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Running Movies: 33 Best Films of All Time Ranked

Running Movies: 33 Best Films of All Time Ranked

If you’re someone who loves hitting the pavement and racking up miles as a runner, chances are you’re not just passionate about the actual running part. You probably enjoy chatting about your running experiences, hearing others share their tales, diving into running-related literature, and even catching running events on screen. It’s only natural that you’d want to have a collection of the finest running movies on hand for those moments when your craving for the sport is insatiable.

That’s where we come in. We’ve put together an extensive and diverse assortment of films spanning over five decades, all of which can deepen your connection to and enjoyment of running. Some of these movies tell the real-life stories of the most legendary runners in history, while others, like Forrest Gump, continue to echo with famous lines that everyone knows. Take a look at our list of timeless classics and insightful documentaries. You can easily acquire, rent, download, or stream nearly all of these options whenever you’re seeking an extra dose of motivation or simply wish to unwind with captivating cinema. We’ve arranged them chronologically by release date to make it easy for you.

If you believe we’ve overlooked one of the ultimate running movies, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments section. Your input is greatly appreciated!

1 of 33 Running Movies: *The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner* (1962)

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Based on a short story, the oldest movie in the lineup of top running films holds a timeless quality that remains relevant even today. This film narrates the tale of a young lad (portrayed by Tom Courtenay) who earns special privileges in his challenging boarding school due to his talent as a long-distance runner. In some sense, it’s a story about growing up that’s likely to strike a chord with many individuals as they watch.

2 of 33: *The Jericho Mile* (1979)

Running Movies

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Imagine this: a strong-willed loner stuck within prison walls, searching for a way to let out his emotions. This is Peter Strauss’ role, and the Emmy he received was well-deserved. His unwavering independence will strike a chord with those free spirits who didn’t go for team sports. Now, the story might seem a tad far-fetched; Strauss’ character becomes one of the nation’s top milers while serving time in Folsom Prison. But here’s the thing – Strauss can truly run, and when he speaks of the sensation of “floating,” it could very well be the first time his character experiences pure and unfiltered happiness.

3 of 33: *Chariots of Fire* (1981)

Running Movies

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Right from the get-go, this running film hooks you with its opening scene. You’ll find yourself yearning to join your pals in a beachside run, all while the memorable soundtrack fills the air. There’s an absolutely remarkable sequence during a race around a Cambridge college courtyard, and you’re introduced to two contrasting heroes from the 1924 Paris Olympics – the reserved and proud Harold Abrahams, alongside the exuberant and devout Eric Liddell. However, it’s worth noting that Chariots takes some creative liberties with historical accuracy, and it holds up better if you have a fondness for all things British. In fact, its theme is still played at 21st-century road races – that’s just how fantastic it is.

4 of 33 Running Movies: *Personal Best* (1982)

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Mariel Hemingway truly shines as a talented young pentathlete, and what’s fascinating is that she’s surrounded by genuine Olympic-level athletes, like Patrice Donnelly, an actual Olympic hurdler, who delivers the heartfelt line, “Everything I’ve always wanted, you’ve got.” The scenes of Hemingway and Donnelly gracefully running through the California dunes have sparked numerous imitations over the years. And guess what? Even Kenny Moore, a real-life Olympic marathoner and renowned sportswriter, makes an appearance as Mariel’s other romantic interest – a water polo player. With all this going on, how could you not be eager to watch this film?

5 of 33: *Running Brave* (1983)

Running Brave

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The intense clash of elbows among Billy Mills, Mohamed Gammoudi, and Ron Clarke during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics 10,000-meter race is portrayed with breathtaking excitement in this movie. Here, Robby Benson’s portrayal of a (approximately) half-Sioux distance runner feels so much more genuine compared to his pint-sized basketball hero role in One on One. Mills’ uphill battle against stereotypes and his relentless quest for the approval of a stubborn coach make it seem almost like a miracle that he even made it to Tokyo. The film’s ultimate moment of fulfillment arrives when the coach turns to Benson’s character, who embodies Mills, and declares, “That was the greatest race I ever saw a man run.” And in that instant, you can’t help but feel the same way.

