If there’s one reason running is the best of all sports, it’s because running is about the most human of all experiences: DEATH, disappointment, and how we reckon with the limitations of our ambition and the human body. If there’s a second reason why running is the best of all sports, it’s because it’s the most objective sport this side of, I don’t know, weight lifting? There’s a distance, and there’s the time it took you to run that distance, and it’s there for everyone to see – there are no alternative facts in running (unless you’re Paul Ryan).
But there’s a not-so-great thing about running too, and that’s how quotidian it can seem. Mostly, people kind of just run in a straight line, which, yeah, is about as close as you can get to a controlled environment and any sort of statistical reliability. But I’ve run 10Ks on tracks before, and it’s seriously not fun, you guys. Even baseball is a more popular sport than track.
So get ready for some knowledge darts: life is not always run in a straight line like how things unfold on a track. It’s complicated and nuanced and, sometimes, it’s not even about the bike! So while we obviously know who’s fastest on the track (here’s a list of the world records), how are we to judge who’s fastest off it, which is to say in Life, in all its complexity, and what does that say about what we’re even doing in today’s modern world?
To help the world answer the unanswerable, I’ve put together a list of the greatest non-track running performances in the history of the movies.
I’ve provided a definitive ranking and also associated each performance with a famous track race, for easy digestion by the Citius community. It’s super scientific and proprietary, so I’m not going to tell you my methods, but anyways let’s dig in and figure out who’s the capital-g GOAT.
Obviously the answer is Tom Cruise.
So I guess we’re done here. Thanks for reading.
But outside Tomcat, who’s fastest? To me it’s a competition between Johnny Utah (and Bodhi) from Point Break, Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Bennie ‘the Jet’ Rodriguez from The Sandlot. Let’s also throw in Mike Lowry from Bad Boys.
Most Internet Content would assign points for categories as some sort of show of objectivity, but I don’t want to take the time to do that because a) as noted above, life isn’t always “objective,” alright? In fact, here we’re trying to be as unobjective (“subjective?”) as possible. And b) at Citius we care about SPEED, and doing that tabulation would just take a really long time, k? So I’m just going to talk about what I love about each of these chases and let Science decide.
I give you The Urban Movie Running Championships:
Equivalent Race in History: Any Justin Gatlin race where he gets completely torched by Usain Bolt
Ferris puts together an impressive run (particularly the leap from the little kid’s trampoline into his own backyard), but honestly? It’s minor leagues. After this scene happened I guarantee you Ferris Bueller strutted into college at Northwestern University or wherever and just got brutalized by all the hungrier, smarter, more talented kids. But then he got a great job after college anyways.
While the chase is good enough, Ferris is last for a few reasons:
- Look at how much he walks. He even stops for an unknown period of time to chat up some sunbathing ladies, which brings me to my next point.
- Poor Sloane: he’s not gonna marry you.
- There’s no competition. His sister is on her learner’s permit, gets pulled over for speeding, and is driving the most busted 80s station wagon I’ve ever seen. Probably didn’t even have those rearward facing seats in the trunk.
Benny ‘the Jet’ Rodriguez
Equivalent Race in History: Dick Beardsley in the Duel in the Sun
Open on a wonderful POV shot scanning a barren backyard wasteland.
Snap to spaghetti western showdown mode: a lordly beast trots out to survey his kingdom. Hercules the dog regards the challenger disdainfully and spits out the Objective, daring our hero to make the foolhardy first move. An ankle twitches in anticipation. A whip cracks. Our hero accepts the Challenge, blasts out of the blocks and slides in, jersey billowing in the wind. Hop fence, win race. But this race has only just begun, and it’s a burner.
Much like Beardsley in the ‘82 Boston marathon, Benny is a dead man walking. He’s a sacrificial lamb with no reasonable claim to challenge Hercules the dog (aka the Alberto Salazar of young adult baseball movies, at least until that dog turns into the cool t-shirt-wearing dog of the epilogue), but he’s the best of those lovable Sandlot rascals, and he’s the only champion to step forth. The task falls to him.
