Let’s Backtrack: Breaking Away was officially released on July 13, 1979

This is the second of two posts about memorable 1979 sports films. Were you expecting “Meatballs”?

Breaking Away is a great coming-of-age movie with believable characters, a likable cast, and makes you believe an underdog can win (because they sometimes can).  It’s about four misfit Indiana teens, call the “Cutters”. They are sons of the stonemasons who built the universities, but aren’t welcome there. They form a cycling team and compete in the Little 500 bicycle race.

The movie won the 1980 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, plus other awards elsewhere. An odd thing about Breaking Away is what happened to the cast. Dennis Christopher, the lead actor, had the least successful career, while the supporting cast’s careers speak for themselves: Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley.

The Little 500 is a real race for women and men that takes place every April at Indiana University, 200 laps around a 440 yard track, emulating the Indianapolis 500. (At the speed it would take to ride a lap, the two races are equally long, about three hours.) The film’s Cutter team could never have competed because riders must be IU students. Most teams are from “greek” fraternities. A real life Cutters team from the general student population was formed in 1984.  They have won 14 of the 36 races since, becoming the most successful team.

“Breaking Away” at Rotten Tomatoes. How many films have a 94% rating?

Roger Ebert wrote a glowing review when he saw it in an early release:

“Breaking Away” is a movie to embrace. It’s about people who are complicated but decent, who are optimists but see things realistically, who are fundamentally comic characters but have three full dimensions. It’s about a Middle America we rarely see in the movies, yes, but it’s not corny and it doesn’t condescend. Movies like this are hardly ever made at all; when they’re made this well, they’re precious cinematic miracles.

“Breaking Away” can be found on youtube.

(Okay, Meatballs is a funny coming of age movie, especially Bill Murray’s “It just doesn’t matter” speech and the likable Chris Makepeace. But it’s not a great sports movie.)


  1. blf says

    At the time of its release and many years beforehand and after, I was involved in the local cycling scene, not as a racer, but a commuter, recreational cyclist, cycle touring, and so on. The movie was extremely popular with such people, and the racers, in part because it was significantly accurate about cycling (a rarity then, and perhaps still now). That was because, in part, the writer, Steve Tesich, was a dedicated cyclist. Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge reminds me he was part of a team that raced in, and won, the Little 500, albeit I’m unsure if Mr Tesich himself rode in the race.