Whether it’s watching pee wee league or NFL professionals tackling and dropping dimes, football is a special social event in the United States. The sport itself is complex, interesting, physical, and dynamic, but the intangibles are what define the gridiron. Football symbolizes toughness, camaraderie, and family, qualities all easily exhibited in some of our favorite Hollywood movies over the years.
Football movies can be corny, but they also teach lessons and build a cultural connection between Americans and the game they’ve come to love. To celebrate the start of another season, these are the best football movies to watch.
Football has the power to teach lessons in relatable ways to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to adapt to the world. Gridiron Gang gets you all fired up for the kids at Camp Kilpatrick, a real-life juvenile detention center, who realize their ticket out of prison is football. Dwayne Johnson excelled in this early-career role before shifting to action movie franchises and special effects extravaganzas. He portrays Coach Sean Porter, the man who successfully teaches the kids how to be productive and happy teenagers and, eventually, adults. Gridiron Gang remains one of the best football movies on Netflix almost 20 years after its theatrical release.
We need to get the elephant in the room out of the way immediately: The Blind Side isn’t exactly accurate. If you’re looking for football movies based on true stories, you might need to take a gander elsewhere. Ignoring the troubled history of the subjects’ relationships in real life, this Sandra Bullock vehicle is a feel-good depiction of Michael Oher, a high school football player taken in off the street by Leigh Ann and Sean Tuohy. With guidance and familial love, Oher becomes a great football player and eventually gets drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. Themes include found family, courage, and perseverance.
Will Smith has some iconic films, but Concussion goes under the radar. A biopic about Dr. Bennet Omalu, the film tells the story of the doctor who discovered CTE, the disease that riddles many NFL football players after years of experiencing head trauma. The story is more prescient than ever, even if the people who run the NFL continue to omit information or gloss over the danger of the sport we have all come to love and watch.
The NFL Draft represents hope, excitement, and unpredictability. The future of so many franchises rests in the results of the draft, and Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner, does an excellent job encapsulating all of the emotions and nitty-gritty details of the annual spring event. The movie’s main character is Sonny Weaver Jr., the fictional executive of the Cleveland Browns who juggles personal and professional issues while contemplating the player who will turn the downtrodden franchise around once and for all.
Denzel Washington delivers an all-time sports movie performance as Herman Boone, a successful high school football coach who has to grapple with the issues of racial diversity in a small town after the local team is integrated. The movie shows the power of football to erase big-world issues and resolve long-standing problems. Ryan Gosling appears in one of his first big roles as Alan Bosley.
Football, and all sports, form lasting friendships that go well beyond the common interest of competing on the field. Brian’s Song is the heartbreaking and heartwarming true story of Chicago Bears teammates Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo and their brotherly friendship in the face of racial discrimination and terminal cancer for Piccolo. The film is one of the defining portrayals of heterosexual male bonding on screen, and it remains a classic comfort watch for people who don’t even love football.
Tom Cruise’s best movie before he turned to action films was Jerry Maguire. The film is a stark contrast from many others on this list, as there isn’t as much on-field action or football minutiae involved in the proceedings. Cruise plays an NFL agent who leverages the power of his closest client, Arizona Cardinals player Rod Tidwell, to stay relevant in the industry. A great romance between Cruise and Renée Zellweger grounds the film.
More people may know about the television version of Friday Night Lights starring Kyle Chandler, but the film is equally fun. Billy Bob Thornton plays Gary Gaines, a high school football coach with the unenviable task of maintaining hope around a tiny rural town after the team undergoes an injury-riddled season. Those who know how vital high school football is to small-town America will relate to this movie.
The Adam Sandler version of The Longest Yard remains the pinnacle of this story about a prison convict who relies on his professional football background to get out of the slammer. Burt Reynolds and Chris Rock feature heavily in supporting roles. The mix of eclectic talents on display makes for a unique and funny football movie that families still enjoy today.
The semi-true story of Rudy Ruettiger is a true tear-jerker. Rudy dreams of playing college football like so many kids in America, and through determination and a little bit of luck, he fulfills this wish and gets on the field for the University of Notre Dame. The scene in which Rudy is carried off the field is a defining cinematic experience that inspires millions.
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