Chariots of Fire Movie Poster Image

Chariots of Fire

Brilliant true story of 1924 Olympic footrace.
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1981
  • Running Time: 124 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

High ideals are explored here through the athletic achievements of two men: sticking to principles (most notably here, religious ones), honoring family and country, and overcoming prejudices to make your mark on the world. Themes include integrity, perseverance, courage, and compassion.

Positive role models

Two men race for very different reasons. Harold Abrahams fights against racism and religious intolerance as well as to honor his family. Eric Liddell, a missionary Christian, believes that God has given him a gift and preaches to others after races to spread the word. When one of the Olympic races is on a Sunday he refuses to run -- even when the Prince of Wales urges him to do so. Sticking to his principles endears him to many. Abrahams' Italian-Arab coach Sam Mussabini is a good role model for the restless Abrahams, reminding him of what's important in life.

Violence

Tense moments of competition. A mention at the end of the movie that Eric Liddell was killed in China during World War II. Former runners attend Abrahams' funeral in 1978.

Sex

Some kissing and a mention of a performer at the Savoy Theatre who gets pregnant and has to quit.

Language

The French are called "frogs" more than once by the British, plus "bloody" and "hell."

Consumerism

Lipton Tea is the only billboard visible at a race.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Lots of social drinking plus smoking of cigarettes and cigars, even by athletes before races. Glasses filled with champagne are propped on hurdles.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Chariots of Fire is a 1981 movie that tells the true story of British Olympic runners. It has very little mature content -- drinking and smoking mostly -- but may be too hard to follow for younger fans of sports movies. The two runners it features are worth discussing with kids, though. One runner is Jewish and fights prejudice through competition. The other is a Scottish missionary and refuses to run an Olympic race on Sunday, even when the Prince of Wales tries to appeal to his love of country. As a side note, a lone Lipton Tea billboard shows up along a racetrack -- a great reminder of just how littered with advertising most sporting events are today.

What's the story?

CHARIOTS OF FIRE depicts the true story of two athletes who ran in the 1924 Olympics: Jewish Cambridge student Harold (Ben Cross), and Scottish missionary Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson). On Abrahams' first day at Cambridge, new students are encouraged to achieve for themselves and for those who were lost in World War I, which has just ended. Abrahams is a bit arrogant, but finds friends and impresses everyone by being the first to run the entire quad within the 12 strokes of the clock at noon. Liddell is deeply committed to missionary work, but sets the work aside to become a great runner. Abrahams is devastated when he loses to Liddell, but both men make the Olympic team. There is a crisis when Liddell's event is scheduled for a Sunday, because he will not run on the Sabbath. But Lord Lindsay (Nigel Havers) graciously allows Liddell his place in a different event, "for the pleasure of seeing you run." Both athletes face difficult choices and much opposition. One uses a coach, in defiance of tradition and expectations. The other goes against the wishes of his sister, and even defies the Prince of Wales.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

This film is wonderfully evocative of the time and place, with superb performances. Chariots of Fire shows us the source of the runners' determination: for one, a need to prove his worth to himself and the society that discriminates against him; for the other, a way of connecting to God. The film deservedly won the Oscars for best picture, screenplay, costume design, and music.

Both men must take a stand in order to realize their athletic dreams. Abrahams deals with prejudices against his religion, while Liddell confronts the conflict between the dictates of his religion and the requirements of the sport (including the entreaties of the heir to the throne) when he is asked to compete on the Sabbath.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why running was so important to the men in Chariots of Fire. Was it different for different athletes? Why does Harold Abrahams think of quitting when he loses to Liddell? 

  • Why doesn't Eric's sister want him to race? Why does he race despite her objections?

  • Why don't the teachers at Harold Abrahams' school think it is appropriate to have a coach? Would anyone think that today?

  • How do the characters in Chariots of Fire demonstrate integrity and perseverance? What about compassion and courage? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 25, 1981
DVD/Streaming release date:February 1, 2005
Cast:Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers
Director:Hugh Hudson
Studio:Warner Bros.
Genre:Drama
Topics:Sports and martial arts, History
Character strengths:Compassion, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance
Run time:124 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
Awards/Honors:Academy Award, Golden Globe

This review of Chariots of Fire was written by

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Adult Written bytechsuz May 16, 2009

Be aware that althought this movie is positive, it does contain a lot of drinking & smoking as well as brief nudity.

The story is positive and I really admire someone for standing for something (in this case a runner who chooses not to run on the Sunday as it is the Sabbath day). However, parents should know there is a lot of drinking and smoking throughout the movie - especially by athletes. Also, a male locker room scene that displays brief nudity.
What other families should know
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 15 years old Written byChristian gurl August 7, 2011

good, but kind of

there was drinking and a string of bad words and kisses shared, but mostly a great story
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 14 year old Written byTsion September 27, 2009

Interesting...But Not Great

CHARIOTS OF FIRE is a very interesting movie with a good story and a great score. However, at the end, I wasn't near as inspired as I thought I would be. The movie is quite slow, but I have no problem with the pace. It's the execution of the story that feels choppy. On the plus side, however, the film features an amazing score by Vangelis and some great acting performances by Ian Holm, Ian Charleson, and Alice Krige. The dialogue is well-written. This isn't a bad movie, but the fact that it beat out brilliant RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for Best Picture in 1981 stuns me. The only thing standing between this movie and a G-rating is one "s" word (which was dubbed in by the director so he could get a PG rating). Other than that, there is no language, no violence, and no sexual content/nudity. Drinking was hardly noticeable.
What other families should know
Great role models