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15 of the best inspirational running movies of all time

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We all know that running motivation can come and go.

If you’re stuck in a running rut, a good way to reignite your running mojo is to watch some inspirational running movies.

There are a few great movies that you can turn to to share your enjoyment of running, movies that span across the decades and provide true stories and fictional fare alike.

So what what the most inspirational running movies of all time? Which ones made our top 15 list?

Here are the 15 of the best inspirational running movies of all time.

At the end of this guide you’ll also find some of the best running movies on Netflix.

Ready?

Let’s go!

running movies

15 of the best inspirational running movies of all time

#1 Chariots of Fire (1981)

Perhaps one of the most famous running movies of all time, Chariots of Fire was released in 1981 to great acclaim.

The movie has many great running scenes, most notably the iconic opening scene of the runners training barefoot along St Andrews beach.

Chariots of Fire also has one of the most remarkable movie soundtracks of all time, with music from the Greek composer Vangelis Papathanassiou, that is bound to instil you with the motivation to go for a run.

Related: 101 funny and motivational running day sign ideas

#2 Forrest Gump (1994)

No running movie list would be complete without mentioning Forrest Gump.

While it isn’t considered a running movie, the scene in which Forrest (played by Tom Hanks) goes for a long run is perhaps one of the most famous running scenes in history.

For Forrest, running is a way to overcome his limitations and the running scene is a symbol of his ability to triumph – a common theme throughout the film.

Interestingly, Jim Hanks doubled for his brother on set, including in the now famous running sequences.

When people in the movie asked Forrest why he was running, he put it simply: “I just felt like running” which will resonate with a lot of runners.

Related: 21 funny and motivational running quotes to inspire you

#3 The Jericho Mile (1979)

Stuck in Folsom State Prison for a murder charge, inmate Larry ‘Rain’ Murphy (played by Peter Strauss) spends much of his time running around the prison yard.

Murphy begins to run a mile in under 4 minutes and his exercise-yard sprints start to gain the attention of the prison’s guards.

They realise that he runs so fast that he could qualify for the Olympics, prompting a PR push by a warden to get him into the Games.

The movie is a worthwhile watch. Murphy’s cold, impersonal surroundings undercut the intensity of this athletic training, bringing an unsettling light into the emptiness at the heart of this film.

Related: 10 funny running memes to brighten your day

#4 Spirit of the Marathon (2007)

This movie should be on everyone’s running movies list.

Directed by Jon Dunham, the movie focuses on a group of six runners, including 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor, as they train for the 2005 Chicago Marathon.

The runners explain how marathons have changed their lives and made them better people. They are all convinced that running is the ultimate drug.

As such, the movie’s main focus is on the famed runner’s high, with a smattering of running injuries and performance anxieties, which all runners can relate to.

Related: The ultimate intermediate half marathon training plan

#5 Finding Traction (2012)

Finding Traction is a movie that documents Nikki Kimball’s attempt to break the women’s speed record, and explores the aspects of her life that led her to such an undertaking.

The movie presents a no holds barred, matter of fact view of Nikki’s journey as she tackles Vermont’s Long Trail – a 272-mile trail that runs north to south through the state, between the Canadian and Massachusetts borders.

It’s an emotionally-charged movie and is a great tribute to what people, especially women, can achieve when they put their minds to it.

At the end of the movie, Nikki says: “I think too many girls are taught to allow fear to limit their actions. I want girls to explore their fears and to crush them… If I help just one person realise she’s capable of so much more than her fears, I want her to know this expedition has been a success.”

Related: 17 running motivation hacks: How to get motivated to go for a run

#6 McFarland, USA (2015)

McFarland, USA is based on a true, inspirational story of Jim White (played by Kevin Costner), a high school sports coach for an all Latino cross country running team at an underfunded high school in the San Joaquin Valley in California.

On arriving with his family in a small community in California, White resolves to create a cross country running team with a ragtag crew of students at the local high school.

He initially steers his team to victory after victory, and garners attention from local wealthier towns and schools, which presents a challenge to his own commitment to his family and community.

McFarland USA is a feel-good movie that pretty much anyone can feel good about.

Related: 21 of the best motivational quotes for race day

#7 Brittany Runs A Marathon (2019)

This movie’s title says it all – it’s about a character called Brittany (played by Jillian Bell) who runs the New York Marathon (one of the biggest marathon events in the USA).

When she receives a reality check from her doctor, Brittany decides to reshape her life and does something that she wouldn’t normally do: run.

The movie focuses on Brittany’s fitness and weight loss journey and more importantly it includes the healing and forgiveness it takes to really meet those goals.

Brittany Runs A Marathon will no doubt resonate with a many runners as they track their own fitness journey.

The movie takes pride and place amongst some of the best sports movies.

Related: 9 ways to motivate yourself to go for a run

#8 Race (2016)

Race documents the fascinating story of Jesse Owens (played by Stephan James) – the record-breaking African-American athlete who famously competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in front of the Nazi elite.

The movie focuses on Owens’ three years before his triumphant performance at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Running during a time of racism and anti-Semitism, Owens seizes the opportunity at the Games to show the world that he’s the fastest man alive.

