In need of a little fitness motivation? These films of empowering female athletes will inspire you to get stronger.
If you’re wanting to get back into a training routine but want to ease yourself in, we have the perfect solution: have a sofa day and watch these 13 inspiring films about female athletes. Settle down, grab your snacks and get ready to feel motivated to lift, run or play your way to your wildest fitness goals.
Whether it’s a true-life story about Zanzibar’s female football team, the true story of the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” or a feel-good film about badass roller derby players, we guarantee these brilliant films and documentaries about female strength will leave you feeling stronger than you did yesterday.
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Battle of the Sexes
Billie Jean King, former World No. 1 professional tennis player, is considered one of the greatest female athletes of all time. This documentary explores the events that led up to the iconic 1973 tennis match where she faced retired men’s champ Bobby Riggs as the current women’s Wimbledon winner.
Dubbed “the Battle of the Sexes” and against the backdrop of the women’s liberation movement, the match garnered huge publicity and is considered a significant event in developing greater recognition and respect for women’s tennis. Emma Stone starred in a 2017 film of the same name, which is based on the event.
Margot Robbie stars as Tonya Harding, the American figure skater who the first woman to ever execute the triple Axel jump but whose career was later embroiled in controversy. Ahead of the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, Harding’s then-husband and bodyguard conspired to assault her competition, skater Nancy Kerrigan, which lead her to withdraw.
From that moment, Harding’s life and legacy instantly became tarnished as her talent is forever overshadowed by one of the most infamous scandals in sports history.
Fighting With My Family
Florence Pugh and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson star in this film about making it big in the wrestling world. Former wrestler Ricky and his wife Julia make their money in the English wrestling circuit, but their children dream of fighting for WWE.
Based on a true story, it follows daughter Paige’s journey as she is given the chance to audition for her dream wrestling role – and become the family’s international success story. She must learn how to train, live and devote her life to becoming a true sportswoman, all under the watchful eye of The Rock.
Dangal (Wrestling Competition in Hindi) is a biographical 2016 film loosely based on a real-life family of wrestlers. Aamir Khan stars as amateur fighter Mahavir, who trains his daughters to become India’s first world-class female wrestlers. Having been forced to give up on his own dreams in order to obtain a stable job, Mahavir hoped that a son would eventually do what he was unable to. Rather than having a boy, however, he has four daughters who initially seem like a crushing disappointment – until two of them come home one day after having beaten up a pair of boys for making derogatory remarks. Mahavir realises that his girls might have the potential to make it.
The real-life Mahavir did a pretty good job at training his daughters, despite his harsh methods. Three have won gold at the Commonwealth Games, another took silver at the Asian Championships, one is a National Champion gold medallist and the youngest is a multi-medal winner at age-level international championships. This film will inspire you to commit to your goals while feeling thankful that it doesn’t have to be this hard. Dangal is the highest-grossing Indian film and the fifth highest-grossing non-English film ever.
Sick of winter? Head to Hawaii for the film adaptation of Susan Orlean’s 1998 Outside magazine article “Life’s Swell”, which was all about the magical lives of surfer girls in Maui. This film follows Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), a former child surf star who was almost wiped out during a killer wave. As an adult, she gets up early before work to train for a surfing comeback while struggling to deal with a fear of dying on big waves. It’s about training hard, tackling fears and not allowing past mistakes to colour future decisions.
There are plenty of cameos from real-life surfers, so get ready for some serious surf inspiration. In fact, the young Anne Marie is played by Coco Ho, a professional Hawaiian surfer who began riding waves at 7 years old. This is the perfect film for anyone thinking of conquering the sea this summer.
If you felt pumped watching Anthony Joshua coming out in his last fight, you haven’t seen anything yet. Shadow Boxers is a 1999 documentary about women’s boxing that focuses on fighter Lucia Rijker. Interesting fact: while the film was being shown at the film festival in Toronto, Rijker met Hilary Swank, who she later trained for her role in Million Dollar Baby. In fact, Rijker also featured in the film as one of Swank’s opponents.
We guarantee that you’ll be hankering to join a boxing gym after watching this, or at least wanting to add in a few of Rijker’s drills to your own routine. Oh, and the music is by Zoel – which you’ll definitely be looking up on Spotify afterwards.
