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The best soccer movies to distract you from the U.S. World Cup elimination

Ranked: These are the best soccer movies of all time

The U.S. might have lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16, but the 2022 World Cup has captivated U.S. soccer fans and newbies alike. There’s still plenty of the World Cup to watch, but if you’re looking for another outlet for your love of headers, bicycle kicks, and underdogs coming from behind, why not try a soccer movie?

In part because it’s not a hugely popular sport in America, Hollywood has not made a ton of great soccer movies. In spite of that lack of great titles from America, though, there are still plenty of great movies that feature the sport. Some of them are about what it means to be a fan dedicating your life to supporting a team or club, even if it means being constantly disappointed. Others are about playing the game and get at the reasons that soccer is the most popular sport in the world.

Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Shaolin Soccer
Genre Action, Comedy
Stars Stephen Chow, Zhao Wei, Ng Man-tat
Directed by Stephen Chow
A beautiful, farcical comedy, Shaolin Soccer combines one of the world’s great sports with martial arts to create a beautiful and totally unique spectacle. Although it’s hardly the point, the movie’s story follows Shaolin brothers who reunite years after their master’s death to show the world what Shaolin Soccer really means. The movie is absurd, and as long as you know that going in, you’re going to have a great time. 
Shaolin Soccer (2001) Official Trailer - Chinese Soccer Movie HD

Mean Machine (2001)

Mean Machine
Genre Comedy, Drama
Stars Vinnie Jones, David Kelly, David Hemmings
Directed by Barry Skolnick
Sports movies are almost always, at their core, about how indomitable the human spirit is. That’s especially true in Mean Machine, which follows a group of prisoners who are determined to take down the guards they hate in a prison match. Mean Machine may not be the most subtle movie on this list, but it’s undeniably effective, and features some fun soccer sequences to boot. 
Mean Machine 2001 Movie Trailer

Escape to Victory (1981)

Escape to Victory
Genre Drama, War
Stars Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow
Directed by John Huston
A World War II movie that’s also about both soccer and prison escape, Escape to Victory has a lot of plotlines running through it. The film, which stars Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max Von Sydow, and Pele, follows a group of Allied prisoners of war who are forced to play against a Nazi team as part of a Third Reich propaganda campaign. What the Nazis don’t know is that, even as the game is being played, the team is also planning an escape. 
Escape To Victory (1981) - Trailer

Goal! (2005)

Genre Drama
Stars Kuno Becker, Alessandro Nivola, Anna Friel
Directed by Danny Cannon
Probably the definitive trilogy in the world of soccer movies, these movies tell the story of an illegal immigrant living in Los Angeles who is spotted by a former scout for Newcastle United. The first film in the Goal! trilogy is about a boy who comes from nothing and manages to propel himself to the top of the sport. The movie’s two sequels are just as riveting, though. The first follows Santiago, the central character, as he continues his professional career, and the second follows Santiago as he plays during the 2006 FIFA World Cup. 

Looking for Eric (2009)

Looking for Eric
Genre Comedy, Drama
Stars Eric Cantona, Steve Evets, Stephanie Bishop
Directed by Ken Loach
Being a sports fan can help you forget your troubles, in part because sports can be there for you when nothing else is. That’s what Looking For Eric is really about. The film follows a man whose life is unraveling at the seams who turns to former professional soccer player Eric Cantona for advice and wisdom. It’s a funny, moving film about the kinds of holes that sports can fill in our lives, and just as importantly, the holes that fandom of any kind can never really fill. 
Looking for Eric Trailer

The Football Factory (2004)

The Football Factory
Genre Drama
Stars Danny Dyer, Neil Maskell, Frank Harper
Directed by Nick Love
Telling the story of a football hooligan (a soccer fan who often gets violent), The Football Factory gives its audience a bracing look at the darker side of soccer fandom. The film, which is shot in a documentary style, is about a Chelsea hooligan who spends his days drinking, doing drugs, and breaking a wide array of other laws. As he begins to consider changing his ways, though, he realizes just what a dark turn life has taken for him. 
The Football Factory (2004) Official Trailer #1 - British Movie HD

The Damned United (2009)

The Damned United
Genre Drama
Stars Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney
Directed by Tom Hooper
The true story of the 44 days that Brian Clough spent as the head coach of Leeds United, The Damned United is about Clough’s tumultuous tenure and his complicated history with Leeds. Although his tenure is remarkably short, what makes The Damned United so interesting is the ways it tries to diagnose what makes soccer such a beloved sport, and how that can get perverted when too many people are trying too hard to game the system.
The Damn United | Official Trailer (2009)

Fever Pitch (1997)

Fever Pitch
Genre Comedy, Romance
Stars Colin Firth, Ruth Gemmell, Mark Strong
Directed by David Evans
The American remake of Fever Pitch is about baseball, but the original is a soccer movie through and through. Telling the story of a dedicated Aresnal fan against the backdrop of their miraculous championship run in 1997, this fan must split his time between his love of the game and his new relationship. It’s a story about what it means to be a fan that actually takes that dynamic quite seriously, even if it also provides plenty of laughs.
Fever Pitch (1997) | Film4 Trailer

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Bend It Like Beckham
Genre Comedy, Drama, Romance
Stars Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
Probably still the most famous soccer film ever made, at least in America, Bend it Like Beckham has aged like a fine wine. The movie, which tells the story of a young Indian girl who goes to elaborate lengths to hide her soccer career from her parents, has become a classic for good reasons. Its formula is tried and true, to be sure, but Bend it Like Beckham never becomes a series of cliches. Instead, it feels rich and personal in all the ways a movie like this should.
Bend It Like Beckham - Trailer

Diego Maradona (2019)

Diego Maradona
Genre Documentary
Stars Diego Maradona, Pelé, Dalma Maradona
Directed by Asif Kapadia
Documentaries that take on the entire scope of a person’s life can often be boring or overly broad. Diego Maradona is exactly the opposite, though, in part because it reveals the way his volatility made him an asset on the field, and something of a nightmare off of it. He’s become a legend for soccer fans all over the world, and with good reason, but Diego Maradona dives beneath that shiny veneer to find something deeper about what made him tick.
Diego Maradona (2019): Official Trailer | HBO

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance culture writer based in upstate New York. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The…
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