The World Cup is in full swing and everything, everywhere you turn, is all about football, football, football (or soccer, if you insist). Its an exciting time for fans of the most popular sport in the world, but how do you fill up the empty time between matches? The answer is obviously with more football. Movies about football are strangely far and few between for such an international sport – and certainly not on the scale or frequency that American football movies are produced by Hollywood. There are a handful of intriguing choices for the football fan to look into, however, and many of them go a long way to explaining what it is about football that inspires such excitement and dedication all around the world.
BEST SOCCER MOVIES
6. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Okay, this one is obvious. Bend It Like Beckham was subject to a lot of hype when it was first released in the US, and rightly so. I’m the kind of person who ignores popular things unless or until they coincide with my own interests, so I didn’t see this movie until some years after its release and Keira Knightly was already a household name. And while Knightly is indeed a compelling figure in the movie, its Parminder Nagra (lately Meera Malik of The Blacklist) that really shines and reveals not just why football inspires such passion, but why football is so freeing and empowering for the women who play it.
5. Mean Machine (2001)
This movie is pretty ridiculous, but you know that a fan I am of the absurd in cinema. Mean Machine is basically a remake of The Longest Yard, except with soccer replacing American football. The movie stars ex-footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones. You’ve probably seen him in Guy Ritchie’s early movies as the hired muscle. Here he puts his football skills to good use as the prisoner who turns a bunch of wacky criminals into a football team and leads them to victory against the prison guard’s team. The movie also features Jason Statham, another Guy Ritchie favorite, as the team’s crazed goalie. Together, they make for a great cast driving the action in what was always a pretty kooky premise. Overall, its not a great movie, but it is ridiculous and fun to watch.
4. Fever Pitch (1997)
It was my feeling that Fever Pitch (2005) never made any sense as a baseball movie. The original British movie is as much about the cult-like dedication, wild passion, and family-like relationships of football fans to each other as a club as it is about a man growing into himself. Baseball – the atmosphere of the stadium, the relationship of other fans to each other and fans to the players of the game – is just so different that just didn’t match up as an American remake. There is a specific scene in Fever Pitch that will speak to many football fans, when the young Paul enters the stadium to see his first game – hears the chanting, feels the energy of the crowd, all before the game starts – and is hooked for life. That is basically what happened to me. This movie says so much about the game, its multitude of fans, and club culture. Add to that Colin Firth and Mark Strong and you have not only the perfect football movie, but the perfect British movie.
3. Looking For Eric (2009)
Director Ken Loach is known for his social realism style, but also for his flair of whimsy when it comes to examining these social issues. In this case, Looking for Eric is a movie about an self-conscious, unsure, self-doubting man who finds himself losing his way in life along with the people he loves. In his most desperate time of need, his idol, the French footballer Eric Cantona, appears to him to help guide his way and boost his confidence. If you’ve ever seen L.A. Without A Map (1998), its very like how Johnny Depp appears to David Tennant’s character to offer advice, only Cantona’s part is much more complex. It just goes to show how deeply the influence of movie stars and athlete’s can affect us as people, how we sometimes find strength and inspiration in other people’s talents or works of art, but how ultimately we must make our own way.
2. United (2011)
Speaking of David Tennant, he features prominently in this movie about the real life rise of Manchester United Football Club and the tragic plane crash in 1958 that killed eight of its members and nearly destroyed the team. Tennant plays Jimmy Murphy, United’s chief coach and assistant manager, who is credited with keeping the team together and steering them through the disaster. The film focuses on the loss of the team members, the guilt of those who survived the crash, and the struggle of those closest to the team. It is a sombre and muted film in most places, but finds joy in the strength of the human spirit and the love of the game. Plus David Tennant’s in it, so you really can’t go wrong.
1. Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (2006)
This is a stylish and fun documentary about the rise and fall of football in the United States during the 1970s. During this time in history, football was practically unknown to Americans. That changed with the founding of the North American Soccer League and the creation of the New York Cosmos. At first this didn’t make any impact, until Steve Ross – the president of Warner Communcations – took an interest in the team and populated it with international soccer legends like Pelé, Giorgio Chinagli, and Franz Beckenbauer. For a few years the crowds came flocking to see the Cosmos and this new exotic sport called soccer, selling out American football stadiums. After the retirement of Pelé, the team’s main attraction, the Cosmos began to decline and with them the Soccer League. The documentary gives a stylish and atmospheric sense of the 70s time period, using both music and period footage to keep the story line moving and to bring the audience into the time and place. Apparently, the New York Cosmos have just been revived as a NASL team with Pelé as their honorary president.