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The year’s best sport movies are a tale of two Michael Jordans

Air: Courting a Legend has qualities that Creed III simply cannot compete with

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This big winners in The Sport Market Movie Awards — recognizing the year’s best sport movies on the eve of the Oscars in Hollywood — represent a tale of two Michael Jordans.

The first is Michael Jordan the basketball superstar and now billionaire NBA owner whose Air Jordan franchise has earned him US$3.75 billion since his professional playing debut with the Chicago Bulls in 1984. Michael Jordan is ostensibly the subject of Air: Courting a Legend, even though we see very little of the newcomer actor, Damian Delano Young, who plays him in the movie released last April.

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The second is Michael B. Jordan, the charismatic actor and director who stars as the champion boxer Adonis Creed in Creed III, yet another worthy spinoff of Rocky, the biggest sport movie franchise in history. It packs a very good punch with a Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score of 88 and an audience approval rate of 95 per cent, despite being the first in nine instalments that does not include Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone.

On the other hand, given the nostalgic sound track and the film’s cultural context in the 1980s, Air: Courting a Legend has qualities that Creed III simply cannot compete with. That’s why Air is best picture overall despite falling a distant second to Creed III in box office revenues. Creed III has taken in $156.2 million in the U.S. and $275 million worldwide. Air meanwhile scores just one third of the ticket sales: $52.5 million in the U.S. and $90.1 million internationally.

creed III
Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed inCREED III, which has taken in $156.2 million in the U.S. and $275 million worldwide. Photo by Eli Ade /Eli Ade

Among the drawing cards to Air is that it marks the reunion of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, with Damon playing Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro and director Affleck doubling as Phil Knight, the brilliant albeit quirky founder of Nike. Affleck is inspired on both counts, playing yin to Damon’s yang and getting solid performances from Jason Bateman as marketing VP Rob Strasser, Chris Tucker as recruiter Howard White, Chris Messina as Jordan’s super agent David Falk and Viola Davis as MJ’s mother Deloris Jordan. That cast is the best ensemble of any in this year’s roster of sport movies.

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Air joins Jerry Maguire and Moneyball on the short list of the most entertaining sport business movies of all time. It’s also the most important of its genre given that it reveals how Nike outmanoeuvred Converse and Adidas in the biggest chase in endorsement history.

Jordan’s Nike contract not only spawned basketball sneaker fashion as a new global industry, but the movie also reveals how Deloris Jordan was the one who changed the business of sport forever by insisting on a five per cent royalty on the sale of every Air Jordan for perpetuity.

That tension of risk-reward in Nike’s full-court press pursuit of Jordan — who wound up being drafted third in 1984 behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie — defines the one-hour, 52-minute movie, an Amazon Studio production that awarded exclusive international theatre distribution to Warner Brothers Pictures.

Make no mistake that this year’s box office champion Creed III does not give up much to Air as the best sport movie of the year. Powered by Michael B. Jordan’s solid directorial debut and a show-stealing, best-actor turn by the provocative Jonathan Majors, it is best drama in The Sport Market Movie Awards for 2023. Creed III is also the box office champion for 2023 — the year before the passing last month of former B.C. Lion Carl Weathers, who was unforgettable as Apollo Creed in four instalments of Rocky.

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Nyad
Annette Bening and Jody Foster team up in one of the year’s best-kept secrets; the real-life swimming drama Nyad, the true story of how swimmer and journalist Diana Nyad survived her 53-hour, 110-mile open ocean swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Fla. Photo by Kimberley French /AP

Yet there’s more to this year’s sport movie class than the tale of two Michael Jordans. On this weekend of the 96th Academy Awards and International Women’s Day, there will be considerable attention paid to best actress nominee Annette Bening and best supporting actress candidate Jody Foster. They team up in one of the year’s best-kept secrets; the real-life swimming drama Nyad. It is the true story of how swimmer and journalist Diana Nyad survived her 53-hour, 110-mile open ocean swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Fla.

Both Bening and Foster, who plays her best friend and coach Bonnie Stoll, were nominated not only for this weekend’s Oscars, but for the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards, among others. They are the clear winners in The Sport Market Movie Awards for best actress and best supporting actress and they certainly give the sport movie genre a good presence at the Kodak Theater Sunday.

Like Air, Nyad is among the true stories that represent the best in class among the year’s sport movies, including a pair of wrestling biopics; The Iron Claw, starring Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White, and chronicling the rise of the Von Erich brothers in the 1980s; and Cassandro, the award-winning story of Saul Armendariz — played by Gael Garcia Bernal — a gay amateur wrestler from El Paso, Texas.

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Auto racing is well-represented this year with Gran Turismo and Ferrari, which features strong acting performances from Penelope Cruz and Adam Driver as Laura and Enzo Ferrari.

The top sport comedies of the year are Champions starring Woody Harrelson, Next Goal Wins with Michael Fassbender and Elisabeth Moss and 80 for Brady, with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Rita Moreno and Tom Brady as himself. Add in George Clooney’s The Boys in the Boat, the biopic Big George Foreman and documentaries It Ain’t Over: Yogi Berra, Bill Russell: Legend and Stephen Curry: Underrated and we have ourselves an eclectic range in the theatre and online.

These 2023 releases give a wider variety of content than what we’ve seen since before the pandemic, another indication that the sport movie genre, and the industry in general, have bounced back from the catastrophic shutdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic from March of 2020 through the spring of 2021.

Winners in the 17th annual edition of The Sport Market Movie Awards recognizing excellence in the genre of sport movies:

Best picture:  Air: Courting a Legend (basketball)

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Box office champion: Creed III (boxing)

Best drama: Creed III (boxing)

Best biopic: The Iron Claw (Von Erich brothers/wrestling)

Best documentary: Kelce (football)

Best comedy: Champions (basketball)

Best commercial short: Higher: Paramount Mountain (Super Bowl LVIII ad starring Sir Patrick Stewart, Tua Tagovailoa, Drew Barrymore and featuring music by Creed)

Best actor: Jonathan Majors (Creed III/boxing)

Best actress: Annette Bening (Nyad/swimming)

Best supporting actor: Ben Affleck (Air/basketball)

Best supporting actress: Jody Foster (Nyad/swimming)

Best cast: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, Jessica Green, Matthew Maher, Marlon Wayans, Julius Tennon (Air/basketball)

Best director: Ben Affleck (Air/basketball)

Best original screenplay: Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin (Creed III/boxing)

Best photography/cinematography: Peter Zuccarini (Nyad/swimming)

Best costume: Charlese Antoinette Jones and wardrobe department (Air/basketball)

Best editing: Tyler Nelson and Jessica Baclesse (Creed III/boxing)

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Best sound: Aaron Glascock and Sound department (Creed III/boxing)

Best soundtrack: Original soundtrack curated by Andrea von Foerster featuring various artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Cindi Lauper and REO Speedwagon (Air/basketball)

Best soundtrack: Original soundtrack curated by Andrea von Foerster featuring various artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Cindi Lauper and REO Speedwagon (Air/basketball)

Best song in a sport movie: Money for Nothing by Dire Straits (Air/basketball)

Sport business commentator and marketing executive Tom Mayenknecht is the host of The Sport Market on Sportsnet 650 and the Sportsnet Radio Network.

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