I shit you not when I was a kid The Beast was legitimately terrifying – throughout the movie that thing is filmed like a Voltron of nightmares, and it floors me today that the actual dog was just a regular mastiff or whatever. And indeed: in the face of perilous odds, Benny puts together an admirable reel of highlights – leaping, vaulting, and sliding his way around town, until he ultimately finds himself back where it all started: in the lot, cornered by Hercules. As we know, Benny escapes when the dog, too powerful for his own good, causes a rickety fence to collapse atop his hulking frame – and wasn’t there some stories about how Salazar ran so hard that all his insides liquefied or something? The comparison totally holds up.
So why is this crackerjack foot chase from possibly the most-quoted-by-old-millennials movie coming in at a weak-ass #4? It’s all right there in the voice over: “The secret weapon. Shoes guaranteed to make a kid run faster and jump higher: PF Flyers.” More like P-Formance Enhancers! Benny may be the fastest, but he has to come in at the bottom of the list (but obviously above Ferris) for the infraction of racing in performance enhancing shoes. Baseball was actually the perfect sport for him.
Johnny Utah (tie)
Equivalent Race in History: Geb V. Tergat in the 2000 Olympic 10,000m
You guys: I wanted Johnny and Bodhi to top this list so bad. Point Break is like my favorite movie. But in Urban Movie Running, as in life, sometimes not everything is fair. Sadly, Johnny loses out because of his football-carreer-ending knee injury (and if you were nearly caught by the guy with a knee made out of dried cauliflower, you can’t really be the king, you know?).
But still: it’s so incredible, just two dudes blasting (literal) flame throwers at each other’s faces for an entire scene (Bodhi actually catches fire at one point). They deserved this so much: their motivations were pure and they refused to resign themselves to the kind of humdrum life that Romantic Instagram people like to denigrate. They were fearless, and they had the ability, surfing at night and jumping out of planes no-parachute style.
And Kathryn Bigelow directs this scene like it’s the movies’ version of one of those squirrel suit jumps. Unlike other chases that idealize the Pursuit as some sort of parkour run, here you actually see the work, hear the labored breathing, feel the crashing over tables and the water jumping through backyard kiddie pools. You weigh the indecision of which path you should take out of so many. It’s smooth and crisp, and Bigelow throws both towels and (literal) pitbulls in the viewer’s face to immerse him in the pursuit, until finally it all closes with that all-time display of impotent rage. I guarantee you Paul Tergat would identify so strongly with Johnny Utah. In fact, he probably watches this movie at least three times a week.
I am an EFF! BEE! EYE! AGENT!
Equivalent Race in History: Steve Prefontaine at the 72 Olympic Trials
Look, this is a star’s league, and charisma matters. The degree of difficulty is high here: it’s a Michael Bay movie, which means there’s like 0% chance the scene will make any actual sense. And there’s not even a single explosion, which means that Will Smith has to shoulder the serious burden of keeping our brains from melting down from all that incoherence.
I read once that this scene is when Big Willie Style became a bona fide “Movie Star,” which is a cool piece of trivia but is actually kind of meaningless in today’s day ‘n age, when a star’s bankability no longer matters as much as whatever Star Track IP your movie is based on.
So even though this chase doesn’t make any sort of visually coherent sense, it still bangs. Big Willie flirts with some old ladies in a hair salon, saves the life of some other old ladies (Martin Lawrence), and runs fast in an unbuttoned shirt (shoutout Miami) while swinging a large and lovely firearm (shoutout America). Also, the movie made like a billion dollars – victories all around.
But wait: somehow, after chasing down a car, passing through an apartment building, complimenting old ladies on their hair, and running down the street in an unbuttoned shirt, he still gets beaten by some Finnish gu – I mean, Martin Lawrence? I don’t know how that happens.
Can we go back to talking about track now?