Top 34 football movies of all time
- Published: May 24, 2012 at 05:40 p.m.
- Updated: May 25, 2012 at 01:45 a.m.
Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of the summer movie season (though I hear "The Avengers" is off to a pretty good start). So to help ease you into the weekend, we kick off a summer of football and movies with a look at the top 34 football movies of all-time.
Plot: A gruff, but likeable football player tries to save his fledgling sport by recruiting the hot-shot college football star.
Based on: This was loosely based on George Halas' courtship of Red Grange. (Google Grange, he was awesome.)
Stars: George Clooney, Jim Halpert (I know it's not his real name but would you have known who I was talking about if I said John Krasinski?) and Renee Zellweger.
Biggest beef: Instead of a story loosely based on Halas and Grange, how about a story on them?
This might only interest me: This movie was written by famed Internet punching bag Rick Reilly, so the fact this started out like a good idea but ultimately missed the mark should not be surprising.
Spoiler alert: Football eventually catches on.
33. The Game Plan
Plot: A playboy quarterback is in for a shock when he's left with an 8-year-old daughter he never knew he had.
Stars: The Rock.
What went right: It's a Disney movie and you can crush The Rock for making such a film, but this probably killed in DVD sales.
This might only interest me: The Rock plays Joe Kingman, quarterback of the New England Rebels. In the climatic game of 2007, the Rebels play the New York Dukes for the championship. In the same football season, the Patriots and Giants played in the Super Bowl. Also Kingman is a huge Elvis fan, which The Rock had written in the movie so he could sing "Are you Lonesome tonight?" because somebody once told The Rock he had a great singing voice.
Spoiler alert: The Rock ends up beating John Cena in Wrestlemania. Oh, and in the movie, Kingman discovers there is more to life than just ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
32. The Junction Boys
Plot: A look at the Bear Bryant's grueling practices during his first season at Texas A&M.
Based on: A true story, and a novel though one of the "Junction Boys" -- and future Alabama coach Gene Stallings -- scoffs at the portrayal of Bryant in this movie.
Stars: Tom Berenger.
What went wrong: Not a lot of money was put into this project and it kind of fell flat.
This might only interest me: The movie was filmed in Australia, with Australian actors faking Texas accents.
Spoiler alert: Bryant leaves to coach Alabama!
31. Everybody's All-American
Plot: A top draft pick from LSU finds life in the pros a little more trying as he faces issues with alcoholism, financial troubles and a failed marriage.
Stars: Dennis Quaid (the first of numerous appearances in football movies).
What went wrong: Yes, that lateral was an illegal forward pass.
What might only interest me: Filming was stopped after the Patriots' Tim Fox broke Quaid's collarbone during filming. Although the aftermath of Quaid doing the Theismann was used in the film.
30. The Blind Side
Plot: Rich family adopts a poor kid from a foster home, teaches him football and he goes on to play in the NFL.
Based on: Michael Oher's life story.
Stars: Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw.
Notable cameos: Nick Saban, Lou Holtz and Phillip Fulmer.
What went wrong: Oher doesn't want anything to do with the movie, which should tell you something. A lot of the facts were stretched. Oher knew how to play football when the Tuohy family found him. He wasn't timid. He was actually a pretty good athlete who also played basketball. Which is the opposite of the way he was portrayed in the movie.
What might only interest me: Sean Tuohy (the patriarch of the Tuohy family) is a broadcaster for the Memphis Grizzlies. Tuohy was a standout basketball player at Ole Miss, where Oher attended college.
Spoiler alert: Oher gets drafted by the Ravens.
29. Quarterback Princess
Plot: A young lady wants to play quarterback and run for homecoming queen, but folks in this Oregon town just aren't ready.
Based on: A true story based on the life of Tami Maida.
Stars: Helen Hunt and Daphne Zuniga (as the sister).
What went right: Hunt is a great actress. But the kid who plays the second-string quarterback she eventually beats out steals the show with his ineptness.
What might only interest me: John Stockwell plays quarterback Scott Massey. Stockwell, you might know better as Cougar from "Top Gun."
Spoiler alert: Cougar quits "Top Gun" after he bugs out.
28. Gridiron Gang
Plot: A counselor at a juvenile detention center teaches a group of teens the meaning of self-esteem and teamwork through football.
