Roller Derby Film Fest

From left: Drew Barrymore, Ellen Page, and Kristen Wiig co-star in Whip It! as members of the Hurl Scouts.

Roller Derby inspired movies

Go ahead, have your own roller derby film fest

Roller derby has been the subject of a host of films, from 2009’s Whip It starring Drew Barrymore to documentaries capturing the true spirit of what it means to be part of a roller derby team. As we get ready for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Roller Radicals Roller Derby Party at New Visions on Friday night, we thought it might be fun to take a look at some famous, and not-so-famous roller derby films:
Whip It* (2009)
Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut did not do the box office it deserved, but it’s undoubtedly rental worthy (Rotten Tomatoes critic rating of 84 percent). The screenplay by Shauna Cross is based on her young adult novel Derby Girl and sports the empowering tagline “be your own hero.” In addition to Barrymore as Smashley Simpson and Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem, the film stars Ellen Page as small town Texas teen Bliss, who does not see herself as the beauty queen her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) pushes her to become. Bliss is inspired to join the chronically unsuccessful Hurl Scouts after seeing them beat by the Holy Rollers led by a fierce Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven and the coming of age story evolves amid a romance with adorable musician love interest Oliver (Landon Pigg). The impressive cast further features Jimmy Fallon as announcer “Hot Tub” Johnny Rocket, Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat as best friend Pash, and the rarely seen older brother of Owen and Luke Wilson, Andrew Wilson as Hurl Scouts coach Razor.

Kansas City Bomber (1972)
Bombshell Raquel Welch is “the hottest thing on wheels,” as single mother K.C. Carr who moves to Portland and joins the co-ed Loggers in this MGM cult classic. Manipulated alternately by the team’s possessive owner and star male skater “Horrrible” Hank Hopkins (the names in the ’70s were not nearly as fierce as this latest generation of the sport), she finally realizes she can’t trust either man and does right by herself. The trailer is priceless:

Also from 1972: Unholy Rollers: The Leader of the Pack starring Playboy Playmate of the Year Claudia Jennings.
Rollerball (1975)
This dystopian science fiction film set in the global corporate state of 2018 is adapted from the short story Roller Ball Murder by William Harrison. Playing on corporation-owned teams, athletes play a violent roller derby-like sport masked as entertainment, the real purpose of which is to demonstrate the futility of individuality. James Caan stars as Jonathan E, a player who’s become so much of a star the Energy Corporation pressures him to retire. When he resists, the corporations increase the danger of the game so it becomes a gladiatorial to the death or to the unlikely win.
The Fireball (1950)
Starring Mickey Rooney as a bullied boy who runs away from the home for wayward boys to join a traveling roller derby team. He achieves fame only to be diagnosed with polio. Also featuring Marilyn Monroe in a small role.

The Documentaries

Derby (1971)
This “cinema verite” documentary by Robert Kaylor reputedly says as much about the warped state of the American Dream in the early ’70s as it does about roller derby. The film follows a womanizing factory worker in his early ’20s who travels to California to become a star.
Must see trailer:

Blood on the Flat Track: The Rise of the Rat City Rollergirls * (2007) follows Seattle women’s flat track roller derby league from the point of view of the Rat City Rollergirls in their first two seasons after forming their league from scratch in April 2004.
Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers* (2010) Starring Marollin’ Monroe and Madame Bumpsalot, this doc set in Portland, Oregon was created by Chip Mabry.
Derby, Baby!: A Story of Love, Addiction & Rink Rash (2011)
This global documentary by Robin Bond and Dave Wruck is narrated by Juliette Lewis features stars from Ireland and Scotland to Australia and New Zealand, France, Canada, Finland, and Brazil as well as the U.S. Trailer:

Demon of the Derby: the Ann Calvello Story (2001)
Described as “the original bad girl of the roller derby,” Calvello was famous for often colorfully dyed hair and wild makeup and skated into her ’70s.
*on Netflix instant
Rollergirls was a 2006 A & E Network reality show that followed the Austin, Texas, Lonestar Rollergirls roller derby league. It was canceled after 13 episodes, but is available on DVD.
Watch actual bouts from the 1949-1952 as broadcast on television online via The Internet Archive at For example:

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