Everyone has something to cheer for with these classic football films
Football is a sport made for the movies: it’s full of movement and color, explosive speed and crushing collisions. With its streaking running backs, long-bomb passes and hard-nosed tackles, football translates directly to cinema. Like all sports, it brings the ready drama inherent in any competition, but it also offers the more intimate struggles, which can take place within large teams, striving at an objective over a long distance against an opposing team and against the clock. The sport is often described in military terms, and maybe there are parallels to be drawn between movies about fighting infantrymen and films about those Sunday soldiers who go to war every autumn. Like war movies, football films offer stories full of grit and courage, but they’re also movies about dreamers questing for rings, trophies, championships and their personal bests.
There are a ton of football-themed movies out there and they run the gamut from comedies to documentaries to dramas. Here are my picks for the top three football movies of all time:
The Longest Yard (1974)
Burt Reynolds plays Paul “Wrecking” Crewe in this classic comedy. Crewe is a former NFL quarterback with some nagging character flaws that find him getting sentenced to prison for stealing his girlfriend’s car. This is one of Reynolds’ most iconic roles, and it helped to establish the wisecracking, tough guy persona that defined the actor’s career in the 1970s and 1980s. Reynolds actually played football for Florida State University, and he’s totally convincing while leading his ragtag squad of inmates against their prison guards in the film’s climactic football game.
Rudy is sticky-sentimental and Sean Astin’s overly-earnest take in the title role sometimes borders on a parody of sports movie protagonists. For these reasons I honestly want to hate Rudy, but I know for a fact that if I watched the movie right now I’d be on the verge of tears by the time Rudy rushes onto the field beneath that gleaming gold Notre Dame helmet. I grew up playing football in the Midwest and the familiarity of the setting, and the lore and history of Big 10 football helps to make me a mark for this film. That said, Rudy is directed by David Anspaugh, whose basketball film, Hoosiers, might be the best sports movie ever made. Add to that the fact that Daniel “Rudy” Ruettinger Jr.’s quest to play college football is a true story and I’m going to just give up and love this one already.
Any Given Sunday
Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday may be the greatest football movie we’ll ever see, and it’s also a highlight in the filmography of one of America’s greatest directors. Stone didn’t get any cooperation from the NFL so he created his own alternate universe pro football league, but he didn’t stop there. Any Given Sunday doesn’t just offer a portrait of a player or a drama about a team of underdogs trying to win the big game. Stone gives us injured veterans, anxious rookies, wise old coaches, pretty young wives, shady team doctors, slimy journalists, money-grubbing owners, and even the director himself as a hilarious color commentator who often seems actually drunk in the booth, behind the microphone. He shows us pro football from every angle at once – it’s like The Wire of the pigskin scene. Stone’s style of shooting football on the field revolutionized how actual NFL games were packaged for and covered on television, and his non-stop hip-hop soundtrack and a script that doesn’t shy away from race makes this the only football film to celebrate the game as a sport full of black athletes.