Sports movies are some of the best movies you can watch. From inspirational tales of triumph to heart wrenching stories of defeat, sports movies have cemented their place as some of America’s favorites. There aren’t many sports off-limits in Hollywood, whether it’s baseball, football, basketball, or even bobsledding. That said, today, we’re looking at some of the best football movies of all time.
Regardless of how you consume your favorite movies, we can all agree that a feel-good sports movie often leaves us feeling, well, good. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Munich, Germany say that ‘feel-good’ movies possess certain elements that other more dramatic or suspenseful movies often do not. Study authors claim that aside from a happy ending and elements of humor, ‘feel-good’ movies can be identified by certain recurring plot themes and characters. And although typical flicks possess big moments of drama, researchers found that these tense moments still possess an overall lightness. Essentially, the audience knows that no one is going to die or suffer a horrible outcome during tense dramatic moments in these types of films.
Sports movies and, in particular, football movies are top options for anyone looking for ‘feel-good’ movies to watch. The healthy suspense and drama that are inherent to the sport are intensified by Hollywood’s interpretations. It’s no surprise that sports movies are popular with the amount of TV we consume every day. A recent survey of more than 2,000 British adults found that the average person will consume nearly 80,000 hours of television in their lifetime. The survey found that on average, people watch around three and a half hours of TV each day, or 1,248 hours each year. When you add the time spent watching TV over the course of a lifetime, the average person spends nearly 80,000 hours watching television.
That being said, we all need a good movie sometimes. StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and pop culture review sites in an effort to find the best football movies to watch. Our list is comprised of the five most frequently recommended films from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your favorite flicks with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best Football Movies, According to Critics
The top spot on the list of the best football movies goes to none other than “Rudy”. The film is the ultimate underdog story and is very deserving of its top billing. In fact, “Rudy” appeared in the top spot across half of the sites we referenced and was top four on 90 percent of the lists we consulted.
“Every girl cries while watching The Notebook, and every guy gets the chills while watching Rudy. It’s the classic story of an underdog (played a post-Goonies, pre-Lord of the Rings Sean Astin) and his lifelong dream of playing for the University of Notre Dame. Throw in Jon Favreau’s movie debut, a shocking on-screen death and an inspiring ending and you’ve got yourself one incredible football film,” writes Rolling Stone.
“Rudy” gives guys chills because it’s based on a true story. Rudy Ruettiger is a real person who fought tooth and nail to be able to live out his dream as a member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. Sean Astin brings this character to life on the big screen with an outstanding performance.
“A great sports movie needs to inspire and it needs to show the value of hard work and commitment. Rudy does just that, and it uses one of the great sports programs to do so. There are few films where, by the end, you feel as accomplished for so little playing time, but that’s the beauty of this sports movie and how passion can lead to great things,” explains Studio Binder.
“The film is famous for its mixed bag response: viewers either love it for its heartfelt message or think its football story is muddled by all the sometimes sappy sentimentalism. Regardless, since its release in 1993, Rudy has been featured on numerous football film lists and was ranked the 54th-most inspiring film of all time in the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Years’ series,” adds MovieWeb.
The second spot on the list of the best football movies goes to Friday Night Lights, the movie, not the show. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, the film gives us an intimate look at just how big high school football is in Texas.
“More than any other art ever realized, ‘Friday Night Lights’ understands how football makes you feel. If you’ve played the game, this movie gets you. If you’ve ever watched football with awe, passivity, or horror, this movie gets you. And if football has ever shaped the gravity of your universe, then this film is maybe less eager to get you, but it does,” writes Slash Film.
“Friday Night Lights” is based on a book that is based on real life. Realistically, the “heroes” don’t always come out on top. “Before there was a beloved NBC series—but after there was an acclaimed Buzz Bissinger book, which inspired the whole thing — director Peter Berg zeroed in on how high school football is like a religion for small-town America. While it cuts out much of the racial tension Bissinger explores in his book, the film, nevertheless, comes alive in the big-game sequences during the electric ending,” explains Men’s Health.
Director Peter Berg is responsible for other Hollywood blockbusters such as “Battleship” and “Patriots Day”. Although “Friday Night Lights” isn’t the action movie that these other movies are, it features amazing acting and spot-on football sequences that truly convey the story of this small West Texas town’s high school football team.
“Friday Night Lights is a pretty authentic look at west Texas football and how the sport affects more than the players but also their families and the members of the community. That can be a lot for some young kids who have the weight of their town on their shoulders all while still trying to figure out who they are as people. You don’t need to feel bad for them or pity them, but the movie focuses on the right topics,” adds Studio Binder.
Starring Denzel Washington, “Remember the Titans” tells the story of a newly desegregated high school football team and the obstacles they must overcome en route to a stellar season. “There is not a movie on this list with more inspiring speeches and quotes. Remember The Titans tells the true story of a segregated town that comes together to face racial tension and unite behind their high school football team. Denzel Washington plays the titular character, Coach Boone, and delivers one of the most iconic quotes in sports movie history,” explains Joker Mag.
