Top 10 Best Rowing Movies And Documentaries to Watch

Rowing is a time-honored sport, with an athletic history going back hundreds of years and a non-athletic history going back considerably longer. Here are some of the best rowing movies and documentaries currently available.

Selection Criteria

To earn a place on this list, the movie or documentary must feature rowing as an integral component. If someone briefly rows at the start of a film and it’s never brought up again, it’s hard to call that a rowing movie.

We also considered factors like critical and audience reception, as well as some editorial judgment, when deciding what to put on our main list and what to leave as an honorable mention..

The Top 10 Rowing Movies and Documentaries

Here are our favorites, in no particular order.

1. True Blue/Miracle at Oxford

Initially released in 1996 by FilmFour Productions as True Blue (and later released in the United States as Miracle at Oxford), this sports drama movie follows the tale of members of the University of Oxford’s competitive rowing team after a punishing loss to their rival Cambridge.

Tensions start getting higher when one of the crew’s remaining members pledges to bring some Americans over to Oxford to participate in the races, and tensions get higher as the bigger races of the season approach.

The film runs about 110 minutes in total and serves as a fictionalized version of a 1987 competition, making it close to a real-life story. While modified somewhat for drama, this movie nevertheless helps show the passion that racers can feel while working together toward their goal.

2. Losing Sight Of Shore

A 2017 documentary by Sarah Moshman (co-written with Peter Saroufim), Losing Sight of Shore chronicles the story of four women who crossed the sea from California to Australia while rowing. Unlike most crews, they did so without the support of trailing boats, which made the entire endeavor significantly more dangerous for them.

In total, their journey took nine months and covered over 8000 miles, with two stops along the way. Much of the footage is also self-shot by the cast, who used a GoPro to record details of their activities at sea. Professional crews helped with footage on-shore and near the shore, but otherwise, the cast was alone.

Most teams can make great films with a set of great footage, but turning amateur footage into a compelling documentary is significantly more challenging. The technical merits alone make this story worth watching, as does the way this movie shows just how far rowing can take people.

3. Eight Girls In A Boat (1934)

Not to be confused with the 1932 German musical film by the same name, this dramatic film follows Christa Storm’s story as she goes to school in an exclusive Swiss school and spends time in the girl’s racing crew.

What Christa’s team doesn’t realize at first is that she’s pregnant with the child of David Perrin, a medical student. Christa can’t confide in her father because the two barely know each other, while David confuses her father by asking to marry her without explaining why.

The tension comes to a head as the pregnant Christa moves into the punishing training the rowing team requires.

This film stands out to us because it helps show the impact that rowing can have on other parts of people’s lives. Although not the primary plot element, rowing’s physical demands have a profound impact on Christa and her ability to handle the increasing pressures of her life.

4. Oxford Blues

Oxford comes up quite a lot in movies and documentaries about rowing, possibly because of the school’s long involvement with the sport. This comedy-drama is a remake of a 1938 movie and follows the tale of Nick De Angelo, a hustler living in Las Vegas.

Nick’s primary goal in life is to pursue Lady Victoria Wingate to England, where he hopes to court her. After a series of events, he finally makes it there and manages to join the rowing team at Oriel College (part of the University of Oxford), which he believes is the only way to win Victoria’s heart.

Although not quite a family-friendly movie thanks to Nick’s overall behaviors, rowing quickly becomes the film’s focus as it gets closer to its climax.

5. A Most Beautiful Thing

Easily one of the newest films on this list, A Most Beautiful Thing is a 2020 documentary telling the tale of the first African-American rowing team in the United States at any public high school. However, racing wasn’t the only thing the rowers had to contend with. Many of the team’s members came from rival gangs across Chicago, making it much harder for them to get along.

This movie premiered virtually in July 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 but received an overwhelmingly positive reception from both critics and the audience. This film focuses more on the team as a whole, rather than the individual members like some rowing films, which also helps showcase rowing differently.

Few documentaries receive quite as positive a reception from viewers, so we give it our top recommendation among all the titles on this list despite how new this documentary is.

6. The Boy In Blue

Unlike our previous entry, The Boy In Blue isn’t a great film on its own merits. Starring Nicholas Cage in an earlier role, this drama follows the story of Ned Hanlan, a Canadian competitive rowing champion pushed into competing by a gambler before having his career taken over by a businessman. Things get more complicated when Ned falls for the businessman’s niece.

While the film’s script does nothing particularly innovative or exciting for a tale about athletes, the photography and sound editing provide some surprising bright spots. In other words, we recommend this film as an opportunity to see rowing, rather than for any plot or drama happening in the script.

