Major League Baseball may bill itself as “America’s pastime,” but sports fans know that it was surpassed in popularity by NFL football decades ago. Football can be a brutal competition, but it has captured the hearts of sports enthusiasts across the nation. That’s why football movies have been a part of cinema for a very long time.
When picking the best football movies ever, we decided to focus on the films where football is a central part of the narrative. Movies like Jerry Maguire, which features football as a background element, didn’t make the cut. And if you already love sports movies, then you won’t be too shocked by the choices we made. These are the five best football movies ever.
A small town’s passion for football is downright overwhelming in Friday Night Lights. Odessa, Texas, has no pro football teams of its own, so the town treats its high school football games with extreme reverence. Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) and his Permian High School Panthers face enormous pressure to not only win in the regular season, but to take home a state championship.
The Panthers’ championship dreams take a major blow early in the season when the star running back, James “Boobie” Miles (Derek Luke), goes down with an injury. Quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) and backup running back Chris Comer (Lee Thompson Young) step up to salvage the season. But some of the kids on this team face a real reckoning about football’s oversized importance in their lives, and what they really want to do outside of the games.
There is a 2005 remake of The Longest Yard starring Adam Sandler, but the original film from 1974 is still the better of the two films. Burt Reynolds leads the cast as Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a former NFL quarterback who has fallen from grace. After getting drummed out of the league for point shaving, Crewe gets himself in more trouble and ends up with an 18-month stint in prison. This gives Warden Rudolph Hazen (Eddie Albert) the idea of forcing Crewe to lead a team of inmate players against a squad of guards led by Wilhelm Knauer (Ed Lauter), captain of the prison guards.
Despite some initial setbacks, Crewe manages to put together a team that includes Samson (James Bond‘s Jaws, Richard Kiel), Nate Scarboro (Michael Conrad), and “Granny” Granville (Harry Caesar). What Crewe doesn’t initially realize is that Hazen and Knauer have no intention of playing fair with the inmates. And they expect Crewe to throw the game so they can easily win.
Watch The Longest Yard on Paramount+.
Denzel Washington stars in Remember the Titans, a film that is based on the true story of how T. C. Williams High School’s football team was racially integrated in 1971. The school’s previous football coach, Bill Yoast (Will Patton), was forced out in favor of a Black coach, Herman Boone (Washington). Although Boone initially resists the assignment, he agrees to take it on and he even invites Yoast to remain with the team as his defensive coordinator.
The players are not quick to get along, especially the captains, Julius Campbell (Wood Harris) and Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst). But under the leadership of both Boone and Yoast, the team comes together for an epic run that earns them a place in the history of their school and immortality on the big screen.
Watch Remember the Titans on Disney+.
The story of Rudy may take some extreme liberties with the real life tale of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger., but it’s such a great film that few will care if it bends the truth toward an inspiring narrative. In the early 1970s, Rudy (Sean Astin) is shaken by the death of his best friend and the realization that he may never escape his father’s life as a steel mill worker. That’s why Rudy risks everything to follow his dream of playing football at Notre Dame.
This is all easier said than done, especially since Rudy has neither the grade,s nor the money to attend college. But with the help of his friend, Dennis “D-Bob” McGowan (Jon Favreau) and a sympathetic boss, Fortune (Charles S. Dutton), Rudy finds a way in and eventually joins Notre Dame’s practice squad. From there, Rudy faces an uphill battle to even get on the field before his time in college runs out.
Watch Rudy on Hulu.
Any Given Sunday is probably not the NFL’s favorite movie, because it shows a darker side of both the game and the business. But it is the best football movie, and one of director Oliver Stone’s greatest films. Al Pacino headlines the movie as Tony D’Amato, who has been the head coach of the Miami Sharks for 30 years. However, Tony’s reign appears to be ending, because the owner of the team, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), is actively trying to force him out.
Sharks quarterback Jack Rooney (Dennis Quaid) faces similar pressures as his playing career winds down. When Rooney is injured on the field, third-string quarterback Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) is called upon to lead the team into the playoffs. Unfortunately, Beaman’s early success goes to his head and his ego fractures the team’s unity at the exact moment that they need to pull together.
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