The pain, the grit, the suspence… It’s no wonder that the movies love sports. But when it comes to actually portraying the match or performance on screen, movies often get it wrong. So what separates a great dramatized display of athleticism from a terrible one? Two things separate realistic sports scenes from ridiculous ones. One: No glaring camera trickery. and two: Appropriate casting. Let’s start with No. 1. Any tennis aficionado will tell you it’s a notoriously difficult sport to get right on the screen. And one movie that got it very wrong is Wimbledon, the 2004 romantic comedy starring Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany. Bettany, in real life, is obviously not a pro tennis player. But that’s not the real issue. The movie’s depiction of the famed grass tournament is so bad, because the director and editor rely on tacky tricks to manufacture suspense and excitement for the games. The extreme slow-motion shots of the ball hitting the net, the blurred camera swipes following the ball as it’s volleyed back and forth, the close-ups and quick cuts… These all serve to mask that the actors are not top-level players, and completely obscure the beauty of the game. Tennis is best experienced as it is in real life: in wide shot, with an uninterrupted view of most of the court and the players. Other sports can also benefit from a view that’s more similar to real life spectatorship. This isn’t to say that highly stylized camerawork and editing are inherently intrusive. Consider the boxing in Raging Bull. Robert De Niro isn’t a professional boxer either, of course. But boxing is an up-close-and-personal sport, and the extreme close-ups and point-of-view shots here work to provide that blunt intimacy. The stylization doesn’t try to hide the sport. It deepens our experience of it. That brings us to No.2, appropriate casting. Hiring an actor who can’t hit a baseball is forgivable if the athlete being portrayed is a famous historical figure. Say, having Chadwick Boseman play Jackie Robinson, whose life off the field is important to understanding the man. But when you have a fictional sports movie filled with fictional characters, the actors you cast had better be at least a little bit convincing at whatever they’re supposed to be an expert at. This is not the case with the movie often considered the greatest sports movie of all time, Bull Durham. Even an infrequent baseball watcher can tell something’s off with Tim Robbins’ technique His limbs are loosey-goosey and his throwing motion is like a kid’s – yet he winds up a pro ballplayer? Add to that list Freddie Prinze, Jr. in Summer Catch, Rob Lowe in Youngblood, and Common in Just Wright. But many movies do manage to get it right. 2017’s Battle of the Sexes bucks the trend of subpar tennis recreations by hiring professional body doubles for Emma Stone and Steve Carell and using them often. The historic showdown between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs is filmed primarily in wide shots from a distance, allowing the body doubles to do most of the work. The doubles are actual tennis players able to mimic the styles of their real-life counterparts quite well, and it shows. Another recent film, I, Tonya, also offers a model for how to make an athletic performance by an actor work. In addition to convincing casting and skilled editing, the film makes use of top-notch CGI. In scenes where she’s merely gliding on the ice, Margot Robbie looks comfortable on her feet, if not totally natural. But when it comes to portraying Tonya Harding’s Olympian skills, however, the use of a body double with Robbie’s face digitally swapped onto it as she spins and axels is practically seamless. We know Robbie’s not actually doing those tricks, And that it’s not her performing in front of a packed auditorium, but in the context of the film’s overall aesthetic and tone — playful, dark, toying with the concept of fact vs. fiction—it works. And above all else, that’s the way great athletic scenes should be – aligned with the film’s look and tone, free of misguided tricks, and true to the experience of the sport.