The NFL season is winding down and the XFL is apparently coming back – who could have seen that coming? – so despite declining ratings, it seems like American football is all anyone in the sports world wants to talk about right now. Fans can’t get enough of it, it seems. Movies have used football both as a focal point and a backdrop for decades, perhaps more prominently than any sport that isn’t baseball. Showcase what’s popular, I suppose.
Here are the best football movies.
Big Fan is one of those movies that uses the sport more as a backdrop than a focal point. It’s about a fan, the “world’s biggest New York Giants fan” in the world, and his sad life as he dedicates the entirety of his existence to following his team. We see it from the outside, as he foregoes relationships with pretty much everyone to follow his team – he is unable to glean happiness from anything else. It’s a sad story but it’s pretty good and even has its small moments of humor and joy.
The Blind Side
Based on the true story of Michael Oher, The Blind Side details how the offensive lineman got to his position as a draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens. He had an impoverished childhood, and was eventually adopted by two rich white people who helped him become a football player. It’s a little cheesy but it has solid acting and does tell a pretty great story. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her performance.
I remember when Concussion came out and was seen as “revelatory” for many members of the general public who somehow previously didn’t understand that constantly getting hit in the head could cause trauma to the brain. Concussion tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was the first person to discover the existence of CTE, a degenerative brain disease that’s impossible to diagnose in living patients, but causes them to suffer from all sorts of cognitive impairments.
It’s an important movie for fans of the sport who otherwise are oblivious to the brain damage being done to their favorite athletes, as well as the lengths the NFL will go to in order to prevent information like Omalu’s research to become public.
Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights was a long-running television series (5 seasons) that was spawned after the success of the 2004 movie of the same title. The film is about the 1988 football season for a high school team in Texas. There isn’t a ton more to it, but like most of the successful sports movies, it works as well on the field as it does off it.
Invincible makes this list simply because of its true story, which saw the Philadelphia Eagles, after a string of poor seasons, deciding to host open tryouts for anyone to try to make the team. It follows Vince Papale, who wound up making the team – and stayed on it for more than just a game or two. That’s just incredible. It’s very much Every Sports Movie Ever, but sometimes the story a movie tells is good enough to warrant the watch anyway.
Jerry Maguire follows a sports agent as he navigates the business and the personalities of the athletes with whom he deals – all while also pursuing a love interest. It’s a very quotable movie, it has a bunch of laughs, and a good heart. It was nominated for several Oscars and won Cuba Gooding Jr. a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Remember the Titans
Remember the Titans does a lot of the same things Invincible does in that it feels a lot like Every Sports Movie Ever, but the story it’s telling makes it worthwhile. That story follows a black head coach of a desegregated high school in the early 1970s and the various racial tensions that come along with that. That backdrop allows it to be a standout movie, even if it doesn’t do anything special.
Rudy is probably my go-to when it comes to inspirational sports movies. It follows Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who desperately wants to play football despite having significant obstacles placed in front of him that would prevent most people from achieving that goal. Simple setup, simple execution, but it’s earnest and it works at making us care about its protagonist. And it does come across as inspirational. It works.
Undefeated won the Best Documentary Oscar, and it’s the only documentary on this list. (Although Concussion arguably would have made a better documentary than narrative film.)
Undefeated tells the story of a high school football team, which had suffered several straight seasons of losing. They’re turned around by a new head coach. The film follows several of the key players in this turnaround, showing both their lives on the field and – more importantly – their lives off it. It’s a powerful movie, and you really get invested in their lives while watching it.
We Are Marshall
It’s a little twee, but We Are Marshall is a solid drama about the aftermath of a tragedy. In 1970, a plane crash killed 75 people, the majority of which were associated with the Marshall University football team. The school has to figure out how to properly honor these people, as well as help the students with the grieving and healing processes. It does it a little too easily and lightly, but it’s a solid outing. It’s also one of the few watchable movies that Matthew McConaughey did in the mid-2000s.