The premiere of 4th and Long with Michael Irvin is only days away, so it’s a good time to look back at the best football movies out there. Football movies inspire us, they get our blood flowing, and they give us more of the football fix we can only get for part of the year. There’s no better time to get yourself in the football spirit than right now, so take a gander at some of the best football flicks around.
10. The Waterboy
Source: Touchstone Pictures
This is everything an Adam Sandler movie should be: weird, wacky and full of stupid gags. But it’s also got everything we look for in a football movie: the underdog team, the player with difficulties, and the triumph in the end.
It’s true, The Waterboy is not your average football film. We don’t really like anyone on Bobby Boucher’s (Sandler) team until just about the end, and it’s pretty hard to buy that they’d let this mentally challenged young man strap up – in a kicker’s helmet, no less. But the coach is just as mentally challenged as anyone else in the movie, and it’s hard not to root for Boucher as he plays linebacker and annihilates every jock who ever tormented him in his earlier, water-bearing days.
9. Remember the Titans
Source: Walt Disney Pictures
Few people can play the inspirational hero as well as Denzel Washington, and he embodies this archetype excellently in Remember the Titans. Based on a true story (seldom are football movies not), Titans is about the 1971 desegregation that occurred in Alexandria, Virginia when two high schools – one comprised of white students, the other black – were forced to close and reform a new racially mixed school, called T.C. Williams High. The white football coach is replaced by a black coach from North Carolina, Herman Boone (Washington). We have a plot with tension.
Of course, the white and black players initially don’t get along, and we have multiple scenes of Boone browbeating them into racial harmony. He yells, he drills, he unites, and we love every second of it. Impressively, the team went on to have a perfect season, and the town’s racial tensions presumably eased.
But, at the end of the day, we love Titans because it’s a good old-fashioned football movie. It happens to have an enlightening theme thrown in, but that’s really just icing on the cake.
8. The Replacements
Source: Warner Brothers
The Replacements is a nice one of those "What if?" movies where you get to indulge your football fantasies of playing in the NFL for a couple of hours. The basic premise of the film is that an entire team, the fictional Washington Sentinels, has gone on strike and, in a little bit of cinematic suspend-your-disbeliefism, the owner replaces them. All of them – including the coach.
The always reliable Gene Hackman turns in a solid performance as Jimmy McGinty, a retired NFL coach, who gathers up a team of misfits and trouble causers who get to play the last four games of the Sentinels’ season. Keanu Reeves plays Shane Falco, the literally washed-up former quarterback of Ohio State. Reeves’ standard wooden acting and stolid demeanor actually suit the role of Falco, a man heavy with the disappointments of his past football potential.
The Replacements is great because it gives us a pretty crazy premise for a football film, but it takes it seriously and tells the story in good faith. But it doesn’t take anything too seriously, as evidenced by the casting of Rhys Ifans as Nigel “The Leg” Gruff, a Welshman with outstanding loans to the mob. Also take note of a great little performance by Jon Favreau as a SWAT team leader, finally given his chance to play a pro ball. Who knew the guy who played this hyper violent, thick-skulled neanderthal would go on to direct Iron Man? Yes, The Replacements has a little bit of everything for everyone.
7. Varsity Blues
Source: Paramount Pictures
Varsity Blues is the football movie that takes football-obsessed maniacs to task while still giving us a great movie that’s all about football. James Van Der Beek of Dawson’s Creek-fame plays Jonathan “Mox” Moxon, the West Canaan High School football team’s second string quarterback. He’s forced to take the starter position when quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) gets injured, thanks to the conniving of coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), who has been forcing him to take cortisone shots and play on an injured knee, now irreparably damaged.
Varsity Blues warns against valuing football, or any sport for that matter, above the players who play it, and shows how everyone loses when a leader seeks to win at all costs. But more than this it reminds us that we play and watch football not for the championships and the glory, but because it’s fun, and it lifts our spirits.
6. Jerry Maguire
Jerry Maguire is as much about love, marriage, fatherhood, and failure as it is about football. But football is at the crux of whether Maguire lives or dies, succeeds or fails, and wins or loses.
Tom Cruise plays Jerry Maguire, a sports agent who is ignominiously ousted from his agency, who goes off to start his own business and represent clients on his own. Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), a co-worker at his agency, is the only one who comes with him, and Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a free agent NFL receiver, is the only client who sticks with Maguire.
Jerry Maguire has some of the best performances given by Cruise, Zellweger and Gooding, Jr. from the ‘90s – hell, it has some of their best performances ever. And Gooding, Jr. does a great job of putting a loveable face on football, full of himself though he may be. After this movie came out we spent the next five years hearing people say, “Show me the money!” with just about any provocation.
This movie was one of the few that managed to get Cruise nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. actually won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It turns out just about everyone is interested in football if you throw in a cute little kid with spiky blonde hair and big glasses, and a boy-meets-girl story that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.