The sport of football has been around for nearly a century, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that movies about the sport have been around for quite some time.
Through the years, there are films that have stood the test of time and the following are football movies that either you should have already seen or you need to make it a priority to see.
Knute Rockne: All American (1940): Part Hoosiers, part Great Expectations and all true, Knute Rockne: All American is the amazing story of how a Norweigan immigrant took an obscure religious school in Indiana (Notre Dame) and turned it into one of the all time great powerhouses of college football in the 20th century. Somewhat melodramatic, but a great story that gave Ronald Reagan his legendary nickname, “The Gipper.“
Jim Thorpe: All American (1951): Led by a strong performance by Burt Lancaster as Thorpe, this is another bio-pic detailing the many tragedies which befell arguably the greatest athlete who ever lived. Jim Thorpe shows us a dramatic and heart wrenching fall from stardom, as Thorpe’s life continually spirals downward. A great abject lesson for athletes of all ages.
Any Given Sunday (1999): Consistent with most Al Pacino performances, what you see is only a small taste of what you’re about to get. As Coach Tony D’Amato, Pacino is presented with a breathe of fresh air from a third string player (Jamie Foxx) that makes him re-evaluate his coaching methods and his perspective on life. This gritty tale is captured in a realistic, powerful way through the direction of the legendary Oliver Stone. It also boasts what many consider was the greatest speech in a sports movie of all time.
The Longest Yard (1974): This is the quintessential football movie, both in terms of drama and realism in its depiction of football sequences. Burt Reynolds plays a disgraced ex-quarterback who is sent to prison, where he is pressured into playing in a pick up game between the guards and the inmates by sinister warden Eddie Albert. Ultimately, Reynolds must choose between throwing the game or facing the warden‘s wrath, and is forced to question at what price victory, at what glory, at what price dignity? Much better and much funnier than the atrocious remake, The Longest Yard has stood the test of time and is not only the best football movie ever made, but is one of the best prison movies ever made as well. The movie was also remade in 2005 starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and even Burt Reynolds.
North Dallas Forty (1979): Vastly underrated, North Dallas Forty is about the dehumanization of professional football players, and includes storylines of players being followed by investigators hired by their own team, being pressured into taking cortisone injections to play through injuries, and purposely injuring players on the opposing team. Pretty heavy stuff, but when you keep in mind that North Dallas Forty is also hilariously funny. The football sequences don’t convey the sort of realism you get from the movie Any Given Sunday, but in every other sense, North Dallas Forty is much more grounded and much more real.
Brian’s Song (1971): Legendary actors James Caan and Billy Dee Williams give amazing performances inspired by real-life athletes in Brian’s Song. When cancer strikes an unlikely friendship, a bond is formed that surpasses football, race, and adversity. This unforgettable classic makes a positive impact on almost everyone who watches it.
Jerry Maguire (1996): It seems that all anyone remembers about Jerry Maguire are the great catchphrases (“Show me the money” and “You had me at hello”) and Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s high-energy Oscar acceptance speech. Forgotten amidst the pop culture iconclasm is the first sports movie to examine the relationship between players and agents and a fairly enlightening look at the business of sports in general. A fun film that combines comedy, romance and drama in equal measures.
Invincible (2006): Vince Papale’s climb from the stands to the football field provides the perfect backdrop for an inspiring story of persistence, passion, and perseverance. Inspired by a true story, this hometown tale of a substitute teacher’s rise to the pros teaches a valuable lesson about what’s important on and off the field.
Rudy (1998): Rudy is an unforgettable, inspirational film based on the true story of a Notre Dame player’s journey to the team roster and playing field. Despite his small stature and weak athletic ability, Rudy’s will, perseverance, and determination fulfill his life’s dream and earn him the respect, affection, and admiration of his team and the community most people probably appreciate Rudy, which after all, tells the same sort of rabid fandom story but does it with a positive feel-good outlook.
Remember The Titans (2000): Set in 1971, Coach Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington, is hired as head coach over a newly integrated high school football team. The struggle to build a successful team is intensified by the struggle to surpass racial tensions. The team unifies when the players realize they share a common goal and realize attitude is what separates people and not race.
Friday Night Lights (2004): A tremendous film featuring Billy Bob Thornton, which gives us a field level view of the “high school football is a way of life” mentality of Texas. Friday Night Lights creates a plethora of diverse characters who were so unforgettable they easily translated into a hit TV series. The movie shows the side of sports we regret to ever see, the bitter bitter taste of getting so close to your dream only to have it torn from you.
We Are Marshall (2006): Inspired by a true story, this film follows the fatal plane crash which killed members of the Marshall University football game and the aftermath of starting over. Matthew McConaughey stars as new Coach Jack Lengyel who struggles to rebuild the team and honor the memory of the fallen players.
Editor’s Note: This post originally published in 2014 with updates to trailers.