partnership between these world-class athletes and Nike, we also learn how science and innovation are playing a role in the world of running and sports. The preparation and dedication showed in the run-up to the race help to reassure runners today they are on the right track when training regularly on even the toughest of days.
After watching Without Limits, if you are keen to learn more about Steve Prefontaine, you may wish to watch Prefontaine on your next movie night. The movie follows a very similar premise to Without Limits, but this time features Jared Leto as the title character. Bill Bowerman is portrayed by R. Lee Ermey, and the key difference with this movie is that it’s told from the point of view of Bill Dellinger, his assistant coach, and his girlfriend at the time, Nancy Alleman.
While the movie was released twenty years after Prefontaine’s death, Jared Leto took the time to meet with the family and friends of Steve and immerse himself in his life. As well as telling the story of this ground-breaking athlete, the movie helps to bring attention to the lack of resources available to amateur athletes at the time in the US and the immense pressure they worked under.
5. McFarland, USA
Kevin Costner stars as coach Jim White in McFarland, USA, which shares the true story of the 1987 cross country team in a primarily Latino high school. Set in McFarland, California, this running movie follows the team and their coach Jim White as they fight to win the state championship. Various themes are explored throughout the movie, but the role of a good coach is one of the key takeaways young runners will gain from this movie.
The devotion shown by Jim White towards the boys in his team will motivate you to help others in your life and share your passion for the sport. It’s important to note this movie isn’t a documentary, so a few changes to the story have been made, but it’s a great watch for the whole family.
6. Forrest Gump
We’re sure most of you have watched this movie multiple times before, but you can’t go wrong with an evening in front of the TV watching Forrest Gump. This 1994 movie stars Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, and Gary Sinise and was directed by Robert Zemeckis. Encouraging anyone to enjoy running, regardless of any setbacks they may be facing in life, Forrest Gump will make you want to get up and hit the pavements tomorrow morning.
A fun fact about this movie is that Tom’s younger brother, Jim Hanks, is the one you see in the running scenes across the US. His daughter also appears in the movie as well in the school bus scene with the young Forrest. It’s arguably one of the best running movies ever made and one that we would happily watch over and over again.
7. Chariots of fire
If you are looking for a British historical drama to enjoy tonight, then Chariots of Fire is a must-watch, one of our favourite movies about running. Based on a true story, the movie follows two British athletes in the 1924 Olympics. Eric Liddell, played by Ian Charleson, and Harold Abrahams, portrayed by Ben Cross, run for different reasons and show that running is a way to share your faith with the world.
The movie won four Academy Awards and is consistently listed in the top movies of all time. For dedicated runners, Chariots of Fire showcases the sacrifice and moral courage that are needed to succeed in the sport. While the film is not entirely historically accurate, it still works to inspire future generations of Olympians to follow their dreams.
8. Spirit of the marathon
Are you struggling to remain motivated over the endless weeks and months of marathon training? Sit down and enjoy Spirit of the Marathon, one of the top running documentaries to help reignite the fire inside of you. This 2007 documentary film followed six marathon runners as they trained and then competed in the 2005 Chicago Marathon. You’ll see elite runners Deena Kastor and Daniel Njenga featured in the film, who are both trying to win the marathon that year.
We love how this documentary showcases both elite and amateur runners, offering you a glimpse at both styles of training. The other marathoners featured are all local to Chicago, including a young married couple, a veteran marathoner, and a first-time marathon runner. It just goes to show that marathons aren’t just for the world’s fastest runners and can be enjoyed by a wide cross-section of the population.
9. Patriots day
The 2013 Boston Marathon bombings were one of the most tragic days for the marathoning community. Patriots Day is an action thriller film based on these devastating events and the terrorist manhunt that followed after. It’s based on the book Boston Strong, and stars Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Bacon, and was directed and written by Peter Berg.
Throughout the movie, we see the tragic events unfold on this day and the bravery of those who were affected by the explosions and worked for the emergency services during this time. While it’s certainly not the most uplifting movie on our list today, it’s an event that we highly encourage any runner to learn about, as it so deeply impacted the running community in the US.
It may be a little too disturbing for some viewers, so viewer discretion is advised!
The 2016 movie, Race, is based on the incredible true story of Jesse Owens. Jesse Owens was an African-American athlete who won a whopping four gold medals in the Olympic Games held in Berlin in 1936. This running movie stars Stephan James as the title character and also welcomes Jason Sudeikis and Jeremy Irons in the supporting cast.
Race showcases the sacrifices that athletes make in order to support their families and keep up with their training. The frustrations felt from having to work a regular job while training so rigorously can be seen by anyone who watches this movie, and it will help you to understand the sacrifices you may need to make to achieve your running goals this year.
11. Brittany runs a marathon
If you are looking for a perhaps more light-hearted movie for your regularly scheduled movie night, then you’ll love Brittany Runs a Marathon. This 2019 movie stars Jillian Bell in the main role, with the storyline following Brittany, an overweight woman, as she trains for the New York City marathon to try and lose weight. It’s a hilarious watch that presents a very realistic look at the struggles men and women go through when trying to get in shape.
We all know that running a marathon takes a lot of sacrifices, and we see Brittany taking on another job just to join an expensive gym. The movie touches on the value of setting goals in a comedic way while also showing the perseverance you’ll need to reach these goals. For anyone struggling to keep motivated with training at the moment, it’s a fun movie that’ll provide a few laughs, perhaps relatable moments, and the ambition you need to continue chasing your goals.
Finally, we have Tracktown. Tracktown is a 2016 coming of age sports film that stars Alexi Pappas, who also wrote, directed, and stared in the movie. Alexi Pappas is a Greek-American runner who set the 10k national record while representing Greece at the 2016 Summer Olympics. The movie follows the character of Plum Marigold, played by Pappas, who is a lonely distance runner even though she spends her life surrounded by other people.
For anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, it’s an inspiring movie that will help you to feel better about the sacrifices you make for your running. You’ll learn to keep yourself open to new opportunities that may come your way and understand that sometimes rest is needed to help you perform your best on the day of the big race.
The bottom line
Finding the motivation to train can be difficult, whether you run for fun or competition. However, these running movies will help inspire you and stay on track with your training and to smash your goals this year. Organise a movie night with your friends and family who love to run, and you’ll be ready to hit the road again tomorrow morning with a newly found motivation for training.
Matthew is an avid runner, freelance writer, Durham University graduate, and the founder of Running101.