This article was written exclusively for The Film Magazine by Craig Sheldon.
Whether you’re an NFL (National Football League) fan or not, it’s hard to argue the rise in popularity American Football has had across the globe, and specifically in the UK, in recent years – let’s not go into detail about whether it should be called “football” or not.
With no less than four NFL regular season games scheduled to take place in England next year, awareness for the sport is at an all-time high and there’s no game on the NFL calendar bigger or more important than The Super Bowl.
But before Super Bowl 53 airs on February 3rd. join me as we start all the way back at our own twenty-five-yard line and drive down the field, counting down some of the best American Football films to get you in the Super Bowl mood.
Grab a beer, take a bite of that hotdog and raise some foam fingers, because these are the Top 5 American Football Films of All Time.
5. Varsity Blues (1999)
Kicking off our countdown in the number 5 spot is Varsity Blues.
This one just edged out Draft Day with Kevin Costner to take the lowest spot on this very exclusive list.
The story tells of reluctant second-string quarterback (the guy that throws the ball) Jonathon “Mox” Moxon who’s more concerned about getting into a good college than winning football games for abusive coach Jon Voight, before being forced to lead the team to victory when their star player goes down with an injury.
The story isn’t going to win awards for originality, but a likable cast comprising of a young Paul Walker and Amy Smart, as well as turn of the century heartthrob James Van Der Beek, all bring just enough charm to the screen to make you root for the characters. Despite the film sometimes playing more like a cautionary tale about the dangers of addiction and excess, rather than a straight-up sports drama, the film still manages to have fun with its characters and deliver an entertaining if not by-the-numbers football flick.
A quick pass to an open receiver and we make it to mid-field for the number two pick…
4. The Waterboy (1998)
Adam Sandler has had a pretty hit or miss relationship with the box office over the years, but one of his earlier and more successful outings was the 1998 sports comedy, The Waterboy.
In The Waterboy, Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a simple and over-sheltered momma’s boy who finds himself venting his repressed anger issues as a linebacker (a defensive player/tackler) in Henry Winkler’s underperforming Louisiana Mud Dog’s.
Is it silly? Yes.
Is it clever? No.
But does it have some funny moments and some great comedic performances, such as that by Kathy Bates as Bobby’s overbearing mother and Henry Winkler as the cowardly coach Klein. You also get a nice cameo from pro wrestler The Big Show as Bobby’s hero, Captain Insano.
As a cure for some of the more serious American Football films out there that tend to take themselves a little too seriously, The Waterboy is a perfectly fun departure. If you’re looking for an accurate portrayal of American football, then you’d better move along. This is straight up Adam Sandler slapstick, with heaps of pratfalls and gross-out gags to spare.
If you don’t like it then Bobby will undoubtedly tell his momma on you!
Continuing to drive down the field into opponent’s territory, we come to number three on the list…
3. The Blind Side (2009)
Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy in this film based on the real-life story of pro footballer Michael Oher. The story recounts the inspiring tale of an underprivileged black boy taken in by a wealthy family and later adopted, who finds his calling as a football player, all the while receiving the education and love that had previously been denied to him.
Focusing less on the football aspects and more on the personal struggles of its characters, The Blind Side is an inspirational tale of overcoming the odds. It’s a heartfelt film with solid performances, earning it a solid 3rd spot on this list.
As our running back breaks a tackle and makes his way to the opponents ten-yard line, we come to…
2. Remember the Titans (2000)
Just missing out on the top spot, Remember the Titans is another film based on true events. Denzel Washington plays the tough-loving Herman Boone who is tasked with coaching the formerly all-white T. C. Williams High School football team as it integrates the new black students. Having to deal with more than simply winning football games, the players and local residents must first overcome the sudden race issues thrust upon their humble town. Suffice it to say, they learn to accept each other, becoming brothers on and off the field and finishing their season 13-0 (a feat that actually happened, despite the film’s many liberties taken in regard to actual events.)
Along the way there are plenty of gags, feel-good moments and toe-tapping montages to keep the film from getting too bogged down in politics, not to mention all the mushy “can’t we all just get along” spiel that a Disney film is bound to have in droves.
With a star-studded cast featuring veteran actor Will Patton alongside future stars Ryan Gosling, Hayden Panettiere, Kate Bosworth and Donal Faison, as well as a soulful soundtrack worthy of any CD collection, Remember the Titans is a must-see movie for any fan of American football.
With the clock counting down, we plant our feet, throw the ball to the endzone and…
1. The Replacements (2000)
Which means only one thing; we’ve reached my number one American football film of all time.
Yes, long before he was busy combatting evil as Constantine and executing bad guy’s John Wick style, Keanu Reeves played all-American quarterback Shane Falco in The Replacements; a film that is (very) loosely based on the events of the 1987 NFL players strike.
When players across the league go on strike over pay issues, interim coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) is tasked with drafting a bunch of Average Joes to fill in for the Washington Sentinels and finish out the last four games of the season. It’s a quintessential underdog story, but one that paves the way for a tonne of fun and laugh-out-loud moments throughout. A memorable scene in a jail cell where the team comes together to dance to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is a personal favourite to many.
Joining Keanu as the rag-tag replacement players are Jon Favreau playing a slightly unhinged SWAT member intent on tackling anyone and anything to the ground (including his own teammates) and Rhys Ifans as a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking striker out of Cardiff. You also get standout performances from Orlando Jones as a prima donna receiver, as well as Sumo wrestler Ace Yonamine as an offensive tackle content on stuffing his face with hard boiled eggs before a game.
Amusing characters, terrific soundtrack and an overall sense of fun earn this film the number one spot on this list.
So there you have it, the top 5 American Football films of all time (and just in time for the Super Bowl!)
All that’s left to do now is heat-up some nachos, put on a pot of coffee, and get ready for kick-off!
By Craig Sheldon