Well-rounded characters in films need development, growth, and change when their stories are told. What other kind of movie can do it as well as a classic underdog story? Throughout our history, people all over the world love seeing someone rise above the roadblocks life sets in front of them and emerge as the ultimate winner, whether that be in film or in real life. Inspiring stories like that are told constantly in the movie world. From classics like Rocky and Karate Kid to young adult films like Ratatouille and The Hunger Gamessome of the best movies out there show how any regular person – someone like you – can become the hero of your own story.
Generally, audiences tend to gravitate towards entertainment that they can relate to, movies that reflect the world we all live in, and how we can find our own ways to be extraordinary. In many ways, every person sometimes feels like the underdog in their own life. Therefore, stories that detail the unexpected rise of a character are some of the most appealing and motivational stories you could tell. We have put together a list with some of our choices for the best movies about being the underdog.
7 The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games trilogy is one of the most successful, dystopian novel adaptations of all time. The first movie follows Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and Peeta Mallark played by Josh Hutcherson, the tributes from District 12 chosen to compete in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Unlike most of the other districts, District 12 has only had one previous winner of the games, and they are immediately underdogs from the minute the competition begins. However, both Katniss and Petta rise above the disadvantages placed upon their district and become not only the winners of games, but eventual trailblazers that inspire a revolution against the Capitol. Especially since The Hunger Games appealed to a young adult audience, this underdog story continues to inspire the younger generation to this day.
6 The Longest Yard
The sports comedy film The Longest Yard was released in 2005 and features some very recognizable names in the comedy scene, such as Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Terry Cruz, and Tracy Morgan. The Longest Yard is your classic sports underdog story where former star quarterback Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler) tries to lessen his prison sentence by taking some prisoners and assembling a winning football team. In order to prove themselves successful, the team must win a game against some prison guards. Crewe has the task of training his team in order to present themselves as decent competition that actually might end up having a chance at winning.
Ratatouille is a 2007 Pixar Animation movie that follows Remy, a rat with the dream of becoming a chef. Of course, this fictional story has our protagonist at a natural and obvious disadvantage of being a rat that wants to make it big in the restaurant business. However, his refusal to fail and the help and encouragement of a friend will make him become the chef he was meant to be and then some. Remy manages to defy the expectations of his family and constantly works to become everything he has always dreamed to be, an underdog story for the record books. Ratatouille establishes a sense of endless possibilities and discovering our own potential for greatness through one simple sentiment that, “anyone can cook.”
Joker is the black sheep of this list. One might not see Joker as an underdog story at first because it goes against the common theme that an underdog is a hero, that we are meant to root for their success. In this sense, the underdog of the 2019 film happens to be a villain. Jokerstarring the phenomenal Joaquin Phoenix, is an origin story for the Batman villain. The main character, Arthur Fleck, works as a clown and is wholly an underdog in society. He is undermined, devalued, and treated as invisible. Instead of the classic story of this being motivation for him to rise above what other people think, it instead brings him to a breaking point, becoming the villain we all know and hate to love.
3 The Great Debaters
The Great Debaters is a 2007 historical drama starring Denzel Washington. Based on an inspiring true story, this movie follows students who are part of the Wiley College debate team as they face off against some of the most prestigious white colleges across the country. Fitting to the American South in the 1930s, these students from a historically black college are immediately labeled as underdogs, strictly because of the color of their skin. However, no matter how much society tries to undermine the capabilities of this talented group of debaters, they do not let fear, limited resources, or rejection limit their success when they ultimately defeat the reigning champions, Harvard University.
2 The Karate Kid (1984 & 2010)
The formula for a truly great and memorable underdog story usually has to include elements of struggle, hard work, perseverance, heart, and most importantly, growth. The Karate Kid, both the 1984 film and the 2010 remake, check off all these boxes. The story of Karate Kid shows Daniel LaRusso, a young, naive, yet determined protagonist that dedicates his mind and body to learning the art of karate from Mr. Miyagi. Building his skills from the ground up in training takes patience and the stakes are high as he anticipates going face to face against students from the Cobra Kai dojo. This film is one of the truest stories of an underdog surpassing the expectations of his opponents, coming out victorious, and gaining the respect of his now-former foes.
How could you mention the best underdog movies without mentioning Rocky? The movie follows Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), an amateur southpaw boxer that gets the opportunity to fight against Creed, a fight he is convinced himself that he does not stand a chance in. However, his drive to prove himself as a notable fighter pushes him to take on the challenge. The fight ends up going the distance with both Creed and Balboa sustaining injuries. It becomes clear that Balboa’s performance and perseverance throughout the fight made this iconic 1976 movie a blueprint for underdog stories to come.
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