6 of 33: *On the Edge* (1985)

On the Edge

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This story truly came from the heart for Bruce Dern, a former track star from the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t easy for him to bring it to the world and ensure that people could see it. The main character embodies that classic troublemaker persona that Dern portrays brilliantly. He’s a man who faced significant consequences for challenging the norms back in the challenging days of amateur sports. Now, he’s on a journey to redeem himself by preparing for one of the most prestigious mountain and trail races in America. The backdrop of California’s scenic beauty and the intense race sequences fulfill all your expectations, and the best part is, the movie keeps you engaged without becoming too predictable.

7 of 33 Running Movies: *The Running Man* (1987)

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Okay, let’s be real here – this is a total guilty pleasure, and it’s not exactly about traditional running. But seriously, who can resist the urge to see Arnold Schwarzenegger sprint his way out as an ex-prisoner turned competitor? The catch? The ultimate jackpot is his freedom. Of course, there’s a twist – he’s got to outsmart a bunch of lethal pros who are determined to put an end to him.

8 of 33: *Forrest Gump* (1994)

Running Movies

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You might have noticed that this movie isn’t talked about as much as when it cleaned up at the Oscars two decades ago. People seem to focus on what it doesn’t offer rather than what it does. But here’s the thing: it’s astonishing how much of the story revolves around running – and in the most captivating way possible. Those scenes where Gump crosses the continent are beautifully captured and truly rewarding. And remember the part where young Forrest dashes quicker and quicker to escape those pestering him? Well, that scene etched “Run, Forrest, run!” into our ears, with folks yelling it from passing cars for years to come

9 of 33: *Run Lola Run* (1998)

Running Movies

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Get ready for a rush because this might just be the most heart-pounding “running” film you’ll ever experience, and guess what? It’s not exactly all about running. Picture a fiery-haired German gal donning Doc Martens, racing through the city to rescue her utterly inept boyfriend. This movie practically defines the term “non-stop action thriller,” but it’s got an extra touch of flair and excitement that sets it apart from the usual bunch. Lola’s not opting for the bus – no way. Even when she’s in animated scenes, she’s dashing like there’s no tomorrow. You could almost call this a training video for the ultimate sprint!

10 of 33 Running Movies: *Without Limits* (1998)

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The second of two dramatized versions depicting the life of Oregon legend Steve Prefontaine stands out as the slightly better one. This is largely due to the skillfully subtle portrayal by Donald Sutherland, who plays his coach, Bill Bowerman. Yet, it’s Billy Crudup who should be acknowledged for truly capturing the unique essence of Pre. He embodies both the charm and the occasional frustration of this iconic figure. It’s almost clichéd, but he embodies the rebel spirit of the ’70s precisely when the world of track and field was in need of such a character.

11 of 33: *Saint Ralph* (2004)

Running Movies

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Travel back to the year 1954 with “Saint Ralph,” a heartwarming blend of drama and comedy that tells the story of young Ralph’s journey towards maturity. Find yourself immersed in the world of a mischievous ninth-grader named Ralph, whose behavior lands him in a bit of trouble at his strict Catholic school. In an attempt to instill discipline, he’s pushed to join the cross country team.

The twist? Ralph isn’t exactly a natural runner. He stumbles to keep up with his teammates initially. However, life takes an unexpected turn when his mother falls critically ill and slips into a coma. Faced with desperation, Ralph sets an audacious goal—to win the Boston Marathon—a seemingly impossible feat. This isn’t just a race to him; it’s a shot at performing a miracle that he believes could be the key to saving his beloved mother’s life. “Saint Ralph” is a touching narrative that captures the essence of hope, determination, and the indomitable spirit of a young boy on an extraordinary mission.

12 of 33: *Spirit of the Marathon* (2007)

Running Movies

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You definitely shouldn’t miss out on this one—it’s a must-watch. The film takes us along the journey of six runners, a mix of well-known and lesser-known names, as they get ready for the 2005 Chicago Marathon. It’s hard not to feel deeply touched when one of these six runners opens up: “There was a time when I thought I’d never find happiness again,” and then discovers the incredible truth, “I’m capable of achieving almost anything.” What sets “Spirit of the Marathon” apart is that it taps into the genuine insights of true marathon experts who not only possess knowledge but can also articulate their thoughts and feelings.