Based on: Every redemption movie, ever, but this was based on a true story of the Kilpatrick Mustangs, a team of juvenile detainees in Los Angeles.
Stars: The Rock (two for him) and Xzibit.
What went right: The documentary footage at the end, which shows most of the players on this team who went on to do good things.
Spoiler alert: If you can't see the two rival gang members becoming best friends (with one saving the other), then you've never seen a movie before.
27. Paper Lion
Plot: A newspaper columnist poses as a rookie to try out with the Lions.
Based on: George Plimpton's Sports Illustrated article in which he did the same thing.
Stars: Alan Alda.
Notable cameos: Alex Karras and Joe Schmidt of the Lions.
Biggest beef: Alan Alda will always be Hawkeye (from a show called "M*A*S*H," IMDB it).
This might only interest me: Plimpton really did this. I'm now trying to imagine Peter King trying to attempt such a feat. Although Stefan Fatsis attempted to make the Broncos in his 2008 book, "A Few Seconds of Panic."
Spoiler alert: Plimpton doesn't make the Lions, but he's offered a spot as Peyton Manning's backup.
26. Little Giants
Plot: Misfits cut from the local powerhouse peewee football team form their own squad led by the coach's nerdy brother.
Based on: Every sports movie, ever. But in reality, it was based on McDonald's ad on pee wee football that ran during the Super Bowl in 1990.
Stars: Ed O'Neill and Rick Moranis.
Notable Cameos: John Madden, Emmitt Smith, Bruce Smith Tim Brown and Steve Emtman.
What went right: Well, the villainous team is the pee wee Cowboys, so that works.
This might only interest me: The Little Giants in this movie wear red uniforms, which the Giants started wearing as an alternate jersey. I'm not saying the Giants were inspired by the movie; I'm just putting it out there.
Spoiler alert: Do you really have to guess who wins?
Plot: A love triangle between two professional football players and the owner's daughter leads to hilarity.
Stars: Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Bert Convy and Jill Clayburgh.
Notable cameos: Joe Kapp, Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Paul Hornung.
Perfect casting: Kristofferson plays "Shake," and given the resemblance, you can't help but think of Kenny "The Snake" Stabler.
What might interest only me: Reynolds and Kristofferson were actually pretty good football players. Kristofferson, in fact, appeared in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" section while he was in college for his exploits on the field.
Spoiler alert: There is no doubt Reynolds was going to walk away with the girl, right?
Plot: A local bartender gets a tryout with the Eagles, makes the team and scores a touchdown.
Based on: Vince Papale, who really did play for the Eagles.
Stars: Mark Walberg, Gerg Kinnear (Dick Vermeil) and Elizabeth Banks.
What went wrong: Well, it's based on a true story but really stretches it. Papale was not some curtain-jerker. He played semi-pro ball, and in the WFL so he had some serious playing credentials. And he never scored a touchdown in an NFL game.
Scene stealer: The white belt on Kinnear's pants. What a look.
Spoiler alert: Vermeil wins the 1980 NFC Championship Game, eventually retires but returns to lead the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl title in 1999.
Plot: A high school football coach takes a special needs student under his wing.
Based on: A true story of T.L. Hanna High School football coach Harold Jones and "Radio" Kennedy that you might have read in Sports Illustrated in 1996.
Stars: Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr.
What went right: Gooding's acting wasn't as bad as the critics made it out to be.
What might only interest me: Radio still goes to games at T.L. Hanna High School.
Spoiler alert: Somebody in the movie dies. I'll give you a hint, the name starts with M, ends with R and is not Marge Helgenberger. Overall though, the movie should have been so much better given the starpower.
22. Friday Night Lights
Plot: The Permian High Panthers of Odessa, Texas must overcome the loss of their star running back.
Based on: A true story based on H.G. Bissinger's book about high school football life in Texas.
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton.
Notable cameos: Roy Williams.
What went wrong: The football scenes are a little too over the top, especially for high school.
What might only interest me: Williams' cameo is as an opposing coach, but he went to Permian High School.
Spoiler alert: I really liked this the first time I saw this when it was called, "All the Right Moves."
21. The Waterboy
Plot: A downtrodden college football team discovers a defensive superstar in its water boy.
Stars: Adam Sandler, Henry Winkler and Kathy Bates.
Notable cameos: The Big Show and Lawrence Taylor ("don't smoke crack").