7. Give It All

Stepping away from England and related cultures, this 1998 film is set in Japan and follows the story of a 15-year-old Etsuko during the 1970s. Etsuko is part of a generation known as the “Age of Three Nothings,” or children who give nothing, care about nothing, and are moved by nothing.

Etsuko, bored and ignored, decides to learn about rowing and pushes four other girls into forming a team with her when the all-male team rejects her. They fail spectacularly in their first big race but end up finding a coach and decide to try once more.

While rowing features as a major component in this movie, its Japanese origins give it a distinctly different feel from all of the other films on this list. It was also a huge success in Japan, winning numerous awards and helping launch the careers of the then-amateur actresses starring in it.

8. My Brother’s Keeper (2004)

Not to be confused with many other films that have the same title, this drama follows the tale of identical twins Lou and Eric as they seek to enter the National Rowing Championships in America. A scout offers Lou a scholarship after seeing them row, but Eric’s the one that actually wants to go to college.

Soon, their dream of winning the championship is shattered when they find themselves on different teams and have to face off against each other. Aaron Ashmore plays both of the brothers in this film, although he got some support from his real-life identical twin Shawn.

Rowing is a bit secondary to this film because it’s the support for the primary plot instead of the main focus, but My Brother’s Keeper serves to demonstrate the competitive elements of rowing as a sport.

9. Dare To Be

This 2017 documentary follows three distinct stories, going from their Learning to row to Collegiate Rowing and finally to Elite Rowing with Olympians getting ready for their lives’ most competitive event.

Unlike many other films that focus on rowing, this story isn’t about reaching one championship. Instead, it focuses on learning from amateurs and experts alike, as well as the importance of setting your own goals and not being bound by traditional ideas of success.

This is a particularly great documentary to watch if you’re thinking about getting into rowing yourself. It’s a complex sport that frequently demands both personal performance and the ability to match with others, and Dare To Be never hesitates to show the true complexity of both the sport and the human spirit.

10. Backwards

This 2012 drama takes a different approach than most sports movies, tamping down on the excitement in favor of showing both the good and bad of being on a winning team. The tale follows Abi Brooks, a competitive rower who fails to make the Olympic boat for the second time in a row.

With few other options, Abi turns her focus to coaching but soon finds that living life off of the racecourse presents its own challenges. It also features some truly outstanding rowing scenes, and those alone can make this movie worth it for fans.

A Few Other Rowing Movies and Documentaries Worthy of Mention

  • Student Tour (1934)
  • Freshman Love (1936)
  • Hey Babu Riba/Dancing In Water (1986)

(You might also be interested in reading about the Best Rafting Movies to zeal your passion of rafting)

Wrap-Up

Rowing may not be the first sport most people think of when looking for films and documentaries, but it has its fair share of good (and not-so-good) titles. Whether you’re looking for comedy, drama, or just information about the sport, the films on this list have you covered.

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Despite drowning being a known risk, many lack the awareness of just how dangerous and widespread it is. In Part 1. “The Problem” of our three part series will be focusing on statistics which show just how prevalent this devastating event is and the segments of our population that are most affected.

The purpose of this three part series is to empower you to keep yourself and your family safe. Please find Part 2. Risk Factors, which focuses on how and where people drown and Part 3. Prevention, which focuses on the latest research in drowning prevention, arming with you the knowledge to keep you and family safe!

v s piece focuses on establishing HOW BIG THE PROBLEM IS and WHO IS MOST AFFECTED. Establish that this is Part 1 of a three piece series, with Part 2 Risk Factors focusing on HOW and WHERE people drown and Part 3 Prevention focusing on the RESEARCH done on drowning safety and HOW YOU CAN KEEP YOUR SELF / FAMILY SAFE.

Did you know drowning is one of the leading causes of death worldwide? Surprisingly, drownings are the leading cause of death in children aged 1-4 <sup>1,2</sup> and account for over 9% of the global mortality rate, the third-highest in unintentional injury deaths <sup>21</sup> .

Despite drowning being a known risk, many lack the awareness of just how dangerous and widespread it is. In Part 1. “The Problem” of our three-part series will be focusing on statistics that show just how prevalent this devastating event is and the segments of our population that are most affected. 

The purpose of this three-part series is to empower you to keep yourself and your family safe. Please find Part 2. Risk Factors, which focuses on how and where people drown and Part 3. Prevention, which focuses on the latest research in drowning prevention, arming with you the knowledge to keep you and your family safe!

Now… on to the statistics:

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