From fast-paced exciting football action to elements of drama, love, and brotherhood, “Remember the Titans” delivers all the elements of an all-time great football movie. “In 2000, Remember the Titans enchanted audiences with the retelling of coach Herman Boone’s hiring at a Virginia high school, where he becomes the first black head coach of the school’s racially integrated football team. An inspirational account of teamwork and acceptance, Remember the Titans taught us the importance of looking past our differences, uniting for a common cause, and doing what is right, even when it’s the hardest thing to do,” writes Twin Spires.
Although “Remember the Titans” offers some outdated coaching portrayals, it stays true to the era in which the movie takes place. Regardless of the unbelievable circumstances, the film realistically conveys the social tensions of the time.
“Remember the Titans is a movie about the power of sports as a unifying force. It teaches us that when we have to endure as a team you quickly forget differences like a person’s ethnicity because your core humanity is exposed and there is nothing left to hide behind. The movie has some really wacky gameplay portrayals, as well as a scene where hydration is seen as a form of weakness, but no movie ages perfectly,” adds Studio Binder.
This film takes moviegoers away from the high school and college ranks and catapults viewers into the realm of professional football. This star-studded movie features some of the biggest names in Hollywood with Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Al Pacino, and LL Cool J.
“Any Given Sunday is partly based on NFL defensive end Pat Toomay’s 1984 novel On Any Given Sunday. The Oliver Stone film follows Pacino as the Miami Sharks’ head coach, who has devoted his life to the team and sport via untraditional methods. The is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the life of a football coach and the players he helps mold, and is a good fit for Stone’s typically bombastic and epic direction,” explains MovieWeb.
Critics love this movie because it has a dark side and a somewhat realistic portrayal of professional football in our country. Of course, any movie directed by Oliver Stone is going to have a dark element to it, but this one takes that a step further. “Any Given Sunday is a football movie that gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the life-and-death struggles of modern-day gladiators and those who lead them onto the battlefield. You might notice that the critic and audience score for this film isn’t as high as some of the other movies on this list, but there is a lot they don’t take into account. This is, for better or worse, one of the more accurate depictions of the modern age of pro football,” writes Studio Binder.
But, don’t get it twisted, this movie does not glorify the sport of professional football as the title might suggest. If you’re looking for the quintessential inspirational football movie to show your kids, then you might want to choose something a little lighter.
“Oliver Stone? Check. Al Pacino? Check. One of the most raw and realistic looks at life in pro football? You get the picture. Despite its bloated runtime (162 minutes!), Any Given Sunday follows the exploits of the fictional Miami Sharks. Based on NFL veteran Pat Toomay’s novel On Any Given Sunday, the film doesn’t celebrate the sport as much as highlight its darkness,” writes Rolling Stone.
We’ll be the first to tell you that “Brian’s Song” is perhaps the saddest sports movie of all time as it tells the true story of the friendship between Chicago Bears teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. “It’s the most melancholy flick on the list, and a former TV movie-of-the-week no less, but Brian’s Song is one of the most well-made football films in existence. Starring the great James Caan, it chronicles the career of Brian Piccolo, who died while playing for the Chicago Bears. Touching and beautifully acted, it’s a movie worth discovering again,” explains Rolling Stone.
Brian's Song (TV Movie 1971) Starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams pic.twitter.com/wTlFX3sfwz
— Skip_Bolden 💙 🎬 🎞️ (@BoldenSkip) August 3, 2022
“Brian’s Song” features James Caan as Brian Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers, and yes, it was a made-for-TV movie from the start, having never appeared in theaters. Still, this movie is about more than football, it’s about brotherhood and the strong bonds that the great game of football helps forge.
“Football is the safe, steroidal-presenting vessel through which some men access their feelings, for better and often much worse. It’s little wonder, then, that ‘Brian’s Song’ is something of a ‘guy-cry’ classic, as widely reductive as that term is. But it’s worth noting that the story of the Chicago Bears’ Gayle Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan), two football players who transcend their differences when Piccolo is diagnosed with cancer, is directed with more restraint than any game of football ever could be,” writes Slash Film.
Again, this movie focuses less on football and more on the true story surrounding the bond that these two all-time great Bears players formed during this tumultuous time. Just like every guy gets sentimental while watching Rudy, they all shed a tear when watching Brian’s Song.
“[Brian’s Song] is told through his friendship with Bears teammate Gale Sayers and displays their differing temperaments and racial backgrounds as the pair became the first interracial roommates in NFL history. Starring James Caan as Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Sayers, Brian’s Song is an uplifting and enriching story that truly stays with audiences, and is considered one of the greatest, most emotional television films ever made,” adds MovieWeb.
You might also be interested in:
- Rolling Stone
- Studio Binder
- Slash Film
- Rotten Tomatoes
- Men’s Health
- Twin Spires
- Joker Mag
- Player’s Bio
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