The world holds its breath for approximately one month every four years as the very best footballers compete on behalf of national pride for the right to be the undisputed champions of world football. The Brazilian hosted 2014 FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina was watched by approximately 3.2 billion people, making it the most watched live television event in history and drawing nearly 6 times as many viewers as the first mission to the moon. Football is popular, just in case you didn’t get it yet…
In cinema, many have attempted to recreate the love and passion held by fans in the stands and players on the pitch, and in doing so have created a plethora of classic sports movies. In this Top 10 list from The Film Magazine, we’ll be taking a look at the 10 most must-see football movies in history, counting down from 10 to 1. Let’s kick off…
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Disclaimer: Only movies depicting the game shall be included. No movies depicting the violence of fans, such as Football Factory (2004) and Green Street (2005), or documentaries about the game (such as One Night in Turin) shall be on this list.
10. There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble (2000)
A British working class drama about a Mancunian child with a dream to play for Manchester City (before they had the modern day riches of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayhed Al Nahyan), There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble brings together British acting juggernauts Ray Winstone and Robert Carlyle in support of the terrific Lewis McKenzie, who plays the teenage want-to-be footballer at the centre of the movie.
McKenzie’s Grimble reveals a previously unforeseen talent for football while at school and as such comes to transcend his social boundaries inside and outside of education to take his team to the cup final at Maine Road, the home of his beloved football club.
This is a story of a child taking to a football pitch to escape from the issues of poverty and abuse in his personal life, and as such creates a narrative around a character we all want to succeed. There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble is as much a commentary on class as it is a sports movie and thus excels in the genre by defying some of its limitations, making it our number 10 choice on this list.
9. United (2011)
Technically, United was a BBC original television drama and not a movie, so it would be fair to argue that this ‘movie’ doesn’t deserve a place on this list at all. But, disqualifying this feature-length drama on a technicality would be doing this list a disservice, because United is an incredibly well put together powerhouse of nostalgia, emotion and passion.
Whether you’re a Manchester United fan or support of one of their many rivals, United tells a universally recognisable story of overcoming massive loss and tragedy to achieve greatness by following the club’s most iconic player Bobby Charlton (played by Jack O’Connell) through the 1958 Munich air crash tragedy that took the lives of 8 first team players.
See Old Trafford before the stadium expansions and Manchester’s city development, the personal crises of many of the Manchester United legends at the club at the time, and a bunch of great acting performances from the likes of Sam Claflin, Dougray Scott and David Tennant.
8. The Damned United (2009)
A star vehicle for the emerging Michael Sheen and the directorial debut of the now critically acclaimed Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech; Les Misérables; The Danish Girl), The Damned United is nothing less than an ensemble of all things British, from its popular cast that includes the likes of Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent and Joe Dempsie, to its appreciation of the beautiful game and one of its most iconic, important, enigmatic and brutally honest real-life characters, Brian Clough. The movie, based on the novel of the same name by David Peace, shines a light on the legendary manager’s ill-fated 44 days in charge of England’s biggest and most successful club of the era, Leeds United, and follows his personal journey from borderline arrogant prospect to humbled and honourable gentleman in this deeply personal story of obsession and passion that transcends the sport through which it’s told. This is one football movie that will likely mean more to British fans of the game with a memory of the times, but it works in of itself to be a classic sports movie because of the interesting character and journey at its very centre.
7. Mean Machine (2001)
A British remake of the Robert Aldrich American Football movie The Longest Yard (1974) starring Burt Reynolds, in which a former professional player is imprisoned and uses his talents to unite the jail-mates against the prison guards, Mean Machine stars former Wimbledon, Leeds United and Wales player Vinnie Jones as a disgraced football player who gets his redemption in a seemingly mismatched game with the prison guards.
Played mostly for laughs, this football movie turned prison drama packs an emotional punch that you may not expect and has some of the better choreographed football moments of many a film on this list. It also stars a great ensemble of British talent, including Danny Dyer in a role that defies his usual hard-man typecasting and Jason Statham as a crazed Scotsman intent on kicking people, as well as a pretty great soundtrack. This one will make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and it’ll make you buy into the football they portray – an excellent British football film.