What went right: I probably liked this movie more than most. And I still liked to drop the term "foosball" when talking about football, so it does have some quotable lines.
What might only interest me: This is the first of many appearances of Rob Schneider in this list.
Spoiler alert: Of course, Bobby Boucher's team wins. But Dan Fouts actually makes me laugh during his cameo.
20. The Best of Times
Plot: A small-town loser still is obsessed with a dropped pass against his rival in high school football and some years later, he organizes a game for one last chance at redemption.
Not based on: Wes Welker. But it should be noted two high schools did get together 10 years after the fact to settle a tie, in a life imitating art moment.
Stars: Robin Williams and Kurt Russell.
What went right: Russell as quarterback Reno Hightower.
What might only interest me: Herman Edwards is an extra in the movie.
Spoiler alert: Williams has another chance to catch the ball but blows it! Just kidding. You don't get out to movies much, do you?
19. Jerry Maguire
Plot: An agent is fired for showing a soul, and he has one last client to prove a conscious can exist with sports agents.
Based on: Sports agent Leigh Steinberg, who also served as technical director.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Renee Zellwegger (two for her) and Jay Mohr.
What went right: Women loved it.
What went wrong: "Show me the money" became a part of our vernacular.
What might only interest me: I was with my dad at the Cowboys vs. Cardinals game this climactic game was filmed at. And in the hotel bar prior to the game, I made a bet with the bartender that Shaquille O'Neal was going to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1996 offseason. I won free drinks for life at the Tempe Marriott.
Spoiler alert: Uh, did the Cardinals win the fictional game? I guess it doesn't matter because he got his big-money contract, showing what's really important, I guess.
18. Any Given Sunday
Plot: A coach must juggle a meddling owner and ego of his new star QB after his trusted veteran signal caller goes down with an injury.
Based on: This is based on a book by former Raiders trainer Rob Huizenga. The book was better.
Stars: Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz and LL Cool J.
Notable cameos: Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown and Barry Switzer among others.
What went wrong: The uniforms of the teams were laughably bad. The fake Texas Stadium was the worst. The on-field action was way over the top.
But you're forgiven for: One of my biggest beefs with the movie was Willie Beamen eating chips on the sidelines. And then Mark Sanchez ate a hot dog on the sidelines.
What might only interest me: John C. McGinley played Jack Rose, based on Jim Rome and totally trashes him. Also former NFL player Darnell Autry was turned down for a role because he didn't look like a football player.
17. The Express
Plot: The life of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.
Stars: Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid.
The big hang up: This was a good movie, but the factual inaccuracy of the West Virginia vs. Syracuse game hangs over this (the game was actually played in Syracuse). Other players have spoken out against this movie, which moves it way down the list.
What might only interest me: Quaid's third football movie on this list.
Spoiler alert: Davis never played in the NFL after being diagnosed with Leukemia.
16. Johnny Be Good
Plot: Johnny Walker is the highest-rated high school football recruit in America who must choose between playing big-time college football and giving it all up for his girlfriend.
Based on: This was supposed to be a look at high school recruiting, but seems so antiquated now considering how intense it has become.
Stars: Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Downey Jr., Uma Thurman and Paul Gleason (I beseech you, look up his tribute video on YouTube).
What went right: It's easy to say Robert Downey Jr. because he's awesome in everything. But the prayer given by Paul Gleason is the best in the movie.
What might only interest me: This film features Pete Koch, who also played the Swede in "Heartbreak Ridge."
Spoiler alert: It's not as crappy as everybody thinks and worth a look thanks in large part to Downey and Gleason.
15. The Last Boy Scout
Plot: A down-and-out former secret service agent turned detective partners with an ex-quarterback to investigate a murder around a pro football team.
Based on: Every buddy cop picture, ever. Seriously.
Stars: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans and Halle Berry.
What went right/wrong: The opening scene depicts a running back ingesting PCP, and then pulling a gun out of his pants as he goes on a rampage down the field. Highly unbelievable, yet you can't take your eyes off it.
What might only interest me: The running back who kills himself is Tae Bo master Billy Blanks.
Spoiler alert: Don't give Bruce Willis a light.
Plot: A female track coach decides she wants to take over as coach of the school's football team and must jump some obstacles along the way.
Stars: Goldie Hawn, Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and Nipsey Russell.
What went right: This was the beginning of the Harrelson and Snipes connection, which would go on to film "White Men Can't Jump" and "Money Train."
