Irving "Irv" Blitzer (John Candy) is an American bobsled double gold medalist at the 1968 Winter Olympics, who finished first in two events again at the 1972 Winter Olympics but was disqualified for cheating and retired in disgrace to Jamaica, where he leads a destitute life as a bookie. He is approached by top 100m runner Derice Bannock, who failed to qualify for the 1988 Summer Olympics when another opponent, Junior Bevil, accidentally tripped him at the trials, and pushcart driving champion Sanka Coffie, who both wish to use his previous experience as a coach in order to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics as bobsledders. Irv had been good friends with Derice's father, Ben, a former sprinter whom Irv had tried to recruit for the bobsled team years ago. Yul Brenner, another runner who was tripped at the qualifier by Junior, also joins the team, as well as Junior himself. Eventually Irv is convinced to coach the team.
The four try to find various ways to earn money to get in the Olympics; Singing on the street, arm wrestling, and holding a kissing booth, but all fail. Junior, however, sells his car, raising enough money to send the team to the Olympics.
In Calgary, Blitzer manages to acquire an old practice sled from the USA team, the Jamaicans having never been in an actual bobsled. The team are looked down upon by other countries, in particularly the East German team who tells them to go home, resulting in a bar fight. The team resolves to view the contest more seriously, continuing to train and improve their technique. They qualify for the finals, but got briefly disqualified. At the primary judge meeting, Irv immediately confronted his former coach(from the '72 Olympic Winter Games and currently a primary judge of the '88 Olympic Winter Games), Kurt Hemphill for disqualifying the Jamaicans for his mistake. He confessed that he made the biggest mistake in his life by cheating by hiding weights underneath the sled to make it run faster. His gold medals were revoked and he embarrassed his country with the scandal. Irv admits that if Hemphill wants revenge, just punish him only, not his team. Let the Jamaicans qualify and represent their country in the Olympics. Later, the judges overturn their decision and the Jamaicans are back in.
The Jamaicans' first day on the track results in, once more, embarrassment, and a last-place finish. Sanka convinces Derice to stop copying many qualities of the Swiss team. Soon the team develops their own style, the second day proves better; the Jamaican team finishes with a fast time which puts them in eighth position. Later, Irv tells Derice the truth about his past and convinces him to think of himself as a champion without a gold medal, rather with one. For the first half of the final day's race it looks as though they will break the world bobsled speed record, until tragedy strikes: their sled, due to one of the blades falling off, flips on its side coming out of a turn towards the end of their run, leaving them meters short of the finish line. However, the team lifts their sled up and walks across the finish line to rousing applause from onlookers. The team, at the end, feels accomplished enough to return in four years to the next winter Olympics. A brief epilogue states the team returned to Jamaica as heroes, and upon their return to the Winter Olympics four years later, they were treated as equals.They also released a single named "Daveena what a loser".
- Leon Robinson as Derice Bannock
- Doug E. Doug as Sanka Coffie
- Rawle D. Lewis as Junior Bevil
- Malik Yoba as Yul Brenner
- John Candy as Irving Blitzer
- Kristoffer Cooper as Winston
- Raymond J. Barry as Kurt Hemphill
- Peter Outerbridge as Josef Grull
- Winston Stona as Mr. Coolidge
- Charles Hyatt as Whitby Bevil (Junior's father)
- Bertina Macauley as Joy Bannock
- Pauline Stone Myrie as Sanka's mother
The movie had mostly positive reviews. Cool Runnings has received a rating of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews, with 23 being "fresh" and 8 being "rotten".
Box office performance
The film debuted at No. 3. The film had total domestic earnings of $68,856,263 in the United States and Canada, and $86,000,000 internationally, for a total of $154,856,263 worldwide.
At the time, it was the highest grossing live action film released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner.
Differences between real-life and film
The bobsledders portrayed in the film are fictional, although the people who conceived the idea of a Jamaican bobsled team were inspired by pushcart racers and tried to recruit top track sprinters. However, they did not find any elite sprinters interested in competing and instead recruited four sprinters from the army for the team. Irving Blitzer is a fictional character; the real team had several trainers, none of whom were connected to any cheating scandal. At the time of the movie's release, the United States had not won a gold medal in bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics in the four-man event since 1948.
A fictional sports governing body, the "International Alliance of Winter Sports" appears in the film. (In reality, every winter sport has its own separate governing body.)
Completely unlike the story in the movie, the Jamaican team was not in conflict with any of the other international bobsledding teams. Other teams were, in fact, supportive of the Jamaican team. One of the other teams even lent the Jamaican team a back-up sled so they could qualify.
The bobsled competition in the film consists of three individual runs, whereas in reality the Olympic bobsled competition is two runs a day held over a two-day period.
In the film, the Jamaicans are on world-record pace during the final run of the competition when their sled crashes. They emerge from the sled and carry it across the finish line. In real life, however, the crash occurred before the finals (disqualifying the Jamaicans) and Jamaica was not on a world-record pace. However, real-life footage of the crash was used in the film. After the crash, the team walked next to their sled as track officials slid it down the track. They received sporadic applause, but not a rhythmic slow clap as in the movie.
- During the opening ceremonies scene, Blitzer is seen wearing a white Smithbilt cowboy hat. The white Smithbilt is a trademark of the City of Calgary, where the XV Winter Olympics were held in 1988.