Race deals with some very important themes and messages and is a heart-warming homage to one of America’s greatest athletes.

Related: Running 2 miles a day: Benefits + how to do it

#9 Running For Good (2018)

Running For Good is a documentary looks at the awe-inspiring story of British vegan runner Fiona Oakes as she tackles the Marathon Des Sables – a 250km race through the Sahara Desert.

Oakes has made a name for herself as a world record breaking endurance runner. She is the fastest woman in the world to run a marathon on all seven continents.

These achievements are made all the more astounding due to the fact Oakes was told at 14 years of age that she would never walk properly again.

Oakes’ drive to achieve the impossible is motivated by her love of animals. We find out in the documentary that Oakes singlehandedly operates an animal sanctuary, caring for over 400 formerly abused and neglected animals.

A worthwhile watch for anyone – runner or not – to be inspired by this lady’s achievements.

Related: Running 5 miles a day: Benefits + how to start

#10 Free To Run (2018)

Free To Run is a documentary that looks at the rise of distance running in the USA over the last 50 years.

It focuses on some legends in the running community, notably Steve Prefontaine and Katherine Switzer who made the sport popular in the 1960s and 1970s.

The documentary also looks at the growth of women’s running shortly after Switzer completed the Boston Marathon in 1967.

Related: The ultimate beginner half marathon training plan

#11 Run Fatboy Run (2007)

Directed by Friends star David Schwimmer, Run Fatboy Run is a story about the strength of human spirit.

Simon Pegg stars as slacker Dennis who can’t quite commit to anything and fails at life.

Six years before the movie is set, Dennis ran away and left his pregnant wife (played by Thandie Newton) at the alter.

Still pining after her, Dennis learns that her new boyfriend is running a marathon and he sees it as a chance to change his life.

This movie is an inspirational and moving story of a man who strives to achieve his goal – something many runners will be able to resonate with.

#12 Without Limits (1998)

Without Limits documents the incredible life of legendary runner Steve Prefontaine and his relationship with coach Bill Bowerman.

The movie focuses on Prefontaine’s abrasive personality and his refusal to pace himself – the only way he wanted to win was by leading the way.

At the time of his untimely death in 1975, Prefontaine held most of the American road distance records.

Without Limits stars Billy Crudup as Prefontaine and Donald Sutherland as Bill Bowerman, both of whom give stellar portrayals of their characters.

Best running movies: Honourable mentions

This running movies list wouldn’t be complete without the below honourable mentions.

Although these movies aren’t movies about running in the truest sense, they are still enjoyable to watch and considered a guilty pleasure for many.

#13 The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man is set in a totalitarian society in the future and features a contest in which the player is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger plays a cop who is assigned to a penal colony having failed to follow orders to fire on innocent civilians rioting for food.

One day, Schwarzenegger and his friends escape from the penal colony, and TV footage of their escape catches the eye of a TV superstar.

He decides Schwarzenegger is the ideal guest for his show, which consists of criminals who are given a chance of freedom if they can defeat the heavily armed killers who are guests on the show.

#14 Run Lola Run (1998)

The main message from Run Lola Run is that the smallest events can have enormous consequences.

The film begins when Lola (played by Franka Potente) gets a phone call from her boyfriend Manni. He tells her that he has left a bag containing 100,000 deutsche marks on the subway, and a homeless man made off with it.

Manni is expected to deliver it by 12 noon to a gangster. If he fails, he will be killed.

Lola sets about finding the money in 20 minutes. Her 20-minute run is told three times, each time with small differences that affect the outcome and fate of each character.

It’s the kind of movie that could play on a big screen in a sports bar. Its exciting, non-stop kinetic energy will no doubt spur you on to go for a run.

#15 Rocky (1976)

The running up the steps scene in Rocky is perhaps one of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history.

In preparation for an upcoming fight, Rocky runs up the 72 stone steps of the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Since the movie’s release, these steps have become known as the ‘Rocky Steps’

The movie’s soundtrack ‘Gonna Fly Now’ – composed by Bill Conti – is guaranteed to get you motivated for a run.

The best running movies on Netflix

Have a Netflix subscription? Here are the best running movies on Netflix:

#1 I Am Bolt (2016)

I Am Bolt is a biographical documentary about the prolific sprinter Usain Bolt.

Bolt reviews his career and personal life in this intimate portrait of the greatest athlete of all time.

#2 The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats It Young (2014)

This inspiring and wildly funny documentary looks at the cult-like race that was inspired by a famous prison escape.

The race saw only 10 finishers in its first 25 years.

One race-goer says: “the first rule of Barkley is don’t talk about it.” The documentary reveals the details of one of the sports world’s most guarded secrets.

#3 One Mile To You (2017)

One Mile To You is a sports romantic drama about a teenager who loses his girlfriend in a car accident and then turns to running to keep him connected to her.

Chasing her memory motivates him to run faster and win races for his new coach (played by Billy Crudup).

This movie is a heart-wrenching but incredibly inspiring watch.

Caroline Geoghegan
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