What might only interest me: LL Cool J records a "Football Rap" which appears in the opening credits, but wasn't included in the soundtrack.
Spoiler alert: Harrelson does not dunk in this film.
13. Heaven Can Wait
Plot: A Los Angeles Rams backup QB is taken from his body by an over-anxious angel before he was supposed to die but comes back to life in the body of recently murdered millionaire.
Not based on: The Rams' 1979 season, which mirrored the movie with a Rams vs. Steelers Super Bowl.
Stars: Warren Beatty.
Notable cameos: Most of the Los Angeles Rams of the time, and even some old timers like Deacon Jones appear in the movie.
What might only interest me: Iron Maiden's tune of the same name is said to be loosely inspired by the movie. Good enough for me.
Spoiler alert: Unlike Super Bowl XIII, the fictional Los Angeles Rams win the Super Bowl. Sadly, that remains the only Super Bowl title in L.A. Rams history.
12. All the Right Moves
Plot: A high school football player and his coach both have dreams of leaving their depressed Pennsylvania steel town, which causes a conflict between them.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Lea Thompson and Craig T. Nelson.
What went right: Cruise is actually believable as a football player, though the movie tries to be -- as critics pointed out at the time -- the "Flashdance" of football. And yeah, you'll likely need to Google "Flashdance" (the original).
What might only interest me: Nelson and Cruise end up at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo -- the place where John Madden played.
Spoiler alert: Oh wait, I just spoiled the movie with the last point.
11. Necessary Roughness
Plot: A big-time Texas football program is given the death penalty, and must regroup with non-scholarship players including a quarterback in his 30s.
Based on: Some might say the movie was inspired by SMU.
Stars: Scott Bakula, Jason Bateman, Hector Elizondo, Sinbad and Kathy Ireland.
Notable cameos: Dick Butkus, Jerry Rice and Jim Kelly on the convict team.
What went right: Criticized for trying too hard, this was actually a pretty fun movie. And Larry Miller nearly steals the show.
What might only interest me: Most of the filming takes place at North Texas, home to "Mean" Joe Greene and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Rob Schneider alert: Second appearance on this list.
Spoiler alert: Yes, the quarterback quits, returns and they knock off the team that is supposed to be the University of Texas.
10. The Longest Yard (both)
Plot: A convicted quarterback organizes a team of inmates to play against a team of sadistic guards.
Stars: Burt Reynolds (both) and Adam Sandler (in the remake).
Notable cameos: Ray Nitschke (original), Michael Irvin (remake), Bill Romanowski (remake) and Bill Goldberg (remake).
Which is better: The older one is romanticized more, but Kevin Nash is hilarious in the remake. Both of them are very long, though. Seriously, you could have called this one, "The Longest Movie." That said, Dan Patrick is in the remake, so give the edge to the original.
Rob Schneider alert: Number three!
Spoiler alert: Paul Crewe is not shot in either one.
9. School Ties
Plot: A public school quarterback accepts a scholarship to a New England prep school to play quarterback but things become unraveled when his teammates find out he's keeping a secret.
Based on: The personal experiences of writer and TV producer Dick Wolf.
Stars: Brendan Fraser and Matt Damon.
What went right: The movie is somewhat predictable, but you'll certainly join in whenever it comes on cable. And the move of quarterback David Green (Fraser) throwing his tailback (Damon) in front of a blocker seems like something Cam Newton will try this season.
What might only interest me: If you look close enough, Ben Affleck is in the movie as Chesty Smith.
Spoiler alert: Matt Damon actually did attend Harvard, just like his character said he would.
8. We Are Marshall
Plot: The true story of the Marshall football program after a plane crash takes the lives of virtually the entire team.
Stars: Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox.
What went right: The movie doesn't end with the victory, but tells the story of how there was still a lot of work to be done. I have to respect them for that.
What might only interest me: The name of the winning play that Marshall used against Xavier was "213 Bootleg Screen."
Spoiler alert: Chad Pennington and Randy Moss become stars and Marshall eventually moves on to Division I.
7. The Program
Plot: A Heisman Trophy candidate suffers the highs and lows as he tries to overcome his demons to lead his team to a bowl game.
Stars: James Caan, Halle Berry, Omar Epps, Craig Sheffer and Kristy Swanson.
Notable cameos: Lynn Swann.
