Oi Polloi

Films and Things: Running Shoes

Published: Thu Aug 02 2018

Is it a coincidence that the prototype for running shoes and the prototype for the motion picture camera were both invented just a mere decade apart, thus cementing a tight relationship between shoe and screen, which still influences the cinematic realm to this day? Yes, it is a coincidence.

But hey, some running shoes look mint in films, so I thought I’d natter about some of my favourites for a bit.

The story of the contemporary running shoe goes all the way back in the 1870s, when plimsolls were commonly used for athletic pursuits. This was until British company J.W. Foster and Sons produced the first shoes designed for running in 1895. These ones had spikes on them, which allowed for greater traction and speed.

Things stayed a spiky affair until a man by the name of Adi Dassler hit the scene with shoes made in his mother’s wash kitchen. These incorporated un-spiked rubber soles which were leagues more comfortable than their sharp forefathers. Unfortunately, World War 2 came along, and sort-of scuppered Adi’s chances of an international market. But after war was over, leisure and athletic activities became far more common, causing trainer sales to snatch dominance the market from conventional leather shoes.

But enough history chat! Here’s some films with some running shoes in them…


We might as well start this off with a set of three-stripers, arguably the originators of contemporary athletic sneakers. Here’s a pretty beat up pair of adidas running shoes, modelled perfectly by Eddie Murphy in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop.

Beverly Hills Cop is the story of young and reckless Alex Foley (Eddie Murphy), a street-smart Detroit cop who takes the scenic trip to Beverly Hills, in order to solve the murder of his best friend.

Worn by Murphy throughout the film, the adidas Country were first introduced in 1970, already of stone-cold classic of adidas back catalogue by the time Beverly Hills Cop came out. Originally marketed as a cross-country runner, the Country quickly evolved into something a bit of an ‘all-purpose’ shoe — the kind of shoe that would be apt for an impromptu jog, as well as late night boozing sessions.

In Alex Foley’s case, they were the perfect set of trainers for pegging it down the sunny streets of Rodeo Drive and Sunset Boulevard, chasing baddies and mocking snooty rich types. Surely that’s what adidas had in mind when they made them, right?


Next up we’ve got Dustin Hoffman, an exemplary military jacket, and a pair of Onitsuka Tigers in the heart-wrenching Kramer vs. Kramer.

Kramer vs. Kramer tells the story of Ted (Dustin Hoffman) and Joanna Kramer’s (Meryl Streep) brutal divorce, and the knock-on effect it has on everyone around them, including the couple’s young son.

Hoffman opts for a pair of Onitsuka Tiger’s in Kramer vs. Kramer, and if you think they look familiar, that’s thanks to a Mr Bill Bowerman. Before he founded that brand with the big swoosh, Bill worked as a technical advisor for a distribution company called Blue Ribbon Sports, which imported Onitsuka’s trainers from Japan. Bowerman built a new running shoe for Onitsuka, frankensteining bits of two existing models, and called it the Cortez. After Bill saw how much of a hit Onitsuka’s version was doing in the US, he got a bit cheeky, and designed a carbon copy for his then-infant sportswear company Nike. Needless to say, when Onitsuka caught wind of what Bill was doing, they flipped their proverbial wigs, and the relationship disintegrated.

Even though Bowerman and Onitsuka had sour feelings about each other, both versions of the shoe were lauded by the running-shoe-wearing portion of the population. It’s still the only sneaker to become a best-selling model for two different shoe companies.

A bit like Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep both winning Oscars for Kramer vs. Kramer, even though they both hated each other during filming.


Here we’ve got daddy iMac himself, Steve Jobs (by way of Michael Fassbender), wearing a pair of incredibly crisp New Balance 990s.

If you couldn’t guess from the title, Steve Jobs is a three-part biopic of personal computing innovator and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, taking place over the course of 14 years, each part focussing on the launch of a key Apple product.

The New Balance 990 is a stone-cold classic of NB’s shoe-based oeuvre. Launching in 1982, the 990 was designed with innovation in mind. It was the first shoe of its kind to feature forward-thinking heel motion control technology, and sticking with New Balance’s modus operandi, was one of the few running shoes still manufactured in the US.

This isn’t just Hollywood tom-foolery either — Jobs himself was infatuated with the futuristic shoe, and it’s to see why, considering Steve was one of the most most technical minds of his generation.

Either that, or he just liked the way they looked.


Penultimately we’ve got Anthony Michael Hall wearing one of Nike’s most lauded running shoes, the Internationalist, in John Hughes teen masterpiece The Breakfast Club.

The Breakfast Club follows five teenagers from different high school cliques who spend a Saturday in detention, gradually learning such poignant life lessons like who they are, how to defy their ‘labels’, how much they all really have in common… and the wondrous dance-inducing power of illegal narcotics.

While it is worth drawing attention to Emilio Estevez’s swanky white pair, we’re more interested in Anthony’s pair of Nike Internationalists.

By the time The Breakfast Club came out, the Internationalist was already a bit-of a cult-classic after Nike decided to air their first ever television commercial the same weekend that Alberto Salazar won the 1982 New York Marathon (in a pair of Internationalists).

Not sure how they’re related to The Breakfast Club though… but who cares? THE TRAINERS LOOK MINT!


Finally, here’s Bill Murray holding possibly the rarest shoes to grace this list, in Wes Anderson’s deadpan wonder-work The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

This is the story of Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), an eccentric oceanographer who sets out to exact revenge on the “jaguar shark” that ate his partner Esteban.

Steve and his crew wear a slightly modified version of the adidas Rom, dubbed ‘the Rom Zissou’. The Rom first came out in 1959, and was designed for the Rome Olympics in 1960.

We’re not sure what attracted Wes Anderson to the Rom (he spends most of his interview time talking about his films, rather than what clobber he’s into), but he’s always put a lot of effort into his characters’ footwear – be it Max Fischer’s adidas Rod Lavers in Rushmore, or The Narrator’s L.L. Bean duck boots in Moonrise Kingdom.

Wes himself has a pretty sharp eye for trabs as well, as he’s been spotted in a fair few pairs of New Balance throughout his career.

Unfortunately for the unwashed masses, adidas never released the Rom Zissou for public purchase, instead leaving die-hard fans to try and craft their own. Bit of a shame really. They’re pretty nice.


Well, this is it; the end. Running shoes and cinema don’t have that much in common, but at least they pair together well. If you want a pair of running shoes for yourself, have a ganders here.