Critical Thinking is a 2020 biographical sports drama centered around some inner city students at Miami Jackson High School. Set in 1998, it shows how a chess teacher named Mario Martinez pushes some students to win the national chess championship. The film deals with classism and racism and shows how the less privileged have to fight harder and harder to get the same opportunity.
Directed by John Leguizamo, the film is based on true events and offers an authentic portrayal of the lives of downtown Miami children. The viewer witnesses the boys overcome difficult circumstances to make something of themselves. If you are a fan of such sports drama movies, we have compiled an exciting list for you. Most of these movies that are similar to Critical Thinking can be seen on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
8. Hardball (2001)
Based on the book ‘Hardball: A Season in the Projects’ by Daniel Coyle, Hardball is a sports drama directed by Brian Robbins. The film is about Connor O’Neill (Keanu Reeves), a gambler who got into debt with bookies. The only way he can pay off his debt is to coach a team of African American youth to win their baseball championship. Like Critical Thinking, Hardball is a classic misfit story about a group of misfits that no one believes in. The character arcs, conflicts and resolutions in both films are comparable.
One of the biggest differences between the two films is the role of the coach. Directed by John Leguizamo, Coach Mario is near-perfect in every way. Despite his dark past, he seems to have no weaknesses. In contrast, Brian Robbins directs Connor as a highly problematic gambling addict. He’s nowhere near the perfect guide for the kids, but as the story progresses he becomes the coach the kids deserve. Therefore, the audience finds it easier to identify with Connor due to his imperfection and to connect with him on a deeper level.
7. The Knights of the South Bronx (2005)
‘Knights of the South Bronx’ is a drama film about Richard Mason, who gets a job at a school in the South Bronx trying to teach the kids to play chess. Most of these children come from troubled households and don’t seem interested in learning the game or anything else at school. When one day one of them discovers how good Richard is at the game, things start to take a turn and the teacher gives the children a purpose in life. Directed by Allen Hughes, the film is based on the true story of David MacEnulty and is in many ways comparable to critical thinking.
For example, both stories portray underprivileged children who don’t believe they have a future after school. Another example is how chess becomes a beacon of hope for children who believe they can achieve something. The greatest similarity is how Richard Mason and Mario Martinez view chess. Both believe that on the board it doesn’t matter where a child comes from, the color of their skin or their gender. In a way, the game of chess acts as a leveler for all people. The ideology is relevant to the narrative because it helps the audience understand the concept of privilege, knowing what it’s like to come from an impoverished background, and how people can always change given a chance .
6. Life of a King (2013)
Directed by Jake Goldberger, Life of a King is based on the true story of Eugene Brown, an ex-convict who starts a chess club to help neighborhood youth make something out of their lives and not into selling drugs and other illegal activities. Directed by Jake Goldberger, it’s a slightly darker take on critical thinking. The latter seems to offer a sense of hope with a big win at the national chess championship. In the first film, though, hope comes from very little.
Although both films show what it’s like to be an inner-city youth and how people perceive it, Life of a King gives a more pragmatic picture of the everyday circumstances and problems people face. It is far darker and more intense than ‘Critical Thinking’. When viewers see both stories, they might take home the message that hope doesn’t have to come only from great victories. Rather, it can grow from something as basic as a gesture of appreciation.
5. Glory Road (2006)
Set in 1966, James Gartner’s Glory Road is a sports biopic that follows coach Don Haskins as he selects the first all-black starting lineup for the college basketball team. He leads the team to the NCAA National Championship to prove everyone deserves an equal chance at glory. Glory Road is a historical film about racism in the 1960s. In many ways it is similar to Remember the Titans and comparable to Critical Thinking.
At various points in the film, Coach Martinez says the boys must stay out of trouble at all costs. He mentions that some people target them because they can’t control something. In another scene, he says that in the history books, Black and Hispanic people are ignored to ignite a burning desire in the hearts of young people. Glory Road follows a similar style in which Coach Don is responsible for picking the basketball team and making sure it wins. In both cases, players fight against all odds and strive to get closer to their goal.
4. Cool Runnings (1993)
Disney’s Cool Runnings is a sports film inspired by the Jamaican bobsleigh team that made its debut at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, the film follows a disqualified Jamaican sprinter who decides to create the country’s first bobsled team and represent the nation at the Winter Olympics. Cool Runnings is a slightly lighter version of Critical Thinking because it’s not about guns, drugs, and troubled neighborhoods.
Instead, the film depicts how the world perceives countries like Jamaica and how the classist and racist attitudes of society do not prevent the team from entering the bobsleigh competition. Interestingly, Cool Runnings is similar to the Life of a King movie in that both movies don’t represent great achievements, instead showing that taking the first step towards something big is remarkable.
3. McFarland, USA (2015)
‘McFarland, USA’ is a sports drama based on the true story of the 1987 cross country team that emerges from a predominantly Hispanic school in McFarland, California and wins the state championship. When a bad incident prompts Jim White (Kevin Costner) and his family to move to McFarland, the former coach decides to form a cross-country team with people nobody believes in.
Like several other films on the list, Niki Caro’s directorial work is a compelling outsider’s story that portrays the struggles people face because of societal stereotypes and racism. Critical Thinking touches on the topic in a similar way and lets the audience root for the players. In both films, sport gives people a sense of purpose and leads them to a better life. Though viewers celebrate their victories, the real victory lies in changing attitudes about everything. It shows that no matter what they do or where they go, the children will be fine.
2. Remember the Titans (2000)
Directed by Boaz Yakin, Remember the Titans is a biographical sports drama centered on a football team, the school’s first racially integrated team. Led by African-American coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington), players learn concepts such as unity and equality through football. The film deals with the topic of racism and shows how widespread it was in the 1970s.
Critical Thinking also touches on the subject in some scenes, but unlike in Remember the Titans, racial discrimination is not the central premise of the story. Also, Coach Herman’s approach differs from Coach Mario’s due to the different goals they are trying to achieve. The former wants the team to function as a unit, regardless of the origins of the players. Coach Mario, on the other hand, wants players to see the game as an opportunity for success in life.
1. Coach Carter (2005)
‘Coach Carter’ is based on the true story of Ken Carter, a basketball coach at Richmond High School who seeks to instill in players the importance of study and sport. The film chronicles how Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) benched his entire team for their poor academic performance, leading to their first loss of the tournament. Interestingly, the film’s protagonist, Coach Carter, objects to his team playing basketball unless they study.
Unlike Coach Martinez of Critical Thinking, Coach Carter doesn’t see sport as a metaphor for life. Despite the striking difference, the films are essentially similar in that they explore how underprivileged leads people into a life of crime. Ken and Mario’s approaches are different, but they want the same thing for all players – to live a stable and meaningful life. Both films captivate the viewer to the end and make him think about various social issues and how they are portrayed in the film.