Top Football Movies For the Love of the Sport All Year
The best movies can make us laugh, cry, cheer, and hold our breaths -- and the best movies about football tend to have us doing all of those things in the same sitting. The Super Bowl is this Sunday, but it also means football season is over after this weekend. And then what is there to do? (Besides watch basketball and get ready for MLB spring training, that is.) Well, that's why we've created a list of the 10 best movies that are either all about the love of the game ("Rudy! Rudy!") or that boast pivotal scenes that take place on the gridiron ("Run, Forrest, Run!"). Watching all of them won't take up all of your time until next season, but they'll definitely keep your heart racing and, in some cases, your eyes overflowing:
10. Any Given Sunday
Oliver Stone obviously wanted to make a movie with two things in it: The decedent lifestyle of NFL players, and a halftime coaching tirade delivered by Al Pacino. The drugs, sex and fast living of the players plus Pacino's epic speech make this a keeper. Too bad the football scenes are so stiff and scripted that the digitally-added "shakes" of the camera, though nauseating, can't cover them up.
9. School Ties
The NFL has the 1983 draft, with John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, all bound for the Hall of Fame. Football movies have School Ties, which cast Brendan Frasier as a star Jewish quarterback who, despite obvious difficulty gripping a football, is recruited to a starchy New England prep school. His well-sweatered teammates are Chris O'Donnell, Ben Affleck, Cole Hauser and a delightfully jealous, back-stabbing Matt Damon. Damon plays ugly as a virulent anti-Semite, but the lazy, hacked-up football sequences play even uglier.
8. Jerry Maguire
You had us at "hello," but you lost us at "Cuba Gooding Jr. is an All-Pro NFL wide receiver superstar, even though he's routinely shown on-screen to be the same height as Tom Cruise." Though realism wasn't McGuire's strong point, it did teach us three things: First, Cruise has a crazy streak. Second, Oscar never misses, evidenced by Gooding's post-McGuire run that six years later led to Snow Dogs. And finally, with the looming shutdown of the NFL after Sunday's Super Bowl, agents are horrible people.
Notre Dame is fertile soil for schmaltzy football pics, from Ronald Reagan's Knute Rockne: All-American to this mostly-true story of a never-quit walk-on. After two years of gutty, thankless toil on the practice squad, he's allowed into a game, sacks the opposing quarterback and is carried off the field by teammates. Sean Astin stars, with Jon Favreau as his obese, sour-faced best friend, a role he's set to reprise in the next Fighting Irish tear-jerker, "Hey, We Almost Beat Reggie Bush: the Charlie Weis Story."
6. The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock won her first Best Actress Oscar for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy, a real-life Memphis wife and mom who got future first-round NFL draft pick Michael Oher off the streets and gave him not only a home, but an adopted family. You can hardly see the football through your sentimental tears.
5. All The Right Moves
Stuck in a hardscrabble western Pennsylvania mill town, Tom Cruise sees football as his way out. Though his mean coach Craig T. Nelson throws him off the team for, literally, not getting off his lawn, while Lea Thompson pitches in with her patented Anchor Girlfriend. Following a heart-to-heart after the big game, Nelson and Cruise resign themselves to that most western Pennsylvania of destinies: they pack their bags and head to California.
4. Forrest Gump
History matters in football, and with just a 10-minute on-screen career, we know where Forrest Gump fits: He returned kicks for Bear Bryant's Alabama Crimson Tide. He beat Tennessee, the Tide's real-life hated rival, with a runback. His uniform was right, the stadium was right, even Bryant's hat was right. Sure, opponents jogged at Tom Hanks before lazily throwing themselves at his feet, but even Gump's role was a subtle wink to realism-starved fans, who know the highest form of football flattery is a catchprase. Run, Forrest, run.
Another based-on-a-true story heartwarmer, Mark Wahlberg is Vince Papale, a real-life journeyman athlete who finally made the pros when he was in his thirties. In the film, Vince is a little more removed from football when he shows up for open tryouts, having settled in as a bartender and soon-to-be ex-husband. Which, of course, makes it all the more exciting when he recovers a fumble and returns it for his first touchdown! Go Eagles!
2. Varsity Blues
Released in 1999, but in some ways the first real football movie. Why? They play real football. Other than the primary actors, the on-screen players were high school stars drawn from around Texas. After a two week training camp, complete with tryouts and playbooks, the on-field sequences were shot as full-speed games. The results put Varsity Blues, an otherwise fun but unremarkable high school romp, at the top of the football movie pile. Running backs pinball through the air on dive plays, receivers tap-dance down sidelines to haul in fingertip passes and James Van Der Beek, uniquely in movie history, looks at home in pads. Bonus points awarded for synching up the film's hardest hitting sequence with classic football-anthem AC/DC's Thunderstruck.
1. Friday Night Lights
Both Hollywood and the NFL love a winning franchise, and there's no beating FNL. The bestselling book, just-ending TV series and 2004 movie are all considered best in class. On-screen, Billy Bob Thorton is the high school coach in football-crazy Odessa, Texas, but his then-unknown cast steals the movie: Lucas Black as the haunted quarterback, and Connie Britton, so mesmerizing as Thorton's long-suffering wife that she was brought back to anchor the TV show. The football sequences pop with authenticity, while the steel-guitar soundtrack and brown horizons swallow up the wins and losses, leaving the players with only each other. In other words, it's a movie about real football.