Favorite Football Films

It’s roughly the center of football season, and we’re heading into the time of great films at your local theater, so I figured, why not combine the two and talk about some films about football that I’ve enjoyed over the years.

Now, I’ve made the executive decision to eliminate films like Jerry Maguire from consideration. With that one specifically, while it has a football player in it and a few football scenes, it’s more about the life of Jerry, with football more in the background.

Without further ado…

5. Friday Night Lights (81% RT)
It’s interesting that four of five films on this list are “somewhat” based on true stories, but this one is probably the one that runs closest to what actually happened, since it was based on an entire season of the Periman High Panthers football team in Texas. A precursor to the cult classic Friday Night Light series, it’s got beautiful cinematography, spare music and dialogue, and is directed with a grittiness that befits the story it’s trying to tell.

RT Synopsis: A drama that chronicles the entire 1988 season of the Permian High Panthers of Odessa, Texas, with football players, coaches, mothers, fathers, pastors, boosters, fans and families struggling with ongoing personal conflicts while the team fights for a state championship. A town for sale, Odessa, Texas has seen better days–the financial bust evident in its boarded-up shops and broken lives. Yet one hope sustains the community where, once a week during the fall, the town and its dreams come alive beneath the dazzling and disorienting Friday night-lights. When the Permian High Panthers take to the field. In a city where economic uncertainty has eroded the spirit of its inhabitants, nearly everyone seeks comfort in the religion of the Friday night ritual, where the unfulfilled dreams of an entire community are shifted onto the shoulder pads of a team of high-school athletes.

4. The Replacements (47% RT)
Definetely more of an “inspired by” film than a true story, this one tells the story of a Washington DC football team that recruited a variety of rag-tag football players under a somewhat crazy coach. This film is way better than it ever had a right to be – it’s funny, it’s got a good story and a great heart. It also doesn’t take itself at all seriously and the actors are having a great time, which makes it all the more fun.

RT Synopsis: The 1987 National Football League players’ strike inspired this sports-themed comedy. The Washington Sentinels are one of the strongest teams in pro football — until contract negotiations break down and the Sentinels go on strike. Determined to play the team’s schedule, owner Edward O’Neil (Jack Warden) recruits a ragtag band of scab players, to be headed up and whipped into shape by the retired veteran coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman). At the top of the recruitment list is quarterback Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves), a promising athlete until a catastrophic defeat in the Sugar Bowl dashed his confidence. Joining Falco on the team are Clifford Franklin (Orlando Jones), a receiver who can’t catch the ball; Nigel Gruff (Rhys Ifans), a chain-smoking Welsh soccer player; Bateman (Jon Favreau), a former cop with anger management problems; Fumiko (Ace Yonamine), a sumo wrestler new to football; and Wilkinson (Michael Jace), a convict on parole to the Sentinels. Can McGinty mold his new squad of misfits and no-hopers (who truly love the game) into a winning team? Brooke Langton plays Annabelle, head of the Sentinels’ cheerleading squad (who has to contend with replacements of her own), and football commentators John Madden and Pat Summerall appear as themselves.

3. Any Given Sunday (51% RT)
Where The Replacements is light and airy, Any Given Sunday is deadly serious and certainly covers the dark side of football. It hits everything from brain injuries to political infighting among the owners, coaches and front office. While Stone is overly heavy and obvious on the imagery, the story is a compelling one, and Pacino’s speech at the end is one of the greatest in the history of football films.

RT Synopsis: Life is a contact sport and football is life when three-time academy award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone and a dynamic acting ensemble explore the fortunes of the Miami Sharks in Any Given Sunday. At the 50-year line of this gridiron cosmos is Al Pacino as Tony D’Amato, the embattled Sharks coach facing a full-on blitz of team strife plus a new, marketing-savvy sharks owner (Cameron Diaz) who’s sure Tony is way too old school. An injured quarterback (Dennis Quaid), a flashy, bull-headed backup QB (Jamie Foxx), a slithery team doctor (James Woods) and a running back with an incentive-laden contract (LL Cool J) also provide some of the stories that zigzag like diagrams in a playbook. and throughout, there’s the awesome spectacle of motion, sound and action orchestrated by Stone.

2. Remember the Titans (73% RT)
For some reason, the lasting football films seem to come more from high school teams than from anywhere else, and Remember the Titans is no exception. It’s based on the true story of racial school integration in the south (well, Alexandria, VA, which was considered the south in 1973) through the combination of two football teams. Watch for a lot of “before they were famous” performances (Ryan Gosling and Hayden Panettiere), and several rousing, stand up and cheer performances.

RT Synopsis: Based on actual events that took place in 1971, a white southern high school is integrated with black students from a nearby school. Both schools are recognized for their football programs which are now unified. The black coach is chosen to be the head coach of the integrated team, leaving the previous white head coach with feelings of animosity at having to be an assistant under a black man.

1. Rudy (80% RT)
Another true story, Rudy is considered the gold standard of football films, telling the story of an undersized, unathletic man who leaves his blue collar job and somehow finds his way onto the Notre Dame football team. So many rousing moments and a story that will defy you to hold back tears at multiple points.

RT Synopsis: Since he was a little boy, Rudy Ruttinger (Sean Astin) has idolized the University of Notre Dame and its football team. However, he is a small boy who will inevitably grow up to be a small man. Not only that, but he is not an outstanding student or even a particularly good athlete. His blue-collar family is convinced that he is only asking for heartache by aspiring so far beyond his abilities. For a while Rudy grudgingly accepts this assessment and goes to work in the local steel mill. His dream just won’t die, and he eventually wins admission to the college of his dreams, In his junior year he tries out for the football team, but is able only to serve as a live tackle-dummy. Bruised and battered though he is, he is proud to have any connection with his team. By his senior year, the team has grown so fond of the boy that on the day of the final game, every member shows up at the coach’s office and offers to give up his place on the squad in order to give Rudy one chance to suit up as a team member. The coach, moved and impressed, allows Rudy to suit up and lead the team to the benches. Then, once victory is assured, he lets Rudy participate in the final scrimmage of the game. Rudy acquits himself well, and his loving friends hoist him onto their shoulders and carry him off the field. This “men’s weepie” is based on the true story of Rudy Ruttinger.