13 of 33 Running Movies: *Run for Your Life* (2008)

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Here’s a truly heartfelt documentary that pays homage to the trailblazing Fred Lebow, the driving force behind the New York City Marathon. This film serves as a love letter to the growth of long-distance running in New York, harking back to a time when dedicated runners were scarce and Lebow himself was far from the fastest. The documentary skillfully underscores how he managed to carve out his lasting legacy. It’s an absolute must-see, especially if you’re on the lookout for the finest running films out there.

14 of 33: *The Long Green Line* (2008)

Running Movies

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This is a story that revolves around the 2005 season of Joe Newton, the renowned coach from Illinois, and his boys’ cross-country team, consisting of a staggering 221 students. Although over 200 of them won’t make the cut for the major meets, the impact Newton has on each and every one of them is truly something to see. A man who believes that being kind is even more significant than being exceptional, Newton achieves the remarkable feat of nurturing greatness while ensuring his students remain genuinely kind-hearted.

15 of 33: *Finding Traction* (2014)

Running Movies

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In this film, we join Nikki Kimball, a true legend in the world of ultrarunning. With victories at the Western States 100 and various other endurance races under her belt, she sets her sights on an ambitious goal: breaking the speed record on Vermont’s challenging Long Trail. This daring endeavor takes place in August 2012, when Kimball is 41 years old. Across four days, the film crew intimately captures her journey—both the moments of triumph and the trials—along the path that winds through Vermont’s stunning yet formidable Green Mountains.

16 of 33 Running Movies: *Desert Runners* (2013)

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If you’re intrigued by the idea of witnessing runners pushing themselves through intense challenges, then this documentary following a group’s endeavor to conquer the 4 Deserts ultra races is perfect for you. Imagine each race being slightly over 150 miles long, cutting through the unforgiving terrain of the Atacama Desert, the vast Gobi, the endless Sahara, and even the frosty wilderness of Antarctica. The word “brutal” barely captures the immense trials these amateur runners face.

17 of 33: *Unbroken* (2014)

Running Movies

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Meet Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a man with an incredible journey. Back in 1936, he earned a spot in the Olympics for the 5,000 meters, where he delivered a remarkable final lap even though he finished 8th. However, this film places a spotlight on the chapter that unfolds after he enlists in the Army during the outbreak of World War II. From surviving a harrowing plane crash in the Pacific to enduring over a month adrift at sea, his resilience is put to the ultimate test. As fate would have it, he’s taken captive by the Japanese navy. While running isn’t the central theme, it’s the unyielding spirit of never giving up that resonates powerfully throughout every aspect of his story.

18 of 33: *The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young* (2014)

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

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The title itself tells the tale—capturing the essence of one of the most grueling races that only a select few courageous souls dare to attempt. (Throughout the race’s history, a mere 15 individuals have successfully conquered the daunting 100+ mile course through Tennessee’s hills.) The Barkley Marathons, for years, remained an unspoken challenge, a race shrouded in secrecy. To even stand a chance at participating, you needed an inside connection—a friend of a friend who knew the ropes. Through this documentary, you gain an illuminating glimpse into the trials and tribulations that a small group of runners willingly subject themselves to year after year. And more importantly, you discover the motivations behind race director Gary Cantrell’s creation of this diabolically designed event.

19 of 33 Running Movies: *Gun Runners* (2015)

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Imagine a heartwarming story that introduces us to the lives of two Kenyan runners—Julius Arile and Robert Matanda. These individuals, who once lived as countryside warriors, decided to shift their focus to the world of sports. Created by director and filmmaker Anjali Nayar, this documentary made its debut in 2015. It beautifully illustrates the journey of Kenyan runners who rise above poverty to attain recognition and fame on both local and national scales in the world of sports. But it also serves as a reminder of the tremendous challenges that come with trying to stand out in a nation teeming with exceptionally talented runners.

20 of 33: *McFarland, USA* (2015)

Running Movies

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In the heartwarming film “McFarland, USA,” Kevin Costner takes on the role of Jim White, a high-school football coach who faces a crossroads in his coaching career following a player-related incident. In a bold move, he relocates his entire family to a quiet rural town in Idaho, where the Latino community is predominant, hoping to secure a teaching job. However, fitting in proves to be a challenge for White as he adapts to his new surroundings. It’s during these adjustments that he notices something special—his students dashing from their early-morning farming tasks to school. Recognizing their inherent talent for running, he sees an opportunity. With unwavering determination, he transforms their potential into a cross-country team. This unlikely group of athletes sets their sights on an unexpected goal—a state championship.

