The Super Bowl closes out an exciting season of NFL football this Sunday with a strong match-up between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. So for fans to bide their time in the many months before another kick-off, it’s time to turn your attentions to the greatest football films of all time. There are all kinds of football-based films out there to enjoy — from dramas to comedies, and even an award-winning documentary — and we’ve collected the top 12 here in our photo gallery, ranked from worst to best.
In paring down the list, we had to answer the question: “Just what is a football movie?” We didn’t include “The Blind Side,” for example, because though its central character plays football, the film is primarily about many other things. And while Act 3 of Robert Altman‘s “M*A*S*H” is made up of what is arguably the funniest football game ever put to film, its main concerns are elsewhere.
We did include two films with limited on-the-field action — Ivan Reitman‘s “Draft Day” (starring Kevin Costner), which is a fascinating look at the machinations behind the scenes of the NFL Draft, and Cameron Crowe‘s “Jerry Maguire” (Tom Cruise) which takes a similarly incisive look at the world of sports agentry. Others in our gallery include “Friday Night Lights” (Billy Bob Thornton), “The Longest Yard” (Burt Reynolds), “Remember the Titans” (Denzel Washington), and “Rudy” (Sean Astin).
After the game (or even the post-game), if you still have a yen for gridiron action, give these dozen football movies a try. Grab some buffalo wings, barbeque, and a favorite beverage while touring our photo gallery.
12. UNDEFEATED (2011)
We wanted to include this non-fiction film, which won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, because it sets the table for the next 11 flights of fantasy about football that went on to great acclaim. It’s football at the high-school level, where the love of the game is instilled, and here it focuses on on the Manassas High School Tigers of North Memphis, TN.
11. DRAFT DAY (2014)
Compared with the optimistic naivete of “Undefeated,” “Draft Day” shows the other side of football, at least if you’re on the verge of making it to the pro level. In Ivan Reitman‘s film, sports movie icon Kevin Costner plays Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver, Jr. who is juggling a host of problems on NFL draft day.
10. VARSITY BLUES (1999)
“Varsity Blues” is set in a football-obsessed Texas town where the tyrannical (but successful) high-school football coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) reigns supreme. When Kilmer forces his first-string quarterback (Paul Walker) to play while injured and his knee collapses, thus ending his football career, Mox Moxon (James Van Der Beek) reluctantly takes over the QB slot.
9. NORTH DALLAS FORTY (1979)
Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Peter Gent, “North Dallas Forty” looks at the decadent lifestyle surrounding pro football in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Playing for the North Dallas Bulls, a barely-disguised version of the Cowboys for whom Gent played in the ’60s, wide receiver Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte) is getting older and relying more and more on painkillers, and his best friend, star quarterback Seth Maxwell (Mac Davis) lives for the post-game parties.
8. WE ARE MARSHALL (2006)
“We Are Marshall” is a real-life story, focusing on the Marshall Thundering Herd college football team, which in 1970 had its players and coaching staff among others wiped out in a West Virginia plane crash that killed 75 people. The program is rebuilt under the guidance of new coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey).
7. THE LONGEST YARD (1974)
This ranking is given to the 1974 original only and definitely does not apply to the 2005 Adam Sandler remake. Burt Reynolds stars as Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a former pro quarterback, who is sent to prison for stealing his girlfriend’s car. The prison’s football-crazy warden (Eddie Albert) wants Crewe to coach a team composed of prison guards, but Crewe would rather organize a team of prisoners to take on the guards’ team in an exhibition game.
6. KNUTE ROCKNE, ALL AMERICAN (1940)
This classic biography is about the famed football coach Knute Rockne (Pat O’Brien) who led the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame and is credited with developing the forward pass. The film is mostly remembered today for the presence of Ronald Reagan, playing halfback George Gipp, who develops a fatal disease and, from his sickbed, urges his teammates to go out and “win one for the Gipper,” a line that is part of cinema history.
5. REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000)
“Remember the Titans” is set in 1971 and tells the true story of African-American coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and his attempt to integrate the football team of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA. Together with his white assistant coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton), the men bring together the black and white members of the high school team. But Boone and his team must still face the prejudice of many of the townspeople as well as questionable calls by racist refs.
4. ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (1999)
“On any given Sunday you’re gonna win or you’re gonna lose. The point is – can you win or lose like a man?” is the motto of Miami Sharks coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino), a 30-year veteran of the game. Only things aren’t going well for Tony — the Sharks’ hopes for a playoff berth are fading when his top two quarterbacks are injured, the team’s owner (Cameron Diaz) wants him out and already has a replacement (Aaron Eckhart) in the wings.
3. JERRY MAGUIRE (1996)
As the most awarded film on this list (a Golden Globe for Tom Cruise, plus Oscar and SAG Awards to Cuba Gooding, Jr.), you might expect “Jerry Maguire” to rank higher, and it would if it was all about football. (There was that pesky “You had me at hello” romantic subplot that took up a lot of time.) But it earns a place because it remains one of the most insightful films that has ever dealt with how the business of football works, particularly in the area of sports representation of players.
2. RUDY (1993)
This biographical drama is about Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger (Sean Astin), a high-schooler who dreams of playing football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. However, Rudy has neither the grades nor the physical stature to play the game at the Notre Dame level. After three rejections to enter as a student, he is finally admitted, bring him ever closer to his vision of stepping onto the playing field.
1. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2004)
Peter Berg‘s film is peerless in its depiction of what football can mean to bring together a community. Based on H.G. Bissinger‘s best-seller, the film follows the 1988 season of the Permian High School Panthers from Odessa, TX and their attempt to go all the way to take the state championship. Led by Coach Gary Gaines (BIlly Bob Thornton), the team was the subject of most conversations in Odessa, whether it’s cheering the players or criticizing the coach.