What went right: When a movie makes sports people uncomfortable it's always good, in particular the movie's illustration of how easy it was to beat the NCAA's drug-testing policy.
What might only interest me: There is a scene were player bonding includes lying on the yellow line on the highway to show how brave they are. The scene was not only taken out of the movie, you can't find it anywhere.
Failed sequel: Joe Kane's motorcycle becomes the basis of an NCAA investigation.
6. The Replacements
Plot: A player's strike forces owners to field teams filled with replacement players.
Based on: The NFL's labor dispute in 1987.
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman and Brooke Langton.
Notable cameos: John Madden and Pat Summerall.
Could have been better: If the NFL would have allowed the movie makers to use real team marks. It's so distracting sometimes.
What might only interest me: The games were filmed in Baltimore, not Washington.
Nagging question: How does Shane Falco get to the stadium in time after coach McGinty says he's looking for somebody with heart at the half? Wasn't he at home on his boat?
Spoiler alert: Mirroring true-to-life events, the Washington Federals beat Dallas, which has a team filled with players who crossed picket lines -- just like the replacement Redskins did to the Cowboys (with Tony Dorsett and Randy White) in 1987.
5. Varsity Blues
Plot: A backup quarterback becomes the reluctant hero for his small Texas town when the team's starter is lost for the year.
Not to be confused with: "Friday Night Lights."
Stars: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker and Scott Caan.
What went right: Captured the small subtleties of football in Texas, without being too serious. And there's a whipped cream bikini. "Lights" could have learned something from this.
Spoiler alert: Voight quits and injured quarterback Lance Harbor (Walker) takes over as coach in the second half. So I have this question: Where are the assistant coaches? In this Texas town, they only have one coach? And the referees just allow this to happen, too?
4. Remember the Titans
Plot: The true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.
Not based on: The final season of the Cal State Fullerton Titans.
Stars: Denzel Washington and William Patton.
What went right: Two powerhouse performances by Denzel and Patton. The movie can be somewhat predictable, but the acting makes it enjoyable.
What might only interest me: The film was "blue" when originally written, but the dialogue was cleaned up to make it a Disney picture.
Spoiler alert: The Titans actually won the title game rather handedly, but I guess that doesn't make for good drama.
Plot: The true story of Rudy Ruettiger, who overcame the odds the play football at Notre Dame.
Stars: Sean Astin, John Favreau and Ned Beatty.
Notable cameos: Al Snow plays a Notre Dame player.
Was it true? The sack (true), carried off the field (true) and the player's turning in their jerseys before the Georgia Tech game (not true).
What went right: Even the most ardent anti-Notre Dame person (like me) can still tear up at the end of this movie.
What might only interest me: Joe Montana was a teammate of Rudy.
Spoiler alert: Vince Vaughn's character is fictitious. Although I love the scene where the coach says, "You just summed up your entire sorry career here in one sentence! If you had a tenth of the heart of Ruettiger, you'd have made All-American by now! As it is, you just went from third team to the prep team! Get out of here!"
2. Brian's Song
Plot: The true story of Chicago Bears teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers' friendship that develops after Piccolo discovers he's dying of a terminal illness.
Stars: Billy Dee Williams and James Caan.
Notable cameos: Dick Butkus and many members of the Chicago Bears.
But you're only talking around the original right? Right. It's a complete embarrassment they even tried to remake this movie as they could never recapture the magic of Billy Dee and Jimmy Caan.
What might only interest me: Billy Casey stars in this. Casey, you might remember from "Revenge of the Nerds," played professional football for the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.
Spoiler alert: You're not getting through this without crying.
1. North Dallas Forty
Plot: A crazy look at pro football in the 1970s.
Based on: The novel written by former Cowboys player Pete Gent.
Stars: Nick Nolte, Mac Davis and Charles Durning.
Notable Cameos: John Matuszak.
What makes it the best? Where "Any Given Sunday" tried to pull the curtain back on the NFL, "North Dallas Forty" did so without being so over the top. I remember my jaw dropped when I finally was able to see this on VHS (Google what that means).
What might only interest me: Davis' character of Seth Maxwell is based on Don Meredith. The late Cowboys quarterback once said of the film, "If I'd known Gent was as good as he says he was, I would have thrown to him more."
Spoiler alert: The North Dallas Bulls go on to become America's team.