21 of 33: *Free to Run* (2016)

Running Movies

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Step into the world of distance running through this insightful documentary, offering a glimpse into its evolution over the past 50 years. The film delves into the lives of key runners and influential figures who have left an indelible mark on the sport. Among the notable stories explored are the impact of Steve Prefontaine, a pivotal figure in running history, as well as the New York Marathon’s resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, the documentary shines a light on the remarkable growth of women’s participation in running following Kathrine Switzer’s groundbreaking run at the 1967 Boston Marathon. Released in 2016, this film captures the essence of running’s journey through time.

22 of 33 Running Movies: *Race* (2016)

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Discover the incredible true tale behind this drama, which recounts the remarkable journey of Jesse Owens. He faced not only physical challenges but also racial barriers as he aimed to compete in the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany. The film chronicles Owens’ rise from his early triumphs at Ohio State University to his personal struggles while pursuing his running dreams. Despite enduring discrimination from his white teammates, Owens perseveres with the steadfast support of his track and field coach, Larry Snyder. Through unwavering determination, he transforms into a formidable Olympic contender. Against the backdrop of potential US boycott and the unsettling atmosphere of Nazi Germany, Owens’ achievements stand as a testament to his unwavering spirit. His accomplishments are nothing short of extraordinary.

23 of 33: *Bannister: Everest on the Track* (2016)

Bannister: Everest on the Track

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Under the direction of Tom Ratcliffe, this documentary unfolds the captivating narrative of Roger Bannister. He etched his name in history by achieving the unthinkable: becoming the first runner to shatter the four-minute barrier in the mile. Through insightful interviews with Bannister himself, his fellow competitors, and key figures in the world of sports, the film brilliantly illuminates the profound importance of this extraordinary athletic accomplishment. It’s a tale that not only tells the story of a remarkable achievement but also reveals how this feat transcended the boundaries of sports, forever altering its trajectory.

24 of 33: *I Am Bolt* (2016)

Running Movies

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Emerging shortly after Usain Bolt’s retirement from the track and field scene at the Rio Olympics, this documentary paints a vivid portrait of the iconic sprinter’s remarkable journey. Through captivating storytelling, the film takes us on a ride through Bolt’s ascent in the sport, marked by astounding world records in the 100 and 200 meters, a staggering collection of eight gold medals, and an impressive tally of 11 world championship golds. Beyond the surface, the documentary offers a privileged glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of Bolt’s training regimen, his awe-inspiring triumphs, and the daunting hurdles he faced while reigning as the fastest man on the planet. It’s a tale that resonates not only with sports enthusiasts but with anyone who appreciates the power of perseverance and unparalleled dedication.

25 of 33 Running Movies: *Breaking2* (2017)

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Here’s another gem that might not have graced the big screen, but it’s certainly worth your time if you’re curious about the remarkable synergy between human potential and scientific innovation in the realm of running. National Geographic’s captivating special, “Breaking2,” pulls back the curtain on an awe-inspiring endeavor where human athletes, represented by marathoners Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa, and Zersenay Tadese, join forces with a team of Nike scientists. Their shared goal? To shatter the seemingly insurmountable 2-hour marathon barrier in 2017. As you delve into the narrative and become acquainted with the runners and their aspirations, you’ll be taken on an exhilarating journey to a Formula 1 track in Monza, Italy. Here, against the backdrop of speed and precision, their audacious pursuit of excellence unfolds—a spectacle that’s bound to leave you in awe of the sheer beauty of their remarkable feat.

26 of 33: *Icarus* (2017)

Running Movies

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In a tale that unravels like a gripping narrative, passionate amateur cyclist Bryan Fogel embarks on an unconventional project—an attempt to unveil the secrets of evading detection while doping in the world of endurance sports. Initially, he envisions using himself as a guinea pig, aiming to showcase both performance enhancement and the elusiveness of these substances. However, a fateful encounter with Grigory Rodchenkov, the enigmatic head of a Russian anti-doping laboratory, steers the story in an unexpected direction. Fogel’s venture takes a sharp pivot as he becomes entangled in the web of one of the most monumental doping scandals in the realm of endurance sports. The spotlight shifts to Russia’s intricate, government-backed, multi-sport doping scheme, revealing a network of intrigue and deception.

