Football might not be an American thing but it’s so popular around the world that multiple films in Hollywood have been made around the sport. Contrary to popular belief, the first ‘soccer’ film was produced, released, and even appreciated by the audience way back in 1939, and since then the ‘game’s afoot’, literally. Let’s take a look at some of the football films that have graced cinemas and made an impact on the minds of those who, despite their love of the game, ended up visiting cinemas. Read on:
The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939)
If you combine a Sherlock Holmes mystery with a football game, the result would be something along the lines of The Arsenal Stadium Mystery. Adapted from a novel by Leonard Gribble, and released in 1939, it is a murder mystery where the murder takes place on the football ground, right in front of everyone’s eyes. The title is taken from the stadium’s name where Arsenal was playing against a fictional side, The Trojans, at their home ground Highbury Stadium, which is where the story takes place.
Like all yesteryear mysteries, the suspect list keeps growing until the Scotland Yard inspector finally gets it right. After all, he was distracted like the audience was, because many Arsenal players as well as their manager George Allison had cameos in the film, to give it an authentic football touch. The film might not be a Hollywood production (it was a British one, like James Bond films) but kickstarted the movement that went on to produce many great films revolving around the game.
Escape to Victory (1981)
Put British actor Michael Caine, Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone, and football legend Pele in a dressing room and you will have a riot. Replace the dressing room with a Prisoner of War camp from the Second World War and you have John Huston’s classic Escape to Victory. You can’t have a football film list without this movie where the Germans challenge the Allied team to a football match, long before the English did the same with locals in Bollywood’s Lagaan.
The catch here was that the prisoners wanted to live a more convenient life while one of them (Stallone, who else!) wanted to use the match to escape. From Pele’s trademark bicycle kick to Stallone’s save at the climax, this film had everything a football fan wants to see in a match. Missing it would have consequences since it features English legend Bobby Charlon alongside Belgian and Argentine players as his teammates and the impressive Max von Sydow as the brains behind the game, but not the escape!
Mean Machine (2001)
Former footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones plays a footballer stuck in prison for a minor crime, in a story inspired by The Longest Yard. Like Escape to Victory, he selects players from the modern British prison, and makes a team out of them that goes on defeat the opposition, but not before the audience is treated to drama, action, comedy, and suspense.
Although it is nothing different from the many underdog films, we have all seen, it was the first instant that football was used in the plot. The success of this film revolved around redemption, and ragtag characters that added color to the plot and kickstarted a trail of films that included Dodgeball to name a few.
Watch out for Ryan Giggs’ cameo as a warden as well as former national-level diver Jason Statham (yes, he was a sportsman before becoming an actor), who plays the team’s goalkeeper with a grudge. Other footballers to appear in the film include Vinnie Jones’ former colleagues Charlie Hartfield, Paul Fishenden, and Brian Gayle while Nevin Saroya and Perry Digweed also make an appearance for the opposition.
Shaolin Soccer (2001)
The Cantonese flick may neither be American or British but when its football, language doesn’t matter. The film revolves around a young Shaolin kung-fu practitioner who is very good at what he does, but not many know about his skills. That’s why he decides to team up with his depressed kung-fu practitioners, form a ‘soccer’ team, and incorporate Shaolin with ‘Soccer’ in such a way that people get to know about it.
However, in order to win a prestigious competition, they have to first understand ‘soccer’, since they don’t know anything about it. Only after that will they be able to play, and hopefully defeat the team that seems to have crooked players in their ranks.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Although English footballer David Beckham doesn’t appear in this movie until the very end, it is about his influence on young minds, be it a boy or a girl, English or desi. It revolves around two 18-year-old girls – one British and one Sikh (played by Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra respectively) who want to defy the odds and play professional football, even if it means going against their traditional families.
That’s exactly what they do in the movie with the help of football and whatever happens on the field from jealousy, bonding, and racial tension. How sport changes their lives and reunites them with their loved ones is what makes this movie a must-watch, even if you aren’t a fan of football.
A Shot at Glory (2002)
When the football club managed by coach Gordon McCloud (Robert Duvall) is asked to either accept his estranged son-in-law Jackie McQuillan (Ally McCoist) as a new player or be ready to lose the club, he decides to accept the former. But Jackie has an issue; he isn’t a team player, which is exactly what the team doesn’t need.
Not only does football help Gordon connect with his daughter and her husband, but it also transforms the notorious footballer into someone who can play for the team, and does that. Michael Keaton plays the boss who wants to take the club to Ireland, but only if they don’t manage to win.
Kicking & Screaming (2005)
Kicking & Screaming revolves around three generations of the same family where the grandfather tries to beat his son’s football team where the grandson plays. Interesting, isn’t it? The best thing about this underdog flick is that Will Ferrell plays the central character who is given a Kindergarten Cop kind of situation – to train a bunch of losers into winners. His father is played by the same guy who terrorized his son-in-law in A Shot at Glory – Robert Duvall – who is not the good guy this time.
With the help of American football player Mike Ditka (playing himself), he transforms the team but winning changes him, and affects his own relationship with his son, which is exactly what he didn’t want to happen. How the father and son join hands to win back their pride is what this movie is all about.
She’s the Man (2006)
Before it became a fashion, Amanda Bynes did what Rani Mukerji emulated in the Bollywood flick Dil Bole Hadippa! and our very own Ainy Jaffri did in Balu Mahi i.e., dress up like a boy and play the game you excel in. Fortunately for Viola (Amanda Bynes), all she had to do was replace her twin brother Sebastian at school, so she could play football, something she had been unable to do since her football team disbanded.
However, things begin to go haywire when she finds out that her brother’s roommate Duke (Channing Tatum) has a serious crush on a girl named Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who likes Sebastian (James Kirk) who is Viola, who has a crush on Duke. Add Football to the equation and you will get a flick that makes you laugh out loud for its entire duration.
Playing for Keeps (2012)
It might not have done well at the box office but Gerard Butler leads a star cast that could do no wrong. He plays a former professional football player who moves to Virginia to be closer to his ex-wife and son and ends up teaching football to kids whose mothers fall for him.
Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid, and Uma Thurman besides Butler, this film is all about second chances, and how they can be used, both as a professional soccer player and a father who doesn’t want to disappoint his son.