Personal Best (film)

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Personal Best
Directed byRobert Towne
Produced byRobert Towne
Written byRobert Towne
Music by
CinematographyMichael Chapman
Edited by
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
February 5, 1982
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5,672,311[1]

Personal Best is a 1982 American drama film written, produced, and directed by Robert Towne. The movie stars Mariel Hemingway and real-life track star Patrice Donnelly, along with Scott Glenn as the coach of the track team.

Plot summary[edit]

Chris Cahill is a young track-and-field athlete who competes unsuccessfully in the 1976 U.S. Olympic trials. She meets a more experienced competitor, Tory Skinner, and their friendship evolves into a romantic relationship.

The two are part of a group of women trying to qualify for the American track-and-field team bound for the 1980 Olympic Games. Despite their commitment to their training regimen, their dreams are thwarted when the United States announces its boycott of the Games for political reasons, leaving them with only the informal "personal best" marks they achieved during training to connote their achievements.


Many elite track-and-field athletes of the day played in the film, including:


Hemingway trained extensively before the film began shooting.[3]

Donnelly was one of the athletes who helped Towne with research while he was writing the screenplay. After he had trouble finding a professional actress to play Tory Skinner, she agreed to take the role.[4]

The production was halted in July 1980 because of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild.[4]

Many of the scenes were filmed in San Luis Obispo County.[5] While the sign on the track said "Cal Poly", which is a university in San Luis Obispo, it was filmed at the track at Morro Bay High School. There are also two scenes filmed at restaurants in downtown San Luis Obispo; the Cigar Factory and 1865.

Filming also took place in Eugene, Oregon.[6] Locations included Hayward Field and the nearby Track Town Pizza restaurant.[4]

Towne clashed with David Geffen during the production. He would later sue Geffen and others for $110 million.[7]

Although Michael Chapman is listed as the director of photography, Reynaldo Villalobos and Caleb Deschanel did uncredited work.[8]


Critical response[edit]

Personal Best garnered a 73% approval rating at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews.[9] Roger Ebert gave the film four out of a possible four stars and wrote, "This is a very physical movie, one of the healthiest and sweatiest celebrations of physical exertion I can remember...It is filled with the uncertainties, risks, cares, and rewards of real life, and it considers its characters' hearts and minds, and sees their sexuality as an expression of their true feelings for each other".[10] Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert placed Personal Best on their lists of the ten best films of 1982.[11] Pauline Kael wrote that "There has probably never been a growing-up story presented on the screen so freely and uninhibitedly."[12] Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised the acting of the four leads, but criticized the storyline and the "prettified slow-motion footage."[13]

Box office[edit]

Personal Best did well in its initial limited engagement, but ultimately flopped at the box office.[14]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

References in popular culture[edit]

An SCTV sketch entitled Chariots of Eggs featured a film within a film parodying both this film and Chariots of Fire.[16]

The 1995 Team Dresch queercore album Personal Best took its name and cover imagery from the film.[17]

The film is referenced in an episode of the fourth season of Friends, in episode 10 of the first season of American Dad!, in the 1997 Ellen episode "The Puppy Episode", and in the 2012 novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post.[18]


  1. ^ Personal Best at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Cart, Julie (July 18, 1990). "DeBus Suspended for Life by TAC". The Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ Roderick Mann, "Hemingway Weighs In At Her 'Best'", Los Angeles Times, February 4, 1982. Retrieved via
  4. ^ a b c Sragow, Michael (April 15, 1982). "First-time director Robert Towne comes up a winner". Rolling Stone.
  5. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (January 27, 2008). "DVD review: 'Personal Best'". SFGate.
  6. ^ "Filmed in Oregon 1908–2015" (PDF). Oregon Film Council. Oregon State Library. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  7. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (April 15, 1982). "Writer-Director Sues for $110 Million". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Moore, Kenny (February 1, 1982). "You Oughta Be In Pictures". Sports Illustrated.
  9. ^ Personal Best. Rotten Tomatoes.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1982). "Personal Best Movie Review".
  11. ^ Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists. via Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  12. ^ Kael, Pauline. 1001 Nights At the Movies. Holt Paperback. p. 576. ISBN 9780805013672.
  13. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 5, 1982). "Film: 'Personal Best,' Olympic Love". The New York Times.
  14. ^ King, Tom. The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood. Broadway Books. p. 344. ISBN 9780767907576.
  15. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  16. ^ Onstad, Katrina (May 14, 2018). "For the Comedy Iconoclasts of 'SCTV,' a Joyful Reunion Tinged With Loss". The New York Times.
  17. ^ Johnny Histon (February 1995). "Personal Best". Spin. 10 (11): 78–79. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  18. ^ Carpenter, Susan (February 5, 2012). "Not Just for Kids: 'The Miseducation of Cameron Post'". The Los Angeles Times.

External links[edit]