27 of 33: *Prefontaine* (1997)

Prefontaine

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“Prefontaine” brings to life the poignant and eventful journey of the revered runner, Steve Prefontaine. This cinematic gem traces his early years in Coos Bay, Oregon, where the seeds of his remarkable story were sown. From there, the film captures his soaring achievements during his time at the University of Oregon, where his passion and talent truly flourished. With unwavering determination, it chronicles his unwavering pursuit of the ultimate prize: Olympic gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics. As the first installment in the Pre-movie series, this one holds a slightly grittier edge compared to the others. Anchored by a compelling narrative, “Prefontaine” stands as a robust biographical tribute to the enduring legacy of the legendary runner.

28 of 33 Running Movies: *Boston: An American Running Story* (2017)

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The movie “Boston: An American Running Story” tells the story of the Boston Marathon in a way that anyone can understand. Narrated by Matt Damon and filled with interviews from Boston legends, the film brings to life the history and significance of this famous marathon. It starts with a small race of just 15 people and takes us through the exciting moments of the first female finishers. The film also covers the sad events of 2013 and the inspiring comebacks in the years that followed.

For most runners, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is a big dream. And even if you’re not a runner, this documentary will surely make you want to put visiting the Boston Marathon on your bucket list.

29 of 33: *Brittany Runs A Marathon* (2018)

Running Movies

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Many running movies usually fit into two categories: drama or documentary. Yet, “Brittany Runs a Marathon” stands out as a delightful and unexpected comedy. The story revolves around Brittany, a young woman in her mid-20s known for her partying ways. She’s facing challenges with her weight, money, and unhealthy relationships, all while striving to transform her negative perspective through running. With financial constraints preventing her from joining a gym and a hesitance to seek assistance, Brittany sets a remarkable goal for herself: to change her life by achieving something she never thought possible—running the New York City Marathon.

30 of 33: *Tracktown* (2016)

Tracktown

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“Tracktown” is a charming running film that beautifully captures the solitary journey of a long-distance runner. It delves into the sacrifices required to excel as a competitive distance runner.

What’s really fascinating about this movie is that, even though it’s a work of fiction, it was crafted by Alexi Pappa, an accomplished Greek-American runner who set the national record for the 10k race at the 2016 Summer Olympics, representing Greece.

In this film, the superstar athlete Pappas takes on the role of Plum Marigold, a fictional character who shares the same unwavering commitment to the sport. Plum is also navigating the complexities of social interactions, fitting in, and the challenges of growing up.

The story unfolds as a tale of self-discovery and growth, making it a running movie that will deeply resonate with any distance runner who has experienced the sensation of being an outsider, even when outsiders see you as having it all.

31 of 33 Running Movies: *1 Mile to You* (2017)

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Billy Crudup, the talented actor who portrayed Steve Prefontaine in the movie Without Limits, makes a heartfelt comeback to the world of running films. This time, he takes on the role of a coach, guiding a high school cross-country runner through a challenging journey of healing after the tragic loss of his girlfriend. The movie’s inspiration comes from the pages of the novel “Life at These Speeds,” penned by Jeremy Jackson.

32 of 33: *Running for Good* (2018)

Running Movies

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Come along on a remarkable adventure with Fiona Oakes, a passionate vegan runner from Britain, in the captivating documentary “Running for Good.” This film takes you on a personal journey, as you witness the world record holder’s determination while she faces one of the planet’s most grueling races—the Marathon des Sables.

33 of 33: *Skid Row Marathon* (2017)

Skid Row Marathon

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A judge from the criminal court decides to do something amazing: he starts up a running club right in the heart of LA’s tough Skid Row. And guess what? There’s a documentary that tells the whole incredible story. This film follows four runners who come from those really challenging streets of LA. They’re not just running around the block – they’re training for big marathons all across the world. It’s like a journey of determination and dreams, all rolled into one.

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