As the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts get ready to hit the field in Miami for Super Bowl XLIV, the sporting world has turned its collective focus to the Sunshine State to watch the crowning of a new NFL champion.
So as the stars descend upon South Beach and the players are going through their last minute superstitions, AccessHollywood.com counts down the Top 10 Football Movies of All-Time.
Break out the chips and dip! Get the cooler ready. And bring on the big game!
Ready… Set… Hike!
10) “The Waterboy” – Let’s get this one out of the way early. A “classic” by definition? Absolutely not. A hilarious movie that is a fantastic display of the heart of the game of football – or that darn “foosball” as Mama would say – absolutely! Adam Sandler is oddly genius. Kathy Bates is overbearing and quite funny. And Henry Winkler is just about as far from The Fonz as you’ll ever see him. Of course, who can forget one of the greatest sports cameos of all-time as former New York Giants star Lawrence Taylor offers his own “after-school special” message: “Which brings me to my second point, kids – don’t do crack.” After all, LT would know. Clean water for everyone!
9) “Friday Night Lights” – Based on the best-selling book of the same name, which eventually also spawned a TV series also of the same name, “FNL” is an eye-opening tale of high school football at its core – and what it means to those closest to the game. There’s not much going on in the town of Odessa, Texas in the late 1980s – except for the Permian Panthers. Led by coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), “Friday Night Lights” is a classic portrait of big football in a small town and the boys on the team who are revered as Gods. Who says high school football is just a game?!
8) “North Dallas Forty” – Another Texas-based football film (FYI, there’s more coming on this list), “North Dallas Forty” showcases everything but the glamorous side of the game. Nick Nolte stars as Phillip Elliott, a wide receiver for the North Dallas Bulls who is hobbling towards the unavoidable end of his career. Forget blitzes, audibles and first downs – “Forty” instead shines the spotlight on the sex, drugs and violence surrounding the game. Made in 1979, the film is understandably a bit dated, but it’s a fascinating look at the win-at-all-costs mentality and the big business that drives the world of sports.
7) “Remember The Titans” – Don’t be turned off by the fact this is a Disney film. Based on a true story, Denzel Washington stars as coach Herman Boone – the new coach of a newly desegregated high school in Virginia in 1971. Tension and racism run rampant through the film, but through it all, Coach Boone’s inspirational pursuit of the perfect season is a gripping and fascinating display of perseverance and the will of the human soul. The football scenes may not be as slick as some of its modern-day counterparts, but when it’s all said and done, it’s truly a film to “Remember.”
6) “Varsity Blues” – Ali Larter in a whipped cream bikini. Is there anything else that really needs to be said? OK, a bit more. The aforementioned next Texas high school football film on the list, “Blues” is a less-stressful and more playful look at the game. A la “Friday Night Lights,” the plot is set in motion when the school’s stud player (Paul Walker) goes down and the unproven backup (the “Dawson” himself – James Van Der Beek) has to step in and lead his team to glory. For everything “Friday Night Lights” is for the hardcore football fan, “Varsity Blues” is the partygoing teen’s mischievous little brother.
5) “Any Given Sunday” – It’s football – Oliver Stone-style. An all-star cast, led by Al Pacino as coach Tony D’Amato, “Any Given Sunday” is an extreme (albeit a bit over the top at times, but what do you expect from Stone?) look at the cutthroat nature of the game – in the locker room, on the field and in the owner’s box. “AGS” loses points for accuracy (See: no one ever kicks an extra point, yet they still get seven points for each touchdown), but Pacino’s fired up halftime speech alone plants this film firmly in any Top 10. “Either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals – that’s football guys. Now, what are ya gonna do?!?”
4) “The Program” – Forget the real-life idiots who went out and laid in the street with oncoming traffic whizzing by, trying to mimic the scene that was eventually yanked by the studio. That’s not why this movie is a classic in football film lore. A roided up Steve Lattimer smashing his head through a car window yelling, “Starting defense! Place at the table!” – that’s more like it. An eye-opening look at collegiate football, “The Program” is every college athletic director’s worst nightmare – drugs, booze, drugs, payoffs and faking grades – not your typical path to an education, except for the guys at Eastern State University. The game itself almost becomes a secondary storyline to the looks deep inside the troubled lives of the players. And come on, James Caan as coach! Who wouldn’t follow that guy into battle?! Follow him to the tollbooth, that’s another story. Sorry Sonny.
3) “Wildcats” – “It’s the sport of kings. Better than diamond rings. That’s why we’re here to sing — football.” The argument for the 1986 comedy, starring Goldie Hawn as the new coach of a down on its luck high school program, could pretty much end with that song. And yet, it’s still such a strong argument. Bad acting, bad football – but tons of laughs and even a little bit of heart. If you’ve seen “Wildcats,” you know why it made the list. If you haven’t, congrats — you’ve found the next item for your Netflix queue.
2) “Brian’s Song” – Commonly referred to as the movie that made it OK for tough guys to cry, “Brian’s Song” is the emotional tale of Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan) – two players from the Chicago Bears who started out as adversaries competing for playing time and quickly turned into the most unlikely of best friends. When Brian learns he’s dying of cancer, it’s Gale who is a fixture by his side, leading up to Brian’s heart-wrenching, no-matter-who-you-are-you’re-reaching-for-Kleenex death. Interesting note: the real-life Gale Sayers – who is considered one of the greatest running backs in Bears history – was reportedly set to play himself in the 1971 film until training camp intervened.
1) “Rudy” – Four little letters. One amazing movie. Long before he was a hobbit, Sean Astin played what non-“Lord Of The Rings” fans will remember as the defining role of his career, as storybook underachiever Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger in the 1993 drama. An inspirational sports movie, by which all other in the genre should be judged, “Rudy” is the football film for the every-man. Too small, too slow and not smart enough to play on the Notre Dame college football team, “Rudy” is an overcoming-the-odds tale of one man, who if only for a few plays in one game, beat the odds to make his dream come true. It’s a tale that’s too good to believe – if only, it weren’t true. And for the non-football sales pitch, the film also paired Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau together for the first time – three years before “Swingers.” How’s that for “money”?!?
Honorable Mentions: “Best Of Times,” “All The Right Moves,” “Knute Rockne All American” and “The Longest Yard” (the original)
Secondary Honorable Mentions: “Jerry Maguire” and “The Blind Side” – because both are great, although neither one should be classified as a “football” movie.