For years, filmmakers have been trying to capture the essence of football on film, which is understandable given the sport’s worldwide popularity and the billions of viewers it attracts.
However, the results have been a little erratic.
Films about the beautiful game have a history of being too sentimental, formulaic, or failing to capture the essence of what football means to so many people.
Let’s concentrate on the greatest for the sake of this post. Here are 10 of the best movies ever created about the sport, a mix of documentaries and dramas that are guaranteed to have you hooked from beginning to end.
It was a match made in heaven in the film industry. Former Argentina footballer and now Serbian director Emir Kusturica follows the Pibe de Oro through the streets of the Argentina capital in this riveting documentary.
It’s possible that Kusturica gets a little too close to his subject because of their mutual understanding; the filmmaker brushes over some of Diego’s less savory characteristics in favor of portraying the myth.
However, he is rescued by a series of brilliantly staged moments. With half-naked Argentine dancers surrounding him, an interview with Maradona at one of the city’s most known “cabaret” clubs stands out. While shooting a marriage ceremony between two people who belong to a church named after Maradona, in front of an Argentino Juniors football ground, the bride picks a football and drops it into the guests while the wedding party cheers.
2. Football Factory
Football movies aren’t just about the action on the field. In recent years, a few of the most popular games have focused on the darker aspects of our game: the hooligans.
Even though the Green Street starring Frodo Baggins was the most well-known film in the world, Hollywood’s depiction of football brutality did not match up with reality. Based on novelist John King’s “The Football Factory,” this dark take on the “Chelsea Firm” features cocaine usage and casual bigotry, as well as minor thefts.
Danny Dyer’s spiral into excessive paranoia is chronicled in the film when he has an unfortunate interaction with the family of Millwall thug Tamer Hassan. For any film, “Going Underground” by The Jam is the perfect soundtrack to a brutal pitched battle before a Chelsea-Millwall cup match.
3. Escape to Victory
Sylvester Stallone, Pele, and Michael Caine star in a film set in a Nazi POW camp, so what can you say? If you’re ready to suspend your disbelief a little, Escape to Victory is a worthwhile film to see.
Actor Michael Caine stars as a British POW and former professional footballer who is forced to organize and lead an exhibition game against the German guards, which quickly becomes a publicity gimmick for the German authorities.
With Pele and the majority of the Ipswich Town first-team squad from the early 1980s, the ragtag team comes back from a 4-1 deficit to secure an agonizing draw despite all odds. In addition, the heroes escape their captors’ hands after a pitch invasion at the final whistle, thanks to Stallone’s insane save that keeps the game level. Unmissable.
4. Mean Machine
This Vinnie Jones vehicle, based on the general premise of Escape to Victory, shifts the scenario to a dismal, modern British prison.
A former England captain is dogged by charges of match-fixing as his career takes a turn for the worst in this version of the American football film The Longest Yard. A prisoner’s resentment of his betrayal and champagne lifestyle leads to an assault on a police officer, but he finds atonement when he is enlisted to help his inmate buddies fight the guards.
Even while the storyline follows a well-worn path of an underdog coming through to triumph, like in countless sports movies, the trip and the disparate cast of personalities within the prison serve to keep things lively. The team’s insane, martial arts-obsessed goalkeeper with a grudge is played by Jason Statham, who adopts a nearly unintelligible Scottish accent.
5. Looking for Eric
Instead of focusing on the action that takes place on the field, Ken Loach’s film is a meditation on the nature of fanaticism and how it serves as an escape from the monotony of everyday life.
Cantona-obsessed A dead-end career, a troubled relationship with his ex-wife, and a kid who appears to be falling into the hands of a local drug kingpin are just some of the issues that Eric Bishop is dealing with as he watches his life disintegrate. It’s only after consuming his son’s marijuana that he sees the Gallic genius appear and begin to give him guidance.
After that, Eric’s life improves dramatically since Cantona stays by his side and assists him in making positive adjustments to his drab surroundings. Gritty and escapist, the picture features the ex-Manchester United legend in some of his best hammy performances yet.
6. The Damned United
As much as he is revered for his genius on the field, Brian Clough is renowned for his violent, erratic demeanor. One of the worst periods of Cloughie’s career is explored in The Damned United, which aims to depict both his good and his bad aspects as a coach.
During the 44 days when Clough was Leeds United manager in 1974, one of the most notorious and contentious periods in football history, the film explores the narrative of his tenure. Before he was ousted, the new manager’s techniques and abrasive nature caused practically open conflict in the Elland Road dressing room, which culminated to his dismissal just over a month later.
Clough’s vulnerabilities and bravado are exposed as he struggles against the tide at his new team, and Michael Sheen is a force to be reckoned with in the lead role. Dave Mackay, for example, filed a lawsuit against the film’s producers because he felt the portrayal of him in the film was false.
7. Mike Bassett: England Manager
Underdog sports movies have a long history, but this one takes a fresh look at them. When a foul-mouthed minor league coach named Mike Bassett is promoted to England’s top job, all kinds of mayhem ensues as he gets his team ready for the World Cup.
There’s a comedy of errors as the protagonist, Ricky Tomlinson, stumbles from disaster to disaster in the pilot’s seat. Whether it’s the manager calling in two pointless midfielders in Benson and Hedges due to a mix-up with a team list scrawled on the back of a cigarette packet or the team’s star falling for a Brazilian transexual, nothing seems to go right for the hapless boss.
In the end, there is a happy ending. A respectable loss to Brazil, even if England does not win the World Cup, rehabilitates Bassett and allows his family to leave the house again without fear of being assaulted or pelted with fruit. The manager returns home with his chin up and decides to stay with the Three Lions instead of resigning.
8. Fever Pitch
Arsenal fandom has become increasingly middle-class in recent decades, and many critics see this study of a fan’s life centered around his club’s success as an excellent example of this dynamic.
Based on the novel Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch follows Paul as he balances his newfound love for the Gunners with the demands of his profession as a teacher. A rematch of the 1989 final in which London club scored an injury-time goal to win the trophy concludes the story, as Paul watches his favourite team, Arsenal, take on rivals Liverpool.
Unlike the terrible Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore adaptation set in Boston and the Red Sox, this is an engaging, engrossing drama.
9. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
Zinedine Zidane, probably the greatest French footballer of all time, was maybe inevitable in his homeland to receive the documentary treatment. A21st Century Portrait, on the other hand, is far from a one-sided admiration of the former Real Madrid great.
During a 2005 Liga match against Villarreal, Zidane got involved in a brawl and was sent off, which is all that remains of his subject’s career in this book. The filmmakers follow Zizou around the field with 17 synchronized cameras throughout the duration of the game, resulting in an incredibly somber portrayal of the athlete.
Mogwai’s quiet acoustic score complements the stunning images to create a compelling piece of arthouse cinema.
10. The Goal! Trilogy
The Lord of the Rings of professional football could be compared to this 300-minute marathon. An immigrant from Mexico residing in Los Angeles and working as a landscaper, Santiago Munez aspires to make a name for himself on the pitch.
A trial at Newcastle United brings him closer to fulfilling his childhood dream of playing in the Premier League, but he still has to deal with the rain and cold of the British North East. This season has been filled with slow-motion goals and agonizing last-second victories, and Santi has proven his worth by getting Newcastle into the Champions League.
In the next films, we see a transfer to Real Madrid, a trip to the World Cup finals, and, as the title says, plenty of goals. The trilogy won’t be on any reviewers’ shortlists, but the global takings of almost $35 million for the first two films alone suggest that football can draw in the crowd.