'Cool Runnings' at 30: How The Film Became a Classic and Set the Tone for Future Sports Movies

And answering the question: is 'Cool Runnings' based on a true story?

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"Sanka you dead?"

"Yeh Mon."

If you are 1990s or 2000s kid, think about all of the sports films that came out towards the very end of the 90s and into the 2000s. Remember the Titans, We are Marshall, Friday Night Lights or if you want to focus on "snow" movies in particular—Snow Dogs and Shred to name a couple. It's quite possible that we don't get those films (or at least get them in the way they were delivered to us) if not for the influence of Cool Runnings. Were there sports movies created before Cool Runnings? The answer to that is yes, but the question of their long-term influence and generational impact hasn't matched Cool Runnings, and in many ways the movie brought forth a new approach and method of storytelling that has no doubt served as an inspiration to its successors. With October 1st marking 30 years since the film's debut, we thought it would be fun to revisit the impact of Cool Runnings in real time, and how it continues to be a film that we're in turn passing down to the younger generations.

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What was 'Cool Runnings' about?

Is 'Cool Runnings' a true story?

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The question of whether or not Cool Runnings is a true story has always been a point of contention. The film is described as being "loosely based" on the 1988 Winter Olympics Jamaican bobsled team, but apparently it's even less than that. According to a February 2022 article from talkSport, only about one percent of the film is actually true. The report cites the original team's co-founder George Fitch as telling ESPN "What is fact is the crash, everything else is fiction. This ‘feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, it’s Jamaica bobsled time’, that was strictly Hollywood." A 2014 article from Insider further confirms this, citing Dudley "Tal" Stokes', a member of the 1988 Olympic team, AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit where he reportedly said "It's a feature Disney film, not much in it actually happened in real life."

What was the response to 'Cool Runnings?'

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With a production cost of $15 million, Cool Runnings finished with domestic earnings of over $68 million in the United States, and $86 million worldwide, bringing the total to over $154 million in box office revenue. Moreover, the film received positive reviews from critics as well at the time of its release (which we'll get into in a few), and the movie holds a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Who starred in the film?

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Cool Runnings stars John Candy, Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Malik Yoba, and Rawle D. Lewis. Originally intended to be a sports drama, actors Jeremiah S. Chechik and Brian Gibson were a part of the original cast, but later dropped out of the film. The casting process was actually one that began in 1989, four years before the movie was released, and started with the casting of Leon Robinson. Malik Yoba and Doug E. Doug were cast in 1990, and Rawle D. Lewis (who was originally brought on as a dialect coach) was cast in November 1992.

The Jamaican accent was also another pre-requisite to start the filming process according to director Jon Turteltaub in a 2018 interview given to The Hollywood Reporter to celebrate the film's 25th anniversary. Turteltaub told THR, that his most vivid memory of making the film was getting a 1 am phone call from then Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg threatening to fire him if he wasn't able to get the cast to speak in a Jamaican accent. "He (Katzenberg) said, ‘If you can’t make them sound like Sebastian the Crab in The Little Mermaid, I’ll find a director who will.’ So the next day I told the cast I’d be fired if they didn’t start sounding like Sebastian the Crab. And they laughed and found the in-between.”

What was the theme song of 'Cool Runnings?'

What did the critics have to say about 'Cool Runnings' in 1993?

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For this particular introspective, we'll reference a review written by Roger Ebert on October 1st, 1993 exactly. Giving the film 2 1/2 stars Ebert said,"The problem with a story like this is that it's almost too perfect. It tends to break out of the boundaries of the typical sports movie, and undermine those easy cliches that are so reassuring to sports fans. The Olympics have fostered a cult of excellence in which athletes become superhuman, and victories are measured in a tenth of a second. If a bunch of guys can get there by practicing in a bobsled with wheels, nothing is sacred."

Ebert concluded the review saying: "It's not a bad movie. In fact, it's surprisingly entertaining, with a nice sweetness in place of the manic determination of the average sports picture. The actors playing the bobsledders have a nice comic charm. If you like underdog movies, you might like this one. Especially if you haven't seen very many."

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Ebert's review was more critical than some of the others, but still made some fair points. With that being said, what is exactly about Cool Runnings that made it so popular and different from all the other sports movies that came before and after that? In our opinion, it's the feel-good nature of the story (even if all the elements in it weren't entirely true). There's also the fact that everybody loves an underdog, and the team not winning in the end is probably what won and continues to win people over if we had to take a guess. Most feel-good "cheesy" sports movies get a happy ending where the team/athlete wins the championship, gets a gold medal, places first, etc.

There was something very poignant about Sanka's teammates helping him pick up the pieces from the crash and all of them carrying the bobsled while the crowd was applauding. It made it feel like they won the gold medal despite the fact that they didn't. So what rating do we give Cool Runnings 30 years later? We'd say a 4/5 is fair. The Jamaican accents could have been more believable as it indeed does sound like they had it be "somewhere in the middle." You could also say they could have pulled more from the original story, but then that might have impacted the feel good nature that Walt Disney Studios was aiming for. Regardless, we'd say it turned out to be a classic.

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