Steroids, concussions, arrests, deflated footballs…it was an offseason from hell for the National Football League, but we’re well back in competition mode now. It’s time for a season full of the gridiron on Sundays, Monday nights, and (for some reason) Thursday nights. Let’s gird up our loins and head out onto the field with this list of our ten favorite (American, of course) football movies.
North Dallas Forty (1979)
An eerie echo of the scandals of the modern NFL, this 1970s classic – inspired by the book by a former Cowboy wide receiver – is steeped in the wild, anything-goes days of the early league, full of pills and booze consumed by the breaking-down receiver Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte). A special note of cheers for all-time “That Guy!” G.D. Spradlin (the senator from The Godfather II) as Elliott’s head coach.
The Waterboy (1998)
One of the last watchable Adam Sandler movies before his career spiraled into the earth. He’s charming and funny here as small-town Louisiana waterboy Bobby Boucher, whose stunning tackling skills somehow make him a college football star. An added bonus to the movie? Seeing Jerry Reed of Smokey and the Bandit pop up as the protagonist.
The Longest Yard (1974)
Speaking of Adam Sandler – ignore his remake of The Longest Yard and stick with the original. Delightfully violent and completely politically incorrect (there’s no way they could make this original script today), Burt Reynolds stars as a point-shaving QB sent to prison after a high-speed chase and forced to lead a scrappy team of prisoners against a team of guards.
Remember the Titans (2000)
It’s a Disney-ified recounting of integration into a Virginia town – probably a bit too sanitized – but there’s enough star wattage thrown out from Denzel Washington, as the brand-new football coach of the T.C. Williams High School Titans, to make the movie memorable. Plus, the soundtrack is fantastic, the football training montages are stirring, and the young stars that dot the movie (including Ryan Gosling and Hayden Panettiere) are great to watch.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
Peter Berg’s glorious adaptation of Buzz Bissinger’s book perfectly captures the soul of high school football in Midwest America while turning an unsparing eye on the community that surrounds it. Full of a great young cast and a notably charismatic lead turn by Billy Bob Thornton, this is a movie at least on the level of the TV series that it spawned.
Everybody’s All-American (1988)
Reserving the title of the most overlooked football movie out there, this Taylor Hackford-directed film from the Frank Deford book profiles the relationship between star LSU running back Gavin Grey (Dennis Quaid) and his beautiful wife Babs (Jessica Lange) through his college and pro career. It’s a bit silly at times, but the college football scenes in the film are absolutely first-rate.
Mark Wahlberg gives one of his most winning performances in this true story of Philadelphia schoolteacher/bartender-turned-Eagles wideout Vince Papale, a fan favorite who didn’t make the team until he was 30. There’s an appealingly scruffy Rocky-esque sheen to the whole movie, and Greg Kinnear has a winning supporting role as the famously teary coach Dick Vermeil.
Brian’s Song (1971)
Try and watch this without tearing up, we dare you. This touching and true made-for-TV story is the heartbreaking tale of the friendship between cancer-stricken Chicago Bears RB Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and star Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams). It’s a tough but tender paean to friendship and football that’s caused eyes to water for decades now.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
This flashy and vibrant romp from Oliver Stone is one of his most accessible and entertaining flicks, pitting the old-school coach of the Miami Sharks (Al Pacino) against his renegade young quarterback (Jamie Foxx). This was Foxx’s breakout role, and he’s fantastic; the rest of the cast, which includes LL Cool J, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid and Aaron Eckhart, is also a highlight.
Speaking of crying … if you’re not a little touched by this famed underdog story of Notre Dame walk-on Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, than you’re not human. Penned by sports movie legend Angelo Pizzo (of Hoosiers fame), this is one of the most emotionally soaring films ever made, with an appropriately uplifting soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith and a role for a younger (and larger) Jon Favreau.
What do you think of our list? Are we missing any heavy hitters? Add yours and why you think it’s deserving in the comments below.