The best tournament films span all genres, from kung fu tournament movies to films about Texas teens competing in a local Bandslam. There's something about the framing of a tournament that makes all personal beef in a film that much more dramatic. Oh, you have a problem with the main character? Well, how about you beat him down in a live televised event with all of your friends and family watching?
Tournaments might just be the most perfect film framing device. There's the call to action with the character being invited to a tournament, the break into Act 2 as the tournament actually begins, the rising action as the protagonist fights their way to the final round, and then the climactic final fight. Cinema and tournaments were made for each other, which is probably why so many tournament movies have been made, and thus why so many great ones have slipped through the cracks.
- Photo: Lionsgate
The Competition: A mixed-martial-arts tournament called "Sparta" where the winner takes home five million dollars.
Major Players: Tommy Riordan, a former marine, is a promising newcomer who's being trained by his father to win the tournament. Tommy's older brother, Brendan, is a former MMA fighter who's also entering the tournament to win money for his family. Among the men that the boys have to face off against is an undefeated Russian wrestler named Koba and a professional MMA fighter named Mad Dog.
How Does The Tournament Play Out: Tommy and Brendan both have tough fights throughout the tournament, but ultimately, they both make it to the final round. Ironically, as the boys fight in the final match, they work to reconcile their relationship. The fight ends with Brendan apologizing for his behavior and Tommy submitting to a rear naked choke.Underrated tournament?
- Photo: Warner Bros.
The Competition: An underground martial arts tournament in Hong Kong called Kumite.
Major Players: Frank Dux is a US Army Captain who spent his childhood training in the art of Ninjitsu under the tutelage of sensei Senzo Tanaka. Among Frank's opponents is the former champion who has it out for him, a man named Chong Li. Another notable entrant to the tourney is an American fighter named Ray Jackson who Frank quickly befriends.
How Does The Tournament Play Out: In an early match in the tournament, Chong Li utterly decimates Ray Jackson. Thus, Frank vows to his friend Ray that he'll defeat Li. In the final match of the tournament, Frank and Li finally face off. Li tries to cheat and stun Frank by throwing salt in his face, but Frank defeats Li by relying on his martial arts training that taught him how to fight blind.Underrated tournament?
- Photo: 20th Century Fox
The Competition: A dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas with a prize pool of $50,000.
Major Players: Peter LaFleur is a gym owner who puts a team together of his gymgoers in order to win money to keep the doors open. Peter's main competition is White Goodman, who owns a larger and more successful gym across the street from Peter's, and wants Peter to have to close his gym down so he can put a parking lot in its location. Other competitors include a troop of girl scouts, a team of lumberjacks, and other various thematic groups.
How Does The Tournament Play Out: Peter's team almost loses their first-round matchup against the girl scouts, but the scouts are disqualified for illegal substance use. Eventually, both Peter and Goodman's teams make it to the final round. Ultimately, Peter and Goodman have to face off in a solo sudden death matchup. Naturally, Peter wins. Although, Peter had already accepted a buyout from Goodman for Average Joe's, to which he bet the entirety of that money on his team winning the tournament. Because of the odds, Peter comes out of the tournament with five million dollars and buys a controlling stake in Goodman's gym.Underrated tournament?
- Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing
The Competition: A series of 14th-century jousting tournaments in England, ultimately ending in the World Championship.
Major Players: The protagonist of A Knight's Tale is William, a young man who pretends to be a noble in order to enter nobles-only jousting tournaments. William must face off against Prince Edward and a knight named Adhemar, who is his rival in the tournament and in love outside the arena (the two are competing for the heart of Jocelyn).
How Does The Tournament Play Out: William fights his way through the World Championship before ultimately being outed as not really being a noble. Luckily, Prince Edward decides to deem him a noble and allows him to continue to fight in the tournament. Ultimately, William defeats Adhemar in the final match of the tournament.Underrated tournament?