Movies about football have been around almost as long as the game itself. The first professional football player signed a contract to be paid to play in 1892. In 1921, Two Minutes to Go was the first movie about the game.
Here, in no particular order are our 10 favorite films primarily about football.
2004 saw the first of several movies on this list that are based on real-life events. Friday Night Lights began as a non-fiction book titled Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team and A Dream. Written by H. G. Bissinger, it told the story of the Permian High Panthers, a team from Odessa, TX. The book is a great read and so is After Fright Night Lights, which tells the story of how the author stayed involved in the life of one of the team’s star players.
A lot of folks find the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard funny. I am one of them. But the 1974 original is a terrific film. Burt Reynolds stars as “Paul ‘Wrecking’ Crewe” the former NFL quarterback and MVP who was drummed out of the league for point shaving. He is forced by the prison warden (Eddie Albert) to organize a team of prisoners to provide the semi-pro team of prison guards with a tune-up game.
2000’s The Replacements was about a group of men recruited to replace the players of the fictional Washington Sentinels team, who had gone out on strike. Gene Hackman was the team’s coach and Keanu Reeves played “Shane Falco” a former superstar college quarterback whose star faded quickly after a dismal performance in the Sugar Bowl. Great characters and funnier than the critics made it out to be.
Some contend that one of the reasons that EST disappeared was how the 1977 film Semi-Tough skewered it mercilessly. Starring Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson as teammates on a pro team in Miami who share a home with the team owner’s daughter, played by Jill Clayburgh. It was the final on-screen appearance of actress Lotte Lenya, best known for portraying “Rosa Klebb” in the Bond film From Russia With Love.
In 1971, all high school students in the city of Alexandria, VA were integrated into one high school. Herman Boone, a highly successful high school football coach was hired to be the school’s head coach that year. His being a black man was a major issue for many in the area. This true story was turned into the 2000 film Remember the Titans. Denzel Washington portrayed Herman Boone and won that year’s NAACP Image Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture.
Knute Rockne, All American came out in 1940 and originated a phrase that endures to this day.
Yes, that is Ronald Reagan in the role that caused reporters covering his 1980 presidential campaign to label him “The Gipper.” The movie is a bio-pic of the life of Knute Rockne, played in the film by Pat O’Brien. George Gipp was the first Notre Dame football player ever named to the All-American team.
Like every other facet of life, there are tragedies in football. On November 14, 1970, a chartered aircraft carrying 70 players, coaches and boosters of the Marshall University’s Thundering Herd football team crashed. They and all five flight crew members were killed. It remains the worst tragedy involving a sports team in U.S. history. The acting university president, Donald Dedmon strongly considered ending the program, but he was convinced to let it go on. Jack Lengyel was hired on as the new coach. In the movie We Ae Marshall, David Straithairn plays Dedmon and Matthew McConaughey gives an inspired performance as Lengyel.
The 2006 movie Invincible is based on how a Philadelphia bartender named Vince Papale became a local hero when he earned a spot on the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles football team in 1975. Like other films based on real-life events, there is some dramatic license taken. That doesn’t make this story of overcoming oppressive odds any less engaging. Greg Kinnear plays Dick Vermeil, head coach of the Eagles. Elizabeth Banks plays Janet Cantrell, who would go on to become Vince’s third wife.
Like Friday Night Lights, 1999’s Varsity Blues is a look at high school football in Texas. The difference is that this isn’t a fictionalized version of a true story, but a dramedy that generates laughs while looking into just how far some are willing to go to achieve victory. Jon Voight is the high school football coach who will stop at nothing to win another title. Paul Walker plays the star quarterback who suffers a career ending injury. That thrusts Paul Walker’s “Mox” into the role of quarterback. Scott Caan is a wide receiver who drinks beer before and after making great pass receptions. While Varsity Blues is all about high school football, it might be best remembered for Ali Larter in a bikini made of only whipped cream.
While Ed O’Neill portrayed a fictional football hero on television’s Married With Children, you wouldn’t think he and Rick Moranis would be the leads in a movie about football. But they were. 1994’s Little Giants is a feel-good film about pee-wee football. O’Neill and Moranis are brothers and the daughter of Moranis’ character is played by Shana Waldron. She tries out for the team coached by O’Neill’s character and is cut solely because she is a girl. She convinces her father to start a new team for her and to coach it.
While they didn’t make our top ten, honorable mentions go to Gridiron Gang, Undefeated and The Waterboy.