Football at the Movies

By: Jason Colthorp
By: Jason Colthorp

The top 10 football movies of all time. (VIDEO INCLUDED)

There have been many great football movies over the years.  Of course, there have been many awful football movies, too.  Here's my best, worst and honorable mentions under this criteria:
1. I have actually seen the movie.  That excludes "North Dallas Forty" (1979), "Radio" (2003), "Varsity Blues" (1999), "Semi-Tough" (1977), "Knute Rockne All American" (1940), "Paper Lion" (1968), "The Express" (2008). 
2. It has to be mostly about football.  That excludes "Jerry Maguire" (1996) and "The Last Boy Scout" (1991), which may be the worst movie ever made.

The Top Ten
10. "The Waterboy" (1998)
Not every one of these will be cinematic genius and obviously this one isn't.  But Adam Sandler came along with an original idea for a football movie that was both funny and entertaining.  I include stupid in the entertaining part, because that's what you're about to see here: 

9. "We Are Marshall" (2006)
Tough not to include the movie that depicts the worst football tragedy ever-- the 1970 plane crash of the Marshall University football team.  

8. "Brian's Song" (1971)
Another fact-based movie about Brian Piccolo who played for the Bears in the 60's and ended up getting cancer, but becoming best friends with Gale Sayers-- his main competition on the team.  The obligatory tear-jerker on the list.


7. "Everybody's All-American" (1988)
The first of two Dennis Quaid movies on the list.  I can't really say why I always liked this movie so much, except that it seems to capture old school college football.  Quaid also does a good job of showing how old superstars fall hard when the spotlight is gone.  John Goodman is great as his teammate with a gambling problem.

6. "All the Right Moves" (1983) 
This one is right on the border of being considered a "football movie" but I'll let it slide since it's so good.  Another good high school football state, Pennsylvania, is highlighted with one team's triumphs and turmoil on the field and off.  Craig T. Nelson, shows he can be the heartless and at times vindictive coach, way before he turned it into comedy on Coach.  Tom Cruise is the player caught in the coach's doghouse that may cost him a chance at a college scholarship.

5. "Any Given Sunday" (1999)
The movie that comes the closest to capturing the chaos and brutality of pro football on and off the field.  You just have to deal with Oliver Stone's "insert-random-video-here" moments, which always leave you scratching your head.  Despite that, this movie could easily be number one on a lot of lists because of the window it provides into pro football courtesy of the fictional Miami Sharks.

4. "Friday Night Lights" (2004)
Rarely does a movie live up to a great book.  This is one notable exception.  High school football at its most intense-- and I'm a guy who played in Florida and graduated with Tommie Frazier.  Florida and Texas are it when it comes to prep football, but until a movie comes along about the mighty Manatee Hurricanes, I'll defer to FNL and the fabulous performances from the young actors/athletes, Billy Bob Thornton and Tim McGraw.  This is just how big Texas football gets:

3. "Rudy" (1993)
The only argument you may have with this choice is that it's not higher on the list.  If I didn't hate Notre Dame football more than taxes it might be.  The ultimate underdog movie that makes you cry and cheer and everything in between.  Trivia: This movie was where Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau met and became friends.  Here's two clips, because seriously, would I not include the ending?

2. "The Longest Yard" (1974)
Simply put-- a classic.  I don't know if it's his best movie, but Burt Reynolds is phenomenal as Paul Crewe-- the former NFL quarterback in prison for assault after his playing days ended for shaving points.  Now he's leading the Mean Machine against the guards.  This one is filled with former NFL greats, including Ray Nitschke, who is the star of the famous crotch scene which is now no longer available on YouTube, so you'll have to settle for this:

1. "Remember the Titans" (2000)
This movie just stands above the rest for a few reasons.  It's based on a true story of a high school team in Virginia in 1971 forced to integrate blacks and whites.  Like "Friday Night Lights" a lot of great young actors who pull off playing good football players-- and for some this was their only movie role.  Denzel Washington is fantastic as the coach who tries to break down the racial walls between the players and coaches and has to overcome outside prejudices.  Great football, great actors and a great plot make this the greatest football movie.  Here's two clips that are seamless with the best scene in the movie coming in part 2 when Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell come together on the field. 

Honorable Mentions
"Invincible" (2006)
Mark Wahlberg's portrayal of a hometown boy trying to make the Philadelphia Eagles team.  Of course, he does and comes up with a huge special teams play to win a big game.  True story and good movie.

"Heaven Can Wait" (1978)
Another movie that spends too much time off the field to be called a great "football movie."  Entertaining comedy though with Warren Beatty as a dead guy trying to come back in another body to play quarterback for the L.A. Rams in the Super Bowl.

"The Program" (1993)
I don't remember this movie that much, but what I do remember is it was an hard look at big time college football i.e. steroids, injuries, ego and sex.

"Little Giants" (1995)
Stop laughing.  Seriously.  Obviously, you don't have kids.  When you do and you're forced to watch a kids' movie, this one will make the experience enjoyable for the whole family.  Plus, it has kid-farting humor. 

Worst of the Worst
"The Longest Yard" (2005)
The remake just simply didn't hold a candle to the original.  I hated it the first time I saw it, then catching bits and pieces since, I've come to find some funny moments, but Sandler is awful.  Oddly enough, I think Michael Irvin steals the show. 

"Wildcats" (1987)
Lots of funny stuff in this Goldie Hawn goof (see: U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi, you ugly.)  It's so bad though, because they keep showing the same plays and in one instance a black guy runs the ball-- and then Woody Harrelson gets up after the play!

"Lucas" (1986)
The cast says it all:  Corey Haim, Charlie Sheen and Kerry Green of Goonies fame.  

"The Game Plan" (2007)
The Rock is as awful playing quarterback as Matt Damon is playing golf in Bagger Vance.  And the Rock played college football!  As an ego-maniacal athlete, he was much more tolerable in the WWE.

"The Best of Times" (1986)
Robin Williams cons legendary high school qb Kurt Russell to replay the big game from 20 years ago.  Oh, and it rains.

"The Replacements" (2000)
Scabs are called in during a pro football strike.  It has funny parts that make it watchable-- right up until Keanu Reeves stands in the huddle and says, "I'd like to say something classy, but that just wouldn't be our style.  Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory... lasts forever."  Ugh.

"Necessary Roughness" (1991)
Funny parts, but not even close to watchable.  The worsts come on so many levels: 38-year old Scott Bakula holding the ball for kicker Kathy Ireland, Rob Schneider doing a bad SNL bit as the announcer, Jason Bateman before he got funny again, and Sinbad.  When the funniest joke is "If I wanted a big brother I wouldn't have killed mine" you've got trouble.

There you go, the best and worst football movies of all time.  Go ahead and criticize if you like... we need the comments. 

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  • by Bill Location: Bradenton on Nov 24, 2009 at 05:40 PM
    Glad to see you remember the best high school football program in the nation - Bradenton Manatee. They are in the second round of the playoffs and are loaded with big time division one talent this year and next year. Manatee's Eric Williams now at Purdue; former Manatee line coach Danny Hope is now head coach at Purdue.
  • by Greg Location: Holt, MI on Nov 21, 2008 at 06:34 AM
    There's gotta be a place in the Top 10 for "The Program". When I was playing ball in the late nineties, that movie's one liners were constantly quoted throughout practice. "Baby's lost his bonnet" "Put the woman and children to bed and go lookin' for dinner" "Starting at the table" Classic.
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