Football dramas are a dime a dozen. We all know the oft-told story of the underdog team that must put aside its differences to compete for a championship. Some win, some don’t, and the journey often remains more compelling than the final results. Still, several football movies are worth your time (no matter how clichéd), particularly around Thanksgiving. Here are ten you can check out between your send or third rounds of turkey.
Mark Wahlberg stars in this true-life story about Vince Papale, a 30-year-old high school teacher who tries out for and eventually joins the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team. Co-starring Elizabeth Banks, Invincible is about as predictable as a Thanksgiving meal. However, the performances from everyone involved, including Greg Kinnear as Eagles coach Dick Vermeil, keep the film afloat. Even while the decidedly PG material lacks the grime and grit of most football dramas.
Remember the Titans
This Jerry Bruckheimer production plays fast and loose with history. However, it remains an inspiring retelling of the 1971 TC Williams football squad that mixed white players with black players during intense racism in Virginia. Denzel Washington (in one of his finest roles) shines as Herman Boone, whose no-nonsense approach to the game made it possible for his players and coaching staff to look past their differences and make a bid for the state championship.
The Longest Yard
Forget the terrible Adam Sandler remake. The original 1974 football classic, The Longest Yard, resonates as a hilarious, often powerful slice of old-fashioned entertainment. Burt Reynolds stars as a football pro turned prison inmate who must lead his fellow prisoners against ruthless guards. Co-starring Eddie Albert as a corrupt prison warden, Ed Lauter, and Mike Conrad, The Longest Yard is The Shawshank Redemption of football movies.
Any Given Sunday
Oliver Stone directs this violent, gritty, realistic look behind the scenes of the NFL, based on the novel by pro defensive end Pat Toomay. Al Pacino stars as longtime head coach Tony D’Amato, whose career hangs by a thread under new management (Cameron Diaz). When young prospect Willie “Steamin” Beamen (Jamie Foxx) emerges as a superstar, D’Amato must navigate the Associated Football Franchises of America’s treacherous waters and guide his underdogs to the playoffs. The plot is mostly forgettable, but the exciting football scenes and explicit R-rated offscreen drama make Any Given Sunday one of the most fascinating football dramas ever produced.
The classic 1971 ABC Movie of the Week weepy chronicles the friendship between Chicago Bears football star Brian Piccolo (James Caan) and teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) during the former player’s bout with cancer. Treacle but effective and boasting solid performances from its two leads, Brian’s Song is the type of film capable of making grown men cry — it’s Beaches for dudes. In a good way.
Rudy may not reach the same heights as David Anspaugh and Angelo Pizzo’s sports classic Hoosiers. However, there’s plenty of inspiration in Rudy Ruttiger’s ambitious quest to make the Norte Dame football team in the 1970s. Sean Astin stars as our titular hero and delivers a compelling performance, but Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score makes this football drama soar.
Adam Sandler may have struck out with The Longest Yard, but his initial foray into the world of football, 1998’s The Waterboy, remains one of the great goofy comedies that arrived at the peak of his stardom. The Sand Man stars as slow-witted Bobby Boucher, Jr., a young man living with his overprotective mother (Kathy Bates) whose pent-up aggression earns him a spot as a linebacker on the school football team. Silly but entertaining.
While not necessarily a film about football, Cameron Crowe’s Academy Award-winning 1996 drama focuses on the relationship between sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) and rising NFL star Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). There’s plenty of sports talk, bromance for guys, and enough romance (courtesy of Renee Zellweger) for the gals. Jerry Maguire is the rare romantic dramedy that earns its place among the best of its respective genre.
Friday Night Lights
Peter Berg’s 2004 football epic offers a candid look at Texas football — the good and the bad — in its by-the-numbers tale of football coach Gary Gines (Billy Bob Thornton) and the struggles he faces when his star player is suddenly injured. Friday Night Lights spends more time on the turmoil faced by our young stars off the field but remains a compelling sports drama, replete with a terrific turn by Tim McGraw. The TV show inspired by the film is leagues better, but Friday Night Lights, the motion picture, stands as a solid football drama.
Hear me out: Draft Day is Hollywood hokum through and through, featuring a contrived plot written by people who don’t know a thing about football and ham-fisted performances from Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, and Chadwick Boseman, but holy hell, is it entertaining. Ivan Reitman points his lens behind the scenes of the Cleveland Browns football team, where grizzled GM Sonny Weaver, Jr. must decide how to spend his draft picks. What follows is an absurd, improbable series of events that culminates with Costner calling another GM a pancake-eating motherf—er. What’s not to love?