By Andrew Fish Fain
After our recent column on the best Baseball Movies of all time, it seemed only fitting that we gave football its due. What I thought would be an easy task, turned out to be a Herculean one as there were a lot more movies involving football than I ever remember.
But I guess much like the sports themselves, while baseball enjoyed it’s time in the sun, the seasons of life have turned and now football is in the spotlight.
With that being said, what follows are what I consider the 10 best football movies of all time. Now not all of them are purely about football, but as long as the sport was the central theme, it was eligible to make the list. It didn’t matter if it was Pee-Wee, High School, College or the NFL, it just had to be about the Gridiron.
So as per usual with these countdowns, let’s start with …
#10 – Jerry Maguire (1996) starring Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr & Jay Mohr; The story of an Agent who bucked the system, and when the system bucked back, he was left with just one client. Of course that client, along with the one other person who believed in him, helped him rebuild all he once lost, but did it his way.
I think this movie is a tad over-rated and is not the greatest film of all time. But, any movie that can add an entire phrase into the common vernacular (“Show Me the Money”), has to at least be given consideration as one of the top films of that sport. So in an homage to its importance in pop culture, “Jerry Maguire” comes it at #10.
#9 – Friday Night Lights (2004) starring Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black & Derek Luke; In the state of Texas football is more than just a mere sport, it is a religion. Friday Night Lights follows a small Texas town’s football team through the ups and downs of a season and shows how an underdog, when it works to its fullest potential, can do incredible things.
This is the best movie about High School Football that I have ever seen. Billy Bob Thornton does a masterful coach who must lead his team through the adversity of an injury to its star player. It takes the typical American underdog story and adds a twist or two that will leave you wanting more. Of course, that’s part of the reason the movie became a popular television show.
#8 – The Program (1993) starring James Caan, Halle Berry & Omar Epps; Ever wonder what the pressures of playing football for a major university can do to a student? The Program takes a deep look at some the issues the players have stemming from the pressures all around them. Some of these issues include, of course, drinking and drugs.
James Caan is masterful as tough coach Sam Winters, trying to toe the line between sadistic and just a winning coach. While Omar Epps shines in his first major role as the highly recruited tailback Darnell Jefferson. If you want to take a look at the inside of dirty business of college football, the Program is one of the best places to see it.
Some of the film was so real, it had to be cut as other schools tried to duplicate what happened in the movie, and several players died because of it.
#7 – Necessary Roughness (1991) starring Scott Bakula, Sinbad & Robert Loggia; The story of a College in Texas that due to NCAA sanctions must play it’s season with no scholarship athletes. So instead it is a ragtag group of players from the student body including a 34 year old quarterback, a female place kicker and a gang of misfits.
Think Major League, but with college football. If you are going into this movie expecting great storytelling and cinematic wonder, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you go in expecting to laugh at dumb gags, silly jokes and an amazing looking Kathy Ireland, not only will you thoroughly enjoy yourself, but you will leave with a smile on your face. That’s why this can be ranked as the #7 Football Movie of all time.
#6 – Rudy (1993) starring Sean Astin, John Favreau & Charles Dutton; The story of Rudy Ruettiger, a blue collar kid who had the dream of playing football at Notre Dame. The only problems were he was too small, had average grades and limited athletic ability. But he had the will and drive of 5 men, and through sheer persistence, he finally got his chance.
This ultimate underdog story is the kind of film that not only has you cheering in your seat, but may even inspire you to new heights. John Favreau is great in his first role as one of the Fighting Irish players that come to root for Rudy, while Sean Astin and Charles Dutton are fantastic as Rudy and Fortune, the man who believes in him.
#5 – Heaven Can Wait (1978) starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie & Jack Warden; Not quite a remake of the 1943 film of the same name, this version has Rams QB Joe Pendleton about to lead his team to the Super Bowl, when an untimely accident and a premature angel take him too soon. So he comes back to earth in the body of a recently murdered millionaire, to the surprise of his killers. In his new body he buys the Rams so he can once again lead them to glory.
What an amazing film this was. Warren Beatty is perfectly cast as the taken too soon QB, while Julie Christie plays his murderess wife who can’t understand how he is still alive. This is the kind of film that has something for everyone, as it is funny, but not too over the top. I know seeing a film from 1978 may not sound glamorous now a days, but this is one of those films you HAVE to see.
#4 – Waterboy (1998) starring Adam Sandler, Kathy Bates & Henry Winkler; The story of a college Waterboy whose coach discovers his amazing ability to tackle people who are much bigger than he is. But they all must try and keep his playing a secret from his overbearing mother.
This is a typical Adam Sandler film, in that while the story may have plot holes etc. it is laugh out loud funny. It is filled with the usual suspects from Sandler films, and the addition of Kathy Bates and Henry Winkler just add to the charm. So if you like Sandler doing his little child-like voice, and can stand the crude jokes a plenty, this is one of Sandler’s better films.
#3 – North Dallas 40 (1979) starring Nick Nolte, Mac Davis & Charles Durning; The semi-fictional story of what it was like to be a member of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970’s, when the earned the moniker America’s Team.
A comical and somewhat real look at how big the stars of the Cowboys really were in the 1970’s. They were basically rock stars that could get with anything as long as they could play on Sundays. Based on the lives of QB Don Meredith and WR (and author) Peter Gent. If you ever wondered what it meant to be a member of the Cowboys, this is the film you must see.
#2 – The Longest Yard (1974) starring Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert & Ed Lauter; The story of a former QB who becomes a prison inmate and organizes a group of inmates to take on the guards in a football game. Of course his dilemma comes when he is asked to throw the game in order to gain early release.
Now don’t get me wrong, the remake of this film by Adam Sandler in 2005 was alright, but nowhere near as funny or as good as the original. There is something about Burt Reynolds version of QB turned Con Paul Crewe that is just spot on. Plus it just seems so much more real and gritty in the 70’s version. If you want to see a film where the football feels real, this may just be the perfect football movie.
#1 – Brian’s Song (1979) starring James Caan, Billy Dee Williams & Jack Warden; The story of the friendship forged between Chicago Bears team-mates and running back rivals Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, and how strong the bond became especially after Piccolo learns of devastating news.
WOW!!!!! That is the best word to describe this film. If you ever want to see a man cry, just watch this movie. It is impossible to not tear up in this poignant true account of two football players who let no differences come between them, and how one had to watch the other die. My eyes are welling up just writing about it. It is indeed that powerful, and that is the reason it is the Number ONE Football Movie of all time.
There you have, the 10 best Football Movies of all time. While there are several that also deserve honorable mention, Any Given Sunday, Remember the Titans and We are Marshall. But if you can only see 10 movies about the Gridiron, this are the ones that you need to see.