This multi-award winning documentary is the story of Papua New Guinea’s women rugby league team. The only nation in the world that has rugby league as their national sport, the country also has deep gender inequality. This documentary follows the process of getting the Orchids ready for the World Cup in just two months and how the team’s existence challenges the very ideas of what women can achieve in a society that sees them as second-best. If there was ever an example of sport being about more than winning, this is it. Spine-tingling.
A Netflix Original, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is all about a crew of misfits who reinvent themselves as wrestlers to take part in the professional circuit. Expect mad 80s outfits, hilarious dialogue and some truly bizarre moves. As it’s written by the team behind Orange Is the New Black, we can’t guarantee that you won’t lose an entire weekend binge-watching all three seasons – and you’ll probably be desperate to don your brightest leggings for a home aerobics session to Glow’s soundtrack. A feel-good series that proves there’s a sport or activity for everyone. Read more about GLOW here.
It feels like everyone is rollerskating these days, but if you want to aim for something more than simply tottering around your local park on a Sunday morning, then how about looking into roller derby? Whip It! is the tale of a small-town waitress who finds camaraderie and excitement in joining a gang of female skaters. The sport is brutal and the players can be mean – but that doesn’t put Bliss (Elliot Page) off. Aside from the nerve-wracking tricks and brilliant soundtrack, it’s an all-star cast directed by Drew Barrymore and featuring Jimmy Fallon, Kirsten Wiig, Eve, Juliette Lewis and Alia Shawkat.
Aside from turning your street into a roller ring, there are plenty of roller derby teams in the UK. Check out the UK Roller Derby Association to find teams near you.
In Iran, women are banned from entering football stadiums – apparently because of the high risk of violence and abuse that gets lodged at them. This film was inspired but the director’s daughter who decided to go to a game despite the rules. Even though this movie is filmed in Iran, its screening is banned in the country. The film follows a girl who disguises herself as a boy to attend the 2006 World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain and focuses on the way other women who try to watch the match are treated by the police and security at the stadium.
Filmed during the game at the actual stadium, the director apparently filmed two endings, depending on the outcome of the match. A reminder of how fortunate we are to move, watch and play sports freely.
Lasting just 54 minutes, this is a short but powerful documentary looking into the relationship between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert – two of the greatest female tennis players of their generation. The film is a series of conversations between the two where they discuss their long-term rivalry and the pressure of playing at such a high level.
So often, women are pitted against each other – particularly celebrities – so this is a refreshing look at how two powerful women took tennis to the next level without compromising their personal relationships.
New Generation Queens: A Zanizbar Soccar Story
In Zanzibar, it’s considered immoral for women to play football – but that doesn’t stop girls and women from playing it anyway. Despite the challenges (such as being chased off pitches), The New Generation Queens is one of the only women’s soccer teams in the country and this documentary charts their journey to the Copa Coca Cola national soccer tournament. More than just a competition, this tournament is packed with scouts looking to recruit players for the Tanzanian National Team.
This is a film about players finding a workable relationship between Islam, womanhood and football. It’s inspiring to see the resilience and fearlessness with which so many women live their lives around the world.
The Will To Fly
A must-see for anyone who dreams of conquering the slopes, The Will To Fly is one freestyle skier’s journey to the Olympics to be the first woman to achieve a particular trick on the slopes. A former gymnast, Lydia Lassila became a professional skier when she saw the kinds of tricks men did in the freestyle version of the sport. Lydia’s specialism is like a hybrid of gymnastics, skiing and trapeze art – it looks incredible…and impossible.
This documentary shows just how tremendously difficult it can be to succeed in some sports without soul-crushing injuries and omnipresent physical danger. It’s incredible to see the amount of work that goes into just one trick and to watch the first woman to ever have done it. If you’re looking to be inspired, you can’t find a film with more guts and glory than this one.
Light Fly, Fly High
Follow the inspirational story of Thulasi, a young Indian girl born on the bottom rung of the country’s caste system. Thulasi isn’t interested in playing the traditional, obedient Indian woman; she believes that she was put on this earth to be a boxer. This film follows Thulasi’s fight in a world dominated by ruthless men who are there to abuse, rather than help their athletes.
“I’m expected to stay at the bottom, but I’m a one-woman army,” just about sums up Thulasi’s attitude to making it against all odds and pursuing her dreams. Expect to feel grateful for your own situation and determined to make the best of it.
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IMAGE: Neon/ 30 West
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.
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